The teenager who tore my ticket was deeply crosseyed, and I wasn’t sure he actually could see anything except the pimple the size of Mount Olympus that graced the tip of his nose. The poor bastard probably wouldn’t touch an unpaid-for woman in his life if he didn’t get that fixed, not in this town, a fact my wife emphasized as she slid my hand from her back down to her ass. His eyes widened, and she laughed, dark and throaty.
Nothing got her going like Rumble night, even after all these years.
She never got good seats, even though we could afford a skybox. When we were kids, we sat in the holding pen with the rest of the cattle, all denim and leather and hormones, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Our kids had made their way in another entrance. They were at that age now where parents was the most horrific thing possible, but there was no way we were going to let them come here alone. I could see them up against the fence – they had no compunction about using my money to impress their friends – and I couldn’t help but wish this wasn’t yet another night I’d spend missing them.
My wife knew what I was thinking – after twenty years, she knew more about me than we’d ever discuss – and she slipped her hand in my pocket to withdraw my whiskey flask. “God, can you believe it’s been seventeen years since we made Lacey?”
“And sixteen since Keith. If I hadn’t gotten snipped, we’d have one for every year we’ve been here.”
She grinned. “Damn straight.”
The crowd roared, and the participants came out onto the stage. It couldn’t be called anything else, as any resemblance to an actual rumble disappeared long ago. Always an act of sorts, a way for kids without much of a future to get rid of the self-hate and guilt that comes with knowing you’re going to spend the rest of your life as a fuckup, it kept them from running riot through the streets. Those of us who grew up in different circumstances could sleep knowing that our homes and parents’ businesses wouldn’t be burnt to the ground by a wayward Molotov cocktail. As the recession hit and the jobs had gone from scarce to nonexistent, the problems had grown well past the point that pretend violence accomplished much, and the news grew more and more filled with blood and death. But for one night, we all dreamed that we could still gimmick our way out of hate and poverty.
Per usual, my wife was giving both sides the sharpest edge of her tongue. “You call that a pompadour? I’ve got more hair on my p-!”
And per usual, I shut her up with a kiss. The whiskey was strong on her tongue, and she pressed against me. “Liar!”
“Of course – but they don’t know that.” She turned back to the action, “Oh, c’mon, you think you’re a skinhead? My kids were tougher than that by their first birthday!”
Looking down at the kids in question, I saw Lacey determinedly not looking at her mom, while some boy that was entirely too close to her was trying to figure out where the catcalls had come from. Damn, she was growing up so fast.
The action this year was more intense than it had been in recent years, and I remarked on that to my wife. “Hell, I remember two years ago when guys were falling down from punches that missed!” The crowd was getting more into it too, and it was the overall level of the din that kept me from noticing at first that Lacey’s cheers had turned to screams.
The young man with her was now in the arms of one of the skinheads, a feral-looking man who’d jumped the fence into the crowd which’d come to watch him fight for amusement. The skinhead pulled a knife from his pocket, and with a practiced swipe of his blade, he peeled back the scalp of Lacey’s former companion. It was then that I heard the gunfire from behind us and felt my wife collapse against me.