We’re excited to announce the publication of our fifth Ploughshares Solo: “Escape and Reverse” by Chelsey Johnson. Our Ploughshares Solos series allows us to publish long-form stories every month an a digital format. Recent Ploughshares Solos include “Phoenix” (fiction) by Megan Mayhew Bergman and “All of Us, We All Are Arameans” (essay) by Eileen Pollack.
High school wrestler Jake Persson is living on vitamins and diet Mountain Dew as he fights to make weight at the height of championship season. In the small mining town in northern Minnesota’s Iron Range where Jake lives, this is the most exciting thing that has happened in years. During his last meet, Jake confronts his future and the unnerving sense that his own body and desires are starting to betray him. Chelsey Johnson writes a gripping story about hunger, control, and wrestling down desire.
Available for $0.99 on Kindle (borrow for free if you have Prime).
An excerpt from the story:
The gym fills quickly. As early as weigh-in, parents, friends, classmates, and random citizens of Quartzton start arriving to get a good spot in the bleachers. Jake peers out of the locker room door. Up at the back of the bleachers he spots Janet with her pack of surly girlfriends passing around a Chapstick. Down farther sit his parents with their homemade noisemakers, which the wrestling moms have made out of plastic bottles filled with popcorn kernels, spray-painted in Quartzton’s school colors of red and black, and decorated with glitter and sprigs of curling ribbon. Below them the high school band plays unsyncopated arrangements of pop songs off tiny score sheets. Here on floor level, the cheerleaders jump and clap in a slow jerky dance to the beat of the bass drum.
At seven o’clock sharp the lights dim, a spotlight beams down on the center of the mat, and QHS athletic director’s voice crackles through the speakers to announce the teams. The opponents emerge first, are introduced, receive loud cheering from the away-side of the gym and faint courtesy applause from the Quartzton side. Then, the band plays a tuba-heavy arrangement of “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath as the Quartzton wrestlers jog out from the locker room in their black nylon warm-ups, hoods up. The crowd roars and rattles noisemakers at each boy’s name and weight.
When everyone has been presented, the band strikes up “The Star-Spangled Banner” in an impossible key and the wrestlers lip-synch the words with hands over their hearts. Then the teams take their seats at the far end of the mat. The smallest boys enter the ring; the ref brings down his hand; the 103-pound match begins.
Up until his match Jake doesn’t talk to anyone or watch the others wrestle. He concentrates and clears his mind. He paces behind the chairs. He thinks about his frustration last night and the pain in his stomach today and starts to move it all from his head into the body of his opponent. When he wrestles, he doesn’t just wrestle a boy. This boy is anger, this boy is hunger, is failure, this boy is my father’s sadness, my sister’s withdrawal, the thing in me I can’t understand.
About Chelsey Johnson
A professor at the College of William & Mary, and writer for The Rumpus, Chelsey Johnson has published stories in a variety of magazines, including Selected Shorts, Ploughshares, One Story, and Avery. She is working on a novel.
Interested in submitting a story for the series?
If you have a longer story or essay — roughly 6,000 to 25,000 words — please read our guidelines and submit online. Make sure you select “Pshares Solos: Long Story/Novella” from the drop down box under “genre.”