“The Pinch” by Honor Rovai
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, Honor Rovai takes us to the aftermath of a tennis match in Carson, California. Next week, Steve Coulter makes a startling discovery in a Beach Cities record store.
“Can you say something nice about this place?”
My left wrist is throbbing like a siren so I barely register Jackie’s request. She’s the tour’s PR lackey, in charge of pushing me through the subterranean bowels of the Home Depot Center to my press conference.
I’m still wobbly from the semifinal, which took every last twitch of muscle fiber to win. It helped that my opponent, a Belarusian nobody ranked eighty-sixth in the world, crumbled like some Slavic farmer’s cheese at the end. Slaying the top seed, even at a third tier tournament like the LA Women’s Tennis Championships, proved too much for her. I was so grateful when it was over that I fell to my knees and kissed the asphalt like it was Wimbledon grass.
“No Starbucks. Smells like shit,” Jackie reads from her phone, a tweet from the sour Belarusian, who just finished her presser.
“About covers it.” I shrug. The facility was marooned not in LA, but in the badlands of Carson, California, between some tract housing and the 110 Freeway. The manure smell was from an upturned soccer field. But complaining to the press pissed off sponsors. Now Jackie needed me to make up for the nobody.
Jackie sighs, returning to her screen. I feel the urge to comfort her, to tell her I understand she wants the night to end, wants me to behave, wants to be home with the little girls whose faces flash on her iPhone.
But I have my own problems. Tomas isn’t in his usual spot outside the weight room, hunched under the fluorescent lights with his fists clenched in his armpits. My gut twists, distracting from the pain in my wrist. We turn the last corner.
“Bitch!” Tomas’s breath hits my face like bus exhaust as he slams me against the wall. His thick hands, used to having their way, twist mine into the concrete brick behind me, splaying my fingers and contorting my wrists. Jackie yelps.
“I’ll kill you.” He means it. He always does.
“What’s the problem?” I hiss, yanking free. He’s slippery with sweat. “I won.”
His fingers manage a final, savage pluck to my ribcage before I escape through the media center doors. I wince. The pinch. It started as a sign of affection when I was thirteen and newly arrived at his Florida academy, my parents an ocean away. It meant I was special, could ride in his car and stay in his hotel rooms when we traveled the junior circuit. Seven years later and I live with him in a house I pay for and have bruises that won’t heal.
Jackie tugs the doors closed behind us, silencing Tomas. He’s already on the phone, using the placating tones he reserves for his bookies and his Pekingese.
The lights are hot on my face, but the rest of the media room is dark. I sit, blinking, at a table laden with microphones and voice recorders. The pulsing in my wrist is building to a crescendo. It needs a scalpel and six months rest—after tonight’s strain, maybe a year.
I focus on finding a face in the dark until Jackie manages to squeak, “Questions?”
Their questions are as predictable as the weather here, but instead of sunshine it’s accusations. “What happened out there?” “Where was your backhand tonight?” “Think she tanked?”
“Were you playing with an injury tonight, Elena?” The reporter, the one I was looking for in the dark, finally asks. He has the same frizzy ponytail as his teenaged daughter, who volunteers in the locker room. I’d noticed the pair eating hotdogs in the bleachers during my practice sessions, which Tomas liked scheduling for high noon. I’d started chatting with the girl while she rolled my ice towels. Let her witness my physio begging me to withdraw and Tomas pinching me into playing.
“Pardon?” I answer her dad.
“Your wrist, maybe?”
“What about it?”
I’d been hoping he’d pounce on his daughter’s gossip before the match. Write something to spook the odds makers out of declaring me a sure thing. If I was going to lose, so should Tomas. But the reporter had stayed mum. Winning was the only option.
“Your coach—” The reporter’s digging in.
I smile, imagining a gun bruising Tomas’s temple, a shattered knee, my Mercedes abandoned somewhere in Baja.
Jackie whimpers behind me. She won’t be home to kiss her daughters goodnight.
HONOR ROVAI has written for the Daily Gullet, Not For Tourists: Los Angeles, and Awkward literary journal. She’s the founder and editor of GOTOTENNIS.com, a website for fans of professional tennis. She recently completed her first novel, loosely based on her day job planning galas for the one percent.
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected] paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Aug 11, 2014
Category: Mondays Are Murder | Tags: Mondays Are Murder, Noir Series, Los Angeles, California, Noir, flash fiction, short story, short fiction, Honor Rovai, The Pinch, tennis, Home Depot Center, Carson