Grudge Match

i.

Wrenched one eye open. Tried the other—was fastened shut, like it’d been glued or some shit. Why was she awake?

Right. Thunder. In threes, coming from the other side of the door—one, two, three, a short pause, then again. And. Fucking. Louder.

Marisol rolled her head, looked to the door on the other side of her small studio apartment—phlegm-yellow with dark brown strips where the paint had peeled, like the previous tenant had tried to claw their way free. The moss-coloured couch cushion beneath her was a shade darker at its centre, a mostly dried puddle of drool where her face had been. She moved a hand to her cheek, felt crust, flakes.

“Hey, Mari, open up!” It was a man’s voice.

Hijo de puta. Marisol pushed herself upright an inch at a time, feeling, as she moved, the wretched strain of every muscle on her left side. At first she couldn’t remember what had happened, why she hurt all fucking over, but in sitting all the way upright she recalled the body slam onto solid concrete that had put her in this state to begin with.

From outside, pounding: “Mari! Open the door!”

Marisol stood up, crimped to one side. She hobbled to the door and slipped the chain from its slot—

Antoine pushed his way in before the door was half open. The sight of him gave Marisol reason to pause—his black hair was close-cropped, showcasing the angular structure of the face he’d worked so hard and spent so much to acquire. His body, still narrow, had started to resemble an inverted triangle, with newly sculpted muscles providing his shoulders with a weight they’d not had in his previous life. Every fucking time, Marisol thought. Something new, something that wasn’t there before.

Antoine pinched Marisol’s jaw, turned her head to the right, a physician inspecting a wound. The left side of her face was melanoma-purple, puffed around the eye and still swollen shut.

“Jesus Christ,” Antoine said. “What in the hell happened to you?”

Marisol pulled away. “No es nada—it’s nothing.”

“It’s not nothing. You look like you’ve been hit by a freight train.” He watched her shuffle back to the couch and fall hard onto it. His gaze tracked the sorry state of her apartment: pots, pans, dirty dishes stacked high and black with flies; bundles of unwashed clothes in the living room piled like fall leaves; and blinds drawn, midday sun creeping through the slats setting fire to the dust in the air.

“It wasn’t a freight train.”

“The freight train that fucked the freight train then.”

Estoy bien.”

“Yeah,” Antoine said, looking around the room. “I can see that.”

“Is that why you’ve come? To criticize my home?”

“I came because I was worried about you.”

She laughed. “Just like that, out of the blue—you know what, I wonder how poor Marisol is doing. I should check on her. Maybe. If the mood strikes.”

“Mari—”

“Every three or four years.”

“Three,” Antoine said, somewhat defensively. “. . . And a half.”

“Get out.”

“Don’t do this, Mari. I’m worried about you. If somebody’s been hurting you I want to know.”

“Ha! Sure you do.”

“Are you gonna tell me who did this to you?”

“Are you gonna tell me why you’re really here?”

Antoine shifted in place, thrust his hands in the pockets of his worn jean jacket. “Your neighbour across the hall; she called me this morning. Said she saw you last night; said two men carried you home and that you looked pretty beat up.”

“And how the fuck does my neighbour have your number when I don’t? Have you been keeping tabs on me?”

“Mari, please—”

“Don’t fucking call me that. Matter of fact, don’t call me anything. Not ever. You don’t have the right.”

“I don’t have the right? What’re you talking—”

“It doesn’t matter,” Marisol snapped. “Just go, okay?”

“Not until you tell me what happened to you.” He glanced around the apartment again, the disarray like mould coating the roof of his mouth. “Were those guys drug dealers?”

She laughed again. “Maybe you need that shit to cope, novia, but not me.”

“Then what is it? What’s going on?”

Marisol hesitated, wondering if she should just— No, que mierda. She shook her head. “Just go.”

Antoine stared a moment longer. Marisol seemed more fragile than he remembered, but also tougher, skin hardened into a shell since he’d last seen her. Her shoulder-length black hair—darker than his—fell over the left side of her face, hiding most of the damage.

“Fine,” he said, “but don’t think I’m going to just let this drop.” He turned his back on her and pulled the door behind him as he left.

Marisol shuddered as it clicked shut. She lifted her shirt gradually, every motion eliciting a wince. She looked at herself: grim ripples, a gradient of purple and black. She looked closer, searching for the impressions the stars had left in her skin.

 

>>Restless: An Anthology, 2017

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