This story is part of Fiction Month 2020. Click here to view the stories featured in Fiction Month, as well as past fiction pieces.
He dreamt he was a little ball of silver the size of a cow’s eye and dense as a black hole. Or was it that he dreamt he was holding such a little ball in the palm of his rugged hand? Pinching it between his strong and stubby fingers? Crushing it to silver dust? Or watching the ball coming into being, he married the ball and they lived happily ever after until he woke up.
He is sitting in front of a monitor bathed in the blue-grey of daylight. The air is thick and silent, and yet there is music in his little room. The sound is almost imperceptible, set eternally to level 1. Here in his palace, everything ticks and ticks. A clock ticks. A jaw clicks. His jaw grinds the protein bar between his teeth, face oscillating between shock and anger with every vicissitude of mastication. He keeps his eyes wide, wide open.
A short expanse of grey carpet stretches between him and his television. Grey is mediate, it is between everything, a color coming into being. Everything here is grey: the television, the couch, the carpet, the cabinet. And why should his mirror, glass and silver, look always grey, just grey? There is an infinite grey in his deathless labors. Two mirrors that face each other make a discursive infinity.
The protein bar is glued to his face, his left hand is glued to the protein bar. His right hand is connected to a control, the control is connected to the monitor, the monitor connected to the outlet, the power runs out to the power lines in the street that slope endlessly along poles placed in periods on the road. Coloured light pours through the glass of the monitor. His eyes are glued to the monitor and the monitor is stuck to the floor. Two mirrors that face each other will repeat the same image beyond time, time, repeating.
Input and output. A network of connections converging in his right hand which holds the control and his left directing the protein bar into his writhing jaws, never ceasing, and his eyes, never seeing, protected by a membrane of reflective glass from rays of colored light projected through the monitor’s curved glass wall.
Day turns into night turns into day. Liquid crystals make themselves vivid images. Protein bars turn into bursting stiff meat mounted to his arms, arms troubled now only with lifting. The protein bars entered his mouth from outside. He murdered them but preserves their memory in his arms, his chest, his breath as he beats his record from yesterday today, every day, pumping plate after plate of stinking iron, and every repetition has death contained.
Looking deep inside the mirror, he thinks: I am wholly contained inside my skin. His image coats the surface of his eye. He presses his elbow into his side. He squeezes his fist and wrings out his bicep. His body, steaming, stands before him in the grey, sending signals: his image back and forth between him, grey, satiated. He stretches his lips, presses his cheeks into his eyelids and sends up a special kind of prayer. You beast. He strains to call forth his deathless name: Monster. Monster.
* * *
Once he had a dream that he was chasing down six or seven drones in a field of silver. Or maybe it was just one drone, and he was being chased. Or maybe he was a drone. Or maybe it was just something he saw on his monitor.
Reptiles know the nature of skin. An iguana sits in a terrarium behind the couch just watching. Skin is made to be broken, says the iguana. You are correct, grunts the man. One day I will shed this skin, he thinks. I will shed this skin. He thinks and pumps, and then forgets to think, and we cannot say whether he is thinking anymore. Sweat pours down his side from his armpit and soaks his green printed tank top, and he is chewing again.
Mother nature bathes her creations in disgusting heat and luxury. Reptiles know that nature is excessive. What cannot be used for growth must be destroyed, but what can be used must be used to keep on growing, growing, growing. A reptile leaves its skin and keeps on going, going. And each rep is the same, baked-in container left behind with a stain.
In the mirror again, he flashes his teeth. Sunglasses connect to his face, his face connects to his head, his head connects to his neck, flowing out into his bulging shoulders and mountainous biceps.
Synthol is a substance used by bodybuilders as a temporary implant which is injected deeply into the muscle. The enlargement effects are immediate.
Still in the mirror: both arms above his head, now lower just one and turn, now both arms down in a circle.
Synthol is used in small groups of muscles to enlarge their volume.
Hold the iron up for a few seconds more and slam it to the ground. He checks his phone. He cranks the brightness and scrolls, scrolls. Now naked, now dressed in a skin-tight tank and compression shorts, a reptile print doo-rag on his head and those impenetrable glasses, never leaving his face. He will shower two more times today. Vitamin E oil runs slick down his chest and thighs. He is a well-oiled machine.
Synthol is a substance injected deep, deep down inside the heart of the machine.
* * *
He and his reptile have a favorite game. He takes out his needle, and, just when he is about to inject it into his arm, he pauses, pretends to think. Then, he looks at his lizard, flashes a devilish grin. He lifts the needle towards his head and places it against his temple, as if to inject the drug deep into the tissue of his brain. Will it break the skull?
We don’t know. After all, it is only a game.
* * *
They say iron has no smell. Perspiration from human skin corrodes iron, producing the smell which we normally recognize as the smell of iron. What is familiar in the smell of iron is the smell of blood.
There is music on now, something gentle. He is in a fury of repetition, he will not stop. He saw something in the mirror today that he did not want to see: a human. He saw a human and something moist threatened to burst forth from his eyes. What was wrong? Wasn’t he human after all? Now he pumps and sweats and it smells like blood and it tastes like blood. It tastes like blood, the blood that swishes and circulates, that bleeds and dies, and so he remembers how a human dies. I will not die a human, he thinks. If I die I will die a monster, he thinks. You’re a fucking monster. You know what I’m talking about. It nearly killed you, he thinks. He lifts and unlifts. His iguana watches. It nearly did but monsters don’t die, he thinks.
Skin is made to be broken and left behind, says the lizard. In this life, it’s only the skin that dies.