The city was full of glamorously tanned kids: on bikes, in hyper-coloured bathing suits, on skateboards, at the arcades, in the malls, mowing lawns, having their hair cut. The summer was a wide brilliant green and a large tireless orange; it swelled in miracles. Ricky Galore was sucking on homemade pink-lemonade Popsicles, reloading the ice cube tray, and relishing his thirteenth summer.
Down the hall, in the den, his fourteen-year-old sister, Holly, was sweating buckets. That’s what she called it.
“Ricky!” she yelled. “Get me one!”
Ricky was in the kitchen.
“Yeah, I’m a-comin’,” Ricky shouted back. “What kind? ”
The Popsicles were on heavy rotation.
“Cold! Seriously,” Holly said, a harsh look in her soft brown eyes, “this is nuts. We’re going to fucking melt.”
“Better than going with Mom and Dad to Hamilton,” Ricky said, his mouth muffled by an empty plastic cup.
“That’s true.” Holly gagged on her cube. “Fuck. O.K., let’s think.”
“We could go underwater,” Ricky said with a slow, almost toad-like delivery.
“Wha? ” Holly murmured, both parched and angry. “Ice water, get me ice water too.” She was flipping around the dial with the television remote. The television was on mute. “It’s, like, a billion degrees.”
She kicked the sheet off the couch.
“It’s cool in my room,” Ricky said.
“Your dungeon? ” Holly sniggered. “Don’t forget my cup! Your room is all dark and spooky.”
“So are you,” Ricky said, taking his sister’s cup from her hand.
Ricky was fast with the waters and Popsicles.
“Dungeon smungeon. Beats having, ah, sweaty tits.”
“Queer bait. Ricky! Water! I’m a sweaty Betty!” She sucked her cube then bit the hard zero-calorie pellet into oblivion.
Sitting beside her, Ricky poured a bit of his drink on his sister’s legs.
“Ahhh!” Holly cooed. “Freak boy! That’s freezing!”
“You said you were melting. Let’s get a pool.”
“My legs are a pool.” Holly made a nerdy photo smile. “Let’s go to a pool.” She got up off the couch and stretched. “I’ll call Liz.”
Liz was fun, a playful blond who occasionally had a potty mouth that always caught Ricky off guard. Holly dialed and twirled the wire around her thumb. Ricky’s bladder trembled, his head beaded sweat, his mouth felt full of pretzels. He felt slowed down by something.
The heat had reached his temples.
Third ring. Holly looked over at her younger brother.
“Wanna call any of your crappy little pals? ” she asked.
“No, they’re all on probation.”
“For masturbation? ”
“No,” Ricky said, mentally consulting a dwindling list of neighbourhood mid-carders.
“They’re in slings? ”
“I don’t know.”
Holly turned her head to the phone.
“You home? You alive? Cool. Hey, Liz, Lizzy, Elizabeaut, wanna go swim-swim?…I’m with Ricky. We is hot tamales….What?…Yeah?…Oh-key. After….Sure.”
“Well? ” Ricky asked.
“She’s where? ”
“She’s in—as in she swim-swim.”
“My baby Elizabeth is in a romantic quarantine.”
“Huh? ” Ricky said.
“Nothing. She’s lovesick over this guy, but he’s too old for her, like twenty-three or something. Some college guy.”
“Get your suit. To the bikes!”
They pedalled toward the crummy community pool—its blue skin hovering over a black-striped, chlorinated ocean giving off the smell of grilled skin.
Ricky lay down on the deck. Eyes clenched, the orange, pink, and red veins he saw darkened in the heat. As he opened his eyes, dozens of benign sunspots, birthmarks, and freckles pranced on other bodies, on lifeguards, on passersby, on winos, on his sister, on…Elizabeth.
“Ricky, you’re gonna burn.”
“Huh? ” Ricky was now awake. He hadn’t planned on falling asleep. His mind was being rewired by the heat, a part of him wanting nothing more than to be a tile in the girls’ change room.
“Come on, get in the water. We’re bored in here!” Elizabeth chimed in. “Ohhhhhh yyyyyyeeeeaaaahhhh!” Ricky said, getting to his knees, pointing like a sprinter at Elizabeth’s wholesome body, her boom-boom hips, chest, and behind slick with chlorinated water. His eyes flickered like Morse code as they examined her contoured black one-piece bathing suit.
“Come on down, Ricky!” Holly said, bobbing up and down in the water. “Come save us from sharks!”
As Ricky stood up from the hot concrete, he felt dizzy, adjusted himself, and squinted before dramatically flopping into the pool’s deep end. Heckles from the lifeguards ensued. Dramatic posturing from Ricky, hands saying “back off,” hands saying “I promise.”
“Tricky!” Elizabeth beamed as a cool tide hit her sensational lips.
“Let’s see who can hold their breath the longest!” Holly said.
“O.K.,” Ricky said. “I am undefeated in these parts.”
Elizabeth’s teeth, her lips parting, water going in and out.
“O.K., ready? ” Elizabeth said, mouth burbling in the water.
At thirty-three seconds Elizabeth and Holly surfaced. Thirty-four, thirty-five, thirty-six…
“Rick-y! Rick-y!” Holly and Elizabeth cheered, watching the top of his head barely poking from the surface. A bit of Elizabeth brushed against his ribs.
“Let’s tickle him. He’ll come up for sure.”
“Way ahead of you,” Elizabeth said. Forty-nine, fifty, fifty-one, fifty-two…
Ricky adjusted his position underwater, fighting off a boner. The water cooled him, the hush impressed him. Gone was the wash of cricket noises from the telephone wires. He watched the constant stream of motion against the seamless bright above. He felt Elizabeth’s hands on him, or at least he hoped they were hers. Fifty-nine, one minute, one-oh-one, one-oh-two…
As he broke through the water at the one-oh-seven mark, the overcast clouds tightened the sky, a murder of horseflies galloped toward their epidermis buffet.
“Yay, Ricky!” Elizabeth cheered.
His tight grey swim trunks seemed invisible. Hands fell over his eyes from behind. The smell of Elizabeth’s hot breath, zerbert on his neck, and a kiss on both cheeks. Oh my! Oh my! Oh my! Elizabeth and Holly just kissed Ricky!
“We’re gonna split. Meet us out front? ” Holly said, goading Elizabeth with her eyes.
Elizabeth spewed water on Holly’s head.
“Ew,” Holly said.
“See ya soon,” Ricky said.
He watched the girls wade toward the shallow-end ladder before hopping out of the pool. Drips consumed by towels. Holly leaned over and tried to get the water out of her ear. Elizabeth put a baseball cap over her wet hair and wrapped a yellow towel around her waist.
“Looks stormy,” Ricky shouted, pointing to the sky.
Holly’s ear cleared up.
“O.K., so five minutes or so? ” she shouted back.
Arms at her shoulders, Holly’s dark wet hair tangled and drying unevenly, was sticking to her suit and face.
“You’re all freckly,” Elizabeth said. “They get darker in the sun, eh? ”
“Please, don’t remind me. We’ll see you soon, ’kay? ”
“Uh-huh,” Ricky said.
“Don’t forget my bike is locked to yours, so don’t dawdle.”
Elizabeth laughed and tugged at Holly.
“Come on, old lady.”
Ricky undid his chain combination lock and released their bikes. Elizabeth’s chain was covered in yellow plastic, his, orange. They rode east on Broadway Avenue, through Mount Pleasant, quickly cutting through a high-school alley, and took the steep hill toward Bayview. As they reached Bayview, Elizabeth motioned them to the southwest curb.
“Hold on a sec, guys. I know the perfect movie to get. Well, two, actually. My friend works at the video store. Watch my bike. You want popcorn? ”
“Yeah,” Holly said.
“You hungry? ”
“A bit. I think I drank a lot of the pool water.”
“Pee pool? ”
“You’re a pee pool.”
Elizabeth returned, her hands flailing. “If I was doing the television version of this scene, these cases wouldn’t be blank but would have the real covers of the movies on them. It’s called cross-marketing.”
“Huh? ” Ricky said.
“She’s a cross-dresser, Ricky. Come on, let’s go.”
“All I’m saying is that since this isn’t a television movie, these cases are blank, you get it? They keep the real cases on the shelf so that future generations can long to see Dan Aykroyd—you know, so they have something to look forward to.”
“I don’t look forward to Aykroyd.”
“So I got two just in case,” Elizabeth said, twirling a plastic bag.
“Head case,” Ricky said.
“Good one, Ricky!” Holly said.
“O.K., let’s cross then go to our street,” Holly commanded. “I don’t like riding by the graveyard.”
“Then you’re going to just love what I’ve rented tonight, Hol,” Elizabeth said. “Come on, last one home has to paint the house.”
Three bikes and three sets of Converse (and slightly burned ankles) stopped at the top of Glenvale Boulevard. The early-evening sunlight gave the lower-numbered houses a different sheen, and Ricky couldn’t fathom how his house was on this same street—how somehow, up here, in the early numbers, life was completely different.
“Hey, Ricky,” Holly said, nudging her head toward 6 Glenvale. “Isn’t that where your girlfriend lives? Kerri? ”
“That was when I was in Grade 1.”
“Grade 8 Kerri!” Holly laughed.
“Oh her!” Elizabeth said. “With the tons of eye makeup. I remember her. My mom is friends with her mom.”
“Yeah, Ricky loved her. He’d walk up the street for blocks behind her after school. I’d always see him tailing her up Broadway.”
“That was, like, six years ago.”
“She’s probably married now.” Elizabeth said, rolling her pedal back, balancing on the sidewalk.
“She’d be about nineteen now.” Holly said, balancing her bicycle with no hands.
“O.K., enough history lessons. What is this, a board game? ”
“This was your life, Ricky.” Elizabeth said.
“Now he likes Danielle, a girl in his class.”
For a moment the sun looked gritty and deep orange, like a colour photograph from the sixties. They were interrupted by a pickup honking. Catcalls. Ricky’s stomach knotted up.
“Don’t worry,” Holly said to her brother. “Just jerks.”
“Stupid trash,” Elizabeth added, pulling her pedal back with her shoe, adjusting her weight, shifting the handlebars back and forth.
“Ricky was gonna protect us,” Holly said.
“Yeah, I know,” Elizabeth said. “I could see that.”
Ricky looked to the ground. His heart was beating fast.
“Shall we continue? ”
“Yes, dah-ling.” Holly said.
Ricky enjoyed the downhill breeze tailing the girls. The setting sun pushed the night into a netherworld. He took a commanding lead for the last three blocks home, passing Rumsey, Beaufield, and Sutherland with powerful pumps and strides. How many times had he passed garage-sale posters and torn his paper-route collection tabs prematurely. Up the curb at Glenbrae and Glenvale, three houses in, onto the front lawn. Ricky twisted awkwardly off his bike, veering where the diseased tree still grew, collapsing nosily, trying to make it appear as though he had been sitting calmly with his thoughts, trying to swallow his exhausted bursts of breathing, his back tire still spinning madly.
Walking her bike past his spill, Elizabeth furrowed her brow.
“You O.K., stud? ” she asked, blowing wisps of her blond frizz-dry hair from her face. Ricky was still catching his breath.
“He’s fine. They don’t break down at that age,” Holly joked. Ricky got up and parked his bike next to the others in the driveway, the soggy plastic bag containing his swimsuit all twisted and dangling from the handlebar like an insect nest.
Back in the den, Holly quizzed her brother.
“Did you close the garage door? Well? Close it. Do you want to order pizza or chicken and fries? Or burgers? Garage door, Ricky. Mom will scream if it’s open. We’ll never hear the end of it.”
Not even a chance to breathe or find his spot on the couch with the girls. Ricky ran outside in seconds flat, closing the garage with a barefoot thud. He returned, out of breath, face red as parts of their sunburns. He stared at Elizabeth.
“Are you a…a ghost? ”
“Just now, just right outside, um, I thought I saw you climb down from our tree. You know the one, on the front lawn.”
He began to walk toward the television set. He turned around and faced them.
“But you were more floaty than anything, you were holding a tuna fish sandwich and offered me some. I think you should see a doctor about it,” Ricky said. He stood on the coffee table.
“You’re the one that needs the doctor,” Elizabeth said.
Ricky jumped off the table, twirled around to face them, and collapsed comically in marionette failure on the floor. Elizabeth clapped.
“Don’t encourage him, Lizbo, he won’t stop,” Holly said.
“Aw, it’s cute. He’s performing for me.”
“Whack job!” Holly said, smacking Ricky on the bum. “Go make us a snack, Crazy.”
Ricky leapt from the floor, catching a glimpse of Elizabeth’s pristine smile.
“Snacks on the way,” he laughed.
The house had calmly digested the final morsels of heat. A catastrophe of a snack was on its way: pretzels, apple slices, diet store-brand cola, cheese spread, soda crackers, celery, and strawberries. Elizabeth laughed as Ricky brought the tray in with swagger.
“Did you go to several different houses to get all this? ” she asked.
“Yes. All but yours, Liz.”
“Four pretzels? ”
“It’s really inconsistent,” Holly added.
“Let’s order a pizza. We’re not turning on the oven.”
“No. That’s hard work.”
“Why did Mom take the key? ”
“What key? ”
“To the oven.”
“Oh my God, Ricky, shut up with your jokes.”
“If I had hands,” Ricky said, “I’d tickle you both.”
“O.K., so what are we gonna watch? ”
“Let’s watch my sister order a pizza.”
“What’s the movie, I mean? ”
The pizza was a decision—like soda, like seating arrangements, like who would see if the cat was in the house.
“Sadie!” Holly called softly. “Put the movie in, Liz. Ricky, you go check outside for Sadie. Maybe you locked her in the garage.”
“I doubt it.”
“Just do it,” Holly ordered. Elizabeth nodded.
“O.K. Jeez. Our celebrity time-travelling cat is more important than my downtime. I get it.”
Rain enveloped the house. Cars passing on the wet street outside made a gentle noise. From the basement, Ricky heard thunder as he spotted Sadie in a pile of sawdust under his father’s giant table saw.
“Ricky, come outside. It’s crazy rain!”
All the dry heat was washed away. The three of them leaned out on the front stoop, drinking pop then running around in barefoot dares: from one end of the driveway to the other. From the steps through the wet grass. From the steps to the other side of the street and back.
“O.K., I’m changing into something else. Liz, you wanna borrow? ”
“Uh-huh,” Elizabeth said with a half-yawn. “Just gonna call the warden, tell them I’m staying over.”
The house was doused in rain, the siding cooled, the brick soaked, and the sky tumultuous.
“Red? What section? ”
The usher peered down at the set of tickets in their father Randall’s muggy hand. Ricky noticed the usher’s slow robotic twitch, especially as he pointed. How he straightened his arm in an awkward, chopped series of movements.
“That way, sir. Enjoy the show,” the usher said. It was July 27th and Ricky had been twelve years old for nearly two weeks.
The announcement was tinny and squaw-ked: “Ladies and gentlemen, souvenir programs and other W.W.F. merchandise are available at the concession stands. Don’t forget to pick up the latest merchandise from all your favourite wrestling stars.”
As Ricky passed other ushers, he read their faces: “You paid for this crap? Grow up, kid. Dragging your father to this shit…”
In their cold seats, Randall cleared his throat and peered into the crowd that slowly, noisily filled Maple Leaf Gardens. He turned to his children, asked Holly if she was cold, if she wanted a hot dog, and ask your brother.
“Is there a program? ” Randall asked. Ricky showed his father the single page. He grunted.
“Just like church, right? ” Holly joked, passing her dad the fight card Ricky had let drop onto his knee. Ricky heard what Holly said and looked at his sister. Randall seemed to like the joke.
“That was funny.”
Ricky had goosebumps. He looked at his sister’s legs as she rubbed them, her pale limbs poking through the denim curtain of her fraying jean shorts. The garden howled with gusts of cold air and hollers. Ricky stared at his feet, scanned his way up, noticed Holly’s knees and how her skin, its appearance, even the odd scrape, seemed similar to his own. She noticed his eyes on her legs. He was thinking to himself. She looked at his blue Converse shoes dangling, then at the creased program in his lap.
“So, you want Ricky Steamboat to win cuz—”
“No, not because of my name, duh,” he said, cutting his sister off. “I think he’ll win the belt from Macho Man tonight.”
“You think so? ” Holly scratched her knee, the tiny hairs on her arms and legs standing up amongst sparse freckles.
“You know,” he said to Holly, “I think Steamboat’s gonna win, cuz, ah, he’s a lot quicker. Well, not a lot, but still, I think he’s got better stamina.”
The heads of two devout Savage marks a row in front of them turned around.
“No way, man. Macho’s gonna kill ’em. Steamboat’s a wimp.”
Ricky was tense with fear. He could smell their Right Guard, a certain musk. He could tell they were older and felt immediate disgust for the way their candy caked wet along their ugly braced teeth. Ricky wanted nothing to do with them, but was still frightened. They were a slow-witted pack of teenaged retards he would sacrifice to the gods of indifference.
They continued, at a lower volume. “Macho Madness all the way,” one boy declared before both turned to face the empty ring.
“Ohhhhhh yyyyyyeeeeaaaahhhh!” the boys said, nodding and manoeuvring their hands in a manner that imitated the Macho Man’s manic finger gestures.
Holly shrugged, eyes staring through her bangs.
“Who knows what’s going to happen,” she said.
Ricky was looking down at his feet again.
“You O.K.? ”
“Yeah.” Ricky was trembling a little. He exhaled and ran his hands through his hair. He tapped his feet, which barely touched the sticky concrete floor.
“So, it’s a title match though? That could happen? ” Holly asked. “Who is better? ”
“Well…,” Ricky said, a bit quieter, still feeling his goosebumps. He loved his sister—really loved her. This was like the times on the couch on rainy days, watching videos they’d borrow from the library, when the rain and the movies and the thunder rolled over the house—a few cans of diet cola, a few handfuls of candy, watermelon—and how they’d tug on the Saturday-morning couch blanket until some boundary-smashing question would send him into a fit of shame: “Do you jerk off?…Yet?…You will. All guys do….But you’re not a guy.”
And now here, Ricky’s birthday gift: the wrestling match.
“I think Ricky is faster, but the Macho Man is tricky, and stronger. And smarter—maybe.”
Holly pulled out a small emery board.
“Who else is fighting? ”
“J.Y.D. is versing King Kong Bundy.”
Ricky was sniffing the program, holding the page under his nose as if it were a fence he was peering over.
“You mean ‘versus.’”
“J.Y.D.? Oh wait—Junkyard God, right? ” Holly said.
“That’s what I meant.” Holly said, a decapitated string of red licorice in her hand.
“Who do you think will win that one? ” She now had the program on her lap. A stash of candy in her bag revealed itself. Ricky thought about it. Bundy had been real mad since losing the cage match to Hulk Hogan in April, but Junkyard Dog was friends with Hulk and wouldn’t want to let the Hulkster down. Maybe with a few head-butts he’d be able to knock Bundy down, and then maybe even slam him!
“The God! Bow-wow-wow!” Ricky howled, stirring with excitement. His shoelaces were undone and dragging in the dark muck of the Garden’s floor.
Holly tilted her neck back and offered Ricky a piece of gum.
“What time is it? ”
She rubbed both hands over her knees.
“Eight-fifteen,” Ricky replied, noticing the ring attendants fussing with a turnbuckle.
“Where’s Dad? ” Holly wondered, reluctant to turn her neck to look where she imagined her father might emerge.
“Washroom,” Ricky said, nodding toward the nearest exit. “Did you talk to Grammy? She called yesterday.”
“No, no one told me,” Holly said, pulling her gum out in a long strip and sticking it under her seat.
“Whaddyathink Mom’s doing? ” Ricky asked.
“Dunno. Talking to herself? Folding your underwear? ”
Holly was laughing.
“Mom’s probably vacuuming her farts,” she said, howling even louder as an announcer stepped into the ring.
Randall returned to his seat, cleared his throat, and asked Holly what was happening.
“O.K., showtime, Ricky!” Holly said, turning to her father to say the exact same thing. She squeezed Ricky’s forearm. He ground his feet into the Garden’s unkempt skin.