100 Miles From Memphis

by Andrew BALES
 

Somewhere between St. Louis and Dallas the bus pulls off and parks in front of a Starbucks. The bus driver, a small man dwarfed by the hula hoop steering wheel, says, “Five minutes,” and the amateur-circuit wrestlers file out. Kelly watches them from behind the counter. The wrestlers adjust their spandex and codpieces as they spread out, stretching their legs in the lobby. A few stand in contemplation by the specials board, fists propped against their chins. Kelly is amazed at their soft-spokenness. She can still make out Sheryl Crow looping the chorus of “100 Miles From Memphis” over their banter. There are maybe twenty of them, all various colors with similar top-heavy builds. Kelly imagines bulky action figures assembled for a high school reunion.

The guy in the neon-green spandex and the lightning bolt over his crotch is first to order. He asks can he please have a scone and an iced chai latte. Kelly rings it up and he pulls a ten from his headband. He’s smaller than the others and has expressive brown eyes. He says thanks and slides the change in Kelly’s tip jar.

When his drink comes up he whispers thank you again. He then clears his throat, takes a step back, and musters a yell: “You call this a chai latte?” He raises an eyebrow for effect. Kelly stops. The other wrestlers go silent. They flex every muscle in their bodies and watch.

“Excuse me?” Kelly asks, and Lightening Crotch loses focus. He seems flustered, like he’s nervous having his peers watch. He turns and tags a teammate, the one with the pre-torn tights and no shirt. The one fingering the enormous gold medal mounted on the belt that’s slung over his shoulder. He raises his free hand like he’s hoisting up Excalibur and screams, “In what universe is this a chai latte?”

Kelly is unsure if this is rhetorical, but answers anyway. “In this one?” she says.

“Nay!” the champ says, this time looking right at Kelly. She looks for the manager, but he’s on a smoke break. The champ takes a sip from the big green straw and winces. He holds his hand just in front of Kelly’s face. His fingers tremble, parted slightly like he’s telling her you’re this close.

This much sugar” he finally demands. “And where is the cinnamon?” The champ turns to the other wrestlers and pumps his arms. “Does nobody use fresh ginger these days?” he yells.

Lightening Crotch is riled up by this, gaining confidence. A guy in red has to hold him back. The other wrestlers are banging around chairs and standing on flimsy tables. They roar and look at their own reflections in the windows. Meanwhile, the champ leans over the counter and whispers to Kelly that this is the part where she is supposed to bring forth the manager. Then comes the bit where Lightening Crotch, after the manager so rudely feigns an apology, scores revenge by breaking a chair over his head. The champ slips a five in Kelly’s tip jar. This is becoming a very good day for Kelly. She says thanks and runs off to the back to find the manager.

Out front, the driver leans against the front of the bus. He sees them all riled up again. Inside, the champ is slapping the faces of the other wrestlers and tweaking their nipples. Everywhere has become a training ground. They’ll never make it to Dallas at this rate. The driver sighs and checks his sports watch. He tells himself it’s okay, that pulling into Dallas in the dark of night means at least you see less of it.

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