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Max and the Gorilla

by Andrew Sydlik

Max blinked and looked at his watch. Fifteen minutes he had been looking in the mirror, naked except for his boxers. His mind had wandered, planning how much weight he would increase for his next workout, how ashamed he felt that he had plateaued at benching 425 pounds. He turned first to one side, then the other, giving each bicep one more flex. His muscles were bulging and veiny. Somehow, in the flickering fluorescent light, his physique didn’t seem as impressive.

No matter, he thought. At least since he had become a bodybuilder, he had lost his stutter. At 5’2” and a tendency to stumble over his words, he had never felt sure of himself.

He smelled the spicy scent of chili as he went into the kitchen. “Alice?” he called, staring down at the pot on the stove. “This done yet?” He lifted up the lid and looked at the bubbling red mass. Where was she?

Maybe she had gone to the store for cigarettes. He wouldn’t have heard her announce her trip. She was used to him being lost after a workout. When the weights hit the floor, his mind left his body. Exhausted, it judged him, separate and merciless.

Seemed Alice had taken to smoking more since he had gotten serious about bodybuilding. Why’d she have to smoke so much? Here he was, trying to make himself as healthy as possible, and she made herself unhealthier. “It’s the stress,” she said when he asked her about it. “Next week I’ll cut back, once things quiet down at work,” she would say. Or, “Once we pay those credit cards off, you watch, I’ll quit.” It was always some excuse.

A sharp pain jabbed his foot. He found a barbeque fork on the floor, a tuft of hair between the prongs. Dark gray or black, inhuman hair. Probably from a rat. They had problems. Another reason to smoke: rats invading their apartment. Max had promised to set some traps but never did. Poor Alice must have seen a rat, tried to stab it, gotten freaked out. At least the barbeque fork had been used. In the tiny apartment, they didn’t get to do much grilling.

He continued to call out for Alice as he walked into the living room. Promising to find the rat, kill it. Saying he was sorry, he’d go get some traps after dinner.

For a moment, the sun coming through the window blinded him. He couldn’t see the room at all. Might as well be nowhere. It was the same kind of thing he felt after a workout. Burnt out, gone, for some small period of time.

There he saw her body, crushed and broken, lying on the floor. The coffee table was broken in half. Shattered knicknacks were strewn about the room. Standing over Alice’s body was a gorilla, stooped over, face expressionless.

He recognized the animal somehow. Something familiar. Huge, imposing, impassive. Is that what he wanted to become? Max wondered. He laughed at the thought.

The gorilla, apparently insulted, leapt over Alice’s body and slammed into him. It thrashed him with its arms, and as the glue that held his body together came apart, he laughed at the vanity of being strong. There was always someone — or something — stronger. Max’s last thought was that one day, the gorilla would find this out, too.

Copyright © 2008 by Andrew Sydlik

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