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"Down to the torture chamber today?" a naked man asks.

"Unh. It'll be a short one. I have about as much energy as those socks of yours." Reference made to a limp blob of cotton on the floor. The locker closes on conversation and the basement rises, jerkily, drawing near, nearer, smelling of sweat and rubber, its gloom a relief to tired eyes.

Limbering, stretching muscles estrange from a mind wandering freely among ruins. Fragments of past, of present, of promise: the essence of all that was, was not, whirls by again. The daily return: working out. Rep- etition defying reason: you've got to start building a new world, a new home. Old arguments convince only the intellect, not the langour.

Sit-ups, push-ups, knee bends then stretching repeats. A rest, then squats. Sixty pounds to loosen up. Repetition. Rest. Add twenty pounds. Push, push against the gravity gaining force with each exertion, tearing at strength uninspired.

Rest now against windows barred from the street. The world whirls by like the clutter of the mind: traffic, pedestrians stream past disconnected from purpose, meaning. A flash of fashion and auburn hair perks dozing eyes. "Did you clean out the bathtub?" The question returns, unsought. Famous last words. She really said that then?

Muscles tense, flex, already hard from exertion. Eyes note a tired face gawking back from mirrored walls. Cheeks sag, so unlike the face she loved. Lips and eyes quick to light in humour or flare in anger now thin and vacant, bloodless. Eyes focus past their reflection, reflect past to where bright sun made them squint a perpetual smile in a summer of content, climb- ing hills and ridges of discovery to meadows fragile as growing bonds. Exploring together and finding each other amidst delicate flowers with poetic names: "pearly everlasting," white like the promise of marriage; "baby's breath," evenescent like a future intimately planned; "bleeding hearts," capturing the essence of some small misunderstanding; or deep in the forest, sallow, primitive "dead soldiers," only a curiosity then, their symbolism lost in the myopia of love. Growing so together in the grand, timeless spaces that dwarf whole mountain ranges. Packing together a precise little household to be set up each dusk in a spirit of co-operation. Then settling in on the fire: hissing and crackling, flaring then glowing, demanding reverent voices, low in tone if not in spirit. Words rarely mistaken then or silences speaking more eloquently than music. Retiring then in the silence of wilderness night, snuggling together in bags of down, drifting down together in communal sleep, the quietude so unlike that of later years when home offered, falsely, permanence. When uncomfortable spaces began to separate and the glow of the fire became the babbling rollick of television, when words more regularly glanced off mark and clattered to the floor like weapons of the defeated. And much later, the awkward moments of contact, reduced to regrets and academic interest: "what if?" If we had had the child, then....If we had talked more, talked it out, then.... If she had only waited, a little bit longer.... If only she hadn't said that.... If the hurt would stop choking.... If she had worn her ring that last time.... ring around the choking collar.... the ring that had bound... the ring of truth: "did you clean out the bathtub?" Did you wring out your anguish and leave it hanging on the edge?

The clanking, ringing of cast-iron riots, subdued again by gasps for air. Others rest and talk of scandal, printed impressions sold as Truth:

"...all these systems barely coping."

"It's only a matter of time, just a matter of time."

"It's so obvious...."

"They're all so stupid..."

"Why can't we just work it out and learn from their mistakes?"

"The sad thing is you know...."

Concentration, straining against the bicep bar, blots them out; the world of opinion dissolves. Pain rouses first in one elbow then in the other. Wrists ache, veins stand out in bas-relief. Curl, curl and pull again.

"Nice one." A voice intervenes. "C'mon you can do it. Pull. Yeah. You got it. Good stuff. Now one more." Muscles work against their fatigue, gain against the gaining gravity, stabbing pains slice through hardened lumps of flesh while air squeezes through the lips of a grimace. "Get mad. Pull. You're doing it...."

A voice coaches and the words energize, forcing an intense push to overcome. The encouraging words like Kent had used, the push then to rebuild, to melt marriage fat wrought of routine years. Weight training then drinking: "Let's catch the show." Afternoon beers: "juata coupla more.""We gotta meet the girls." "Let 'em wait. Never let a woman come between friends." Another round of draft and garish stripper flesh. "Let's fly. I bet they're plotting against us." "Let's take a dancer back with us." "Awright. They can set another plate."

The ritual foursome for dinner, Kent and Britt's place this time. Wine. A rum evening gabbing, chatter of nothing, of shows and books and clothes and package trips, of more rum, of cold beers and repeats and the women and time are lost in the whirling cerebral chaos of men who know no moderation in youth. But out of that chaos, out of such chaos come rare glimpses behind male facade. Can only be done when blithering drunk, when matching drink for drink, beer for reckless beer. The poseur is deposed. Bland sophistication transforms into visage of torture and maudlin misery. The fashion god is a slovenly mess: pouting and slouching and slurring. Confidences, garbled articulation, somehow make themselves understood. Something about lost love. Something about death: "a stiff drink to rigor mortis." Something about lonliness: "yeah, I know." Disconnected phrases about a disconnected existence. "Work sux." An accord is struck and off pop two more caps. Cultured composure gives way to a sagging, weary face; eyes droop to accomodate blurred vision. Yet vestiges of the clone remain: contrived, wavy hair, matching sandy moustache, trained muscles reflexively flex, smooth the wrinkled shirt. But the women have fled, disgusted -- "Who cares?"-- there's no one to impress but himself. A drunkard lectures but another makes no sense. Nonsense about Greeks: "Tragedy is the highest form of art." Cliches escape like bloat from a corpse. Analogies about rending life into art are lost in the wasteland. "Art is not a mirror -- it's,a hammer." He shrugs a smug shrug, the vernacular of his veneer. The hint is missed, the soused oratory continues. He squirms. Perhaps Truth is reaching through. Per- haps he has to pee. "Perhaps you're right," he concedes and dashes to the can, away from Truth, toward relief. Ranting, condemning, theorizing, discovering in the dawn, in a bottle, a male world beyond the barriers where vomit and booze mix in expression of life: the force that through the green beer drives the hour.

"Nice set," the voice encourages. "Thanx." Stiffness, a dryness of throat cling like a hangover. "It's good to feel you're still alive. No Pain---No Gain," the voice assures. Rub the arms and throbs subside. "Yeah, that was a good set. It really helps to have someone spot. Really makes you for it."

Repetition. Face purples deep, deeper, a large vein appears on the forehead like before, like she later described when laughter became possible again.

"I've never seen anyone so bursting. You were positively purple!"

"Well what do you expect, I mean..."

"But it was comic, absolutely comic."

"You weren't laughing."

"I didn't dare, not after the clock...."

"It's timing couldn't have been worse. But I see what you mean...."

"A little bird sticks its head out to tell you that all is well in the world and -- SLAM! -- it's beat to oblivion with an umbrella."

"In mid-cuckoo too. Serves the noisy little buzzard right. All I could think of was how things were when we bought it in Switzerland. And how we couldn't fit it in our packs so we carted it all over Europe in a box. Remember taking turns carrying it? That was nice. We've been through a lot, haven't we?"

"Too much maybe...."

"How could you fall for that charade? I just can't understand."

"We've been over and over that. Let it rest. Please let it rest before you spoil this too."

Rest. Powder whitens sweaty hands, applied in preparation for a new set, a repetition of the old pattern, a return of the circle. "Hold your arms tight into the sides. That way you isolate the biceps." "Like this?" "That's right, you're learning, you're learning." The pattern returning. Renewed, revised, adjustments made to the pattern returning. A new focus, a new pattern establishes itself, building on the foundations of the old. "That's right. C'mon lift. Keep those elbows in. Up, up, you got it . Good set. You're getting good separation. See the muscles beginning to delineate? Triceps could use some work. Focus on the problem areas." The voice is good, helpful, encouraging, a source of strength like Kent before the rift of friendship and marriage. Had he reached her even then, at one of those dinners, in a look, sharing the dishes perhaps, mixing her drink, some subtle gesture? Or had she just used Kent, as she claimed, a convienient slut, after Britt could tolerate him no longer? "Could you spot again? Thanx."

Ears pound, a blood rush in the silence. The wave of silence rushes out and the world seeps in. A wave of numbness mounts the arms, subsides. Heart-rate slows, a sigh, distant palpitations echo, another wave cresting: moments of touch, intensity in the early years before the silence. The sharing of bodies, of rent. Whole days spent in bed reading poetry aloud or loving in mute communion. Or those tense days of sickness, just before the silence, her retching a daily ritual. And then the operation, when the silence set in. The debauch that night, out with the boys. Unable to see until the car found a ditch. Reeling in -- when? -- cut, bruised. Passing out in a chair, reviving to a different version of the morning sickness. Spinning, spinning in waves of nausea, unable to face all but the toilet bowl.

Sharp pains jab at knees but the flywheel revolves, hissing against the tension of pumping legs. Spin, spinning the exercise cycle, exorcise cycle returns, returns, round and round again, refining with each motion the memories of past, present experience, expectations, knowledge shaped with each revolution. The tachometer quivers, readjusts for the pains, steadies, holding, holding steady, holding her, the pain recalling distant pain, a reminder of the trip that ended all: dislocated knee, dislocated home. The silence settling in, a hanging gloom buried beneath the din of television, beneath the roaring maniacal caricature of mirth and domestic happiness. Nightly suffocation and work a daily dread. An idea surfacing: break. The drive to run, ostracised by confusion. Breaking from the umbilical job, from her, from home. Packing the panniers...good-bye my love...say it...I will miss you...say it...I have to go... explain... to clear my head... tell her... to find myself... say it... SHUT UP INSIDE. "See you in the movies."

Riding away in a west coast mist, the drizzle of the heart. Solo pedalling the first day. So low. The sky brightening! Pedalling away, away from the oppression they begat, away from the silence that blocked every turn. Away into the tumult of the road, the rumbling cacophony of freight and travel. The slick buzzing of rubber on road. Away to discover in the sunshine, in a rhythm, a renewing rhythm of three weeks on the road. Away to achieve, sweat drenched, the summit. To fly down the other side, picking up speed, all a blur, the landscape fused with hurried emotions, eyes watering, passing cars, braking now, then sliding by, flying by the dismayed fat faces of tourists and dogs, flying on the trust of thin metal tubes and the rubber skin of tires, flying by life on the edge of itself. Flying down the narrow ledge of freedom that is the road. Days compressed into hours, a daze, a reverie, a trance, a flight, first away from home, then the road turning, imperceptably at first, then confident of itself, setting a new direction, a new course, a new life gaining momentum. Observing the signs: HELL'S GATE. The missing her, alone hundreds of miles away. LAST CHANCE--- MERRITT GULF. The panic, the phone calls, the poignant rush returning, pushing muscles over hills, over asphalt, the frenzied push cramping muscles, tearing tendons, the leg pains numbed by rhythm, the cans, the bottles, the flattened animals, the monotonous lines, following a swath of devastation through cool and green, through wind and tunnels. Signs point and promise, forbid and beckon, littering vision with danger: 8% GRADE; with possibility: TRANQUILLE; or with probability: RUTLAND, a return to the same stale silence. Spelling significance: HOPE AHEAD. And beyond Hope, waiting. No, beyond waiting. Her, beyond hope. The rush returning, the last miles, the last blocks, the home, their home, her: so removed.

Bursting zeal quelled by quiet, tempered by the distance travelled between them. A new barrier. Her explorations explained but not understood, the "why? why?" of incomprehension and the silence still thick, nothing resolved through fugitive solitude and then the knee giving in. A melodramatic denoument to all the had happened, sidestepping their silence with an ambulence, hospital, doctors, a cast. She was kind and comforting and then they began to know one another again. For a time.

Sweat drops, plop, from the nose and the pedals spur faster to meet the intersection of an hour. The pains numbed by monotony, replaced by exhaution. Faster. The whirling flywheel counting off a stationary distance. Faster. The whirling hands, tic-toc, counting off a stationary passage. Sweat stinging eyes, blink, tic-toc: "Cuckoo... cuckoo..."

Break. Stiff legs dismount, support a drenched and heaving chest. Lips taste of salt, cool water washes, soothes throat as breathing slows. Gather bar, free weights, thirty-fives, tens, metal discs of five, of two-and-a- half pounds. Body supine, hands clasp bar, arms raised, relax, focus breathing, focus strength, build for the lift, the bench press. Mind blanks, prepares for the strain. "Did you clean out the bathtub?" Sarcasm bites through time tinging all remembrance of that last mistaken attempt at bridging the distance. The visit to her new home, the wanting her too late and the reconciliation then to lonliness. The attempt with words that fail in design, that thrust, slice and pound, lose their tender intent in a haze of hostility. Skin that shrinks, crawls when touched: that derisive, decisive, involuntary act that says, finally, "NO." The parting then, when "good-bye* or "sorry" would suffice, would soothe even. Facing then her abrupt final dig, cruelly honest: "Did you clean out the bathtub?" No touch to say "It's okay." No embrace to say "there were good years too." Falling back in reply on a cliche -- "See you in the movies" -- that masked the choking sobs inside, inside, always inside... reach out... reach across or forever hold the peace... don't lose the moment... the pause widening into silence... the failure of words... say something else... convey... voice the confusion... blurt... SHUT UP INSIDE.

The failure then, the failures since. Cold encounters of the worst kind. Hot breathing clutches of the night stale, reek of beer and cigarettes. A painted face awry, distorted by smudges and morning light. Coffee gulped too hot, good-bye too late: "See you in the movies."

Failing to press body weight: a bad day pressing back, overburdened, leadened with lethargy. Switch to legs, quadriceps, curl four sets of fifteen reps. Sixty motions each day: lift and separate, lift and separate, lift... "We care about the shape you're in." The slow rebuilding of knees. The plodding drive that strengthens with time. Routine driving inertia -- tic- toc -- through these days of working out. Over. Hamstring curls. Sixty separate motions, each adding to the knot, the cramp, the charlie horse, the hobby horse. "No children, at least. We killed that," her charge, too, escapes, still murders sleep. The sixty separate motions in each and every tic, in every toc, in every cuckoo, in every clock. The cramps still a bother, still murder sleep... silence without sleep, sleep without silence: first the alley and then, taking form amidst the shapes of nameless refuse, an old woman rocking, rocking in a chair and watching television. A laugh track rising inside, in the skull, louder, shriller, like a siren, scraping out brain tissue to be served steaming at a feast for witches and magicians. And one of them, the old woman, sprinkles salt on a fetus she scrounged from among the garbage.... Rest, let it rest, rest in peace, rest in pieces.

Over. All over. Body sore, aches, strangely refreshed. Muscles stretch, the last stretch, the final stretch of the workout. Exorcise. The exercise complete. Ears still ring from the pounding blood, from the chimes now silenced. The little chalet a shamble of splinters. Home too shattered. The intimacy of need and sympathy dwindling. The old pattern thriving again. Television volume climbing, higher, higher still over the flourishing silence. The slobbing, the bitching about slobs. Then the trial run at splitting sheets, two rents instead of one, the part-time loving more infrequent, traces of harmony fading as new lives evolve amidst the flood and ebb of remorse and regret. And the final break, a foolish attempt by strangers seeking familiarity. The resolve, at last, to compromise, to respect her space. The injustice finally, the final injustice of her good-bye.

Drained. And mount the stairs. Drained. The locker door open. Drained and cleansed, showered and dried. Mirrored expression sanguine. The attendant returns identity card, a name muttered, a flash of recognition. Did you clean the bathtub? Step alive into sunshine. Step lively and reply: "Yes, yes I did. Good-bye."





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