Ruth wakes up with a start, and then panics briefly, because the shadows are in the wrong place and why is there a wall there and where did that door come from and-
And then she remembers where she is. She falls back on to the pillows.
It has been a while since she has woken up without someone else in the room. Either Sheila was there, or the all pervading imminent arrival of Sheila, as notable in her absence as her presence.
Or, recently, there had been Russell. Russell, who would run his hand gently down her back and kiss at her shoulder before getting up to make coffee.
Ruth rolls away from that thought, and turns on her side.
It’s a double bed. Ruth runs her hand over the smooth sheets, and unconsciously flexes her foot through different angles, just testing for pain.
The side light has an orange shade over it. There’s a book that Ruth had tried and failed at last night, her watch, and the other bits of her life that she drops just before sleep. There is a photo frame but it contains no photo.
Ruth is just absently considering the lamp shade, and what exactly that color of orange could be reminding her of, when there is an abrupt knocking on her door.
“Ruth! You awake? We’re going down to look at the training gym and theatre. You coming?”
It’s Cherry. Ruth gets out of bed, pulls on a sweater, and opens the door a crack.
“Sure, give me…oh. How come you are all ready?”
The corridor is filled with the other women, who have patently been awake for longer than two minutes. Debbie looks as though she’s been with a stylist for an hour already.
Reggie is pressing against the wall, stretching out her legs.
“Did you not hear all the loud singing at too early am?”
Jenny is interrupting before Reggie can even finish her sentence. “Look, its our first day, there’s going to be a bit of singing, we’re energetic people.”
Ruth’s glance finds Debbie, almost involuntarily. Debbie’s mouth twists into an weary smile, and then she looks away.
Ruth comes back to herself. And god, it is exciting. She can feel the emotion bubbling at her.
“No, didn’t hear anything…. I’ll need… two minutes, wait for me.”
Firstly, the changing rooms do not smell of piss. That, for some reason, is the first big indicator Ruth takes that things have gone up a level.
And then there’s a big room, bigger than their previous show space by at least double. It has been stocked with training mats and exercise equipment and there’s a wrestling ring in the centre. The walls are painted white but Ruth supposes it wouldn’t be too difficult to convert it into a venue for the shows.
In fact, she’s just scoping out the ceiling to try and judge how to set up the lighting rig (as though she has any knowledge in that area) when there is a commotion through the double doors to the back of the big room.
And, when she sticks her head through those doors…
This…. now this is a big room. This room is so big that ‘big’ doesn’t even work anymore, and Ruth isn’t too sure about the word ‘room’ either.
This is a… theatre… an arena? It’s bigger than the Heyworth ballroom by at least four times, and lined with seats for an impossible number of people, more people than Ruth has ever had looking at her before. And in the middle, almost tiny looking… is a wrestling ring.
“Yeah… holy shit.”
It’s Debbie, standing just inside the door way, leaning back on the wall. She’s gazing around the room as though trying to weigh up which part to look at first.
Ruth laughs abruptly.
“This is insane, this can’t be for us.”
Debbie chews on the inside of her cheek for a moment, and then smiles.
“Things stopped being sane a while ago, don’t you think?”
In the centre of the….space, the rest of the team are running around, rolling around, bouncing off the ropes and sitting on the turnbuckle and gesturing at the non existent crowd, shrieking with excitement. The shrieks sound different, almost distant, as the cavernous space swallows them up.
Ruth starts to worry.
“How the fuck are we going to fill this every night?”
“You read my mind.”
Sam appears after another thirty minutes, in which time Cherry has managed to herd everyone back into the training room and tried to set them all to doing something.
Melrose is sitting on top of a pommel horse, moaning.
“Why do we have to do anything… can’t we just re-run the shows we have already done? That way; no planning.”
Sam scoffs at that, as way of announcing his presence, as he comes slouching through the double doors with a cigarette in his mouth.
“No, we cannot, because then you get lazy. We need to think bigger, better, and start with a bang, not ease ourself in because you are feeling like taking some time to start a knitting club.”
Melrose pulls a face.
“Okay, Sam, that insult doesn’t even come close to working on me, in what universe would I be starting a knitting club-”
“Shut up. Okay, here’s the thing. Turns out that doing a show four nights a week means that we have to do a show four nights a week. Wednesday through Saturday. And Ray’s already talking about matineé shows and what the fuck ever else, and the man is basically giving me a heart attack because he thinks that we can be a success straight out of the box. Because he unlike me, hasn’t see some of the shit that you have produced in the past. And you know what happens when you tank in front of 10,000 people? 10,000 people tell their friends not to come.”
During this inspiring speech, everyone has gathered around Sam. Tammé puts up her hand.
“People kept watching our show on tv, even if you thought it was shit.”
Sam shakes his head.
“Not the same. Not the same. Different ball game, a live show in a town like this.”
Debbie makes a noise.
“No cameras, for a start.”
Sam, inexplicably, gives her a look of pure murder, which Ruth doesn’t fully understand because surely that’s one upside? One less thing to worry about?
He carries on.
“So, in our quest to not fall at the first hurdle, we start training today, and we have at least a basic show figured out by end of tomorrow latest, because that gives us a fighting chance of hammering it into something passable by the time the first show rolls around.”
“Wow, Sam, is this a pep talk or a pep kicking? Are you going to call us shit individually, or are you just sticking with the collective nouns for now?”
It’s Debbie again. And… Ruth has always known that Sam and Debbie haven’t found it entirely straightforward, being co-producers, but today she seems ready for a fight in public.
Sam blinks at her.
“Christ, who shat in your cocoa? Do you think we should stick to Captain Crochet’s plan instead?”
“What the fuck is up with the knitting references-”
Debbie folds her arms. Ruth catches Sheila raising her eyebrows at nothing.
“I just think it’d be more professional if you talked to us like professionals for once, rather than delinquent teenagers.”
Sam pinches at the bridge of his nose.
“Professional… you want to talk to me about professional….”
There is a heavy moment, but Sam seems to back away from whatever his next comment was going to be. He gestures around himself.
“Look, all of this… is great. Shiny gym, huge arena, great. But you can be damn sure that it all disappears in two weeks tops if we don’t put together a show that actually sells some fucking tickets. So, start planning some matches will you? Storylines, twists, bounce some ideas around. Everyone barring Ruth needs to be ready with something by tomorrow.”
Ruth opens her mouth, but Sam is already there.
“Not you Ruth, because your ankle needs more time to recover.”
“The doctor said I was fine for normal use?”
“Great, well I’m pretty sure that normal doesn’t cover wrestling. You can make your big come back in a later show. You just stay on strength training for a bit, everyone else, do your stuff.”
After a week, it’s almost routine.
She wakes up, usually by her own body clock, occasionally by the sound of the others getting ready. She showers, in a shower that always has enough hot water.
They eat breakfast from the hotel breakfast buffet, trying not draw attention to themselves, because although nobody told them they couldn’t, nobody told them they could either. Ruth sees Bash down there a couple of times, but he’s distant, and staring at his croissant in a way that Ruth doesn’t recognise.
And then they go to the gym. And then Ruth spends a boring day flexing and stretching, whilst everyone else gets to… god, she knows it is painful, but she misses wrestling. She misses the adrenaline rush, the feeling of complete synchronicity.
(She also resents that everyone else gets to get better, whilst she is stuck at the same point, no chance to improve.)
Ruth watches Debbie’s training in a way that is bordering on hungry, and she knows that Debbie can tell she is watching, but god she just can’t help it. Ruth follows every move, desperate to participate.
Debbie’s wrestling with Dawn and Stacey, bouncing off the ropes as though they’re a trampoline and clothes lining both of her opponents in a way that genuinely does look like it is going to protect the American dream.
When they call a halt, it is to discuss what should happen next. Debbie is sucking in air, and rests her hands on her hips as she tries to steady herself. Dawn lies flat on her back, wheezing as she tries to talk.
“Okay. Okay. Maybe you could, I don’t know, pitch us out of the ring by -
Debbie shakes her head.
“No, we’ve done that too many times. We need something different if this is meant to be the headline match.”
Stacey pushes her hair back from her face.
“Well, we’re never headline match, so…”
“Also, we’re like, we’ve never won a match, so…”
Debbie nods, and then breathes in deeply.
“So you two should win. In a way that isn’t fair. So the crowd are indignant.”
Dawn and Stacey look at each other like they hadn’t even thought of that.
Debbie shrugs, and then gestures at Ruth.
Ruth considers pretending that she hadn’t been paying attention to their training session, but from the look in Debbie’s eye she knows she’s got no chance of pulling that off.
“I… I dunno, they could, poison you, somehow? Toxic could. You could go full Sleeping Beauty.”
Debbie snorts at that, and then tips her head to one side.
“And then what?”
Ruth shrugs. “I don’t know, I’ve only been thinking about it for ten seconds. Give me ten minutes.”
Debbie raises her eyebrows suddenly, and snaps her fingers.
“Ooh, I could go evil. Poison that corrupts my brain and then I’m under your control. I’ve wanted to play a heel for ages.”
Stacey sits up.
“What, really? You’d be doing my bidding?”
Ruth can feels the ideas turning over in her head, and she takes an excited breath.
“All the faces could be trying to save you. And all the heels could be trying to keep you evil! And each week could be a different attempt to save Liberty Belle’s soul, but then-”
“Ruth! Hoppity. Hop along over here will you?”
It’s Sam. Ruth looks around at him, and then back at Debbie, Dawn and Stacey, who are all staring at her. She gestures over her shoulder.
“I should… I should probably go see what he wants.”
Debbie shrugs, and then says “Bet you ten bucks it is nothing that he couldn’t have come over to you for.”
“Oh it’s fine, I don’t mind” Ruth hears herself saying dismissively, as she hauls herself upright and dusts herself down.
Sam hasn’t got an office anymore. He’s overcome this problem by collecting odds and ends of furniture from throughout the hotel, and creating a small nest for himself, a fortresses of cubicle dividers and old desks, none of which seem to have the same height as the others.
There’s paper everywhere.
“Okay, you okay? I wanted to throw some show arc ideas around with you, seeing as you have been watching the others rather than concentrating on your own routine. A bit of an over-view. We need more of a theme than… just wrestling every night. And the first show - what we’ve got is good, but we need, I don’t know, some kind of narrative thread other than ‘And then Liberty Belle saves the day’.”
Ruth doesn’t quite know how to say that she’s only really been concentrating on Debbie’s work, and besides, that isn’t exactly true, she knows the basics of what the others have been doing.
“Well, about a second ago, Debbie came up with something that we could pivot the whole run around, if Liberty Belle gets poisoned, and then she could be a heel whilst the rest of the faces keep trying to save her, and then-”
Ruth cuts herself off, because her mind is bouncing ahead fast than she can articulate. They could play the crowd big screen moments of Debbie being a hero, past wrestling matches from their old episodes, interviews with the other faces who have lost their leader, the American Dream literally dying in front of the crowd, the heels triumphant, Debbie (oh, and she’d need an alter ego name) taunting the crowd, the crowd desperate for her to be saved…
Sam frowns at her.
“You really want to base the whole run around Debbie again?”
“She’s the star, and the most popular character, and she can do some of the best moves. Why wouldn’t you base it around her?”
Sam grunts, and looks away from Ruth, shuffling some paperwork around.
“I don’t know. Maybe because… she broke your leg? Maybe we don’t reward violence with another starring run? Besides, the power might go to her head. I don’t want to have to manage that, she’s difficult enough as it is.”
And he looks at Ruth as though… inviting her to agree. And though this is a thing that they always do, moan about Debbie together.
But… god knows Ruth has moaned about Debbie to herself in her head for what feels like half a lifetime, but she’s not comfortable with other people attacking her.
She looks away, dismissive.
“If you have a better idea, you can go with that instead.”
Debbie is now sitting on the canvas floor with Stacey and Dawn, and Carmen has been drawn over, interested in the animation of their conversation. As Ruth watches, Debbie glances up, and meets Ruth’s eye with a smile.
God, she wants to be in that conversation.
Sam clears his throat. “Okay, let’s map out what an evil Liberty Belle arc looks like… lemme get you a chair.”
“Oh, no, it’s fine, I can stand.”
“No”, says Sam firmly, as he stands, “You are still badly injured. Look at that foot, it’s hanging on by a thread.”
Ruth grins at that, and Sam smiles at her as he passes.