The sweat is everywhere.
It’s in my hair, on my brow, cheeks, throat.
It’s under my arms.
It’s in creases and folds of where my jogging trousers touch my legs.
It’s between my breasts.
I ignore it.
I push – lift – push – lift – push … and keep going until it feels like my arms are going to break.
I try not to look at everyone in the room.
It’s not as if I just committed a sin or something, though.
It’s a gym. We’re all used to each other’s war cries. And the smell of sweat. The smell that doesn’t get better when it’s 80 degrees Fahrenheit of scorching merciless Arizona-sun outside.
In here it would be a boiler if the fans weren’t running wild. Great big rotor blades making the whole ceiling turn, like they want to heave this suburban concrete-carcass-turned fitness center into the heavens.
I look at the others, without looking. I don’t want to be seen. Just alone.
Glistening sweat, war-cries, bulging muscles, bulging fat, big asses, skinny asses … it’s all there. It doesn’t look back and I am glad.
I want to be alone.
But I have to move when a lady sometime past her 50th b-day over and asks politely if she can use the machine.
“Uh, yes, ma’m. Sorry for sitting here, counting the stars.”
“That’s okay, dear. Was it a tiring workout?”
“It was hard enough. I put on a bit of extra weight – on the machine, I mean.”
We both smile politely.
“That’s good, dear. That’s good,” she says, slams her skinny ass in the seat and puts on some extra weight, about 10 pounds more than me. And begins lifting. I try not to look.
Damn. I’m only 26 but I already feel 26 years older than that lady. It’s not as if I don’t run around. It’s not as if I don’t move. You should try waiting tables all day in a Flagstaff road-side diner.
But it’s not as if I’m getting any skinnier. Still a few lumps too much around the belly and hips. Others might call me a hysteric. ‘Typical women’, you might cry. But I’m not. I’m not one of your ‘typical women’.
I really don’t care about the pounds. It’s as if I’m trying to wash something off. That’s why I keep at it, after a long day at the diner, when I really should just worship telly.
Those two Latinos are watching me. While they pump all the iron in the gym. Thinking about pumping the little blonde? Probably. I’m still good-looking enough for a mag or two. Others would say slim. Only I can see the extra lumps. So, yeah, they think it for a second:
‘Is she in on something – with us?’
If only they knew. If only they found some of the shit on the internet from my past life. I don’t think they’d be so eager not to conceal their staring.
I walk over to the empty spot just right in front of them and begin to stretch. Use the rib, that’s fine. Show’em some.
They’re intelligent. Good. Not like so many who think it’s a one-way ticket to an effortless romp if some chica show’s you how she looks from all angles.
That’s because they see the winter in my eyes.
Oh, they get the idea, all right.
They don’t want anything to do with me and so they laugh and shake their heads and move on to some of the other machines, and a single ‘fucking cold fish’ hangs in the air.
But I’m not for sale anymore.
I should really try another machine. Or go home. And crash. But I have to wash it off. Not the sweat. Something …
Stretch – stretch – stretch – don’t mind the pain. Pain is good. Pain is a focus.
I think I see the machine I wanted to use know. It’s free.
Nobody can make me free. And I don’t want anybody to try.
Just wait tables, and forget the future exists.
Just as I figured. Dylan still can’t find any other CD’s for sweating people than those of 20 years ago. I wonder if people also biked or jogged to this here 20 years ago, or if time just stands still.
You’ve got a heart of glass or a heart of stone
Just you wait ’til I get you home
We’ve got no future, we’ve got no past
Here today, built to last
In every city, in every nation
From Lake Geneva to the Finland station
(How far have you been?)
Anyway, I sling my towel over the shoulder, wonder if I should feel my flask with lukewarm, steel-pipe-tasting water from the sink in the corner, then decide against it. I’ll have a beer when I’m finished, even though I know it defeats the purpose.
Hell, I feel like 20 years ago.
I sit down on the exercise bike and feel heavy enough to just keep sitting. I wonder why the hell I even bothered to come? So I wouldn’t have to go home, perhaps?
There’s only so much you can do in a two-room apartment in downtown Flagstaff after hours – to forget.
What it’s like, you know, to clean up another shaggy cardboard-excuse for a house where dad beat up mom with an iron bar. No, steel I think. Whatever.
What’s it like when dad beat up his daughter, too. Steel or iron? Whatever it was it was in his fists.
I’m not sure doc Wilburn will be able to patch her face up again. She’s only five. And even if he was, who’s going to pay?
We drove away quickly once we had delivered her – given her a new rebirth into a life full of terror and with a dead mom and a dad who’s a monster, and probably a return ticket to Mexico unless Jane can prove that she was born here. Maybe it’s just an orphanage.
I begin to pedal. Slowly. I am already sweating. But it’s not the bike. It’s not the heat. It’s something inside me. Something burns, wants out, wants to burn through my skin. I stop. I listen:
Too many shadows, whispering voices
He put it on again!
“Dylan – will you stop playing that fucking track?! I’ll throw your ass in the slammer if you don’t find something else.”
He grins, from his booth at the entrance and switches CD’s. Some modern pop I don’t even know. He has a good view over the whole floor. He can see people grinning with him. They love ol’ Dylan. He’s half the reason they come here.
Not to exercise. Just to chat about … things. All things and nothing at all. Dylan’s an expert at that. And of making you forget your shitty life. He’s a bright smile all the way.
I pedal. I stomp. I push up the dial – level 14 – 15 – 16. Somebody tied another stone to the pedals now. I don’t care. I don’t care. I –
“Who – pard’ner. Go easy on that’ ol’ bike. She can’t stand it when people are mean to her.”
Dylan is there, by my side. He is still one big grin. Something got jammed. Or broke. Suddenly the bike either won’t go round or it just goes round without any resistance.
Dylan kneels down and studies the fitness bike like it was a crime scene.
“Nobody ever did that to my machine before, pard’ner,” he drawls. And grins. Again.
“That’s because nobody ever trained in a center with such shitty, old machines.”
I get off the bike, finally. Wipe my forehead. God – the towel is warm, too.
“You’re just’ complainer, that’s all,” he says and gets up. “My little center here’s got other qualities.”
He knows what I’m looking at now. Why didn’t I see her before?
I look at the blonde doing sit-ups now, over at the ribs. And who looks like she’s fighting a war.
“You would like to know, eh?” Dylan’s smile suddenly gets seedy. “You want me to make introductions?”
“I want you to fix your shit-bike, so I can work out again.”
“Hey-hey … take it easy, man.”
I wait until he is gone, then I stop the bike-thing and begin closing in a bit … towards the blonde. For no particular reason other than I want to.
Even through the sweat and … tears?
No. Sweat. It has to be.
No, this is silly. I stop at the weight lifts.
Some big Latino let’s go of a 50 pounder that slams into the floor right as I stop. He smirks at me, as if he dares me. To do what?
Book him? Out do him on the weights? Both? I don’t even know the guy.
Or the girl …
And this is silly. I can’t just go over and talk to a stranger – a woman. Even if it’s how it is done in all the movies.
But I never liked those movies. Too unrealistic.
I ask the Latino if I can try the weight. Am I sure I have not seen him somewhere before? Hopefully I am.
He passes it to me and I have a go. Fucking thing is … like … a freight train. And I stopped smoking 6 months ago. Why the hell isn’t it getting any better? Fuck.
I hold it then let go. Too soon. Much too soon. The blonde is getting up. The weight slams down into the floor, freight train, with cargo and all …
She doesn’t seem to notice. She seems like she has had enough punishment for one day.
She should be nothing, too. She should be nothing to me.
Just some girl …
I drop it and start with another machine.
I should have learned by now … going through all this again, so soon after Natalie. That’s just damn wishful thinking …
… or setting myself up for more punishment than the weights can dish out.
“What does it mean?”
Dylan looked questioningly at Jon, while the latter was drying his hair with a towel. They were both standing at the gym’s reception desk, but on opposite sides.
“‘The Finland Station’? – ” Jon said, ” – What he sings in that damn song you play all the time … ??”
Jon threw the towel back at Dylan, who caught it in mid-air.
“Thanks for the loan,” Jon added.
“Well, next time bring your own!” Dylan grumbled – but glanced at Jon in a way, so nobody could be sure if he was pissed or not. Dylan liked looking at his customers in that way …
“I did bring my own,” Jon said wryly and began pouring himself a plastic cup of coffee from the thermo Dylan had always had placed on the corner of the reception desk.
“You did?” Dylan asked. “Really?”
“Yeah. But some asshole stole it. So I had to use my fucking t-shirt … “
“And my towels for your hair, which you should just let dry in the sun, my friend. It’s that kind of weather.”
“It’s always that kind … and you didn’t answer my question.”
“I didn’t because you would not understand it. It’s a song for intellectuals.”
“Well – whopee-fucking-do … “
Now it was Jon’s turn to find the enigmatic grimace. But he couldn’t quite keep it up, so eventually it cracked and he just grinned at Dylan.
” – And I’m just a dumb cop, eh?”
“No, but you are perhaps a man who cares too much about fixing that which is broken,” Dylan said as if he was talking about lunch.
“Is that a problem?” Jon said, an edge in his voice which was reserved for people on dark high ways near the border.
“It could be,” Dylan reflected. “You want to fix things – people – who somehow disturb your idea of what is good and nice and polite living.”
“It’s called upholding the law … “
“It’s not crime, I’m talking about, ” Dylan continued, while tapping furiously at the keyboard to his old computer behind the desk. As if there was something in it that was just about to be found, but wasn’t quite on screen yet.
“What is it then you are talking about? Tell me before I find some kind of crime to book you for.”
“Prison would not hold me. And society would mourn the days I did not contribute!”
Jon laughed without joy. There was something here that bothered him deeply and it wasn’t Dylan – yet – it was more likely the fact that he only stayed to talk this meaningless talk, because he didn’t feel like going home and waiting. For another day at work. For another day alone.
“In any case, ” Dylan said, and look up from his computer ” – your drive to mend everything that is broken could be a fatal weakness. Someone could take advantage of that weakness. On the other hand, someone – the right person – might also benefit from it.”
“You benefit from me coming to your goddamn gym to fix my ankle.”
” – How is it doing, by the way?”
“Feels stronger, but next time I’ll let King run that compadre down.”
“Your fine police Shepherd would eat anyone who looked like they were selling amphetamine between here and Yuma, if you let it loose.”
“I’d rather have that on my conscience than having to spend 3 months in your retro gym every time I fall.”
“You will not. You will try to take charge of the next situation yourself, before you let loose King. And all because you are … ” Dylan lowered his glasses, and his smile was close to revealing itself this time.
“One. Dumb. Cop.” Jon said it for him, shook his head. Dylan was okay. He was an asshole in many ways. But he was also okay. If only he could stop being an asshole long enough at certain critical times …
” – I appreciate that you are a dumb cop, Jon,” he said – “because it will keep you coming back to my business. “
Then he lowered his voice: ” – And if you are really lucky you will forget how dumb you are – for just a moment.”
Dylan nodded towards some place behind Jon.
Specific direction: The women’s changing room.
Who is … he?
That’s as good a question as any, I guess, when you’ve just been locked in the women’s locker-room for 20 dreary minutes with tits sagging and perky and non-existent and extra pounds hiding in plain sight and thoughts about if you look … enough.
Maybe they were my own thoughts. It wouldn’t be the first time …
I think I’ve learned to live with my looks, especially after all the crap I’ve been through on the road, all the men, all the … bad stuff. I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter.
It’s just fluff anyway. I used to be so obsessed about my nose and some extra stomach fat. But that is … fluff.
People are people and 3 years ago when I worked or whatever the hell I did in Miami and no man could resist that work, I felt the most – the absolut most – rotten inside. I looked like a star. I played the star.
I felt good moving here, because then I could – truly – disappear and just be plain old me. And remember how insecure I was about my looks before I briefly thought I was a star and spellbound the world, but the only lights that really went on were the magnesium flares in my head when I snorted white diamonds. Through such a lensflare you can’t help but feel that you look the world and that your looks can kill and no one can kill you.
You are invincible. Until the day you wake up from the dream and discover that it has only killed one person: You.
Life is such bullshit. And I’m here for a reason. I’m never going to get involved with anyone again because there is no reason to.
It doesn’t exist … this thing that people call ‘real feelings’. It’s a sham. And I should know because I was the best shammer for a good long while.
So that infinitesimally small moment when I look at him and imagine … something more …
… that I kill. Instantly.
Even if it was real, and I guess it is … for some … even if that was the case … it would not be me.
Unfortunately, I have to renew.
And the guy doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
One step, one more. I’m getting closer.
He is still talking to Dylan, like old friends. War-buddies or something. Ha!
Maybe he is a vet? Nah, he looks more like … I don’t know. But he looks … nice.
Nice at shams.
I might as well have to learn how to kill it. I could walk out the door and come back and renew tomorrow. I could borrow Marcy’s computer and internet connection or go to the café and do it.
But I want to pay cash and I want to kill what is a sham and that little thought inside me that says I can have a normal life and everything can be all right, and – ooh – maybe I could even have a Nice Time, just talking to someone like … him.
“Hey, Carrie – crushed some weights in there again today? Am I gonna have to deduct it from your discount for the next 3 months?”
I walk up to the desk.
“What discount? You never give any discounts, you stingy … “
Dylan’s grin …
“I do give discounts! It’s my new policy!”
The nice guy is still there, too. Is he trying … not to look at me?
Christ, Carrie – you are SO much focusing on things that you should not. Move on. It’s over.
Don’t even THINK that it is not.
“3 months more – half price … ” Dylans leans conspiratorially over the desk. “It’s my newest offer.”
“For every-one?” I eye him skeptically. At least I’ve something to … focus … on.
“It’s an inspiration,” Dylan says without blinking, “You see, I was just talking to my friend Jon here – “
“Jon – meet Carrie Sawyer. She moved to Flag 3 months ago. Down from … what was it … Nevada?”
“San Francisco. Nevada was before that.” I grit my teeth as I try to look … as if everything is about Nevada or Frisco.
“Jon?” Dylan’s voice is raised a little.
The man holds out a hand. Is he tensing, too?
“I’m Jonathan Reese. Lived here for 3 years.” He tries a smile.
It looks .. nice.
“I was talking to my friend Jon,” Dylan continues, “about the Russian Revolution.”
Jon’s eyes show me that that was absolutely not what they were talking about. But he keeps his mouth shut.
“Yes,” Dylan adds in a tone, as if there was an audience somewhere, “what if it had never happened? What if Lenin had gotten arrested when he arrived at the Finland Station on 1917 to start the revolution that changed world history? When then, eh?”
“Just … give me my membership, please.”
“Aren’t you interested in history, Carrie?”
“I know what would have happened,” the man – Jon – finally says. A firmness in his voice now. A tiredness, too. Like mine …
“A lot less dead people,” he concludes, with finality.
Dylan shakes his head, but Jon insists – and now irritation insists with him:
“I don’t know much about revolution or communists or Lenin, except that they killed a lot of people and changed nothing really.”
“Stalin beat up Hitler,” Dylan quips.
“My membership? Please?”
I am SO close to leaving.
I’m standing … there.
“What about D-Day?” Jon continues, irritation verging on anger. Like me. Like … something is not so nice, just beneath the surface.
Like he’s not Mr. Nice who has control of everything and a perfect wife and life and gets gold stars every other week from his boss at work …
“What about it?” Dylan shrugs. “80 per cent of the German forces were tied down on the Eastern Front, fighting the Russians. The Russians were fighting for their home but they were also fighting because Stalin would do away with them if they didn’t fight. It took one devil to defeat another.”
“I’ll … see you both tomorrow.”
I finally come out of my temporary stupor. And discover to my horror that I said one word too much.
“You can have it for free,” Dylan says, laser-focused.
Because everything is about focus, you know. Stalin, Hitler, Lenin, Frisco or Nevada, memberships …
“Don’t bullshit me, Dylan.”
“I mean it.”
“Because I want you to come back and change your own history. Yes, it’s sometimes about whether or not one … ruthless history is better than another. But I think there is an answer to that. There is a choice. Even if it is between two evils. And I’m afraid you won’t come back …”
That last one surprises me. So much, in fact, I don’t know what the hell to say. Is Dylan … hitting on me? In his own clumsy, nerdy way? Did I get this … all wrong?
Jon seems as surprised as I.
“Do you two have something going on?” he asks, that seething irritation evaporating a bit. Not it’s just a tough grin.
Still a nice grin, though.
And I really need to kill … my focus.
“We are pure as snow,” Dylan assures. “But I have a soft spot for Carrie here in other ways. She is a seeker like I am, you see. She comes here seeking absolution.”
“Fuck you, Dylan.”
I finally get my shit together and walk out of there. Membership or no membership.
Dylan’s attempts at … whatever … they just backfired 120 per cent. I think another decision has been made.
I’m going to find another gym.
Pity there are so few good ones here.
Maybe I should just keep moving. I was considering Mexico …
Dylan’s yell stops me at the revolving door out the gym. Just barely.
“Don’t forget your membership. It’s till free tomorrow.”
“I’ll tell everyone! It’ll be the ruin of your business.”
“It’s going downhill anyway. I might as well enjoy giving something to others before I close.”
I close now. This … charade. Of … I don’t know what the hell … Dylan’s always been weird, but never this weird.
As I walk down the stairs and out in the sun-blaze of the street I wonder:
What was that all about?
Then I hear his voice.
Jon rushes out the door to the street, catches up.
“Sorry about him,” he says, panting slightly. “Dylan’s one … well, he’s just Dylan. And he always likes to embarass me.”
I stop and turn and take a good look now. My first real look. All in the sun’s light over us, behind us, on us …
But this is a friendly flare. Soft …
“You two are an odd pair of friends,” I then say, because I feel I need to say something.
“He’s not my friend,” Jon qualifies, looking like he is searching for a word or two to add, “but – and I know how this sounds – I saved his mom.”
“He adores her. And she is twice as crazy as him. But one evening there was a break-in in her house. Mitchell – that’s my partner – and I, we happened to drive by … I think it could have gotten pretty ugly if we hadn’t checked it out.”
“You’re a policeman?”
He smiles wrily.
“Is that a problem?”
My shoulders lower themselves a bit.
“Not at all.”
“Can I give you a … drive somewhere? I’m sorry for this … for Dylan. I know it’s none of my business but all the shit he said to you … “
“You don’t have to care about that.”
“Well, I do, okay? Call it public service.”
He puts his hands in his pockets. Looks serious again.
I have a feeling I’m on the verge of something here. But I have forgotten that I want to kill.
Kill my ideas that I can have something good.
That is … far away.
But maybe I am on the right path even so. What was it Dylan said about Lenin, Stalin and Hitler?
It takes more ruthlessness to defeat ruthlessness. Or some such …
“You see a lot of bad shit as a cop, don’t you?”
“Yeah. Yeah, we do.”
He crosses his arms.
Cars are droning by. People squeezing past us.
Then I finally say it:
“I live in a rental at Sawmills. I was going to take the bus but … “
“I’ll drive you. It’s fine,” he says.
He means it. I know he does.
I’ve seen those guys before, I remember them now. They do exist.
Not like the muscle-idiots in the gym. In fact, I think this guy shares something with me:
A few extra pounds.
But it doesn’t matter.
And I tell myself that I don’t need to kill the moment between us. The moment that he knows, too.
I don’t need to kill that he felt … nice.
Or that I liked that he felt nice. Just that little moment.
We would go together in his car, back to my box of a room, and nothing would come of it, except a bit of vague talk about all the shit we both have been through. Shake hands. Goodbye.
Two people sharing a bit of been there/done that.
Because we can’t change anything anyway. It’s all going to go down the drain, except for some of those who do make it to the front of magazines.
It’s just a question of how many people die. Of our choices. Or how much goes wrong.
Almost all choices come without any really different results. I’ve learned that much.
Maybe Lenin shouldn’t have stepped of from that train and changed world history. Maybe he should.
In either case: I think Jon is right – people would’ve died. Lots of them. Who can say what’s for the best? One choice or another?
There is no such thing as ‘best’.
It’s all going to hell anyway. And I think Jon knows it.
We might as well go together.
What could change?
As I drive her home, a part of me wants to rebel … to show me Natalie.
To say: ‘Look what you are about to do – again.’
I only look at the road. And listen as she tells me about the highlands.