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VI by Simon Fuh

X,

Have a great summer! he wrote me as he slipped away from dark recesses, be mine you sly fox, I feel the back of your painted nails trace across my shivering skin. I always knew you cared but the lunch line says otherwise. Do you really think you can just take whatever you want? I hear you call to me as I escape the drone of class with my hall pass. Is that you behind the wrestling mats? I unravel them like my memory unravels when I look at the yearbook from back then and realize that you were never there in the first place. But mopping the mats always brought you closer to me because when they were clean they held carefully our bodies. Who knew they could hit the ground so hard and still be safe.

When you come to my rescue in the basement gym, I’m found three quarters submitted by half nelson, and I see you in the corner blink twice, the hairs on your forearm stand up like chicken skin, shimmering, and I sigh wondering why I ever came down here in the first place. The bus home, the walk home would be better. But the feeling of being thrown around someone’s hip is as erotic as it is exhausting, like riding the Fireball but having your seatbelt come undone on the way down, only you had to run 10 kilometers to get there.

With bravado the wrestlers and I carried one another up through the halls, a spectacular display of masochist workouts, but also when else were you allowed to let another boy your size carry you like a baby up three flights of stairs? The closest I got to the experience of being in another body like mine, daydreams something like Being John Malkovich , except instead of piloting a celebrity from a command centre behind the eyes, slipping just beneath the skin of this teenager and comparing all the little differences between us. The trade off was that you had to carry them too, and there you are again watching me in smokers’ corner, pushing open the doors to let in the winter air. Those stairs so much fresher. The ones down to the gym clanged and rattled with the chatter of the football team. It is here that I will become what I am. High school’s ultimate lie that only the good don’t believe: that it’s the place you become who you are.

The mats are soft yet dense. They press down for milliseconds and pop back. You can punch it and it won’t hurt, but it also won’t remember you like a hole in the drywall would. Their memory is invisible, “Leave it all on the mat!”, and it’s probably still there, especially in the form of ringworm – hence the bleach in the mop water. Joined with the other smells in that room, an amazingly unique stink. But they have character, like the old hardwood floors of warehouse boxing clubs, the first time I felt the aura of tradition in a gym. For all its violence, boxing is a romantic sport. Feet dance, and jabs say hello. Coaches cry when they talk about their champions. Puking is common. Fighting sports share so much. Who hasn’t done jumping jacks with a garbage bag on in a sauna? Don’t cut weight, and you’ll spend the whole weekend getting thrown around by twelfth graders that usually weigh 25 pounds more than you. There he is, such-and-such, he’s the best in Saskatchewan. Placed third in Canada last year. He rips and slides circles around his opponent, smiling, taunting. He grapples him, prostrate, lifting his legs up by the ankles and using the leverage to tilt his shoulders past ninety degrees in each direction, each time they cross the plane nets a point. I’d never seen anyone with so much control over another body. One minute, whistle blown, match over, lunch time. I stare out the window and see you drive by in a two-door Honda Civic. Is that us in the future getting high listening to Nas? Buy me a Slurpee and roll in the grass so our mothers don’t smell the weed, that’ll work. I see you out there and I remember that I’m trapped. Five years earlier, we’re having a sleepover, and you say to me, You know that feeling you get when you wake up on the first day of summer? That’s the feeling I have every day when I wake up knowing that I’m not white. Your intoxicating pride, the strange wisdom of a ten-year-old grappling with race, we’re unique here, a special bond. How a mat can unlock a train of memories.

* * *

We open the commercial bolt to our basement studio, and are greeted halfway down the stairs by a thick, shameless smell of stale alcohol, like a bottle recycling depot. Each step on the chipboard floors below causes the boards to sag noticeably at the seams, softened as if they’d been left out overnight in the rain. The grey paint on top is covered in a thin layer of dirt, caked by sticky spilt beer and g & t’s. We replace the cheap coloured glass bulbs with bright, cold white LED ones, which reveal in uncomfortable detail the mess from last night. It’s bad, but it’s not that bad. I’m literally hungover, I say, jokingly. The floors are absolutely filthy, we can’t have an exhibition like this. I’ll get the mop. Back and forth, Have you done this before? I used to as a kid. And again and again at the restaurants. A dancefloor last night after a deep clean and an Instagram post turns into a gallery floor tomorrow, but every time I mop I’m transported to the mats, where I swooped the heavy mophead in broad, elegant wax-on-wax-off-like strokes, except for down here we’ve replaced the tap water/bleach mixture with a a more palatable “eco-friendly” alternative. Erasing the foot traffic from last night tugs at my heart a little bit, How many people came through? Must have been like 150? Feels good but I really need some water. Should we tell Mark about the sink? Oh, I dunno, I think you can replace it pretty easily. They sell them at the Restore. Alright, I’ll see if Piper can fix the bathroom lights. I wonder what happened to that guy. Greta said she saw someone run out with their hood up. I wonder if he was trying to reach the bulb and took the whole thing down. An inconvenience to be sure, but a memorable story for the first one. And that’s how we learned how to replace a sink. Now the barbershop is using it all as a storage space or something, what a shame. I wonder if the broken one is still down there; I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away when we left.