From the treadmill, I espied elders more blubbered-out than me
lifting quantities of weight that would make an empowered chimerae shudder.
Without as much as a mild "pardon moi" from their trainers, those matrons
heaved and hauled.
In a further corner of the gym, two mildly adolescent boys
pulled a band of synthetic fabric between them. Their quads and lats bulged
from their intentional strain. Those boys smiled, in bursts, when they were not
otherwise singing in time to their iPods.
I looked up at my screen. Five kilometers left. I could watch
the ceiling TV or think about Ralph.
Ralph was an oenophile who believed his dining pronouncements
belonged on the cover of Newsweek. For good reason, his family would rather
have posted those claims on the rims of field latrines. While he did not go so
far as to submit his considerations to estimable editors, he did bother all
comers to his table with his opinions. Colorful words were the least of his
Ralph prescribed behaviors. Whole-grained cereal necessarily had
to be paired with goat milk. Stir-fried mushrooms were wasted if not washed
down with rice wine. A simple tuna and Swiss toast demanded a chocolate-syrup
laden drink or some other type of comfort beverage.
His livingroom necessarily had to have an ottoman, an easy chair
and a sofa large enough for three other conversants. His bedroom closets had a
required depth and his backyard was nothing if not filled with at least two
dozen specimen trees.
He woke at six, each morning, unerringly and tucked his head
among the covers at ten pm, sharp. His mustache was precision-trimmed and his
ear hairs were cut every alternate Tuesday.
He married his wife because she was exactly five foot six and
proposed to her on the cusp of the new moon. They had two children, a boy and a
girl, and three long-haired dachshunds.
His expressed affections, when uttered at all, consisted of
zip up, or please be quiet. The first he gave to his
wife and daughter concerning their costuming. The second was his response to
any opinions offered by his son.
When Ralph prepared to file his familys taxes, he layered
neat folders of paper-clipped documents on the diningroom table. Usually, he
completed that task in less than two hours.
Ralphs vacations were spent either regrading the dirt
embanking his home or trying to collect revenues from the estates of deceased
relatives. His loved ones sunned on the beach or hiked through mountain glades
The coroners claimed that Ralph died one minute before midnight,
spot on. He was not discovered as passed until his wife woke up, next to him,
the following morning.
His funeral, about which he had scripted many pages, was a more
orderly affair than the assemblage of a hamburger at a takeout window. It was
only when his casket was being wheeled over that densely-plied fabric known as
indoor/outdoor carpet, that the first of many irregularities
occurred. In brief, an abandoned kitten wandered into the hole ordained for
Ralph and got stuck there.
Subsequently, insurance collectors made a lein on his
familys home. Afterward, those same officials paid his wife and children
upwards of half of a million dollars revealed to be due when Ralphs
lawyers finished their machinations. As a comeuppance for shaming and
inconveniencing Ralphs family, the insurance firm gifted them with a
holiday cottage. No lawsuits ensued.
Ralphs daughter married a motorcycle mechanic. Their third
child won a beauty pageant, but then drowned in a neighbors swimming
Ralphs son spent some years backpacking in small Asian
countries with difficult to pronounce names and then completed a sociology
degree at Harvard. Shortly thereafter, he organized a development company whose
second film won many Oscars.
As for Ralphs wife, after his demise, she, too, embraced a
life of irreverence. Initially, she joined a circuit for stand-up comedians.
Later, she opened a knitting shop that specialized in llama wool creations.
Still later, she traveled the country in search of polka dance parties.
A climbing accident curtailed her ballroom frolicking. Her
children urged her to find other pursuits. When ceramics and banjo strumming
failed to fulfill her, she began training for cross-country skiing.
Ralphs wife meant to transverse a portion of Montana.
A span later, Ralphs familys lives began to take on
a semblance of regularity. The Hollywood tycoon sold his company and bought an
apartment on the Upper West Side. His sister, her husband, and their remaining
two children moved into Greenwich Village, from where they hoped to cater to
the two-wheeled appetites of Gotham City and to infuse their offspring with a
love of mastodon skeletons, stolen European masterpieces and anorexic
ballerinas. Ralphs wife bought a midtown timeshare.
The timer rang. I calculated that if I showered quickly,
Id still be able to meet the kids for an Off Broadway matinee. Im
not so interested in mastodons.