We ask questions in Darlington County, S.C. and those questions are to make sure we’re not related, me and you. Porch nights in Oxford but only a few minutes over Barry Hannah’s grave. It’s hotter than hell and far. Mortician and poodle meet ups in Birmingham. Delirius drives from Little Rock to Asheville, you name it. I’m looking for a sawdust floor in New York City and someone to buy me a drink. I have carpal tunnel so you might have to lift the glass. Hey, I’m just glad to be here.
Mi needed to pee. She swam toward me wearing a zebra-striped bikini. I treaded.
“Just pee in the pool. Nobody’ll know,” I said.
“Let me pee on you.”
She squeezed her arms around my neck, her ink-black hair on top the water, and a warm patch enveloped us.
“There, that’s it.”
Breast-stroking to the side, she unscrewed a jar of moonshine cherries. Mi had big almond eyes, a skinny frame and what she called “omega-6 hips,” round, curved hips.
I dropped to the bottom like a Buddha through the pee, breathing bubbles with a hum like my father when he dives under water. I squinted. Mi came down, pressed her finger to her cheek. She let a cherry loose while clenching its stem between her teeth. I could only hum for so long. Houselights flickered and the pool water didn’t feel like water. I chomped at the cherry on the way up. She was my momma bird helicoptering that cherry to me, the daddy bird. I swallowed it, gulping the chlorine — and her urine.
The diving board cracked and Bruin launched from its end straight up into the Arkansas humidity. His marshmallow body spun into a watermelon and he clasped his hands over his head, pulling his knees into his gigantic chest. He cur-plunked into the 20×20 rectangle pool. The pool was the prettiest complement on his property. Bruin’s disfigured and blue-faded house suffered from rain-damage and drunk renovations. The thing looked like it belonged in a Dali painting.
“Man, you ready to go to WWE tonight?” he asked, bobbing to the shallow-end.
I combed my hand through the water. “I’ve been waiting all month baby.” Mi swam with the mason jar opened.
“This Rock’s gonna be cookin’,” Bruin said, holding out his hand for cherries. Bruin was one of the few friends I knew on the southside of Little Rock who owned a pool.
Our friends JP and Sheila were on the way with Dingo, their mangy terrier, to drive us to the Arena. Tupperware of Tabouleh took up the way-back seat of JP’s woody station wagon that smelt like melted crayons.
“The Rock! My boy Dwayne,” Bruin said, acting out the “People’s Elbow,” The Rock’s infamous move where he launches off the rope, swings his massive leg around and elbow spikes his opponent’s sternum.
“You know he acted as a tooth fairy a while back in the movie—”
“Yes, I did,” he said. He stared at Arkansas’ little stars. “He’s a hockey player and gets ‘amnesia dust’ from Billy Crystal.” Bruin stood next to Mi at the pool’s edge and reached to a dry astray for a half-smoked joint.
“He’s not a good tooth fairy at first,” I said. I felt soft and relaxed, less like I was lying my head on cold basement concrete.
“But he restores the faith of the mythic tooth fairy, a tooth merchant and barter,” Bruin said. His crescent moon tattoo winked on his right bicep. Bruin tended to slick his hair back when he swam and the water gave off the impression that his feet curved too far inward. A Bluetooth speaker in the grass played John Prine. I heard Allah and Buddha were singing at the Savior’s feast and up in the sky an Arabian rabbi fed Quaker oats to a priest.
I imagined the ridges of Mi’s elastic shoulder straps. Her zebra-striped bikini belonged in an old Vogue magazine, the kind my mother hoarded around my family’s house in South Carolina until my aunt Sophie threw them away or used them in lieu of newspaper to spark the fireplace during Christmas. Mi didn’t know that I had tentative plans to leave her in Arkansas, to return home to work for my father at his glass factory. I’d be heating and cooling sheets of glass for cars or shower doors.
From beyond the house, Dingo whinnied. “Give it a rest Dingo!” JP yelled. Dingo rode in his nest, a basket with a comforter that had cotton pouring out of it in the backseat. The wagon’s steering fluid was low and it squealed and slipped on the road like socks on a wooden floor. JP had been on a Phish kick, unfortunately, so there was Phish in constant rotation. “I just love their studio stuff,” he’d say. “You can hear so much more.” But he never saw them live. I hadn’t either and never would.
“I’m going to slap that Dingo,” Mi said and pushed herself out of the pool.
“It’s only a matter of time before I barbecue that fucking rat-dog,” I said and waddled my beer-filled stomach at her while she tied her Keds and zipped up her jean shorts. I screwed the top on the moonshine and placed it in her purse. Bruin wore a black, sleeveless T-shirt that read, “KILL.” Mi arranged her hair in a bun. She was shorter than me, so much so that I’d hear old ladies call out from a distance, “Little girl! You dropped something!” or “Little girl! Don’t sit there. They’re snakes over there.”
Bruin still smoked in the backseat of the wagon. “Dingo! Get down, you’ll hurt yourself,” he said and tapped Dingo’s basket. I opened the heavy door to the way-back seat and moved empty Tupperware that had old bits of Tabouleh. JP rolled down the windows, but not for Dingo.
“You got your tickets?” Sheila asked. She handed a thin bottle of Wild Irish Rose to Bruin.
“Bruin has them somewhere,” Mi said, her elbow slung over the seat. Sheila’s bangs curved down. At times they divided in the middle like the top of a theatre curtain. “And they aren’t wet,” he said. “Well, not wet enough.”
The wagon’s blue ceiling interior hung down. JP reversed out of Bruin’s rock driveway and turned up Broadway Street. Wind spun strands of Mi’s hair. The wind acted on its own, in ways that I wish I could. She swigged the Wild Irish Rose and handed it to me and dragged from her menthol. We passed Mount Holly Cemetery where I jogged on Saturdays.
“Want to hear what I was thinking at work?” she asked.
“What’s that?” I exhaled. She volunteered as a doula at the hospital.
“Breast milk cookies.” She folded a mirror and threw it back into her purse. “If I made cookies with my breast milk, would you eat them?”
“Of course, but wouldn’t I need your milk so I could dip the cookies?”
“No, no because if the cookies were made from my milk, then technically you’d be eating me with chocolate chip.”
“That’s the same thing.”
She leaned to the window and flicked her cigarette on the bridge. We lumbered over the Arkansas River to North Little Rock and to the Arena. None of the wagon’s turns mattered.
Dingo fell asleep licking his paw. We were so late the ticket lines had dispersed, and inside children wore T-shirts covered with big words like “WHAT?” or “YOU CAN’T SEE ME,” or letters like “DX,” crowding around hotdog stands alongside grossly obese moms and bearded, bald-headed dads.
“The basil and tomatoes were so fresh this time around,” JP said, referring to the Tabouleh.
“My garden’s been pumping out all kinds of crazy shit,” Bruin lied. His garden wilted next to the pool.
We bought $4 tallboys of Bud Light. Mi sucked on a strawberry daiquiri and grimaced from a brain freeze as we moved carefully through the tunnel to enter a world of skirmishes. At that moment it was between the wrestler Kofi Kingston and a stocky man in a pink speedo. The screen behind them stretched from floor to ceiling. SMACKDOWN flashed across the top. Parents laughed loudly and kids squealed high-pitched.
Alberto Del Rio jumped in. He must have been covered in Vaseline. He knocked his head on the stairs. Male character after male character skirted through while the Arena grew hotter than outside. Small bodies, big bodies, all sorts of bodies were everywhere. In between skits the production crew slid this matt here or there. They brought in a desk, a fake bush and chairs for a makeshift office. Chris Jericho appeared and dazzled in his green sequined vest. He yelled at his “boss.” All of it was nonsensical except for when wrestlers called the audience “retards.” They hated us. The more we booed, the more they yelled, the more we liked it and cheered for death, tallboy after tallboy.
The Rock’s intro sparked the arena. Lightening zipped across the screens. He jogged down in a tank top that said “JUST BRING IT.”
“I want to sit on you so hard,” Sheila growled at The Rock and squinted twice and drank.
He perched on the ropes at each corner, raising his tattooed arms and balling his fist. His biceps were as thick as my head. He and John Cena, his nemesis who appeared on the screen, discussed who deserved the title belt. After a while, Damien Sandow, a bearded wrestler in a blue bathrobe with a towel wrapped around his neck, entered and slid beneath the ropes. He pointed at The Rock. The screen cut from Cena and zeroed-in on the ring.
“You picked the wrong night to come out here and interrupt The Rock because we’re in Little Rock and because it’s been a long time since The Rock has been in Little Rock.” The Rock paced in front of Sandow. He lured us. “Now, I tell you what we’re going to do. We’re gonna have some fun Little Rock. You guys want to have fun?” The Rock stepped from the ring down to the audience. A cameraman followed.
“How you doing honey?” The Rock asked a blonde woman. “Would you like to see me give him a ‘Rock Bottom?’”
“YES. HEELLLLL YES,” she gargled.
“Your opinion doesn’t matter and neither does hers. Silence!” Sandow said from the ring.
The Rock asked a little girl, “Would you like to see The Rock give a ‘Rock Bottom?’”
“Yeah!” she said.
Sandow knelt down on the rope. “Well, your opinion doesn’t count. So silence.”
The Rock approached a grandpa. “Come here sir. Would you like to see The Rock give Damien Sandow a ‘Rock Bottom?’” The grandpa stood up. “Yeah, an ass-whoopin’,” he said. The Rock stepped back, surprised.
“So you just said basically, you want to see The Rock give him a Little Rock ass-whoopin’?” He pointed back at Sandow, who stood there with a scholarly stance holding the “W” microphone. The crowd jumped. Everyone was on their feet. Dwayne had us.
“How dare you support that kind of language?!” Sandow said. “You should be ashamed of yourselves!” The Rock rolled beneath the ropes back on stage.
They looked deep in each other’s eyes. The Rock’s vein on the side of his head pulsed. He offered his hand, “Tell you what we’re going to do. The Rock’s going to give you a gift. He’s going to give the gift of uh…a Little Rock handshake.”
“I was wrong about you,” Sandow said. “You really don’t care about what these people think.” He pointed at us. “You know what, I’ll take that handshake. NONE OF YOUR OPINIONS COUNT. This is how gentlemen part ways.” They had come to a truce, shook and paused. We booed. The Rock used the screen time to show his white teeth.
“Here’s a little gift, from Little Rock to you,” The Rock said and lifted Sandow up with one arm. He slammed him to the ground. It startled Mi and she dropped the jar of moonshine cherries. No one heard the thick glass shatter over the roar of the crowd as Sandow lay there in the center, stiff as a dead fish, and I decided not to leave Little Rock.