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Coach Hazlett was nice enough to make David a key for the weight room, and during school vacations he became a regular visitor. His cover story was the equipment – so much better than the free weights at home – but it also made an excellent escape from the rest of his life.
Such was the case over Christmas, when Elena’s evertalking mother had turned his home into a windstorm of blather. Here on the bench press, alone with his own breath and the steady chink of the weights, David could relax. Then the door opened: Abbey Sparling, black leggings and a Seahawks sweatshirt. Despite her innate radiance, she looked worn out. But this was no surprise; this was the first Christmas.
She came to his side and bent forward into a stretch.
“Hi. Doin’ okay?”
She breathed out. “Too much time. During school I had distractions.”
“Mike hook you up?”
“Yep. Should I feel privileged?”
“You, me and Señora Vitanza.”
“Wow! I feel so VIP. ‘Course, it’s hard to say no to a woman whose remaining limb is taking a beating.”
“Oh God! Isn’t it endless?”
“Hard enough with two hands.”
Abbey stopped her stretches and studied the jungle of rods and cables. “Wow. Where do I begin?”
“Let’s try the pull bar.”
He took her to the station. A cable ran from the weight stack to a pulley, dangling a bar with handles on either end.
“Really?” she said.
“Sure.” He set the weight stack at ten pounds, grabbed the center of the bar, slipping the cable between his ring and middle fingers, and pulled it to his chin.
“I learned this after my shoulder surgery. The trick is to go real light, with lots of reps, and don’t go heavier till you absolutely have to.”
Abbey took a wide stance, felt around for the proper grip on the bar and pulled entirely too hard. The ten-pound weight flew from the stack; when it dropped back it yanked the bar from her grip and sent it spinning. David stepped in to grab it and broke out laughing.
“Damn, woman! You’re stronger than I thought.”
He looked down to find her crying, and it was easy to guess why. Nothing in her life – not even this stupid, small thing – would ever go right again. He reached over to wipe away a tear, but his hand stayed there, and the sadness in her eyes was a gravity he could not resist. What followed was a storm of kissing, of breath and tongues and warmth. It ended five minutes later. Abbey knelt on the met, her sweatshirt gone, her hand on David’s crotch. When their eyes met, they realized they could go no further.
Abbey stood and touched his shoulder – then took back her hand, as if his skin were electric.
She picked up her sweatshirt, hurried to the door, and was gone. David stared at the door for thirty seconds. He set the stack to 50 and went back to work.
David pulls the bar behind his head, taps the metal to his shoulder and lets it back up. He feels the familiar weakness filling his arms, gives it one more rep and clicks the bar back to its holder. He finds Abbey walking his way in a yellow sundress festooned with asters.
“So now you don’t even wait till school’s out?”
“The little buggers better be out studying for their finals. I take it you’re not joining me?”
“Going outside. In the sunshine. Maniac.”
“You know, Washington was an amazing physical specimen. He once broke up a riot by holding two of the participants apart – by their throats.”
“So your personal fitness guru is the Father of Our Country.”
“Yes, well, I gotta do something. I’ve been deprived of softball.”
“Oh no! The Larry thing?”
“Yeah. We’re just not up for it.”
“Maybe it’s the fact that it happened right there on the field. That’s pretty traumatic.”
“You are quite perceptive. You should be a poet.”
“Says the father of the poet.”
She hands him a thin glossy book. The cover features a pale-skinned girl with a feathered mask and a lizard tattoo.
“Hey! Sharp. And creepy.”
“Paula, my genius photographer. Just a freshman. Well, I’m going to catch some rays. Happy lifting!”
She walks away and out the door. David’s left brain is urging him to finish this round of lifts. His right brain says, Screw it! Read the poems. He wipes his arms with a towel, sits on the leg-press and flips to pages 32 and 33, headlined Derek Falter: Two Poems.
I was born on a five-four-one
took my milk in twelve measures
in a house of funk
I am the son of a bass player,
my friends deep into the
ritual of eldermock when
Dad powers up,
thwacks the low string like a
Man! Your dad’s cool.
Youth of America!
Do not let this happen to you.
The first sign of parental-
musical interest should be
answered with a subtle
campaign of hints regarding the
accordion, the hammer dulcimer,
(which really does get a bad rap).
Otherwise, you will end up
trying to talk your way into a
front-porch kiss with a
girl more intent on the
walking blues coming from the
Cripes! that what I said
(Spoonful of cereal, sip of
The clarinet is a
vastly underrated instrument.
David chuckles. Pretty freakin’ funny. And “fast-change turnaround”? Who knew the kid was actually listening?
Mr. and Mrs. Caterpillar were married in the branches of a cedar in early spring.
“You know,” said Mantis (presiding). “Things will change.”
“I suspect they will,” said Mrs. C.
“But our love will transcend,” said Mr. C.
They took their honeymoon in the San Juans, and spun their cocoons in the bridal suite. Weeks later, Mr. C popped out as a swallowtail butterfly, with elegant wings of black and yellow.
He was admiring himself in the mirror when he heard a large crash. He found a small Orca flopping on their bed, clothed in dazzling lava-lamp patterns of black and white. The Orca bared its teeth, and from its mouth came the voice of his wife.
“Hi honey! How do I look?”
Oh God oh God, thinks David. He sets the stack to 100 and goes back to work.
Photo by MJV