Yennifer finished her evening workout at the Boxing Gym near the main plaza in Edinburg, and, as she exited, a flier near the door caught her eye. She stopped, grabbed one, and examined it.
Several young women stood closely together. Their arms were draped over the shoulders of one another. They all wore tight athletic shorts, black and pink sleeveless jerseys, elbow pads, knee pads, white helmets, and roller skates.
“THE MAC CITY ROLLERS!!!!” was written at the top of the flier. Under the team picture was an interrogatory: “What are you made of?”
Yennifer put the flier in her duffel bag and drove home.
A few night later, she remembered the flier. She pulled it out of her bag and looked at it. She had not roller skated in over a decade. She had not played a team sport for at least five years. Still, the flier intrigued her.
After months of solo workouts, roller derby looked fun.
Also, in the photo, one woman’s height and broad shoulders dwarfed the surrounding latinas. Her skin looked white as snow; her hair was curly, short and red. Her eyes…they were that blueish-green like the horizon where sea meets sky. Brown freckles dotted both sides of her thin nose.
Yenny had never seen a güera like that before.
A few days later, she remembered the flier and looked up the team online. The Mac City Rollers practiced on Wednesday and Friday nights at an old, run-down skating rink near downtown McAllen.
The team did not hold tryouts; they accepted anybody and everybody. “Camaraderie” was the key word that appeared all over the website. The “Rollers” were “sisters.”
At her first practice, Yennifer could barely complete a full lap on skates without falling down. Her new teammates literally and figuratively picked her up time and again. Still, she had never laughed so hard. Nobody took the team too seriously or seemed annoyed at her incompetence.
At the end of each practice, she winced at the new scrapes and bruises; her hips and thighs ached. Still, she was having fun. She also felt muscles in her legs and back being worked out for the first time. She secretly dreaded the upcoming season and games; she enjoyed the practices and their often laid back, social aspect.
And she especially liked the Friday night practices because the team went out for drinks afterwards.
Two of the women on the team, Nohemi and Xochitl, were only a few years older than Yennifer and remembered her from high school. They took “Yenny” under their wing, explaining the sport’s rules. More importantly, they taught her how to body-check by tucking her elbows into the side of her ribs.
After only a few weeks, Yennifer got the hang of things. She did not skate fast enough to be the team’s jammer, but was a capable blocker. Nohemi, who possessed exceptional balance on skates, was the team’s pivot. Before practice, Yennifer loved to watch Nohemi slowly and meticulously tie her long and smooth black hair up into a bun. Yenny’s own hair was frizzy and she cut it short on purpose.
The Rollers held the first scrimmage of the season on a Friday night, and Yennifer didn’t embarrass herself. Afterwards, the team went out for drinks at Roosevelt’s, a quaint dive bar off Hackberry Avenue. The girls sat outside on the covered patio, sipping on cheap American pilsners, munching on bar nuts, and chatting.
A woman appeared at the patio door wearing green nurse scrubs. She smiled at them, shouted something over the music, waved, and marched towards them.
Everybody but Yenny recognized the gringa; a few even stood up to hug her. The woman talked for a spell, then left the patio, went inside, and came back with a Corona in hand. She sat down near Yenny and said, “My new manager has been a butt about my schedule, but I should be able to make the next few practices.”
Yennifer realized that this woman was the same tall gringa from the flier. She felt her own face flush crimson for a moment.
June reared its head and the Texas sun became unbearably brutal each and every midday. Yenny’s concentration in her two classes waned with the heat. She failed to take notes during lectures and daydreamed about roller derby this and roller derby that. She only passed her quizzes thanks to friends who loaned her study guides.
At her apartment, she counted the days between practices. Then, on the day of practice, she counted the hours before she could leave her apartment to drive to the rink. Once, in the parking lot, she counted the minutes until a teammate showed up and it was socially acceptable for her to go inside.
The Mac City Rollers lost every single contest, but she was in love.
The losing streak also didn’t stop the team from doing more and more social events.
Yennifer never missed a practice, game, or team gathering. She got to know all her teammates, including the white woman named Jane. Originally from Wisconsin, Jane had relocated to McAllen due to her husband’s work. He was an assistant professor at the writing center at Pan Am; Jane herself was a registered nurse.
One night, at Roosevelt’s, Nohemi mentioned to Jane that Yennifer was interested in nursing, which was vaguely true. They two struck up a conversation.
Jane spoke to Yennifer at length about the joys of nursing and even the less savory aspects. Doctors were almost always assholes and patients were often ungrateful, but Jane loved the adrenaline rush during a busy day. Also, sometimes family members were very kind and even brought gifts; she had received tamales at least three times.
Jane rambled for over an hour and soon it was just the two of them standing near the bar. Yennifer noticed that Jane had ordered quite a few Whiskey sours and her speech had started to slur.
Jane took a wobbly step towards Yennifer and leaned in close to her. Their noses almost touched. “Can I tell you a secret?” She whispered and then blinked with both eyes.
Yenny nodded yes.
Yennifer had always liked her boyfriend Marco well enough; they had dated all of high school, and now had lived together in an apartment for almost a year since graduation. Still, the longer they had lived together, the more distance she felt between them. They went less dates. They were intimate less often. When they talked, the conversations were superficial and mundane. Often, he would be asleep in bed before she got back from roller derby practice.
He blamed the stress of full-time college. And his studies were also his reason for having attended a single roller derby game. After that, he steadfastly refused to go to any of the team’s social events. He even disparagingly called them a bola de marimachas before Yenny made him apologize.
Whenever Yenny began to talk about practice or a game or a teammate, he mentally checked out. So she stopped talking to him about it.
One evening, after Marco had gone to the library to study, Yennifer played around on her laptop while lounging on the recliner. Suddenly, her phone vibrated with life. She had a new Facebook message. From Jane. It said “Saw this thought of u” and had a smiling face sticking its tongue out and a link to a yoga website.
Yenny clicked on the link. The article was about a new kind of stretch yoga pants that allegedly didn’t shrink in the dryer. The article featured quite a few images of young, athletic women in various poses while standing over mats.
This was one of Yennifer and Jane’s shared griefs. They often griped together at gatherings about female athletic wear. Why were sports bras always either too tight or the cups too big? Why did yoga pants always shrink in the dryer? And, for Yenny, running shoes looked ugly and went with nothing.
She replied to Jane’s FB message with a winking smiley face emoji and a “cool.”
One FB message begat another. Soon, Yennifer and Jane were messaging daily. They remained a bit aloof and stiff around one another in person, but were definitely, in Jane’s words, “message buddies.”
At first, the dissonance in real life versus online perplexed Yenny. She thought back to her first real talk with Jane a few weeks ago at Roosevelt’s. Jane, a little tipsy, had spontaneously opened up to Yennifer about her painkiller addiction after surgery many years ago. She had also confessed her reticence to move to the Valley and follow her fiance. She had seriously thought of leaving him, but made the move despite her lingering doubts.
Yennifer had said little at the time, only making eye contact and nodding at appropriate times. Jane put her arm around her and said she was a “good listener.”
Yenny accepted that they were just teammates in real life, but something more online. Part of her was bothered she didn’t have Jane’s phone number and they never really text-messaged, but she contented herself to have just a slice of Jane in her life online.
Near the end of July, after the team’s first win, Xochitl insisted on a house party. They all drove over to Nohemi’s one-story shotgun house in Mission and crammed into a tiny living room. Most of the girls sat on the wood-colored laminate floor and sipped plastic cups of boxed wine; a stereo blasted hits from the early 2000’s. Chumbawamba. Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
Yennifer noticed that Jane barely spoke to anyone. Dark lines showed under her eyes, and traces of crow’s feet dotted the sides of her face. Eventually, Jane bummed a cigarette from another girl – she was a self-proclaimed “social smoker” – and went out to the patio by herself.
Yennifer waited a few minutes, and then followed suit.
She had barely stepped outside before she felt the humid air envelope her skin like an oven set to broil. She swatted a few mosquitoes and took tentative steps towards Jane, whose back was to her. Jane leaned onto a wood railing and looked up at the sky. Yenny stopped beside her and glanced up; a full moon drifted amidst a cloudless, starry sky.
“Hey there, stranger” Jane said to her softly.
Yennifer said nothing. Her head felt a bit dizzy, and she felt her breathing grow labored. Jane offered her a drag; she accepted. Soon, they were passing the butt between puffs. The cigarette smelled a bit odd to Yenny, but she was no expert in those things.
When the cigarette was half smoked, they both suffered a sudden attack of the giggles. Jane laughed and then Yenny laughed. Then, neither could look the other in the eye without smiling. Jane kept parting her hair to the side with her left hand. Yenny looked down at the ground.
“You want the last puff?”
Yenny nodded no, but then looked up and into Jane’s blue eyes and took a step towards her. She waited for Jane to look away, but Jane didn’t. Instead, she half-opened her mouth, closed her eyes, and cocked her head slightly to the side. Yenny leaned in and kissed her.
Jane’s tongue darted in and out of Yenny’s mouth rapidly. The taste was of cheap wine and menthol cigarettes.
Yenny pulled back and her head spun circles. She grabbed the butt from Jane’s hand, finished it, and tossed it into the yard. She then turned and walked away, stepping back into the house without saying a word.
That following morning, the Facebook messaging stopped entirely. Normally, they were messaging by 10am. Noon came and went without a pushup notification on Yennifer’s phone. No vibrating hum to reassure her.
She caved and checked; they were still friends on Facebook.
“At least Jane had not blocked me”, thought Yennifer.
Over the course of the week, Yenny checked Jane’s profile often, but it was rarely updated. Yenny wanted to text her, to call her, to meet and speak with her, but didn’t have her actual number. She knew that she had made the move, but Jane had invited it and enjoyed it. She felt that Jane should send that first FB message.
Yenny both dreaded and was excited by the looming roller derby practice, but Jane skipped it. In fact, Jane missed every practice and even the game at the weekend.
Yenny felt her mood swing between aggressive and furious. Her boyfriend Marco was home more often since classes were out; he hogged the recliner and watched ESPN all the time. His dirty dishes accumulated in the sink and on the kitchen table, and she snapped at him a few times.
He chalked up her new irritability “to being on the rag.”
This insensitivity was nothing new, but Yenny wondered what other secrets had burrowed between them.
She realized she had no one to speak with, and she wasn’t even sure what she needed to speak about.
When Jane finally appeared at practice, Yenny felt tremendous relief. She thought that they could finally talk, but Jane never approached her. During warm-ups, Yenny skated beside her and smiled sheepishly. Jane just glanced at her, grinned briefly, said “hey”, and then skated off.
Yenny wondered: had Jane been too drunk to remember?
Over the next few weeks, Yenny and Jane slowly started to message again. Jane’s fiancé spent long hours grading papers and preparing lectures for summer school students, she explained, so the night was theirs to share online. Yenny felt relieved, but also confused.
Online, they exchanged messages on everything under the sun. Yet Yenny often wanted to carry a conversation from their phones into the moments before roller derby practice, and Jane always kept a distance.
Yenny even suggested a few times that they meet up for coffee or a quick lunch, but Jane always had an excuse ready: a double-shift at work. A car repair. A prior commitment.
Yenny started to suspect she was getting the “washing my hair” treatment. But why?
Late one night, as Marco slept on his side of the bed and snored, Yenny thought back to her and Jane’s kiss. The bright glow of the cigarette ember. The hazy trail of smoke coming from both their mouths. The moment just before, when Jane cocked her head to the side.
Then, she remembered at the last practice how she could feel Jane both ignoring her and keeping a distance in some moments, but then gazing at her in others. On the cool down lap after a squad scrimmage, Jane even rolled up behind her and wrapped her arm around Yenny’s shoulder, congratulating her on a nice block.
The embrace had only lasted a few seconds, but Yenny felt something pulse through her body. The rumblings of a slight tremor. Her chest constricted a bit.
Marco snored blissfully, and she knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep. She rolled over and picked up her phone from the nightstand. She scrolled through Facebook pictures of the team’s games and practices and social events, scanning for tags of Jane.
Jane smiling in full uniform with her hair in a three-braid ponytail resting on her left shoulder.
Jane puffing up her cheeks and exhaling during a practice while holding a green gatorade sportsdrink bottle.
Jane with her hands on her hips and her hair down in a bar, wearing a white blouse with the top three buttons undone.
Jane wearing blue jeans with slight tears at the knees, sipping beer from a can.
Yenny rolled out of bed and tiptoed to the door. She then stepped into the bathroom, undressed, leaned near the shower, and turned on the water. She felt with her hand the hot water hiss from the tub spout and adjusted the two silver knobs until it was just right. Then, she stepped into the tub, bent down, turned the center knob, and the water sprouted from the showerhead.
She set the showerhead setting to massage and small water bullets shot forth. Then, she pulled the adjustable head-handle off the elevated base hook, closed her eyes, and stuck it between her legs.
At the start of August, when the afternoon Sun punished and the days lingered unwelcomely, Jane went dark online. Yenny would send her a smiling face or a link on Messenger, but only get silence. After two days, she stopped trying.
She suspected something was wrong and desperately wanted to talk about it with Jane, but at practice Jane remained aloof. As if nothing had happened.
One night, at Roosevelt’s, Jane announced to the group that she was “heading out.” Yenny stood up and asked if she could get a ride home. Everybody knew her car had been in the shop for a week. She had gotten a ride with Xochitl to the bar, but was now “ready to call it a night.”
Jane’s face contorted to between a grimace and a grin, and then she glanced at the other girls. She quickly arched her eyebrows and then half-smiled. “Sure. Why not.”
Jane said nothing for the entire fifteen minute drive from McAllen to Edinburg. She just played with the radio. A bit North of Pan Am, Yenny broke the silence briefly to give directions.
Yenny wanted to scream at the top of her lungs.
She wanted Jane to scream at the top of her lungs.
However, most of all, she wanted Jane to be the initiator.
They reached Yenny’s gated apartment complex and Jane parked in a space near the visitor center. They sat without speaking for a few minutes. An oldie played on the radio. Yenny didn’t see any lights on in her apartment.
She turned to look at Jane.
Jane stared straight ahead, her jaw clenched.
“I love this song.” Yenny said and she leaned to turn up the volume.
Jane turned her head and looked at her briefly, and then gazed downwards. Yenny leaned in to kiss her. Jane didn’t close her eyes; she barely opened her mouth. Her tongue felt flaccid, lifeless.
Yenny pulled back; she felt sick to her stomach. She suddenly hated herself. Jane sighed and looked out her window.
A minute passed. Yenny took a deep breath. Then another.
“Are you going to get out or what?”
Jenny, now looking straight ahead, closed her eyes.
“Look, I don’t….I really don’t need this. You’re…just please, get out. Now.”
Jane unfriended her on Facebook that very night.
The next morning, Yennifer tried to call her via Messenger and got the recording that means your profile’s access has been blocked.
Jane didn’t show up to any roller derby practices for two weeks straight. The team captain said Jane had an injured leg and couldn’t skate. However, a few of the girls had seen her walking her Yorkshire Terrier at La Vista park. They suspected she had quit because the team was losing so often.
Yennifer kept showing up to practices and games, but her enthusiasm waned. With the steady stream of losses, people started to take things too seriously. Fingers got pointed. Blame was assigned. Voices were raised. Feelings were hurt. The social gatherings became infrequent and poorly attended.
Yennifer returned to the Boxing Gym for the first time in months. In her head, she heard: “please get out” and “I don’t need this” as she slammed her fists, knees, and elbows into a hanging, black leather bag.
A few days after the last roller derby game of the season, Yenny was driving by the Doctor’s Hospital at Renaissance when she saw Jane’s red Hyundai Elantra in the parking lot. The plates were still from Wisconsin.
She abruptly changed lanes and then pulled into the lot. She parked near the Elantra and waited in her car; she listened to music and read old messages from Jane on her phone.
Part of her wanted to see Jane right then and there. To talk. To shout. To cry. To point fingers. To put an ending on things. Still, she felt content to just be near Jane’s car, to know she was at work. She sat in her parked car for about half an hour before driving off.
The very next day, in the morning she drove to the Boxing Gym, but took a circuitous route by the hospital parking lot. No sign of the Elantra. After her workout, she again drove by the parking lot; still no Elantra. Had Jane’s husband dropped her off? Was it her day off work? She felt a tightness in her chest; like somebody was sitting on top of her. She labored with each raspy breath.
That night, she invented an excuse to drive to the HEB in Edinburg and again cruised by the hospital parking lot. To her relief, she saw the Elantra in the parking lot. She recognized the familiar out of state tags. Also, in the rear dash, a rectangular, white and blue sticker proclaimed: “If you can’t play nice, play roller derby!”
She parked right beside it and checked her watch: it was only eight o’clock at night. That was a reasonable hour, she reasoned.
Yenny waited about five minutes and scoured social media; no sign of Jane on either Facebook or Instagram in any Google Searches. She must have locked her accounts and set the privacy settings to full.
Yenny sighed. She wasn’t sure exactly what she was doing or why, but she got out of her car and walked into the hospital. She could feel her heart thump with each step. Inside, she sat on one of the brown leather couches and observed the constant movement of hospital staff. Whenever a hallway door opened, she tried to catch a look inside.
Yenny suddenly felt strange. Was this creepy? Friends did sometimes visit one another at work. But were she and Jane friends? Could they be? Part of her wanted to believe this was all a misunderstanding. They could talk face-to-face and sort things out.
At the very least, she craved one more conversation with Jane. She would even take a telling off, a shoutfest, anything.
After an hour of waiting and scoping, Yenny stood up and walked over to the main admissions desk. She told the nurse that she was a friend of Jane Flannigan and needed to speak with her. It was urgent.
She stood by the desk as the nurse made a call on a black phone. After about three minutes, one of the doors to the hallways opened as a Doctor exited and Yenny saw a familiar figure in green scrubs. She recognized Jane’s powerful gait and felt butterflies in her stomach.
As the door to the hallway was closing, though, Jane looked up. She saw Yenny. The color drained from her face and she stopped cold. Her eyes narrowed and she crossed her arms. The door closed.
Yenny walked over to one of the couches and sat down. She couldn’t focus on the CNN-spitting television or anything else around her. She felt her hands shake so they stuck them awkwardly into her pant pockets.
Before she could stand to leave, a security guard appeared and spoke in hushed tones with the admissions nurse. She pointed a finger at Yenny. The guard walked over to her.
“Are you here to see a patient that is a family member, ma’am?”
Yenny stared him in the eye, but said nothing at first. She stood up, sighed, and turned to walk to the exit.
“No, sir… I came to see someone, but… I’ll just be leaving now.”
Yennifer stepped outside into the muggy, early September air. She walked briskly to her car, opened the driver side door, got in, slammed the door shut, took a few quick breaths, and then buried her face in her hands.
She felt like a freak.
Yenny had not expected the “moving out” conversation with her boyfriend to be difficult. She was surprised when he put up a fight. He cried. He yelled. He even promised to “change for her.” He claimed that school was a timesuck, but he would find a way to pay more attention to her.
When that failed to persuade, he even hinted at marriage.
He then turned angry and suspicious and insisted on reading her emails and Facebook. She said no, and he yelled some more.
He then changed moods yet again. With his face still red from anger, he sat on the white leather sofa beside her and cried. She brought him a box of tissues, but he threw it across the room. She took that as her cue to exit.
A few weeks later, a friend helped her pack her things into boxes and carry them to another friends’ borrowed pickup.
Yenny could barely afford the room she rented in a house in Weslaco, but loved the setup. Her three roommates, whom she had met on Craigslist, were all young professionals that always worked and seldom loitered at home. Thus, Yenny had all the privacy and space she needed.
Her mom called a few weeks after the breakup to check on her, but was not surprised by the split. Yenny had been “too young to have lived with a man” according to her. Part of Yenny wanted to say more to her mother, but another part of her harbored doubts.
She felt something had changed, and it was important, but she could yet put anything coherent into words.
That first weekend of October arrived with a winter chill that was rare for South Texas. Yennifer stared at herself in the bathroom mirror as she put on lipstick. She loved the simplicity of her outfit, a plain white blouse, a black wrap, and faded blue jeans that hugged her hips. The only problem was that she could never get her lips the right color. After almost cinco minutes, she gave up and began to apply dabs of eyeliner.
Suddenly, her phone vibrated on the bathroom counter. She glanced down at it. The locked screen showed a push-up notification from Facebook Messenger. Then, the phone vibrated a second time. A text message.
She looked back up. She blinked her right eye first, then her left. Then, she tilted her head slightly to the right. She smiled with just her lips on the right side of her mouth.
Feeling somewhat satisfied with her makeup, she wrapped a gray scarf around her neck. As she left the bathroom, she grabbed her phone and put it in her brown clutch. She took a deep breath and walked over to the front door, where she bent down to wipe a white spot off her left black boot. Her phone vibrated again in her clutch.
She stood up, took another deep breath, opened the door, and then exited into the night.
Elliott Turner has published fiction in Azahares (Spanish), Barren Magazine, Apogee Journal, Vol. 1: Brooklyn, Acentos Review, and many others. twitter: @ElliottScribe photo: Al Aumuller, World-Telegram staff photographer (wikimedia)