But I’ve been following the diet, he tells his doctor, his feet dangling from the edge of the examining table. It’s not his first lie of the day. Just another grain in the hourglass. I’m a fighter, he says. I exercise five times a week. Ha ha ha, he laughs, lies avalanching down.
Look, the doctor says, pausing to look him right in the eye, It’s spread to your stomach. It’s time we start dealing with the truth here.
The truth, like some old friend calling, leaving a message. Call me back, she’ll say, but she doesn’t leave a number and you don’t know how to find her again. You don’t even speak the same language anymore.
But I’ve got a fight tonight, he says, flashing the yellow invitation card. Maybe the first true thing he’s said today. He pats his belly. His stomach aches.
The doctor sighs, pulling off his glasses and rubbing at his eyes. These things are wired into our genes, our DNA, he says, You can do all the dieting, exercising you want, but you can’t just totally rewrite that.
It’s like a secret weakness, he replies, Ha ha ha.
He looks over into the mirror hanging crooked on the doorframe. The reflection can’t hold him. The edges of his body are cropped from the image. If only rewriting were that easy. That painless. He learned the lie about truth when he first started out in wrestling, spending months wallowing on early tickets. Grunting through matches when the crowd was busy buying beer and pissing it out again.
So one day the promoter brought him into his office, closed the door. The older man sat on the edge of the desk and pointed at the walls. Faded posters of wrestling legends crowded around them, pasted to the beaverboard. You know what these guys got that you don’t, said the promoter, lighting a cigarette. A persona.
He didn’t say anything. He just shrugged.
You need a story, the promoter said, loud, like this would help him understand. Something exotic.
I have a story, he said.
It’s the first thing he had said there in months. Most anything that came out of his mouth was a scream of rage or a yowl of pain. He didn’t smile. Words hadn’t been necessary before this moment.
Oh yeah? said the promoter.
And so he told him the story of how his father died in a shootout in Juárez when he was still just a daydream in his mother’s womb. How his mother worked, cleaning toilets at a resort for two years, eating only a handful of beans each day, somehow still making sure he got more than his fill. How she hired a guide with the money she’d saved and god knows what else and took him by the hand, barely old enough to walk, and they marched straight over hills, canyons and desert, stumbling in the dark over the bones of other travellers. How she kept him fed from Tucson to San Diego, meal after meal. How feeding him was her god-given right. How she died at forty at the kitchen stove making him sopes. She’d never been diagnosed. The evil truth inside her went unknown.
He told the promoter this in the office, while down below them the night janitor washed the ring mat with a threadbare mop. They shared this story in a haze of old sweat, new tears on both their faces.
They sat in silence at the end, while the fluorescent lights shut down, one bank at a time. Well, said the promoter, in the dark. That’s not gonna work.
But it’s the truth, he said.
It’s depressing, the promoter said, lighting up a new cigarette, red coal burning in the dark office. You’re from the South Pacific.
We already got a Mexican. You’re the king of an island in the South Pacific. We’ll get you a crown. You’re brown. You’re fat. They’ll buy it.
The promoter reached into a cardboard box and threw him a pair of shorts. Triple extra-large. These’ll make you look thinner, he said.
And start laughing more, he added as he opened the door to let him out, There’s nothing worse than mixing emotions and blood. Ha ha ha, he said, Try it.
Ha ha ha, he said.
Keep working on it, the promoter said, closing the door on him.
And so he learned about rewriting: slapping a persona on like lead paint. One coat of lies after the other. From wrestling to boxing, in the ring and out. Broken marriages, fixed fights, family, sickness. Lies layered over top of one another, like old kitchen cupboards, repainted until they no longer close properly.
And now here he is, examination table surrendering under the weight of his evil truth. He pats his belly. Ha ha ha, he says to the doctor.
This is serious, says the doctor. Out the window, rain is falling.
I know, he says. He rips a strip of medical tape off a roll next to the table. He tears it in half and puts one piece over his belly button. He lays the other half over top, making an X. It’s like a plug in the dam. All patched up. Holding his gutless guts in.