Erin held her breath, rolled toward the wall, and, at the last moment, pivoted backward and skidded to a halt on her toestops. The team cheered, and Chelle skated toward her. Chelle served as coach, manager and head cheerleader, and skated as Michelle O-Bomb-Ya.
“See? You never forget!” she said. “Just like riding a bike.”
“Yeah—after a month of practice.” Erin had rollerskated a lot as a teenager, but she still felt a little shaky. And thinking about joining a roller derby team at age thirty-eight made her feel even shakier. Chelle had seen Erin skating at the rink with her three kids and invited her to roller derby practice. The team had welcomed her like an old friend, and skating burned 476 calories an hour.
“I decided.” Erin said. “I’m in.”
“Woot!” As they took off their skates on the bench, Chelle lowered her voice. “The timing’s perfect. Katy’s pregnant. Again.”
“Oh, my,” Erin said. Katy—“Hurricane Katrina”—already had one toddler, with no husband in sight.
“Hey.” Chelle’s glance was sharp. “None of that pinch-lipped Mormon stuff. You have opinions about what the team does, you leave ‘em in the parking lot.”
Stung, Erin nodded and leaned over to remove her kneepads. She’d never thought of herself as a “pinch-lipped Mormon.” But even in high school she’d never hung out with a crowd as varied as the Derby Demons.
“Nice boutfit, by the way,” Chelle said.
“The pants were sort of a mistake.” Erin had been overjoyed to discover size-XL bike shorts that fit. When she found a pair in the team’s purple, she’d gotten them home and removed the tags before she noticed “Too cool for school” in shiny gold letters across the rear.
“Just, um, you might want to lose the fishnet stockings.”
“Really?” Other girls wore tutus, sequins, nose rings—the more outrageous, the better. Was Chelle judging her, now?
“They look awesome,” Chelle said. “But fishnet burn is the worst. None of us wear it anymore.”
Chelle shoved her gear into a “Sin-tral Utah Derby Demons” duffle and stood. “You’re joining at a good time. Regular season’s over, and the Reindeer of Terror bout isn’t until December. That gives you almost two months.” She looked Erin over. “You’ve got the height and bulk for a blocker—once we beat that hesitation out of you.” As Erin started to protest, Chelle held up a hand. “Yeah, you’re gonna lose twenty pounds between now and Christmas. We all say that.”
Erin called her friend Becky on her way home. “Well, I did it.”
“That is so great!” Becky said. “I can’t believe I know a roller derby queen!”
“Yeah, right. But, uh, don’t tell anyone. Not yet, anyway.”
“It’s…I don’t know. Kind of embarrassing.”
“Whatever. I’m coming to all your matches.”
“Whatever. I’ll bring ice, for your very first black eye!”
Erin blew out her breath. “That shouldn’t take long.”
At the beginning of November, Erin and her husband Dave made small talk with the bishop in his office. She rubbed a bruise on her elbow from Tuesday’s practice and wished he’d get to the point. He’d asked to see them both, so he planned to call one of them to something big.
At last, he looked at Erin and said, “I’d like to call you as the Relief Society president.”
Erin’s throat clenched nearly shut. “Relief Society? President?” The bishop nodded—only confirming he was part of this weird hallucination. “No.” She leaped to her feet, shrugging off her husband’s hand. “No.”
She squeezed between the chairs by the desk and paced in the narrow space behind them. “Bishop, my food storage is three bags of chocolate chips and a package of Cheetos.”
“And a ten-pack of Dr. Pepper.” Dave met her glare with a grin.
“Anyway,” Erin persisted, “you can’t call a Relief Society president with no food storage.”
The bishop smiled. “Sure I can.”
She made another lap. “And I am the world’s worst visiting teacher.”
The bishop leaned toward her. “Sister Turner, unless you beat your ladies with baseball bats, you’re only in a forty-way tie for ward’s worst visiting teacher.”
“But, I can’t sew blanket sleepers for every new baby, and cook dinner for every sick person! I’m not Janie.”
The bishop blew out his breath. “You don’t have to be Janie. You’ll just have to do some delegating.” The words unlike Janie remained unspoken.
Erin stopped short. “Bishop,” she said, “I am on a roller derby team.”
As soon as she said it, she wished she’d kept quiet. She wouldn’t turn down a calling—not really. But what if he counseled her to quit the team?
She had ab muscles for the first time in three babies. She got out of the house once a week, and Dave and the kids were bonding on their “nights off.” She’d made friends—Meg, a British paralegal who went by “Margaret Fracture.” “The Terminatrix,” an oversized school teacher named Yolanda. Chelle and Susan and Debbie and…
“Roller derby?” The bishop’s frown was puzzled, but not disapproving. “As in, pro wrestling, on skates, with fishnet stockings?”
Erin straightened. “It is not like pro wrestling. It’s a real sport—no fishnet.” Good thing he hadn’t asked about tutus or black leather.
“Huh.” The bishop opened a blue manual. Erin slipped back into her seat as adrenaline turned to lead in her veins.
“The Church handbook,” he said after flipping a few pages, “doesn’t say anything about roller derby.” He looked up hopefully. “Do you have any more objections? This is the most entertaining interview I’ve had all week.
Erin shook her head. “I accept—but, let’s keep the roller derby thing quiet.”
He nodded. “Whatever you say, President.”
When Becky called five days later, Erin was compulsively eating chocolate and playing solitaire.
“I just got a new calling,” Becky said. “Thanks a lot.”
“I’d like you to know I prayed about that,” Erin answered. “You’ll do a fabulous job with Enrichment—or whatever it’s called these days. I feel bad, but I have to skip the Christmas party next month—it’s our first bout.”
“You as Relief Society president.” Becky’s voice was flat, as though she hadn’t gotten over the shock. Erin knew the feeling. “Talk about the last days.”
“And…drop!” Erin and Meg crashed to the floor and slid on their kneepads.
Erin’s new calling helped a lot in training. She thought of the visiting teaching coordinator, who’d gone out of town, leaving Erin to make all the phone calls. Wham! Kneepads landed in the sister’s imagined face.
They scrambled to their feet and did it again, and again. Erin could fall on demand now, on either knee, both knees, or knees and elbows. But her specialty remained falling on her rear. She’d upgraded her butt-pads twice in the past two months.
Someone switched off the overhead lights and turned on the disco ball.
“We’re done here,” Maggie said, as half-size skaters wobbled onto the floor. “Race you to the bench!”
They took off, running on toestops, but as Erin started to roll, a little kid collapsed in front of her. He was flailing around, unlike the six-inch-high obstacles she’d practiced jumping earlier. With a lurching prayer, she crouched, then jumped, clearing the boy with room to spare. But as Erin’s skates hit the floor, a little girl darted toward her, already reaching down to help the boy.
With no time to evade the girl, Erin grabbed her and slid into the wall on her rear, holding the girl clear and taking the force of the crash in her hips.
She groaned, not sure if the pretty lights she saw were coming from the ceiling or her brain.
As the girl scrambled to her feet, Meg skated over and gave Erin a hand up. “Brilliant!” she said. Somehow the compliment sounded even shinier in Meg’s British accent. Erin grinned shakily.
She hadn’t caught her breath when a voice behind her said, “Sister Turner?”
Erin turned slowly. No one called her “sister” here. “Janie!” she gasped. In her month as Relief Society president, it hadn’t occurred to her to wonder whether the former president even owned a pair of blue jeans, much less wore them to skating rinks.
“These is my granddaughter Beth,” Janie said. She gathered the girl into her arms with a mother-bear glare at Erin, and a pointed frown at her skates.
Erin’s stomach sank. So much for keeping her derby habit a secret. She knelt in front of Beth and asked, “Are you all right?”
Beth nodded. “It was fun!” Before Janie could say anything, she wobbled away.
Wearing her Margaret Fracture game face, Meg said, “I thought Sister Turner showed extraordinary presence of mind when your grandson fell down in front of her.”
Janie’s lips compressed.
The staring match stretched out. “Um,” Erin said finally, “Sister Janie Clayton, this is my friend Meg.”
“How do you do?” Meg said. She extended her hand. Janie eyed Meg’s elbow-pads, but had no choice but to shake her hand.
“How do you do?” Becky repeated in a fake British accent, then busted up laughing. “I would have loved to see her face!”
“I dunno,” Erin said. “It was a little scary in person.”
“What’s she going to do—get you fired?”
“So, why are you still stewing about this? Who cares what Janie thinks?”
“Maybe…maybe she’s right. What’s a nice Relief Society president doing on a tacky, low-class roller derby team?”
“She said that?” Becky sounded skeptical.
“No, she glared it.”
“Well, you did almost cream her grandkids. But I think you’re telling yourself stories.”
The next morning, the doorbell rang. Erin answered it holding a laundry basket. “Janie!”
Janie wore a navy-blue Sunday dress and a frown. Erin wished she’d made the kids clean up the inevitable mess of boxes and bags from decorating the Christmas tree. And that she’d chosen something other than Bruce Springsteen to fold laundry by.
Janie stepped inside. “Roller skates?”
Erin suppressed a cringe. She wore her skates every moment she could. Going up and down stairs in them had improved her balance a lot.
“I’m on my way to the temple,” Janie said, “but I felt impressed to talk to you first. About roller derby. Does the bishop know, Sister Turner?”
“He does,” Erin said. The urge to explain, justify, or apologize was strong, but Erin clamped her mouth shut. The self-appointed judge and jury could do all the work herself.
“Then he obviously does not know much about the ‘Sin-tral Utah Derby Demons,’” Sister Clayton said, her nostrils flaring. “The risqué names, the fishnet stockings, the men in the audience, just waiting for buxom girls to crash into their laps.”
As she took a breath, Erin held up a hand. “Wait. How do you know about my team?”
“Someone tagged your picture on Facebook,” Sister Clayton replied loftily.
Erin’s thoughts spun. Why did Janie despise roller derby? Was she just mad at getting replaced, and determined to take it out on the new president? And since when did old ladies with blue hair get on Facebook?
“Sister Turner, it doesn’t matter what the bishop thinks. If you continue this degraded, salacious sport, I will personally tell everyone in the Relief Society.”
And I will look up what ‘salacious’ means as soon as you leave. Erin stepped forward, remembered too late she was on skates, and nearly rolled over Sister Clayton in the slippery entryway. Sister Clayton smiled grimly as Erin flailed for balance.
“You raised your hand to sustain me,” Erin said, after she regained her footing. “You’re going to do that by gossiping about me?”
“I sustain the office of Relief Society president.” Sister Clayton drew herself up, if possible, even straighter. “And I won’t share any false information.” She eyed Erin. “Roller derby seems like an odd choice for such a matronly, middle-aged person.”
Erin gripped the laundry basket tighter, so she didn’t throttle her sister in Zion. “Now that you’ve called me old and fat to my face, please have a lovely morning at the temple.”
She shut the door behind Sister Clayton, skated to the couch, and sat staring into space for a long time. Then she called Becky.
“Middle-aged? Matronly?” Becky snickered. “Who’s Janie to judge?”
Erin sighed. “I wanted to deck her, right there in my entryway.”
“Hey, you know the moves! Hip check? Shoulder block? She’s messing with the wrong derby chick!”
Somehow, Becky’s indignation made it easier to defend for Janie. “Yeah, well, maybe she’s got a point.” It turned out “salacious” meant “lewd, vulgar, sleazy.”
“Wait a minute,” Becky said, as the pause stretched out. “You’re not thinking about quitting, are you? Because no one will care what Janie thinks. I’ll bet they’ll think it’s cool.”
“Some of them. Maybe.” Erin blew out her breath. “I thought I could keep all the parts of me separate—president, and the Mominator, and just plain Mom. But I decided I’d better get it out in the open. Maybe next first-Sunday lesson, I’ll teach about judgment, or diversity. Bring my skates, tell everyone—”
“Everyone?” Becky interrupted. “And, can I tell, too? Like, even before the lesson?”
“Uh, sure, but—” Something in Becky’s voice was making her nervous.
“’Kay! Bye! Good luck at your match tomorrow!”
“Bout,” Erin corrected. But Becky had already hung up.
“Okay, girls.” Chelle stood before a heap of pushed-back shelves in the empty grocery store where they held their bouts, since the rink didn’t have enough room for their audience. Duct tape marked the track and the crash zone on the concrete floor. “Yolanda’s the first jammer. Meg, you’re pivot. Erin, I want you in the middle of the pack. Remember why God gave you hip bones!”
Katy, who’d quit because of her pregnancy, wore her sparkly boutfit but not her skates. She whistled as the team skated out. She was starting to show, an adorable young-mom bulge.
Admission was half off for spectators who dressed up. The crowd on the south—guys with beer bellies wearing Grinch shirts, kids in Santa hats, teenagers with green hair—yelled and whistled as the Demons warmed up.
Erin felt her stomach turning to concrete. What was she doing here? She wished she could hide behind the darkened freezer cases—or better yet, slip home. But Dave and the kids stood in the purple section, wearing tinsel garlands and yelling “Mominator!”
Someone hip-checked her. “Wake up,” Meg said. “I just lapped you.”
She managed to focus on warm-ups. As she stood with the team watching the Ogden Scarlet Vipers skate out, the door opened, letting in a blast of frigid air and a swarm of women and teenage girls. The newcomers, dressed in Christmas and purple and holding signs and quilts, headed for the south end, pushing toward the front and spreading out their quilts.
Erin squinted. A woman in felt antlers was shaking hands with Dave.
Then the women flipped over their signs. Each one said “Mominator” in big, purple letters. They screamed and waved and clapped. Becky, draped in Christmas decorations, caught Erin’s eye and gave her a thumbs-up.
Erin stared. “But, it’s Enrichment tonight,” she said to no one in particular. “Or whatever it’s called now.” She belatedly remembered she hadn’t even wished Becky luck on her first Relief Society activity. Then she remembered the unholy glee in Becky’s voice the day before.
The ref blew his whistle at Erin as she zipped across the ring, making two Vipers crash. She collided with Becky, as everyone who’d come to Enrichment that night gathered around her.
“Sister Turner!” one of the Young Women said. She was draped in paper chains and wearing Christmas balls for earrings. “This is so awesome!”
“Uh, really?” The Young Women never wanted to come to Relief Society. Becky smirked at Erin over the girl’s shoulder.
Then the sisters stilled, shuffling back like an embarrassed Red Sea. Janie stepped into their midst, wearing a brown dress and looking ill at ease.
Erin frowned. Janie must have shown up tonight, ready to tell Erin’s awful secret, only to find everyone making “Little Jammer Girl” signs and wearing the party decorations. But, why hadn’t she stomped home? Why was she here?
The ref blew his whistle again and shouted. Katy skittered across the track, narrowly avoiding an irate Viper. She rushed past Erin and threw her arms around Janie.
“Grandma!” Katy cried. “You came!”
Grandma? Things suddenly came clear. If Janie blamed Katy’s bad decisions on roller derby, of course she’d be appalled at the Relief Society president in roller skates.
“I…came.” Janie’s stringy neck clenched, then she relaxed it with an obvious effort. “It’s important to support family.” She looked at Erin, then Becky. “And church leaders.”
Katy’s jaw was hanging open, and Erin had to snap hers shut as well. Janie would set foot in a roller derby bout, just to “support leaders”? Old vulture. She’s an innocent victim, virtuously living the letter of the law, even when her leaders drag her to a den of iniquity.
Erin glanced at Janie. She didn’t look particularly scandalized, or smug, or self-righteous—not like she had on Erin’s doorstep. Mostly, she looked uncomfortable.
Had Janie’s strict obedience given her a path to showing acceptance for her granddaughter—and maybe also for her Relief Society president?
I think you’re telling yourself stories, Becky had said. So, why not choose the more generous story?
“Well, then—” Erin started.
But Katy was way ahead of her. “I’ll tell you what’s going on, Grandma!” The other ladies gathered close, obviously hoping to overhear. Katy found Janie a folding chair near the quilts and gave her a “Season’s Beatings” sign.
As the teams formed up on the track, Erin caught Sister Clayton watching her. The old lady managed a wan smile as the ref blew his whistle and the bout began.