Here's the fourth chapter to my current novel in progress. Here are parts one, two, and three.
On my walk home from the bus stop, I notice the Conan brothers preparing to deadlift in their front yard. They’ve dragged a wooden platform covered in heavy rubber mats out, and Dave is standing by the bar, psyching himself up with screams and animal noises while Arnold sits in a ratty recliner, cheerfully stuffing his face with what looks to be pieces of raw meat. He sees me watching and waves, pointing toward his bowl of flesh, extending it toward me, and I shake my head and pat my stomach. Arnold smiles, revealing red-tinged teeth, and then jumps up from his chair and rushes into the house. Dave remains oblivious to my presence; his yells have lowered in volume and shortened into grunts, and his hands tremble, covered in white lifter’s chalk. I count the plates and add up the weight and come up with six-hundred pounds even, an impressive total, especially considering that Dave likely weighs just less than two-hundred pounds. Both of the brothers are slightly shorter than average. I’m about to risk disturbing Dave’s intense concentration when Arnold emerges from the house hauling a shoddy La-Z-boy like an insect. He effortlessly tosses the chair in my general direction, and it bounces once before rolling to a stop on its side. For me? I pantomime. Arnold drags his chair over, rights mine, and we sit down to watch Dave.
“Has he lifted this much before?” I whisper.
“Last time he passed out,” says Arnold, plopping a slice of raw meat into his mouth, “but he took some pre-workout stuff and huffed some smelling salts, so I think he’ll make it if he takes a big enough breath.”
“Pre-workout?” I ask. Arnold gives me a carnivorous grin before answering.
“A homemade cocktail of caffeine, yohimbe, narangin, higenamine, hordenine, synephrine, green tea, various nootropics, and maybe a little bit of coke. I don’t know if I pronounced some of those right,” he admits.
“You guys treat your bodies like laboratories,” I reply.
“I think we know what we’re doing,” says Arnold, flexing a massive biceps. “And if we don’t, oh well. There’s all kinds of nasty shit in our water, in our meat, in our vegetables, in the very air we breathe. You can’t keep it out, not with filters or gas masks. You can try,” —he shows me a piece of raw flesh— “but hell, it’s like Star Trek, you know? Resisting is futile. Might as well embrace it. Better living through chemistry.”
“Dave over there looks like he could charge through a brick wall right now.”
“He better lift the fucking weight before he loses his pump. Hey asshole! If the bar ain’t bending, you ain’t lifting!”
“What are you eating, if I may ask?”
“Raw deer meat. Dave and I killed one in the back yard with a Bowie knife. I jumped out of a tree and tackled it, and Dave took it out.”
I don’t know what to make of this explanation. Judging from the current scene, and the Conan’s general lunacy, I have no reason to doubt Arnold.
“Wild animals are riddled with parasites,” I say. “You should cook it.”
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” replies Arnold.
“I think tapeworms are probably bad for gains.”
“Naw. We’ll save money on fat burners,” he says.
“What do you guys do for a living?” I ask.
“We have a brick laying business. It’s actually pretty brilliant, Leona, being a cynical broad, you’ll appreciate this. We go around knocking on doors, looking for houses with chimneys that are about to fall down. I have Dave sneak around back while I talk up the man of the place, and while we’re discussing his need for a new chimney, lo and behold, the goddamn things falls down right as we’re speaking! Dave, of course, has pushed it down. Dave has pushed down about fifty chimneys in the general area. He’s villain, that Dave. A racketeer.”
“Yes, I’m sure it was all his idea,” I reply. Dave has finally grasped the bar and begun the pull. The barbell moves slowly upward, nearly stopping around his knees, but Dave, all shaky-legged, gritting his teeth, manages to grind the weight to lockout. He lets out a primal scream, celebrating his triumph over gravity, but then the bar slips out of his fingers and crashes down on the platform, sending him sprawling forward on his face.
“He’s got pussy hands,” explains his brother. “Tiny little rodent claws.”
“Goddamn it, I think I chipped a tooth,” says Dave, stumbling to his feet.
“Yeah, you’re missing a piece of your right front tooth,” I tell him.
“He looks better, though, don’t he, Leona? I woman might fuck him now.”
“Why don’t I ever see you working out?” I ask Arnold.
“He tore his quad,” says Dave, “squatting every day.”
“I want tree-trunk legs,” responds Arnold. “You don’t get thirty-two inch thighs by sitting on your ass.”
“You work up to a daily max, you don’t try to squat your max every day,” says Dave.
“Yeah, I got greedy,” says Arnold. “I’m an idiot, okay? You’re the programming genius. Did you know that, Leona? Dave here is a bonafide genius. He scored over fourteen-fifty on his SATs, only one-hundred and fifty away from a perfect score. Was a state champ in wrestling as well. He can compute numbers in his head. His balls don’t even shrink when he’s on a cycle. The ladies tell me he’s a sexual Jesus. Yet he’s never squatted six-hundred pounds. He’s never deadlifted six-hundred and seventy-five. He’s still benching under four-hundred. So that’s where genius gets you in the world of weight lifting.”
“You can’t squat three-hundred pounds with a torn quadriceps,” points out Dave.
“Fuck you, Dave. Seriously, man. GTFO.”
“I’d like to try deadlifting,” I say. The twins look at me, both of them giving me the same cockeyed stare.
“Well step up to the platform, Miss Chaney,” says Arnold. “Dave, be a gentleman and take some weight off. Like, almost all of it.”
“What should I start off at?” I ask.
“Put one-thirty-five on the bar. If you lift that, I’ll be impressed.”
“I couldn’t squat that weight,” I say.
“I bet you can deadlift it. Give the lady a proper tutorial, Dave, you dimwit.”
“The bar should be over the midfoot,” says Dave, moving my feet for me. “You need to take a closer than shoulder-width stance. Turn your toes slightly out. Keep your legs straight and bend down. Move your grip in, and supinate your dominate hand.”
“Supinate?” I ask.
“Ain’t you an English major?” asks Arnold. “He means turn your palm out.”
I do as he says. Dave instructs me to bend my knees and straighten my back while keeping my hips up.
“Now pull back,” he says, and I do. The bar slides up my shins and past my knees, and all of a sudden I’m holding one-hundred and thirty-five pounds in my hands.
“That looked easy,” says Arnold. “She’s got long arms.”
“I do not,” I say.
“Long arms are good for deadlifting. You’ve got wide hips and a big ass. You could be a good powerlifter.”
“Fuck you, Arnold,” I say, lowering the weight.
“That was pretty rude, man,” says Dave.
“What? I meant it as a compliment. Leona, you are a beautiful woman. I admire your proportions. Please, do not be offended by my uncouth behavior.” Arnold gets up and bows.
“I got to get home,” I say.
“She’s mad at you,” says Dave.
“That’s how broads are,” says Arnold.
“Broads don’t like to be called broads,” I say. Arnold shrugs. I’m not really mad at him, but I act like it and leave.
When I get home, Diesel is sitting on the couch, playing with Mom’s smartphone, making little monkey noises and distorting his face in chimp-like mimicry of human expressions. He’s clad in his underpants, once again. I peek over his shoulder and see that he’s playing a video game, some nonsense featuring explosions and pixilated gore. On his little chest are scratches; he maims himself in his sleep, a persistent habit of his. I tap him on the shoulder but receive no reaction.
“Shouldn’t you be doing homework?” I ask him. He snarls and flashes his pointed teeth, so I box his ears, and soon he’s kicking at me, lashing out with his naked limbs, trying to grab hold of my arms so that he can bite me like the little beast he is. Mom emerges from the kitchen, the trailer vibrating under her heavy step, and now she’s attempting to pry us apart, her thick arms wedging in-between my brother and me, separating us like an iron gate. I am chastised for harassing Diesel; I point out that he started it with his viciousness, and the monster confirms my accusation by rearing back like a cobra and spitting in my face. A new round of altercation ensues, and I managed to slap Diesel several times before Mom once again forces us away from each other. I storm off into my room, while my brother howls behind me, his utterances long mangled syllables of anguish.
Lying on my bed, I fish out Chad’s number from my pocket, where it has resided, unlooked at, for a couple days. What’s the prick’s motivation in giving me these digits? Does he possibly think that my hostility toward him is a simple schoolgirl crush? Nausea forms in my stomach at the thought, and I almost pitch the number into my trash can. Chad is unthinking; he is a follower and a pussy, Gibbons’ familiar, his stooge. I imagine a meeting between him and the Conan brothers—Chadwick is thrown in the air, tossed like a sack of refuse from brother to brother, until they tire and fling him through the windshield of a car. Mother is pounding on my door, summoning me for chastisement or reheated spaghetti, neither of which I can digest, I feel, at the moment, so I let her knock away. I hear a car pull up outside and a door slam, and Mother’s rapping at my door ceases. Through the blinds I see Dale walk to our steps, short, pot-bellied, clad in a huge Metallica t-shirt and a pair of torn jeans, his mullet tied back in a pony tail. He’s grown a biker mustache like Hulk Hogan since the last time I saw him, and the facial hair marginally improves his doughy appearance. I hear Mother yell for Diesel to put some pants on; the hooligan emphatically tells her No! at the top of his lungs. “Jesus,” I say to myself, looking for my pair of soundproof headphones and my notebook.
I listen to ambient music while I write. I like soundscapes, repeating motifs, dense labyrinths of reverb, odd noises, simple melodies. Music has replaced drinking as my primary tool for creative composition, which is fine, really, since I don’t need to be drinking very much. My current project, a short story about the time I brought my first boyfriend home, is going well enough that I think I’ll send it off to a magazine. To be published in print is an ancient goal of mine, even in this era of e-book readers. We all yearn for validation, exposure, consumption. An artist that keeps their manuscript hidden and unread is not an artist, says Gibbons, and I agree with him for once. I have two novels typed out and lying on my bookshelf, nascent efforts, rough, full of errors and bad plotting. From time to time I pull them out and glance through them, trying to decipher whether I’ve grown, regressed, or stayed the same. I wonder if the Conan’s do the same with their workout logs. Of course, progress is easy to recognize in weight lifting. I’m not so sure about writing.
I hear a shrill wailing like a moose in heat, so I turn up the volume on my music. Dale and mother are getting right down to business, it seems, with Diesel likely locked in his room for his own safety. I can’t leave now if I wanted to—the living room has become a place of sexual deviancy, a horror show complete with food, unmentionable liquids and semi-solids, and odd inanimate objects. Mom is Dale’s booty call, I guess, and we just have to stay out of the way. I don’t begrudge my mother her lovers, though they have been numerous and less than pleasant over the years. She has her needs, as do we all. The trailer rocks with their gyrations, and a moan shudders through the cavernous passages of our mobile home, a great bellowing sound, a pleasure-filled utterance that I have never known the like of during my time on this planet. My mother is a sexual being, despite her bulk. Sometimes I wonder if I have not inherited her capacity for physical satisfaction. My boyfriends, the few and the proud, have never scratched the proverbial itch, though they have tried, much to our mutual displeasure. A man (or a boy) takes it personally when he cannot satisfy a woman—I don’t know if his expectations have been distorted from pornography or what—and every act of copulation brings us further apart, as though I’ve been cursed by some malignant witch. The problem, of course, is that I’m going after the wrong sort of man. I have to have a (seemingly) intelligent and sensitive partner, though I am attracted to brutish, masculine types, and the two being mutually exclusive, it would seem, results in a frustrated, cantankerous girl.
“Where art thou, oh Tristan?” I say out loud. He was my first, as well as the subject of my current work in progress. I took him through the yard of refuse, through the narrow, clutter-filled hallways, and introduced him to my corpulent mother and my barbarous brother, and alas, he did not pass the test. Chad’s number appears on my notebook, beckoning, telling tales of nondescript punk bands and reefer madness. I think of what fun might be had from the anonymity of my work phone. “Good night, sweet prince,” I say, touching the paper, “may flights of angels sing thee to rest.” I dream dreams of violence and absolution, fleeting dances of knuckles, broken teeth, and blood.