Fiction · 06/12/2013

A Comprehensive List of the Least Worst Way to Do Everything

I watch my dead brother’s wrestling matches and try to count the number of times he gets hurt for real. In one, a wispy tattooed man hits him with a monitor from the commentary desk. In the rematch, he hits him with the commentary desk.

I’ve got one of his boots on either side of the television. Maybe there’s a heart attack resting in my chest, too.

I know that only so much of anything is true, but I get lost watching the matches. Rodney knew how to honestly tackle delusion from both sides and I just can’t do it.

Until a lump forms between the top of his trapezius and his Adam’s apple, I really am convinced that nothing is wrong when a hulking Japanese man uses the side of an open hand to knife-edge him a dozen times in the neck.

+

One of Rodney’s old tag team partners calls me around noon and is over to the house in about an hour with thirty beers and thirty tacos. This is no problem because, out of me and Rodney, I’m the one who really looks like a wrestler. When I’d be at his matches and people would find out I’m his brother, they’d ask me why I wasn’t the one in there and I’d have to tell them, Look, if we were at the zoo you’d point at the gorilla cage and say the same thing.

Rodney’s partner, Kirby, is out of action with a torn quadriceps muscle. He’s got his leg stretched straight in front of him with a beer resting on his kneecap and he tells me, “You know how a few days after Thanksgiving you’ll wedge a thumb under the meat on a leftover drumstick and it pops off the bone? That’s that happened to my quad.”

Kirby also brings some semi-official bootleg footage of matches he and Rodney had in Puerto Rico. We start watching one and I use Kirby to cheat at my game. “Right there,” I say, pointing to Rodney after he leaps from the top of the ring to the floor and catches his ribs on the steel barricade. “What was that? Cracked ribs?”

“Not shit. Looked great, though,” Kirby says. “But watch this.”

A moment later, Kirby slingshots Rodney into one of their opponents, who ducks. The camera is back far enough to see their full bodies, and there’s no connection between Rodney and the post.

I go, “Big fucking deal.”

“Watch it again,” Kirby says, rewinds it. “Look at his right foot.”

I watch it again and sure enough, the corner of Rodney’s foot gets caught a bit on the post. Kirby says, “Broken pinky toe. Jammed the bone into his foot, too. The toe itself looked like a baby gerbil’s dick for about two months.”

I want to ask Rodney where I can find the perfect halves of opposites, ask him how much of any invention is invention.

Kirby throws the last taco on my plate and hobbles up to leave, says, “I’ve got some of Rod’s stuff at home. Call me when you’re ready.”

I open the door for him and watch him shamble to his car like a bad marionette, pull away carefully like he’s just learned how. Later, I get dinner in the park in half the time by having pizzas delivered to the pavilion and then rushing out the door to meet the driver.

This is Rodney’s trick, feeling for the middle of everything.

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When Rodney was younger he studied tapes of boxers reacting to punches. He was around thirteen and he already had a chest like an oil drum, was beyond questioning that he would become a wrestler one day.

What he would do is go get the full length mirror from our parents’ room and have me hold it for him while he mimicked the faces and stumbles after the boxers got hit. He’d pause the tape every few blows and write down the results in a notebook. Uppercut to jaw, start of round two, right leg goes back and arms look like kite strings. Left hook to gut, minute into round three, face like diarrhea.

The stuff he didn’t write down was the real crux of it. Each punch had its own sense of morality: what are you willing to reveal in terms of the actual pain you feel?

+

I have to watch Rodney’s first match ever on the display screen of an old camcorder. The cables to hook it up to the television have been lost for years. It’s an old bulbous thing that someone would use for comedic effect in staged flashback footage of a movie.

The footage starts not on Rodney, but on me. I’m grinning because he had told me at the last minute before heading back to the locker room to make sure the ring announcer introduces him as Rodney “The One Man Crime Scene” Mason. I think it’s funnier for him to be Rodney “The One Man Ice Cream” Mason, so that’s what I tell the ring announcer.

It comes over the speakers. Rodney doesn’t even blink. It was still wrestling, still a sort of magic. He walks into the crowd and grabs a kid’s ice cream cone, takes a lick and starts a two-beat chant for ice cream, ice cream.

He’s a hero. He smashes the cone on his opponent’s head to start the match. Later, he scoop slams his opponent and then does it again and again. The crowd and announcers count the scoops.

On the tape, I can hear my father laugh, figuring it all out and saying to me, “See, there’s always a way to win.”

+

I try to stop watching the matches. I clean my kitchen twice. I take my toothbrush to the grout in the shower. I go to the store and buy a new toothbrush.

I end up back in front of the television. Rodney falls off a ladder and through the seat of a folding chair and the camera gets close. His eyes look like broken venetian blinds. I’m certain he’s hurt. Because I’ve been wrong before, I can make myself believe he’s fine.

Because I’m the older brother, my grief categorizes as guilt. In considering what I personally could have done differently, I expect retroactive deliverance, an alternate timeline wherein Rodney’s heart still beats.

I lean in during his moments of rest and look closely to see if I can ration out real ache and real spectacle against their opposites.

+

As a favor to Kirby, I go over to pick up Rodney’s stuff. I explain this act of goodwill and Kirby tells me that my face is especially settled today, hands me too much coffee and says that grief is an odd thing.

I open the box and right on top, the first thing I see, is a layer of notebooks. I rest my hand on them, look at Kirby and tell him about the boxers, the documentation of their hits.

“I want it to work for me,” I say.

Kirby goes, “That would be nice, wouldn’t it?” and then uses his crutch to close the notebook I’m looking at. His wrists look like yams. He’s grinning constantly, even in the footage I watched where his quad tore away from the bone. He was all teeth and no surprises.

Deeper into the box are headbands, kneepads, masks. More notebooks under that. This is Rodney, sweaty things and a comprehensive list of the least worst way to do everything. I grab a roll of wrist tape out and put it in my pocket, tell Kirby he can keep the rest. Before I go I take one last look at it sitting on his floor and think, Sucker punch, last round, face like a thing that’s not a face.

+

I make it through all the matches except one. It’s a tag match with Rodney and Kirby against Benny and Kenny Durntz, two dickheads with a fitness gimmick. They’ve got eight-pack abs, the kind that come to right under their pecs. They get to the ring by doing jumping jacks and right away I hate them.

Kirby starts off in the ring and the fitness guys isolate him, work him over in their corner and make lots of fast tags. The legal man will wrench his leg and then hold it while he tags, not let go until the other guy gets in.

Kirby hits a big move out of desperation, begins rolling toward his corner. Wrestling narrative is base-level. The crowd is stomping their feet. Rodney gets the hot tag at the same time Benny does. He ducks a fitness clothesline and spits a mouthful of water he’d been holding in his mouth for five minutes, right into Kenny’s face.

Kenny falls to the ground laughing. The ref does, too. Kirby’s on the ground outside the ring facedown, still selling the abuse, but the camera finds him shaking with laughter. Same thing for Benny. Rodney is the last man standing. He raises his hands, starts chanting, H-2-O-NO with clapping in between. This sideways joy — sense in nonsense — is when I stop everything that hasn’t already stopped.

+

I want to do what Rodney did, just once. The two weeks I’ve taken off work are almost up and his boots barely fit me. I try them on and have to wedge my heel down in past the narrow part of the ankle. With Rodney’s tape, I wrap up one wrist tightly, one wrist loosely. I open my palms and then roll them slowly into fists.

This is after the last match is over. Rodney lost and the crowd cheered anyways.

The inside of Kirby’s knee still looks like beef jerky and he misses training so much that it only takes three shots of whiskey for him to agree to get into a ring with me. We take a cab and I jog to the ring, roll in under the bottom rope like Rodney always did.

Kirby tells me that he’s going to bounce me off and give me a clothesline. “Hit the ropes with the flat of your back, not the side,” he says. “Leave your feet just a second before impact and move with my arm when you go backwards. Use your palms and forearms to break your fall and get as much of your back on the mat at the same time as you can.”

I tell him I’m ready and then I do everything wrong. The ropes pinch my kidneys when I hit them at an angle and Kirby, planted with his crutch, knocks me straight back so hard that my feet come up and almost hit him under the arm. I breathe out slowly and squint at the lights. My life rests heavy between what I do and do not know.

+

I was a wrestling fan before Rodney was. I’m not sure if that is part of bragging or blaming.

I go online and watch the first bit of wrestling I showed him. Andre the Giant rips off Hulk Hogan’s cross necklace and throws it to the ground. I remember that, during the commercial, Rodney calmed down enough to tell me about how some kids in school were saying that wrestling is a bunch of — he was just learning swear words, so he said it quietly — bullshit.

The show comes back on, Hogan is just standing there.

The camera zooms in way close on the necklace, forgets about the wrestlers for a moment. The chain is snapped and coiled in a mess on the red carpet and Hogan is still just standing there, dumbstruck.

Rodney stops sniffling and stands up, rips his shirt like Hogan, for Hogan.

I don’t know which truth to tell him.

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Ryan Werner is a janitor in the Midwest. He is the author of the short short story collection Shake Away These Constant Days (Jersey Devil Press, 2012). He runs the small chapbook press Passenger Side Books, is on Twitter as @YeahWerner, and has a website named www.RyanWernerWritesStuff.com.