A few years into her wrestling career, when she was bad, Erica recognized that great unspoken truth about the way men see women. If they don’t get to love them—by which she meant, fuck them—they hated them. And if they loved them, it was only for as long as they wanted. Then they’d hate them anyway.

When she was bad, she stopped swimming upstream.

When she was bad, she teased men. Got up close to man in the John Deere hat in the front row, close enough that she might kiss, then whispered hot in his ear, In your dreams.

And that’s all it took. A little individual attention to a few key marks at ringside to get them hot. Then the constant cheating in the ring, pulling a girl’s hair on every lockup, and pulling on her tights for leverage with every pin. Cower away from the offense, then jam a thumb in her opponent’s eye as soon as this good girl gave her some mercy.

The booker put her under the tutelage of Molly Magdalene, the oldest heel in the territory, and Molly took her to finishing school. Taught her what was, in retrospect, the most important lesson of all about how to be bad. You’ve got to live your gimmick.

            The scene: a gas station outside Waco after midnight. They were just trying to make it to the next town, and Erica got the responsibility of buying coffees to keep the car—most importantly the driver—awake. They’d sing along to the radio, and they’d play twenty questions where the answer was always an old-time wrestler—one of the ways they’d been taught to preserve the tradition of the business. The penalty for falling asleep on an overnight drive was to lose bed privileges in the hotel rooms they’d share.

So Erica filled Styrofoam cups with the strong stuff. Thick enough to chew. Stuffed creamers and sugar packets in another cup and loaded them all in a carrier.

That’s when the little boy came up to her.

He had a Radical Robbie Jackson t-shirt, and green and black armbands, and it was clear enough he and his mother had come from the matches. Mom didn’t look like the wrestling fan type. Bushy hair, coke bottle glasses, a modest blouse over Blue Light Special dungarees. She must have gone to the show to make her kid happy. Maybe Dad was out of the picture and this was the best she knew how to do. And what luck, because here they’d stopped for gas and a snack, and there was real life wrestler—no mistaking her, six feet tall, tell-tale tattoo peaking from beneath her black t-shirt. That, and when he said her name, she’d looked.

He held out a crumpled receipt Erica could only assume had come from the pump outside, a ballpoint pen she could only assume his mother carried in an endless supply of practical items in her purse.

It would have been the easiest thing in the world to sign and leave that boy with the story to tell at school about seeing the wrestler out in the wild and having the signature to prove it.

But that wasn’t her gimmick.

She bent to him. Like she might give him a hug, maybe a kiss on the cheek, and she cocked her face up to look at mom when she whispered, In your dreams, loser.

            The boy cried. Loud, soul cries, and his mother was tougher than Erica would have guessed kneeling down and hugging the boy, but calling after Erica, too, that she was a no good bitch.

            Erica paid for the coffees and flashed Mom a smile on her way outside, knowing this was what mattered. This was the story that boy would tell for years to come—these moments when Erica wasn’t just bad, but the dirt worst.

***

Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and currently lives in Georgia with his wife and son. He has published three chapbooks: Autopsy and Everything After with Burrow press, Distance Traveled with Bent Window Books, and The Leo Burke Finish with Gimmick Press, and he has previously published short work with journals including The Normal School and Passages North. He works as a contributing editor for Moss. Find him online at miketchin.com or follow him on Twitter @miketchin.