The Pixie vaulted over the arena’s high wall and landed on the roof with a familiar flourish.
I smiled and snuffed out the cigarette I’d been smoking. The two hour wait was well worth seeing her again, and I hadn’t been bored in the interim. I put down the old paperback copy of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club and stood and spread my arms in greeting.
“Took you long enough,” I joked, “Does a guy have to start a street fight just to get a little attention in this town?”
“Oh I see,” she bantered back with fluttering eyelashes, covering the distance between us in short steps, “you just need a little attention. There, there.” She had to stretch up in order to pat the top of my head.
“Thanks,” I rolled my eyes, “all better now.” I wasn’t sure where to begin so I scuffed the rooftop until the toe of my sneaker nudged the old paperback.
“Fight Club,” the Pixie noted with a little laugh, “certainly your type of material. Just don’t go starting another project mayhem in my town.” Even the mocking way she waved a finger in my face was a dance.
“It’s my town, too.” I told her, searching for her eyes behind the distractions of her tasseled and feathered mask. “And I know we’ve got worse things than mayhem going on here. And I can’t live with that.”
The Pixie paused, startled and caught without a witty response.
“What happened to you?” She asked genuinely, finding stillness and meeting my eyes.
“I remembered what the vikings were really fighting for.” I took my turn to wink slyly. “Not just the good death. That was a part of their way of life. They might have done some awful things, but they went on those raids for their people.” I turned to face old city hall’s broken down clock tower, the hands hanging perpetually at 6:30. “And this is where my people are.”
“Why did you try to kill yourself?” She demanded suddenly, cutting off my first response. “And don’t tell me you weren’t. Suicide by gangbanger is no different than any other.”
“I told you, I hadn’t slept in…”
I bit back a rude remark and took a deep breath.
“I was angry about… a lot of things.” I said, “When I hurt my ankle I lost my outlet. The gym, jogging–”
“What types of things were you angry about?” She asked. I sighed.
“My girlfriend left me–”
“That’s a symptom, not an illness.” The Pixie interrupted. I took another breath.
“I lost my job. Well, two jobs, and then a third.” I rubbed my forehead and raked fin gers through my hair. It was getting longish and greasy. Needed a good wash and a cut. “I was killing myself on freelance gigs just to keep my apartment–”
“What kind of freelance?”
“Ghostwriting, mostly.” I replied, getting used to the rough rhythm of her conversation. “The pay rates are low and there’s not much in the way of notoriety. Hard to build a following.”
“What happened first?” She asked, shifting her weight from one hip to the other and finally breaking eye contact, glancing off at the clang of a dumpster slamming.
“What do you mean?” I replied. All the energy left my body and I sat on the roof.
“Why did you lose the first job?”
“I got hit on the head in a workplace accident,” I recalled, feeling my stomach tighten, “it didn’t seem like a big deal. Mild concussion. But then everything changed. I couldn’t stand the lights or all the talking, couldn’t keep cool, so they fired me.” I swallowed the lump in my throat and wiped the corners of my eyes with dirty thumbs. “Since then… all I can do is write. And fight.” I pulled my knees against my chest, feeling cold.
“Hey, that happened to me once,” The Pixie said, sweeping off her cloak and splaying it across my shoulders. The purple garment felt heavy, made of a dense fabric with some type of protection woven between the layers. It felt warm and safe. “I dove away from some bullets and straight in to a brick wall,” she said, “somehow I got up and out of there and home safe and I don’t remember any of it.” She sat down cross-legged in front of me. Even so close her blend of makeup, mask and costume kept me from any chance at discerning her identity… but her eyes were unmistakable, deep brown and fierce and compassionate and beautiful.
“What happened?” I asked, arching to crack my back. The Pixie’s cloak nearly slipped from my shoulders but I caught it and held it like a blanket.
“I woke up the next morning and couldn’t talk,” she said, “could barely walk. It took me three days to get up and about and functional.” She paused and took a shallow breath, “it took me almost three months to get back on the streets. But there’s one thing you should understand,” she collected my hands and cupped them in hers and shook them on the emphasis of every odd syllable. “What you’re feeling is normal. Trauma damages the brain. But it’s infinitely plastic and you choose how you rewire it. I’d suggest you choose right now.” She ran her four-ounce pink leather gloves over my face briefly and then stood and moved away.
“I already chose,” I told her, standing and following her along the arena’s protected roof to drape the cape around her shoulders, “that’s why I’m here.” I stepped back and rooted my feet. “Because you’re better than me at this, and I need your help.”
“Who, me?” The Pixie batted her long eyelashes and flounced about like a schoolgirl receiving a compliment from her favorite teacher. “What could I possibly teach you?” She asked, striking her favorite Peter Pan pose with fists on hips and chest thrust forward.
“Don’t fish for flattery, it’s unbecoming,” I said saucily, moving a step closer. We stood within a few yards of one another in the middle of the rooftop’s open space.
“But I don’t know what you mean,” she said, ever the comic. “What am I better at? I mean specifically? If you want me to teach you I have to know so–”
“Alright,” I interrupted, and took a deep breath, and then another. “Tactics, for one thing, strategy, escape routes… fuck, even fighting. How did you knock down that big ox with one punch?”
“Well it was more an accumulation of punches,” she mused, striking a pose with hand on chin and arms folded, gazing into the hazy sky as if lost in thought.
“Look,” I said, “if you have bionic arms you can tell me. I promise not to–”
“I can teach you,” she interrupted, uncrossing her arms, “but those are difficult lessons, especially the ox-felling. It’s all movement and–”
“Well I’ve always been a difficult student,” I cut in, mimicking her stance with my hands on my hips. I’d worn a similar t-shirt and pair of cargo shorts to the day we met so she would remember me on sight. The actual clothing I’d worn that day had burned in my bathtub and then been buried in my building’s dumpster.
“How strong are your abs?” The Pixie asked, eyeing me critically down her nose.
“You want to feel me up?” I asked in disbelief. Some women got off raking their fingers up a six pack, but probably not the type who killed criminals while wearing a cape.
“No,” she laughed, “I mean, can you take a punch?” She removed four small domed plates from hidden pockets in the knuckles of her left glove. They looked like some kind of metal, probably steel, but painted the same shade of purple as the fingernails she used to pull them from cleverly disguised seams.
The plates were about the size and shape of contact lenses, but I had a feeling getting hit by them would be similar to a blow from brass knuckles.
“Sure I can take a punch,” I said, shrugging, my arms spread, “I used to–”
The Pixie’s sucker punch cut off my story about winning the occasional shot-for-shot contest in college. She leaned in and delivered a sharp jab to my solar plexus.
I grunted and took a half-step backward to distribute some of the force. It wasn’t her hardest punch, but she’d put all of her weight and speed behind it. I began to feel the woman in front of me might be mortal after all.
“Now try to hit me back,” she taunted, skipping back and forth with her fists raised in an exaggerated fighting stance. Her feathered mask fluttered and its tassels swayed to and fro. The rainbow skirt swished up to her waist showing flashes of purple-clad thighs.
Hitting her wasn’t high on the list of things I wanted to do right then, but I had asked for the lesson and my abdomen still ached from the sucker punch. I dropped into a boxing stance and shuffled forward. Feinted a few times and then threw a tricky double jab followed by my favorite right uppercut. My fists moved fast but carried little power; I was ready to pull back the moment my knuckles made impact.
The impact never came, at least not for my knuckles. The Pixie swooped around my assault with an unnecessary twirl of her cape and hit me with the exact same jab in the exact same spot.
I sat down hard and barely stopped the back of my head from striking the rooftop. My stomach clenched around my solar plexus and my lungs heaved, searching for air that was no longer there. Rather than curl up I laid back and let my body find its breath naturally. The pain left before my wind returned.
“See,” the Pixie grinned, standing triumphantly over top of me, pink shoes planted either side of my hips. “When you’re moving it can double, even triple the force of the blow. And with my little stingers,” she patted the pouch on her belt where she’d stowed the plates fondly, “and taped wrists and good aim, I can fell even the biggest buffoon.” She bent down until her painted smiling lips and masked face were a foot away from mine.
“Okay I get it,” I groaned, and then sat up suddenly and grasped the collar of her cape. She squeaked in surprise as I rolled backward and lifted my shins, flipping her gently to the rooftop and sinking my knees past her legs so my hips pinned hers.
She looked at me like she might take my eye out but did not struggle.
“What happens when you can’t move?” I asked, leaning forward and collecting her hands one at a time. She let me pin them easily either side of her splayed tassels.
“I can always move.” She said with a wink.
I kissed her as swiftly as I’d swept her. Her eyes closed and she kissed me back with electric passion. I’d never tasted a sugar sweeter than her lipstick.
She raked her fingers down my stomach, over the shirt and then under. The mixture of sensations sparked by her fingertips and the leather gloves threatened to overload my nerves. And then she grabbed my belt with both hands and broke the kiss and bridged hard and scooted between my legs and out the back door.
I rose warily in time to watch her wrap the blue cape about her slight frame in a protective cocoon.
“Movement is only half of the lesson,” she stated, “the other half is timing, and yours is terrible.”