The gym near Allen’s apartment was open 24-hours, so he would go every night at 3am when nobody was there. Whenever he worked out around people, he always caught them watching him. And not sneakily either; they goggled at him from their ellipticals and their stairmasters, craning their necks around like flamingos to see him lifting weights or doing stretches, shaking their heads when he tried new equipment, pursing their lips flat, and sometimes even laughing with their eyes.
It was more an annoyance than anything because Allen didn’t feel vulnerable; he wasn’t “fit” or “buff,” but wiry and mop-like with his curly hair and rail-thin body, but he was confidently tall, even though most everyone else was taller, and more than that he was bettering himself, and to disturb someone at such a vulnerable activity, let alone ridicule them, was a human evil, and not worth entertaining with thought or action.
So he went to the gym late in the night, too early for the early risers, too late for the surreptitious homeless, and exercised alone, safely and comfortably alone.
But today (or rather, tonight), there was another gym-goer: A short and squat man, like a Tolkien dwarf, only a few inches taller than Allen, with stony eyes and a carrot mohawk and an auburn beard, and he had small eyes, like pebbles hanging from his bushy red eyebrows, following Allen around the gym like a hypnotist’s pendulum stone. The tall dwarf was doing curls with too-large weights, his red underarm hair bristling out with every upward heave, shiny with sweat, and he watched Allen make his way to the bench. The dwarf seemed only to possess a bottom lip, this wormy w-shaped curl beneath his heavy mustache, oozing flecks of saliva with every pump and grimace, his uneven bottom teeth like a marble Stonehenge, and he watched Allen add weights to the bar one by one, one side at a time to keep balance.
He watched until Allen lay on the bench, beneath the bar, holding onto the sides and breathing in and out, thinking about anything but those grey eyes, such as Cecily, and then thinking about anything but Cecily, such as those grey eyes. When he reached an equilibrium of discomfort, he prepared to push hard toward the roof.
Looking down at him, without him noticing until just now, was the dwarf, one-lipped and red-faced, with his large white hands hovering just under the sides of the bars, underarm hair glittering with slime just above Allen’s ears, and Allen’s nose filled with the sour stench of natural dwarf, who said, You need a spotter. Allen thought it might be a question, so he said no thank you. The dwarf shook his head, tightening his mouth until he became no-lipped, mouth replaced by red underlip hair spined outward like a hedgehog. It’s not safe, he said. I’ll be okay, Allen said. I’ll be careful. The dwarf looked offended, angry, but that might have been just the colour of his face. Okay, he said, and his hands lowered an inch, but that was it, he didn’t move, so Allen said, I’m really okay, it’s fine, and the dwarf’s face nodded angrily, his eyes so cold and grey underneath all that red, and Allen thought he’d hit the poor dwarf with his bar if he pushed, but at the same time he kind of wanted to strike the dwarf, so he closed his eyes and exhaled and pushed the bar up, and halfway up, rather than feel resistance against the dwarf’s skull, he felt the bar lighten, and he knew the dwarf was helping him, even though he didn’t need it.
His pushed his teeth together as hard as he pushed against the bar, the dwarf helping every push. Allen knew he was being watched, watched by the only other person in the gym, his gym, his beautiful empty gym, and he pushed and pushed twice as long as he normally would because he felt like he was lifting just the bar, until at last his arms were appendages of fiery pain, so he let the bar rest, and his arms felt lighter than air now because they were so light, and he opened his eyes and there was the dwarf, still watching.
He sat up, ducking under the bar, stood, keeping his eyelids low and his eyes unfocused so he wouldn’t have to return the dwarf’s gaze until he turned away, walking for the exit. The dwarf said the word legs questioningly as Allen reluctantly picked up the spray bottle and rag from the box nearby and returned to the bench, eyes still low, seeing only a red mark somewhere above his vision, like looking at the sun with your eyes closed, and he sprayed the bench, wiped it down, turned away from the red place and dropped off the spray bottle and threw the wash cloth in the dirty rags barrel and grinned with a flat mouth at the girl at the desk, the poor girl who had to deal with nighttime gym-goers even though she was only a little bit taller than Allen and only a little more fit, but he supposed she could handle herself, she probably had ways, and behind him he knew the dwarf was following.
Allen skipped the shower. He picked up his gym bag and didn’t change and walked out into the freezing autumn air dressed only in his gym clothes, sweat crystallizing around his curly brown hair.
Day 288’s three random writing prompt categories were, “Red anger,” “One too many,” and, “Gym equipment.”
I wouldn’t mind having a Tolkien dwarf as a gym buddy.