The Lonesome Bodybuilder
StoriesBook - 2018
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Hidden from my husband, who’d be holed up in the study, I did push-ups, sit-ups, squats. My basic strength began to improve, so I started to go to the gym four times a week, where I did pull - ups, dumbbell presses, and narrow-grip bench presses. Reverse crunches, to add muscle definition. Ball crunches. T Bar rows. Rack pulls. Plus protein powder every few hours, and double the daily calorie intake of the average adult male.
But now all the customers were riveted by how my wrist was double the size of theirs, with well - defined tendons and veins. They pretended to pay attention to my description of jojoba oil while they looked at my neck, which was nearly as wide as my face. I could see in their eyes that they were trying to picture what they would find under my apron. It was like being stark naked.
Only my husband seemed not to notice anything, even though my chest felt so solid it was as though there was a metal plate under my skin, my arms looked huge enough to snap a log in half, my waist sported a six-pack, and from a distance I looked like a big inverted triangle on legs. When I asked my coworkers for advice , they commiserated: “That’s just what men are like, ”and“ Mine doesn’t even notice when I get my hair cut.”
Living with my perfectionist husband had made me think that I was a person with no redeeming qualities. It hadn’t been like that before we were married, but gradually, as I constantly tried to compensate for his lack of confidence by listing all my own faults, I’d acquired the habit of dismissing myself.
But how many times had I thought, while training, that he was much more of a partner to me than my husband? He helped me achieve things beyond my own limits, and was even more passionate than I was about my progress.
Our fitting rooms were movable, on wheels. “Tell everyone I’ll be out for a bit,” I said to one of the other girls, and hooked the rope around my shoulders. It was heavy, but not impossible to pull forward. I headed into town, towing the fitting room. Pulling a thing like this in broad daylight, I’d been prepared for people to stare, but no one seemed to give it a second glance. I guess they thought we were setting up for some event or doing a photo shoot.
I’ve taken to imagining all sorts of things about the things I see as I walk down the street. Anything at all could turn out to be something beyond my wildest dreams. My customer’s physique was kind of runny and grotesque, but depending on how you looked at it, you could also call it elegant. Picture a picnic blanket laid on a meadow — I bet that would look pretty good on her, like a floral print dress.
Anytime I saw typhoon coverage on TV, I just had to wonder: What on earth were these people thinking? Walking along looking totally focused on holding their umbrellas open in front of them when their clothes, their hair, and most likely even their socks were wet through.
None of the villagers had any idea what the umbrella was for. They thought the foreigners must use it to hit each other, as they did with sticks. No one in the village wanted to avoid getting rained on. Local tradition had it that rain was caused by sylvan spirits and was essential to the villagers’ reincarnation as insects after their death. People get reborn as insects in their mythology.
“Can you guess why that young boy wanted the umbrella so badly?” At the sudden question , I shook my head, and said, “Um, no, sir, I don’t know. “He believed that umbrellas could make you fly.”
Don’t laugh anymore when the news shows drenched people whose umbrellas flip and turn to bones. I don’t belittle their mental capabilities. When I pass people on the street who insist on trying to hold their umbrellas open on a stormy day, I know they are far more attuned to things than I am, that they’re fearless and dreaming big.
All through the meeting, I was so distracted by the bulge in the curtain I could hardly sit still. Why wasn’t it bothering anyone else? The light green drape pooled so unnaturally at the side of the window. No generous depth of pleating could cause a bulge like that.
My team was all men, all younger than I was. If that bulge turned out to be nothing more than a swell in the drape, they’d decide they couldn’t take me seriously. Just a woman after all, they’d think, even though I was better at the job than any of them.
I was much more prone than the average person to experiencing pareidolic phenomena, which is when any grouping of three dots starts to look like a pair of eyes and a mouth. I’d see it everywhere. Three wrinkles on a suit in my wardrobe would easily reveal themselves to be a face, and I couldn’t look at wood grain for longer than three seconds.
Do you understand the heartbreak of realizing you’ve lost the ability to respond to things you’ve seen with your very own eyes with genuine surprise? How it feels when rationality, and hard-won experience, and your career all suddenly seem pointless?
I saw three yellow window-cleaning platforms suspended in midair. When I realized they were positioned precisely like those three points I’d drawn earlier, I nearly peed myself. I knew that someone — someone very big — had found me. It’s about time you finally turned up, I said to him as the tears rolled down my face.
It wasn’t that someone pointed it out. It occurred to me by accident, while I was sorting through some files that had accumulated on the computer, comparing photos from five years ago, before we were married, to more recent ones. I couldn’t have described how, exactly. But the more I looked, the more it seemed as if my husband was becoming similar to me, and me to him.
Before moving here, she and her husband had lived in an apartment in San Francisco. She’d told me recently that they’d bought it when they were still young. When its value had skyrocketed, it had been good news — until their property taxes went up too, and they’d had no choice but to sell up and come back to Japan.
“It reminds me of the story of the three talismans.” “How does that one go?” Kitao tilted her head to one side. “Wasn’t it about a monk who was nearly devoured by a mountain hag, and stuck a talisman on a pillar in the lavatory to take his place?”
I called myself a homemaker, I felt a lingering guilt about just how easy I had it. Owning a home at this age, I felt as if I’d somehow managed to cheat at life. I almost wished for a child so I could have a good reason to stay at home, but — perhaps because my motives were impure — there was no sign of us conceiving anytime soon.
My husband was engrossed in some variety show, highball tumbler happily in hand. It was a habit he’d kept completely secret while we were dating. Soon after our wedding, he’d sat me down and said, “San, you should know that I’m a man who likes to watch at least three hours of TV a day.”
“How old am I now again?” My husband turned his bulging eyes toward me. “Why don’t you know your own age?” “I can’t be bothered to work it out every time. This is why you need to remember things like this for me.” Having said everything he wanted to say, and apparently eaten his fill, my husband went off to take a bath.
When I paid careful attention, I could see that my husband’s face changed nimbly in response to whatever situation he was in. When we were with people, it stayed looking the way it always looked, keeping up appearances, but once it was just the two of us, the position of his eyes and nose would take on a slightly haphazard placement. The difference was a millimeter or two, an indeterminate change, like the outline of a caricature dissolving and spreading in water.
At one point, they tried confining Sancho to his cat carrier. But he kept up such a piteous cry you’d have thought he was watching his mother die, and Kitao couldn’t stand it.
Each time I looked at my husband lying on the couch, I had the strange impression I was living with a new kind of organism that would die if it exerted itself in any way.
“I mean, getting married, that means swallowing everything about the other person, the good things and the bad. What if there ends up being more of the bad? You’d both be in trouble then, wouldn’t you?”
There are two snakes, and they each start cannibalizing the other one’s tail. And they eat and they eat at exactly the same speed, until they’re just two heads making a ball, and then they both get eaten up and disappear. I think that’s the image I have of marriage — that both me and the other person, as we are now, will disappear before we can do anything about it. But I guess that can’t be right.
“But it only applies when the snakes consume each other at the same rate. Between me and Senta, I might end up swallowing him all in one big gulp.”
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