This Was Not the Night Victor Valentine’s Career Ended
Victor fell asleep at the wheel somewhere between Wichita Falls and Amarillo. The pancake-house coffee couldn’t combat the length of the night, the drone of the road, the vagabond nature of a wrestler’s life. And so he blasted his cobalt blue Renault into a bur oak, metal collapsing around his legs, biting on his right ankle. Blood seeped through his cowboy boot. He pounded his fist on the dashboard: white knuckles, bit lip.
On the verge of blacking out, his face ghostly from the pain, Victor ripped his mangled foot free. Surgery couldn’t save that dripping, misshapen limb. He knew that like he knew that his mother wouldn’t live half as long as the doctors had all projected.
No way in hell he was doing any more dropkicks off the top rope or even keeping his balance as he suplexed a heavyweight onto the mat. Not on this thing.
He crawled out of the car and waited for someone to drive by. It felt like the ruddy moon watched him as he scraped his palms on the asphalt, as his leg painted a stripe of blood across the road.
A man eventually drove up and stopped when his headlights gleamed on Victor’s face.
“Oh my God! You need a doctor,” the man shouted.
Victor slid up to the man’s Camry and pulled himself up to the open driver’s side window.
“You a doctor?” he asked.
“No, no. I’m a watchmaker. But let me drive you into town to the hospital,” the man said.
An instant later, Victor lunged into the car, locked his arms around the man’s head, and yanked him out on the road.
“What are you doing?” the man screamed.
Victor thought of telling him, “Self preservation!” but was too busy tearing off the man’s right foot, cranking it like he was screwing out a cork. The man’s glasses slipped off his face, the lenses splintering on the road. His screams echoed through the surrounding forest, frightening off sleeping blackbirds before dissipating in the darkness.
“You can feed your family on a bad ankle. I can’t.” Victor explained matter-of-factly.
The man howled over the statement, though. As blood dampened the dirt under his victim’s leg, Victor was busy ripping off his own injured foot and shoving the stolen limb onto his leg in place of it. Once the savage transfer was complete, he walked in a circle to test it out, taking timid, measured steps as if he was gauging whether a pair of loafers fit.
It would do.
Victor had already begun to hike on toward the hotel when he shouted to the now one-footed man, “Thank you. Sorry. God bless.” The man had passed out by that point, pain pulling him down into forced sleep.
It took until a half mile outside of Amarillo until Victor could walk on the foot with something resembling his usual cocksure gait.
9 to 12 Months (Month 1)
The neck surgery would hold. The Great Mahmut would wrestle again. These promises crumbled in the air, but he believed them anyway.
The surgeons had fused railroad steel to his vertebrae and mixed cement in his blood. Mahmut popped pills until he could feel them swim up his arms.
His infant son cooed as he pawed at the wrestler’s hairy chest. Mahmut stood with great strain, not comfortable with idle moments. He handed the child off to his wife before he dragged a bag of herrings down into the basement to feed his pet grizzly. The bear sniffed at Mahmut, crouching forward, unsure. It didn’t recognize this slow-moving man with sutures crisscrossing the back of his neck. Too much of him was no longer him.
Metal brackets aided his knees. A plastic hip. A dead pianist’s skin filled in the gashes in his forehead.
Codeine dreams tumbled in Mahmut’s head at night. He pestered his doctor with calls, asking when he could resume weight lifting, when he could start grinding his forearm against a man’s brow once more.
He tried to watch TV, the mystery movies his wife treasured, but inevitably his mind would drift from the detectives to him making that slow march down the entrance ramp, chest puffed out, fists cocked. The collective voice of the crowd washing him into the ring.
Ryan Dilbert is the author of Time Crumbling like a Wet Cracker (No Record Press). His stories have appeared in Word Riot, Wigleaf, Smokelong Quarterly, FRIGG, and Titular. He writes about pro wrestling for Bleacher Report.