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Old Age Wrestles Thor Again

Marissa Lingen is the author of over one hundred science fiction and fantasy stories. She lives in Minnesota with two large men and one small dog.

Elli had been on every circuit, in various costumes. Always a heel. She was never above choking, taking people's eyes out, anything. She'd do it for free outside the ring if you were patient.
She'd brought down most of the biggest faces there'd ever been, although a few succumbed to early injury instead, or drugs. But she didn't mind sharing her victories with the drugs.
There was only one opponent she missed, though, and he wasn't a professional. Crowds got distracted by the flashy lightning, but he was always a farmer at heart, and that's what he went back to when he had the chance. She was surprised to miss him, with his roaring and grunting and unbeautiful grappling, but she did. He couldn't beat her, but he was the only one in centuries who had come close.
He was even more surprised that he missed her too.
So when her travels took her past his farm--when she was disguised as one wrestler or another, after the arena was closed down for the night--she'd come out to his barn. And they'd wrestle again.
None of the faces she wore in the ring ever felt right with him. For him she was just Elli, inevitable and wizened, always herself. He didn't strip down to trunks or fancy tight trousers, either. That was never his style. Her in a housedress, her grey hair straggling around her, him in overalls, they would grapple. Clinch. Fall back. Grapple again.
It had a poetry to it, but a very straightforward poetry.
He sweated freely from the beginning, and he smelled like earth and ozone. Even though he'd always been blunt-spoken, he was too polite to tell her what she smelled like. Anyone seeing them from outside would have rushed in to save the fragile old lady from the giant, red-faced man.
He had a new trick, a particular twist to his hips that she had never seen him do before. He used it twice to get free of holds she thought would be unbreakable. "You've been practicing," she grated.
He backed off, wiped sweat away. Grinned. "You leave all this video I can study. I may learn slowly, but I learn."
She gave him a wolfish grin. This was what kept it fun. This was what kept her coming back.
Even though he always lost. Whatever he'd learned, whatever he'd practiced, Elli was always stronger in the end. Forced to his knees, flat on his back with the air knocked out of him, however it ended, it was always the same.
But the hours between were the most satisfying she knew. He wasn't a mouse to toy with, he was a fellow wrestler, and he never tried less than his best. She could feel his shoulders strain, his mighty back push, and she knew she would have to give it her all. And it was good.
"An apple a day, eh?" she puffed.
He snorted, twisting free of her grasp for the moment. He circled. "She never forgets. Not since that one time."
"But I'm always here. I always win."
"You always win the match," he corrected, making a grab for her that she eluded. "We'll see who wins after that. I'm promised a glorious death."
She nodded, waiting for his lunge. She threw him over her hip when it came, and he fell hard. "I've seen those. They're much the same as any other kind."
He twisted his mouth in grim acknowledgment and got back to his feet again. "You know I have the apples. You know you'll win here but you won't beat me. Why do you keep coming back?"
She didn't answer. Instead she motioned for him to come at her. He waited, head cocked like a gigantic muscle-bound bird. Frustrated, she dove at his rock-solid midsection and, inch by inch, forced him back and down, back to the improvised ropes, down to the ground. He slipped, fighting back, but he was exhausted now, she had him.
He looked up at her, her mouth a grim line of triumph. "You're lonely."
She sputtered, then remembered that it was him, the one she didn't have to dissemble with after all these years. The only one who knew all her masks. "Well? What if I am?"
He offered her a hand. "Nobody deserves a lonely old age. Keep coming around. I'm here."
She reached for his hand. Tentatively.
And then of course he was throwing her, ready for another round, always losing but never lost. She smiled against his sweaty back, ready to try one of her more theatrical ring moves, knowing it won't change the outcome either way. He drank down the ocean once, enough to cause the tides. He's always been more stubborn than smart. When it comes right down to it, he's a good friend for an old lady to have.
She drove him into the floor of the barn. He howled, ready to begin again.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, December 10th, 2020

Author Comments

I am lucky enough to have several wonderful old people in my life, so the aging process is on my mind a lot. I got to thinking of the story in the Prose Edda where Thor has to drink the ocean (and thereby causes the tides), lift the World Serpent, and wrestle the personification of Old Age. Now, we know the ocean, and we know the World Serpent, but...what else is Elli (Old Age) up to, since she's apparently wandering the world in the shape of a little old lady? Utgarda-Loki felt it would be better "for both sides" if they never met again--did the participants agree? Meanwhile in the middle of this pandemic, I find that I am talking more regularly to some of my oldest friends, making sure we retain our connection in hard times. The combination of those ideas made this story.

- Marissa Kristine Lingen
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