Copyright notice

All content copyright 2010 by Chelsea Biondolillo. Seriously.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Boxer

(This short story was the first runner-up for Austin Monthly's first short story contest. It was originally featured on

She had just half of a second to re-think, to regret, to repent, before her left hand made contact with the white girl's jawbone. The cracked leather of her glove connected with the smooth skin of the gringa's face with a hard and unforgivable crack too fast to stop. A young cameraman on the side of the ring caught the moment: Sandra Cavelli's neck is thrown back, an arc of sweat and spit and blood is curving up from her head turning her into an exotic crested bird; her body, soft with release, is bent backwards in mid-fall—on tip-toe, she is an open parenthesis. And to the left, Maria Vargas—her killer hook still extended—is a hard backslash; every muscle of her small frame is tight in a concentration of force that had already managed to take down 17 other women from Laredo to Dallas. Maria's teeth are clenched on her mouth-guard seemingly in a snarl, while Sandra's mouth is slack, her moan so stark it is almost audible. What would earn the photographer his first check was not the timing of the shot, but the strangeness of Maria's expression as she won by a knockout: fear. The caption that ran with the photo in the Beaumont Enterprise said “Vargas afraid of own strength as Cavelli falls hard in the first round.”

Maria was not afraid of her own strength. She was afraid of spiders and of small, dark spaces and of getting lost in a corn field, the stalks to tall to see over. She was afraid of her father's discipline and she was afraid of God's wrath. She was especially afraid of drowning. But none of those fears were the reason for her wide eyes and pinched grimace in the prize-winning photograph.

What do you want to be when you grow up? Not laid off, I bet...

(the following piece did not win the Real Simple Essay Contest. I am unable to publish it elsewhere, due to their fine print.)

On a day like any other, it only took five words to change everything.

“Your position has been eliminated.”

One minute you're sitting in your cube, formatting a report or listening to a conference call, and the next—this hushed, tearful conversation that ends in a final paycheck and some boxes you can use to gather your things.

How many times did that simple, horrible sentence bounce off workplace walls last year? I was not alone in my panic. My situation was so common, a whole culture of not-having formed to speak for me: I was a piece of data in reports on an economic trend and a consumer in a new market that would be offered bankruptcy at little or no cost. The topic of news stories, I had a house you could buy cheap and could be found desperate at job fairs, perhaps staring into the camera with still-shocked eyes murmuring, “I just don't know what I am going to do.”

Later that night, at a bar where my friends were buying me conciliatory drinks, an acquaintance was jovial, “You're in high-tech and this is your first layoff? Wow! Well don't worry, they get easier.”

My friend Rachel brushed his comment aside and assured me, “Someday this will be the best thing that ever happened to you.”