Hollywood's favorite night was once again underway. Oscar night. Every entertainment luminary, every entertainment journalist, and every entertainment wannabe had come out. It was the night that every woman looked at how every other woman dressed, at her jewelry, at her body. Old rivalries came back to the surface, and new rivalries were formed.
Quentin Tarantino was well recommended for his work this night. Jackie Brown, the movie he had made in 1997 was up for no less than three Oscars, including Pam Grier's nomination for Best Actress.
Pam was backstage, briefly, before the ceremonies were to start. She was wearing a stunning white evening gown, slit high, with black nylons and white high heels. The Hollywood gossip had it that she was sure to win. It would mean a formidable comeback for the woman who had been considered the "queen of blaxploitation". The tension of the moment was causing the muscles in her arms to pump, and she felt the excitement building within her. The calves of her legs were threatening to cramp, and she walked around animatedly.
"Steady, girl," she heard a woman's voice say from behind her. "By the time they get around to Best Actress, all your adrenaline will be gone and you'll be asleep."
Pam turned and looked into the smiling face of Giselle Fernandez. Giselle was dressed in a beautiful red evening gown, designed much like her own, with black nylons and red high heels. Pam smiled back and turned to face the new arrival. "Good advice, I guess. But it all seems to be happening so fast, so unexpectedly." She reached out and grabbed Giselle's hands. "I can't believe it!" She froze suddenly as she realized how hard she was squeezing the other woman's hands, and whan an equal grip she was receiving in response. She looked up into Giselle's eyes.
Giselle had frozen as well. The competitor had come out in each of them. "You have some strong hands," she said softly.
Pam smiled slightly. "You do, too. How big are they?"
The two women turned their hands up, palm against palm, but neither looked away from the other's eyes. "Should we settle this after the cerermonies?" Giselle asked, her voice just a little horse. There was a slight trembling in the hands.
Pam nodded. "But not arm wrestling."
"Maybe, you and I should see who can get the other one to beg for mercy. We're halfway there already. And we're both stubborn fighters. That could take forever."
Pam smiled. "If you're going to put me on camera like Toni Braxton, we're going to give the viewers something to remember. Something strong and sexy. More than just the hands, I think."
Giselle nodded. "On or off camera, it's your choice."
"If it's half as tough as I thinks it's going to be, I may want video to remember it by."
Giselle wasn't smiling anymore. Neither was Pam. The
hands hadn't moved. "You're never going to forget it," Giselle whispered.
After an interminable wait, Pam won the Best Actress Oscar and, as soon as she had made her acceptance speech, made her way backstage. She looked around for Giselle and saw her in a far corner, waiting for her beside a dressing room.
Pam handed her Oscar statue to her boyfriend for safekeeping, then strode across to join Giselle, who opened the door of the dressing room and led the way inside. Pam locked the door as she closed it behind her. Once inside, at the center of the good-sized room the room, Giselle turned and faced Pam. "You know, I saw The Arena some years ago. After that I read everything I could about you. It seemed like you were Hollywood's quintessential competitor. Arm wrestling champion, boxer. You went for strong roles in the movies. And once I saw you in Fort Apache, the Bronx, with those incredible biceps, I used to pray that a day like this one would come. That you and I could test each other like this. This is going to take a while. I hope you're not in a hurry."
Pam smiled, moving just a little closer. "The longer the better. That means that you and I are a good match. The pictures I saw of you arm wrestling Toni did it for me. I always have been competitive. You've got strong arms and strong legs, but, so do I. Now you and I get to see which of us is the stronger."
Giselle smiled, moving herself just a little closer. "By the way, Pam, this room is soundproof. Once was walked around that little labyrinth when we came in, we blocked all sound from in here reach the outside."
Video cameras had been set up on three sides. No one else was in the room. Giselle walked around the room, turning them on, then came back to the center of the room, where Pam waited. Nothing else needed to be said. Standing three feet apart, the two women interlaced their fingers and, with a grunt, began to try to bend each other to the ground. The hands went out to the their sides, then turned fingers down, at about forty-five degrees.
Immediately the two women came together, chest to chest. Their heads were on the left shoulder of their opponant and they were grunting, sweating as each put all of her effort into the contest. Both had known from the beginning it would be tough. As time went on and neither could move the other a millimeter, both now realized that it would be tougher than either of them had imagined.
Neither woman had any idea how long they had been straining against each other, and neither felt the other slipping at all. They were too evenly matched, too equally determined. For Giselle, besting Pam's strength would be the defeat of the woman she had considered her most serious challenger, the woman who could give her the best fight. For Pam, it was a matter of not growing old. The woman she strained against was younger, and she was strong, so strong that Pam realized this was the hardest test of strength in which she had ever engaged.
Neither woman had on a stitch of dry clothing. Both women were trembling, all over, from their effort. The arms were plastered against each other, the hands fighting to bend back the other's fingers, the shoulders straining to force the other's arms back. Heads were pressed together, and their bodies pressed against each other from the shoulder to the waist. Each was glad for the slit in their dress, as the left legs held them up while the right extended back, pressing for balance and leverage. Each woman was so low that the top of her right thigh was about three inches off the floor.
Each realized, as their duel went on, that it was fortunate that the room was soundproofed. Neither could restrain herself from the grunts which turned into cries, which turned into sobs. Both were in pain and neither would quit. And neither of them would have changed a thing.
Pam forced Giselle's fingers back, ever-so-slightly but, with a cry of pain and anguish, her rival stopped the progress. Both women were screaming now, Pam in an effort to hold her hard-fought, though slight, gains, and Giselle, trying to reverse her rival's fortunes.
Giselle's wrist bent back further and she realized that, though she was not yet in unbearable pain, she was definitely losing the duel. Tears streamed from both women's eyes as the pain increased even more, now that there was movement in the contest.
Each now pressed even harder, because each knew that she knew reaching the end of her reserves. Now it was a matter of who could throw her strength into the duel longer.
Giselle's hands were bent back further, but she would not surrender. She would have to be defeated. Her opponant would be the same way, she knew, if the situation were reversed. The pain was increasing, however, and the younger woman realized that it was just a matter of time. Now it became a matter of causing her rival as much pain as possible in her victory.
The farther back Pam pressed Giselle, the harder the younger woman seemed to fight. Pam was near the end. She could feel the trembling in her muscles and knew if she didn't win quickly, she woldn't win at all.
Suddenly, she heard Giselle softly say: "Enough, I give up," and both women fell to their knees.
The pressure stopped immediately from both women and Pam backed slightly away from Giselle. Neither woman had the strength to disentangle herself from the other, so they knelt there, eye to eye, while they recovered. "I have never tested a stronger woman in my life," Pam said.
"I'd like to try this again, sometime," Giselle said.
Pam smiled as the two women were able to separate their hands. "I'd like nothing better."
The pair embraced each other and rose.
They spent a few minutes cleaning themselves up, then left the room.
Two weeks later, at her home in Colorado, Pam received a videotape
from Giselle. She got a glass of iced tea, put the video into the
VCR, and relived the hardest contest of her life. With a smile.