Rocky de Leon
People always say the juiciest things when they think you aren’t listening. Cynthia Louise Walker regularly takes advantage of this fact. In Donnie Walker’s private restroom, hidden in the back of Jurassic HQ, Cindy was doing unmentionable things. Things some ladies would have you believe they never do. She regretted her choice of lunch, and cursed her past self for declaring that the effects of the Cheesy Gordita Crunchwrap Supreme would be “Future Cindy’s problem.” Whilst she waited for this problem to rectumfy, *ahem* rectify itself, she did what any proper Southern Belle would and strained to listen to the conversation going on in the other room.
It was hard to hear much, but one phrase from Rocky rang loud and clear through the Charlie Brown trumpets.
“…I can’t believe I got fucking cancer…”
WHAT. Cindy’s heart jumped into her throat. She focused her will to her ears.
“…Just take it one step at a time, Rock…”
“…wouldn’t give you anything you can’t handle…”
“Christ. The Love Convoy and Paxton Ray failed to kill me,
so the universe decided this was its last option, is that it?”
“…we’ll figure something out…”
“…take a few days, clear your head –
don’t make any rash decisions.”
“I only have two weeks. What’s the fucking point?”
Tears welled in her eyes; she found it difficult to breathe or swallow as her laryngeal muscles contracted uncontrollably. TWO WEEKS? He only has two weeks? I only get him for two more weeks?!
She finished her business, flushed, rapidly washed her hands, and burst out of the washroom just as Rocky was heading out the door. She sprinted past Stu and her father.
He paused, and turned, only to be tackle-hugged by a tan and blonde sonic boom.
Tears wet his chest. “…Carlos,” she whispered. She lifted her head and looked into his eyes. Her calves taught and abs engaged, she rose on her toes to place a gentle kiss on his cheek before running back to the office, sobbing.
Rocky stared after her. “…the fuck was that?”
The FDP finished his pre-flight check-in from his Uber, and opened the dialer app to call Daisy.
A shitty quality recording of Fat Lip by Sum 41 piped through the ear piece. Daisy still paid for a Ringback service that let him replace the ring tone with a sound of his choosing. Apparently it was worth $5 per month to assault any would-be callers with horrible early 2000s pop-punk until they either hung up or persevered long enough that he knew the call had to be important.
Rocky was fortunate to never have to wait long. “Sup, ‘los?”
Buildings blurred as the car sped toward Laredo International. “Hey, Daze – need a favor. Gonna be gone a week or so. Can you get by the house and make sure the yard and plants get watered if we don’t get any rain? The lawn finally looks something other than completely brown.”
“Sure thing, brother. But, um, aren’t you like, supposed to fight Cancer-fucking-Jiles next week? Shouldn’t you be trainin’ or some shit?”
Rocky sighed, “How do you know that?”
“You still don’t get this whole ‘broadcast on national TV’ thing, do you?” Daisy was at that very moment watching a rerun of ReVival 31 and wincing as Paxton Ray connected with Rocky’s jaw.
“…right. Well… yeah, yeah I’m fighting Cancer Jiles next week.”
“So…?” A commercial for pterodactyl language lessons played in the background.
“So what difference does it make? Dude’s gonna wipe the floor with me. Might as well go fight something I might actually be able to beat.”
“And that is?” An out of place British voice gave instructions.
“I’m headed to Yuma. There’s a recent influx of refugees from Mexico and further South. The government in Arizona has been screwing with them. Gonna go see if I can’t… well, maybe not fix the problem, but make it better… somehow.”
“Bro.” Skrees pierced through the earpiece.
“Look, between Jiles and the immigration crisis, I think I have a better shot at beating immigration. And, I dunno, I feel like Dad would have wanted me to do this.”
“I just want to go somewhere and do some actual good this week before… before.”
“Yeah, man, good idea. Besides, one of those old bats will probably flat line when you lose again, so you need some good karma built up.”
“I hate you.”
Rocky ended the call.
That night, Cindy reclined in her bed. Her eyes drooped, her hair was devoid of its typical shine and volume, and her ensemble was composed of soft gray sweatpants, a tank top, and fuzzy slippers rather than bright colors and couture. Sleep eluded her, though the glow and noise emanating from her TV on the dresser wasn’t helping any.
It ain’t fair! He’s worked so hard, and he’s been so good to all them ladies at the rest home. He gave Stu somethin’ ta do otherun just tippy tappin’ at his durn keyboard all day, and dangit if I ain’t got used to seein’ his face. Those abs don’t hurt, neither…
Randy Fenoli’s peppy energy failed to improve her mood. Besides, that wedding dress looked absolutely horrible on that woman, and her friend and mother should have known better than to suggest otherwise. Shoulda said “No” to that dress, darlin’. Cindy turned the volume up on the TV, went to the bathroom, and prepped her skin for sleep.
It ain’t right hearin’ ‘im talk all defeated-like. There’s gotta be somethin’ Ah can do to help.
Randy indicated that he had a surprise dress he had held back from the prospective bride, and the show cut to commercial on that absolute bomb of a cliff hanger. Sarah McLaughlinn’s “In the Arms of the Angels” played softly behind a voice over. “…little Timmy was born with no arms, no legs, and no goats. For only three dollars a day, you can provide Timmy’s family a legless goat for him to grow up with and feed directly from his own mouth…”
I wasn’t just being defeatist when I told Daisy I had a better shot at helping the immigrants than beating Jiles. I really don’t know what’s going on with the bigwigs running PRIME, but either I’m doing something right or something very very wrong. The logic kind of escapes me… lose repeatedly, keep getting booked higher, and get my ass kicked harder and harder. I’m failing upwards. It’s the Peter Principle in action, except with fists and knees to my throat and nuts, respectively.
He rubbed his face and looked in the mirror of the airplane bathroom. Despite his best efforts, Paxton Ray had managed to connect with Rocky’s already busted jaw. It was healing, slowly, though it clicked a little now when he opened his mouth sometimes. The scar was definitely going to remain without further surgical intervention. He hadn’t yet decided whether he wanted to keep it.
I guess maybe it doesn’t matter if I win a match if I’m winning the popularity contest?
The FDP looked at his finances while waiting for take off. He was pleasantly surprised to see the status of his accounts. Residuals and merch sales were being kind to him, even if his bookings weren’t. Kind enough that he didn’t even look at the price of the Uber he called when he landed.
Don’t I have a responsibility to them, though? Don’t I have to do something to prove to the kids who buy foam pterodactyl heads that their hero is worthy of their admiration? To show my fan club that I’m more than just abs in a mask? What about Donny, Stu, and Cindy? Are they sick of supporting me when all I do is continually lose? How good can I be for the gym if I just keep losing? How long until they just cut me loose?
Neil Young played in the 2017 Toyota Camry that picked him up. A laminated sign taped to the back of the front passenger seat read, “Your Driver.” Taped to it was a photo seemingly taken with a potato and the name “Graham” typed beneath it. The FDP enjoyed the soothing melodies of “Heart of Gold” and “Old Man” before reaching the outskirts of Yuma and heading down Wall Lane.
If I can’t win… if I’m going to keep running through the ringer in fights I’m just not ready for… I have to at least give them reasons to cheer. I have to earn their praise. It’s not enough to be the hardest worker, to have the best hair, or to be the coolest person in the ring, no matter what some people in blue, skin-tight leggings with eggs printed on them may think. The people watching from home deserve someone worthy of their love.
Even before he reached the border, Rocky could feel waves of pain and desperation coming from the other side. Throngs of people camped in the dust, hoping to be among the lucky few whose families were allowed to cross the invisible line between poverty and opportunity. More than 3,000 men, women, and children sought shelter from the sun under makeshift tents. Some didn’t have a tent, and cowered in limited shade from the wall itself.
He approached the guard at the border on foot with passport in hand. Eyes behind aviator sunglasses judged him. “What’s in the backpack and cooler?”
Rocky took the bag off his shoulders, unzipped it, and displayed the contents to the patrolman. “Just water, sir.” The badge opened the lid to the roller cooler trailing behind Rocky, nodded, stamped the passport, and waved the FDP through.
Maybe I’ll beat Cancer Jiles, maybe I won’t. At the end of the day, win or lose, I need to give the people that look up to me a hero worthy of the title. I need to be more than a cheap pair of sunglasses; more than a single-minded fighter; more than just a waste-of-air mouthpiece spouting off about his opponent and solving all his problems with his fists and feet.
I’m sure Jiles thinks these people, just like everyone else, are beneath him. He thinks they are “crumbs.” How could anyone be so callous as to see what I’m seeing and feel anything but sorrow and compassion? What is wrong with a man who views other humans as less than?
He IS wrong, though. These people are full of life, dreams, and longing. They’ve worked harder than he ever has just to get here with no actual promise of reward. If anything, their souls are loaves of bread, and he is the nearly empty vessel – the crumb on the floor, the barest remnant of what a person should be. PRIME has corrupted him. Or maybe he was corrupted before PRIME, who knows?
Rocky wove his way through the crowds of people, passing out bottles of water to anyone who would take them. He regretted he had not also brought food. Several wan faces with sunken eyes attached to nearly skeletal figures evidenced widespread malnutrition. Their hope may well have been the only thing keeping them alive after traveling thousands of miles to this spot. He wished desperately that he could bring them all back with him, but he knew what Mateo would have told him…
I had no idea when I signed up that there were all these forces at work in PRIME, but I’ve run into some amazing and some truly awful people. Where do I fall on the spectrum? I hope I haven’t allowed PRIME to devour any part of my soul. No matter how horrible or demented my opponents may be, I don’t want to fall even partly to their level to beat them. If I let fame, money, or some ill-advised hunt for glory change me, will I be any better than all the cheaters and psychos I get booked against? If I let them change me, doesn’t that just make me another Jiles?
… “You can’t solve the world’s problems, son. All you can do is take action to improve the lives of those around you, and hope that in turn they do the same. If we all do just a little bit of good, there will be a whole lot less bad.”
…I became a luchador for a reason. I wanted to prove to myself that I am the man my father raised me to be – that he taught me I could be. I need to show all the kids at home what they can be. I came to PRIME for a reason.
Rocky called over to the border guard. “Sir? Sir! When does your shift end?”
The guard glanced at his watch, then up at the sun, “Soon, but not as soon as I’d like. Why?”
“If I trust you with my credit card, when your shift ends will you go to the nearest Walmart, Target, or whatever, buy as much bottled water as you can fit in your car, and bring it back here?” Rocky opened his wallet, removed his Visa, and held it out.
The sun reflected off the security chip into the guard’s eyes. After a moment, he nodded and took the card. “Anything for the FDP.”
Rocky’s lips parted slightly and his eyes widened.
“Don’t be so shocked that I know who you are, dude. We’re in Yuma, not Afghanistan. We have cable. Skree!” White teeth flashed below the aviators.
“Time ta get ta work, you assholes.” The morning paper was unceremoniously ripped from the hands of Donny’s Gym’s namesake. The lid of Stu’s laptop was slammed closed by hands which had just deposited an unreasonable amount of streamers, deflated balloons, and what looked to be one metric assload of glitter. “Ah cannot BELIEVE y’all thought you could hide this from me.”
“Miss Walker,” Stu cocked an eyebrow, checking his laptop for damage with his peripheral vision, “please calm down and control yourself. What on earth are you so upset about?”
“CANCER?! Fucking CANCER?” She dropped phone books in front of each of the men, “Which of you was gonna tell me that Rocky is fighting CANCER?”
The corner of the National News section folded down to reveal one steely gray eye. It looked Cindy up and down. The paper flipped back up into place.
Stu lifted and inspected the tome in front of him, “Miss Walker, please! I… I thought you knew? I mean, it is… public information…” he turned it over in his hands, unsure what purpose the pages served.
“PUBLIC FUCKING INFORMATION?! AIN’T YOU BOYS NEVER HEARD AH HIPPO?!”
Stu mouthed “hippo” silently and slowly, his eyelids narrowing, his mouth pursed at the end of the word.
An interruption came from behind newsprint mimicking 1980s Berlin. “HIPAA, darlin’. Health Insurance Privacy and Assholery Act. HIPAA.”
Stu glanced at Donny, “Portability and Accountability Act.”
Feet in heels paced the room, and Cindy’s arms went airborne. “S’what Ah said, dammit! Hippo, hippuh, hippy, whatever the hell, it ain’t right to go around talkin’ ‘bout Rocky’s medical problems with the flippin’ public, but it ain’t right neither to leave me COMPLETELY IN THE DARK.”
Stu’s eyes widened and sparkled with light. “Medical problems! Oh, Miss Cindy, I am so sorry I think you must have mis-”
“Missed the message.” Donny folded the Chronicle, grabbed his mug, and walked over to his progeny. “You must have missed the message, sugar. Come on now – I know, it’s hard finding out Rocky only has a couple weeks to fight Cancer.” A single tear fell down Cindy’s cheek. “But ya know what? Ya know what he needs most right now? He needs our support. Now you tell us what this big plan is ya got brewin’ and what all this shit in my office is fer.”
One week later, Rocky walked with renewed purpose into Donny’s Gym. “Alright, Stu,” he called out as he passed through the double doors. “I got your message. I’m here and ready to… what’s going on?”
The gym looked wholly unfamiliar to Rocky. The wrestling rings were all replaced with circular tables with pristine white tablecloths. Pterodactyl balloons mimicked the natural flight of their prehistoric subjects alongside green streamers thanks to the aid of the powerful air conditioning. Thirty tables were filled with people in tuxedos and fancy dresses with pterodactyl masks. The tablecloths were embroidered with the word “SKREE” in calligraphic script, repeated all the way around the edge. Past the tables, a makeshift stage was erected with a metal platform covered with green curtains. Above the stage, a banner read simply, “FUCK CANCER.” The guests all turned to face him.
Cindy walked briskly from a table near the stage. She wore a shimmering green square-necked, shirred-waist dress with a skirt that flared out and stopped at the knee, with matching heels. Her blonde hair flowed like a waterfall over her shoulders. She took Rocky gently by the hand and led him to the front. “They’re all here for you, Rock.”
She noticed him eyeing the banner. “I hope you like it. Daddy said it’s what you woulda wanted.” Rocky glanced over at Donny who was gently shaking and appeared to be fighting back tears of his own. Cindy gestured for Rocky to take a seat at her table before stepping up on the stage and taking a microphone from Stu.
“Ah wanna thank you all for comin’ tonight. It means a lot to me to see all of ya here showing your support for Rocky with the biggest fight of his life. His fight with cancer.” Donny was shaking harder. Rocky thought he might be sobbing. “Ah guess Ah haven’t known him as long as some of you,” she gestured over to a table where John Daisy sat, grinning, “but Ah know my life wouldn’t be as good without Rocky… without Carlos de Leon in it.” She gestured through the applause for Rocky to join her on the stage.
The FDP slowly made his way up the stairs, completely amazed that so many people were invested in his success. Cindy hugged him and handed him the microphone. She stood on tiptoe and her lips brushed his ear, “Ah think they all might wanna hear you say somethin’, Rock.”
He accepted the microphone, walked past her to the center of the makeshift stage, and gazed out into the packed gym. “Heh, um…” a brief moment of feedback rang through the room as 250 faces stared at Rocky’s unmasked visage. He reflexively rubbed the scar on his jaw.
The crowd waited. A clock ticked in the office.
“It’s really because of you that I’m still standing here today.”
Rocky’s grip on the microphone was firm, his back straight, and his feet planted firmly on the stage at shoulder width. He looked behind himself at the banner, then back at the audience. He noticed many in the audience had rubber bracelets on, but instead of LIVESTRONG yellow, these were FDP green and read “SKREE.” The Master of Moonsaults grinned. “Fuck Cancer, am I right?” A mix of cheers and giggles burst from the audience.
“Cancer is the worst. Cancer doesn’t care about you, or your loved ones. Cancer only wants to put everyone down and brush us off… like crumbs.” The FDP’s pursed his lips, closed his eyes, lowered his head, and pulled the microphone to his chest.
The giggles stopped. The room was silent as he opened his eyes, lifted his head, and began to pace along the edge of the stage, making eye contact with every member of the audience in turn.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen this week. Hell, none of us know what’s going to happen.”
He looked at Cindy, “I could die on August 12th,” then back to the audience, “I… we all could die tomorrow. Hell, I might live another 80 years, if I’m stupidly lucky. All I know for sure is I’m going to go out there, fight like hell, and show every man, woman, and child in America – no, in the world – what it means to stand up for yourself and what you believe in. Show them that even if I lose this fight with Cancer, there’s still good in this world, work to be done, and a life worth living. Don’t worry though – I’m still going to do my damndest to kick Cancer’s ass!”
The crowd roared. Cindy looked at Rocky with awe, and tears filled her eyes. Without a hint of hesitation, she ran up the steps to the stage, ignoring the applause and cheers, jumped, threw her arms around Rocky’s neck, and kissed him full on the mouth. The crowd grew louder. When her muscles relaxed, she allowed herself to gently descend to the floor. Realization set in. “Ex…excuse me, I just… I have to…” Green shimmering pumps stepped rapidly off the stage to get lost in a crowd of cheering fans.
Rocky stared after her. “…the fuck was that?”