“When was the last time you looked at yourself in the mirror and thought, “Yeah, if I were a chick, I would fuck me”? When was the last time you looked down at your belly and felt like a real man — like a guy who could do bicep curls with two hotties on the tip of his dick.”
Tork didn’t wait for Hal to answer.
“You know when the last time was for me? In the rearview mirror of my Civic when I pulled up to the gym this morning. My cut is fresh, my skin is clear, and man, even my teeth look extra white. When I walked in the door, I saw every fucking hottie in this place turn her head and look at me. And you know how that made me feel?”
Hal shifted from foot to foot, drawing his eyebrows down to look engaged, maybe even tough. It really just made him look like he couldn’t remember where he’d put his keys.
“Uh, pretty good?” Swallowing the question mark at the end in a half cough. There were no women in the gym.
“Made me feel like a walking hard-on, man. Like the whole gym was a wet pussy just aching to fuck. When was the last time you felt like that?”
Hal had never felt like that.
“Been a while, right?”
Hal nodded thoughtfully, still frowning.
“Well you’re going to feel that way today when I’m done with you.” Tork laughed in a high-pitched titter, his mouth motionless. “Now let’s see 20.”
Hal paused in his ready stance, belly drooping over the waistband of his shorts, then deflated to the floor, elbows akimbo in what he hoped was proper push-up posture. It was not.
“Twenty sit-ups, jerk off.” Again, the laughter. It reminded Hal of the serrated lip of a half-open tin can as he flipped over onto his back.
Tork’s face was inches from his own before Hal could get his shoulders off of the mat.
“And make them good,” Tork hissed, as if Hal’s life was on the line. And maybe it was. Tork’s face had the brutal sincerity of someone who really, honestly hoped to be convinced not to kill Hal.
When Hal had checked in for his personal training appointment, he thought he had misheard the fifteen-year-old at the desk. When the man himself showed up, nametag dangling from a Redbull lanyard, he saw that he had not. “Tork.” Like, “torque,” but spelled like a new flavor of Doritos. He assumed it was short for “Torkelson” or something. Probably some nickname forged in the high school locker room after football practice. “Tork” twisting a wet towel. “Tork” flagellating skinny JV players with the same concerned look he wore now — a look that asked “Why are you making me do this?”
Hal tightened his belly to lift his back off the mat, cool air against his t-shirt letting him know he was already sweating.
One more, already a burning in his abdomen.
“Goooood, keep going.” Tork nodded, his face somehow transformed to convey genuine hopefulness as he concentrated on Hal’s form.
Despite himself, Hal felt motivated. He kept going. Five. Ten. Fifteen. He was openly sweating now. Noodles of brown hair tickled his forehead.
“Almost there.” Tork’s voice was gentle at this point, but still the tension of expectation. Hal felt like he was a tightrope walker nearing the far end of the rope. Tork looked on, frightened and hopeful.
Hal flopped back on the mat, pain melting from his abdomen and leaking into his extremities.
“Now get up, get up.” The edge was back in Tork’s voice. He paced away from Hal, cracking his neck like a villain from a Rocky film. Physically, he fit the casting call as well. Broad shoulders balanced over his tiny waist, like an upended pyramid in track pants. His tucked-in red tank top revealed vascular deltas snaking across his chest and shoulders, unobscured by a single hair. His skin glistened like wax.
“Get up,” he slapped his foot on the mat for emphasis on his way back toward Hal. Hal pushed off of his bent knee and stood with his head back, trying to control his breathing.
Tork chuckled drily, slipping into yet another persona. Hal found himself wondering about the background checking process for gym employees, and if there were any legal limitations around mental patients finding work near heavy objects.
“You look tired already,” said Tork, pacing around Hal with his hands behind his back. “Well, are you?”
“I- I guess so,” said Hal.
Again with the chuckle, like something he learned from a movie.
“You’re going to be a lot more tired by the time we’re done.” He turned to Hal, pointing to the mat before he said anything. “Now we do fucking pushups.”
Twenty pushups, 10 burpees, 20 more sit-ups, a half-hearted set of jumping jacks, and Hal was done.
“Those were the worst jumping jack’s I’ve ever seen,” Tork said, rounding out his one-man show of movie villain impressions by shaking his head and wiping around his lips with pointer and thumb.
Hal shook his head with hands at his sides, “Sorry man, I can’t.”
“You can’t?” Tork was an inch away from his face now. Hal twisted back so their noses wouldn’t touch. “You can’t?”
“It’s been a long time, man.” Deep breath. “You don’t know what it’s like. It’s really-“ Breath. “It’s really hard.”
Tork paced away again, dropping his head back to stare at the bare fluorescent bars above. “I don’t know what it’s like.” He laughed slowly, shaking his head. “I don’t know what it’s like.” Louder this time as he rounded back toward Hal. His mouth was tight and eyes squinting, as though pinching back tears. He grabbed the name tag dangling from his lanyard and held its plastic back so close to Hal’s face that he had to recoil to focus.
Stuck crookedly in the plastic badge holder was the photo of an enormous man, spilling out of a yurt-sized, faded red polo shirt. He held up two sausage thumbs to the camera, his flushed cheeks and cheesy grin saying “everything’s just fine here.”
Confusion gathered in Hal’s face before he saw it — the sandy blonde hair, the creases at the corners of the eyes, the ‘doing-my-best-impression-of-a-smile’ smile — It was Tork. Younger, but it was him.
Hal looked up at Tork, who was already nodding.
“That was you.”
Tork’s mouth shriveled with emotion.
“That is me,” he paused for effect, then tapped his sternum, “here.” He nodded vigorously and looked at the ground, dropping the name tag to let it swing from his neck.
Hal reached out to pat Tork’s shoulder, then thought better of it. “I- I’m sorr-“
“So if I could do ten more fucking jumping jacks,” he cut Hal off and looked up, the harshness returned to his chiseled face, “then you can do ten more fucking jumping jacks.”
And Hal did.
Image by Kaleb Fulgham