The Northville Review
an online literary journal
Santo VS. Crushing Grief

Adam Reger

At the top of the ropes, Santo crouches, his real eyes swallowed in the tear-shaped eyes of his silver mask. Behind him, the Blue Demon lies face-down on the canvas, the white laces at the back of his blue mask half-unfastened, the mask pulled up so that it appears the wrestler’s skull has been punctured and partly deflated. Concentrating on each member of the audience, his eyes picking through the crowd, Santo has a crazed look that frightens some.

Dios mio, a cry ripples through the crowd, its tone a whisper that cuts through the buzzing murmur of the people sitting on wooden benches and standing shoulder to shoulder not ten feet from the ring where Santo perches, eyeing every man and woman so they cannot help asking who Santo is looking for, cannot help answering their own question: Santo is searching for his dead bride, Santo has gone mad with grief.

Esmerelda, the traffic and weather girl on Channel 6, secret love of all Mexico City, is Santo’s dead bride. For one month their lives were bliss, their bliss public knowledge, their images in the tabloids a constant emblem of pure love and simple happiness. Going to the opera, jogging through the park, dining late after another of Santo’s matches, the photographs were endless variations on a simple theme. Her hair dark and shining, her white teeth glimmering from
the smooth brown of her face, Esmerelda was lovely even in the lurid grain of the tabloid pages.

In her orbit, at Esmerelda’s side, Santo stands stoic, his silk mask always veiling his face, his cape always covering his shoulders; even at their wedding, Santo in a black tuxedo beneath the silver cape, this was the picture that was taken. Just his eyes show through the holes of the mask, and his mouth, and yet it is clear in photographs that Santo is wholly, achingly happy.

Kicking his legs slowly, as if swimming to the surface from a distant dream, the Blue Demon stirs the passions of the crowd. Look behind you, Santo! a little boy cries, and others, men closer to Santo and with more boisterous voices, repeat the words. Might these be the warnings that will jar Santo, and shake him from his grief? No. Over and through the crowd Santo’s eyes crawl, searching for his Esmerelda, moving as calmly as if he were reading a magazine in a doctor’s waiting room.

Pushing himself up onto his hands and knees, the Blue Demon is awake, groggy with the furious punches and kicks delivered by Santo. Quietly, with an aching slowness, the Blue Demon struggles to his knees, his back to Santo. Rising to his feet, the wrestler is woozy, and staggers forward and back. Screams of warning come down from the rafters and up from the arena’s floor, desperate pleas for Santo to turn and see the menace gathering behind him.

The Blue Demon, untouched by grief or loss, hears these warnings while Santo does not, and grasping their import he hastens to straighten his mask, his eyes reappearing in the center of the mask’s large eyes. Until the memory of Esmerelda drove him mad, Santo had been struggling over the unconscious Blue Demon, unlacing his opponent’s mask with theatrical care, preparing to disgrace him by revealing the Blue Demon’s true face to the crowd.

Very slowly now the Blue Demon turns, spies Santo crouched on the top rope, perfectly still, one hand on the corner post to anchor himself, and begins to move toward the other wrestler, stepping softly and drawing out the moment of approach, extending one hand toward Santo as he creeps closer. Whistles, screams, impassioned cries swell from the crowd, and in their throbbing intensity they permeate the veil covering Santo, reminding him of those fevered moments of calamity, the rush to Esmerelda.

Xeroderma, the skin disease that keeps Santo’s mask laced tight, made it impossible for him to rush into the wreckage in the city square that day; dry skin is like dry timber, kindling, no matter who may be alive inside the frame of flames and twisted metal.

Yet shouldn’t he have wanted, Santo thinks, his eyes still raking the rows of frenzied spectators, to share that burning with Esmerelda, to know what she felt when the traffic helicopter fell from the sky? Zooming from high above the city towards the ground, the fall for a moment unreal and even pleasant, the pavement of the city street rising up to deliver a resounding smack — Santo can imagine it only enough to wonder what it’s really like.

About the author

Adam Reger's stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Juked, Twelve Stories, New Orleans Review, Cream City Review, and elsewhere. He lives in Pittsburgh and is the author of U.S. Navy Pirate Combat Skills (Lyons Press), a humor book.