The Clips

by | Apr 9, 2024 | Fiction, Issue Thirty-Eight

The only people in the gym are the cop doing chest presses, the gym owner standing beside him, egging him on, and now her. As usual, Mr. O, the owner, calls out to her, Heya, you’re a winner! This is how mornings at 5:30 a.m. begin. She’s here because this is what the doctor ordered.

***

The cop, Jimmy, has gray hair like mist at his temples and a permanent expression of reading between the lines as if deciphering the core of you. When he’s done with chest presses, he’ll talk about his cases, lately, the one involving a man dressed as a clown who mugs women at night. His theory is the man, like most of humanity, has lost its grip on reality. People want to imagine reality rather than live it. Two days ago, he speculated the man wanted to relive something from his childhood.

***

As usual, she heads to the stationary bike and begins pedaling, but half-assed because she’s preoccupied.

***

Jimmy turns to her and tells her no new leads for the clown. Also, you might read in the newspaper about an investigation, and it might mention my name and associate me with wrongdoing. For the record, they got the wrong guy.

***

Mr. O once lived in a van, but he turned over a new leaf–his words–got into weight training and then really got into it, winning a major competition, like Mr. Olympia, but not like it because it was in Las Vegas and involved big-time betting. Anyway, he walked away with a chunk of change, opened this gym, and changed his name to Mr. O.

***

For three weeks, she’s been playing a video game called Spiraling. In it, you walk around in fog, turning left, right, running around blind corners, chasing rabid foxes and trapping them. Or you can choose to chase rabid bears, pigs, coyotes or humans. Lately, she’s chosen the rabid humans option.

***

Mr. O congratulates Jimmy on lifting 15 more pounds than he usually does. We’re in a constant state of becoming and don’t forget it. You’re not done until you’re done so no definition applies. Definitions are for sissies.

***

As she pedals she thinks about the video clip someone texted her last night. A woman, hips pendulum swaying, walks down the sidewalk in a tight black skirt. The clip filmed the woman from behind and zoomed in on her hot pink running shoes. She can’t tell if it’s her or some other woman.

***

The sun rises and, for a moment, the world is magnificent and the day is a luminous outline. This is partly why she gets up so early because this light makes her feel that there is something beyond daily life.

***

She has no idea who sent her the clip. She shows Jimmy the clip. Do you think this is me? she says. Do you wish it was you? he says. By the way, I’m left-handed, so the punch to the guy’s nose couldn’t have come from me if you look at the angle of contact.

***

She’s reading a book about a woman whose mission is to cultivate Mars and move there. The character thinks, We’re not only constrained by what we know but what we can bear to know.

***

She goes through her shoulder workout, Mr. O egging her on, telling her that her former high school varsity swim team body is in there like an acorn, waiting to burst into a tree. When she finishes, she hears the ping of a new text.  This clip shows a woman, her head tossed back, laughing to the sky. Or maybe she’s screaming. This one, too, is filmed from behind. It looks like her hair, but she can’t remember ever doing a gesture like that. It could be her, though she’s not sure she wants it to be her.

***

Sometimes, in the video game, the rabid foxes (or humans, etc.) turn around and attack you.

***

Another ping: an eyeball, gray with sparks of amber. She’s pretty sure it’s hers.

***

The 6:30ers arrive, laughing, talking, drinking coffee, yukking it up. It feels like their perfect world has been invaded, even vandalized. This is their sign—Jimmy’s and hers—to leave.

***

Outside, she asks Jimmy, in his professional opinion, what the clips might mean. Let’s assume they’re all you, he says. Probably someone with hurt feelings.

***

Or

maybe from her ex-husband who is now experiencing buyer’s remorse.

Or

an enemy, known or unknown.

Or

some weird bot trying to send her a message.

Or

a scam. Soon money will be demanded, perhaps a kidnapping will occur.

Or

a game, though he’s not sure of the rules.

Or

someone urging you to do something, be something, a gestalt or something.

***

You pick, he said.

***

Mr. O comes outside. She deletes the clips, blocks the caller.

***

That’s not going to solve it, says Jimmy. He can just use a different number.

***

Mr. O tells her to look at the clips from another angle. They’re all you, and they’re from an admirer, someone rooting for her.

***

Life without regret is impossible, says Jimmy.

***

That’s not true, she says.

***

What reality are you living in? he says.

***

She hears another ping. Mr. O is talking about her swimming potential and possible glory and the future rushes in like a warm tunnel of air, and she can picture herself in a glassy lake, early morning, swimming freestyle, only her and the water and some ducks. Another ping, another, ping ping ping, which she ignores, staying with her body in the cool lake, swimming hard, fast, long, fluid strokes, cutting a smooth line across the wide expanse, now and then looking at the bright blazing world.

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