Before I could swish the water with my foot and make the angry drops of crimson disappear, Orani appeared in the doorway. I would have heard his footsteps against the concrete floors echoing through Egan’s Gym had I not been in the shower. It was December 11, 2048—Friday Fight Night. Blood afterwards was fine, but not before.
Orani should have been picking me up from my place, but I’d rented it out to some kids from Indiana who thought New York City was still the most exciting place to be. It was, if you could clear 150k a year. I could not, so I was sleeping at Egan’s, trying not to feel insignificant with the immensity of the night sky bearing down on me through the caved-in roof. Trying not to feel abandoned amongst the bars and weights and ropes that were my partners during the day. Trying to save money to stop fighting.
Orani’s eyes darted from the pink water swirling down the drain to my face above the stall. He stepped back into the darkness of the hallway.
“I brought your stuff.” He held up my gear and felt the wall for a hook.
“I don’t think that sports bra is mine.”
“It’s not. It’s one of mine. But since I don’t use them anymore…I washed it.”
“You’re supposed to not wash stuff for good luck.” I touched my cheeks, expecting them to be warm despite the water.
“You’re going to need more than good luck to stop that bleeding.”
I dried myself with a musty towel.
“I can stop the bleeding.” I inserted one of those new moon tampons, the ones that stopped your bleeding in an hour. A big improvement over the ones that took eight hours. I just needed to get past the ref’s check and stay clean through the victory lap. There were fights where you could free bleed through the whole thing. Where they wanted to see blood during the victory lap. But those fights were less popular and paid less. The suits that filled up the front rows, that showered the ring with handfuls of glittering pyrite, liked clean fights.
I pulled on both pairs of shorts and the sports bra Orani had given me. It smelled like his mint soap. I would smell that scent when he ran ahead of me. Up and down the stairs of The Cloisters, slim tree branches thwacking me in the face. My eyes on his back, as every month it fanned further into a V-shape.
“Why don’t we have a look in the mirror?” Orani followed me into the weight room.
“Not that shit again. Here, if you wanna be useful.” I tossed my blue hand wraps at him.
“Information is useful, Lani. I don’t understand why you don’t make use of everything available to you.” His hands circled around my wrists, covering them in a new blue skin. “You could have asked to crash at my place.”
I could have.
Despite my distaste for divination, I let Orani steer me to the slab of polished pyrite. “This isn’t information, it’s conjecture.”
Orani struck the mirror with a small steel bar.
The mirror’s face exploded with white light. It felt like a damn camera phone flash searing its way through my retinas so that it took a few blinks to see again. When my eyes adjusted, indigo specks were hurtling through flesh-colored space and landing on a concave surface. They formed something like a pupil. Or maybe a crater. Sunspots? Ink drops in water? The image snapped back to my reflection.
“Orani, how does this help me right now? Is there gonna be a meteor crash during my fight? Like what the fuck?”
He shrugged. “Sometimes it hits you later on. Let’s go or you’re gonna be late.”
The heat in Orani’s old 2028 Volkswagen Psyche never worked, but I was too hyped to feel cold. As he drove, he stuck a filter in his mouth and rolled a cigarette with one hand. It didn’t matter that I’d watched him do that since we were teenagers; it still made me want to climb into his lap and wrap myself in the crook of his neck. Instead I blurted, “After the fight do you wanna grab drinks?”
“Don’t we always?”
“I mean just us. Just you and me. Drink drinks. Like… datey drinks.”
Datey drinks? My mother used to punctuate her embarrassing moments by saying, Tragame tierra. And that is exactly what I wanted. For the ground to open up and swallow me. A Morrissey song on the radio filled what would have otherwise been a silent car with a more excruciating quality.
“Let’s see how you’re feeling after the fight. How’s that new moon working?” he asked.
“Good, good.” I stared out my window at the choppy water of the Hudson River.
It was not good at all. I rushed through the venue to the green room’s bathroom. My gym mates were a blur. Guitars blasted out the sound system. I replaced my new moon. It was twenty minutes to bell time.
“Maybe you shouldn’t fight tonight.” Orani pulled up a folding chair next to me.
“Sure, maybe I shouldn’t eat the next three months either.”
“Don’t be so dramatic.”
“It’s five minutes tops. I can make it.” I warmed up, shadow boxing to prove I believed my own words. This was only my fifth professional fight.
When this fighting was still a new thing, it had hooked us. Orani and I trained under Egan for a few years, but I didn’t feel ready to go pro until last year. Orani chose to make his money early, fast, and hard. Until he had enough for a new form. Then he didn’t want to use it the same way. I never wanted him to think I was like everyone else who wanted to do the same old things to his new body. See, sex and violence sell, but satiating curiosity pays. Instead, Orani took Egan’s place as our captain when our beloved crone died.
Someone yelled it was time. I pulled the new moon out and willed my body to hold tight. I followed Orani to the staging area. The smell of mint settled my stomach. I kept my eyes on his back.
“Don’t get your mouth busted up. You’ll need it later.”
My heart stopped.
He playfully slapped my chin. “The alcohol’ll sting.”
The black mesh curtains parted.
I couldn’t hear anything on my way to the ring, couldn’t focus on what Orani was telling me to do. My heart was beating so hard, my chest hurt. One of my gym mates, a British chick, warned me about losing my bottle. It was normal to feel the weak knees, the tunnel vision, the need to pee. It’s when you can’t rein it in that you’re in trouble. In the ring, I reminded myself I had done this before, four times. I could do this if I didn’t let my adrenaline run wild. I took a deep breath, kept bounce stepping, and scanned the crowd.
It was a packed house. The front row was a rack of designer suits in icy blues and silvers. The highest bidder, the guy sitting in the most expensive seat, looked like a freshly graduated financial district asshole. The kind that thought a stripper hover-pole in his living room was cool. The lights reflected off his gelled brown hair. He winked at me and shook a small pouch of pyrite like a treat for a dog. I looked away.
My opponent was a tall blond white girl, Myhho. She had a longer reach, longer legs and a face like a falcon. The ref patted us down. His glove was clean when he pulled it back out from my shorts. The new moon worked.
The bell rang and we danced. My nerves receded. I was loose. In control. But then I thought I felt slickness between my legs. Instinctively, I put my hand down, and that’s when Myhho caught me with the first left. Indigo specks hurtled through the air.
I’d never gotten accustomed to getting punched in the face. It tasted like disrespect, like something personal, not skill. I did what I knew better than to do—give chase. Every time Myhho blasted me in the face, she moved before I could react. She landed an elbow between my cheek and nose that made me stagger. I tasted blood. The bell ended the first round.
When I slumped into my corner, Orani’s doe eyes were wild. “What the fuck is going on out there?”
“I don’t know.”
I knew. There was more money in losing. Enough to buy time and figure out something else. Enough to not fight again if I was smart. Orani would’ve never let me do it if he’d known.
The bell rang. Myhho side-stepped a hook I threw everything into and I went down on a knee. I was up faster than I’ve ever moved in my life, but you can’t ever move fast enough to erase mistakes.
A headkick did me in. Everything went dirty white like city snow. I was on my back. Myhho got a clean shot to my face and another to my shoulder before the ref dove in. Tragame tierra.
I stood on the other side of the ref while he raised Myhho’s hand. They left the ring. I didn’t need to look to know Orani and my gymmates had mercifully left ringside. The highest bidder took off his suit jacket before stepping through the ropes. He executed a sloppy takedown, eliciting cheers from his friends, and unbuckled his pants for the victory lap. When he finished, the front of his pants wore maroon smudges. He cursed. I flipped him off and he flung the bag of pyrite in my face.
The downpour we ran through to reach the car hid my tears. Through the passenger window, the streetlights were distorted into red and lime green streaks by wind, water, and glass. I didn’t object when we parked in front of Orani’s place.
I took off my training bra, the one he had given me, in the shower. It plopped at my feet, as heavy as I felt. Drops of blood fell and dotted it. From where, I couldn’t tell – and it didn’t matter anymore. I hadn’t just lost a fight, I had thrown one, and it had had nothing to do with my moontime. I hadn’t lied to Orani about it, but I’d also acted as if I was alone. As if he wasn’t my trainer, my friend, or the person I loved. He hadn’t said a word in the car.
Orani stood in the kitchen, in a white undershirt, opening plastic containers.
“Let’s have leftovers. But like…datey leftovers. Datey dal and rice?” Barely able to hold back his grin, he slipped a drink in my hand. The ice cracked as it settled.
“I’m teasing. But I’m not joking.” He leaned in close enough for me to see dots of umber in his tawny irises. His eyes like the craterous surface of a new planet.
“You’re a fighter, Lani. You’re anything but sorry.”
He wrapped his arm around me. Our noses touched. My wet hair smelled of his soap.
“You know what I mean.”
“I know. But I don’t want you to be.”
I closed my eyes and sunspots erupted.
Alexandra Pacheco Garcia is an artist and educator living and working in Los Angeles, California. Alexandra received her BFA in photography from New York University and a Masters in Studio Art from the University of California, Irvine. Her current project, From the Archives of Elena C, based on the life of a spiritual medium and political radical living in 1970s Puerto Rico, will be featured in an upcoming solo show at The Angeles Gate Gallery in San Pedro, California.
Glendaliz Camacho was born and raised in New York City. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and 2015 Write A House Finalist. She has been an Artist in Residence at Jentel, Caldera, Kimmel Harding Nelson, and Hedgebrook. Glendaliz is a Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation (VONA) alum. She is currently the recipient of a Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Workspace residency. Her work appears in The Female Complaint: Tales of Unruly Women (Shade Mountain Press), All About Skin: Short Fiction by Women of Color (University of Wisconsin Press), and The Butter, among others. Glendaliz is currently working on a short story collection, a fantasy novel, an essay collection, and a musical.