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Carleen Peters is the winner of our Cults & Clubs flash competition, with this breathlessly passionate story about love at the roller derby.
To Be read out loud
Inside your head, inside your limbs, inside your heart. Lodged like a splinter of transition-stop shattered tibia. Aggressive, infectious and growing like a canker till pack is everything. Pack is all.
Like most great love stories it starts with an over-too-fast thrill of beer and body slamming in the bleachers of a sweaty South London sports hall.
Surrounded by friends and strangers in dreadlocks, band tees and tattoos. Everyone is chatting excitedly about the battle about to commence below. On the sidelines the compere, a moustachioed guy in taped-up spectacles and leather pants, warms up for his 90 minutes of splendour. Rockabilly girls with Crazy Colour curls sell decals, cupcakes and y-fronts with team names and sparkly rude words on them. The cheering begins, a gentle rumble at first that soon builds into full blown braying as the headliners, women in helmets, war paint and killer quads, skate on and take their places on track. Then the wild rumpus begins, with all the high, hopeful, snarling, smashing, blood-lusting, bruise-cruising, sore-limbs-singing, panties-on-your-head-wearing, tights-ripping, pure-life-sweating, soft skin-splitting ardour of a mosh pit.
And it is love.
They are rock stars, these women, and you fall hard. For gazelle-like GarrotHer, exotic AdeSlamHer, brutal Marie AnTourniquet. You find yourself yelling “I’d tattoo your face on my chest” during gameplay, fashioning signs for bouts which read “I’d eat your fucking baby!”
And when they let you in – well, you’d certainly consider quitting your current job for one with more league-friendly hours.
You tell your granny you’ve joined the WI.
It just kind of slips out and in a way it’s not so far from the truth. After all it is on the track, perhaps for the very first time, that you feel most like a woman. Not because of sexy boutfits or naughty monikers or any other anti-fem wet dream thought up by the men and the non-believers, but because for once, what you look like, weigh, wear, listen to, who you vote for, sleep with, your race, class, creed, politics – none of it matters. You are all just bodies united in a common goal. Kill the jammer and generally smash some oppositional gash until that final whistle sounds and then down the pub to kiss and make up over brewskis, baked goods and all of the bruises.
Your granny tells you that you smell like an ashtray and your new haircut makes you look like the devil. She nods in reference to your WI revelation in a way that makes you feel like she has heard what you have said and has taken it to mean that her worst nightmares have been confirmed and you have indeed “become a gayer”.
The first time a friend smashes your sternum and means it. The first time you diaphragm-smack her back and like it. You have never been more alive to the basic pleasures of human flesh. Your human flesh and that of the 10-legged creature you have become a part of. It is primal, vital, feral, sharp. Acting and reacting with nothing to go on but a series of low growls, instinct and touch.
“I always dreamed of having a group of girlfriends who liked to hit each other” a teammate laughs putting her whole body behind an uppercut to your shoulder.
“Living the dream,” you wheeze and believe it, her punch thudding through your bones.
The game is governed ferocity. Through-the-pack-bursting, apex-jumping, down-the-home-straight-sprinting, penalty-avoiding, bum-to-the-winding, track, starving, gut-hungry-for-winning, risk-taking whilst loud-noise-making, atmosphere-crackling, adrenaline-pumping, makeup-running, skin-glowing, personality-shaping, life-making. Inside your head, inside your limbs, inside your heart.
It starts with an over-too-fast thrill. All great love stories do. But now you are the wolf pack and they are cheering for you.
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