Fast Fiction

Elliptical — by Mary Rechner

Oh the Great Recession.  The money was gone.  They had to move.

In Riverside Joanna missed Los Angeles, missed her glass-walled, light-filled house. She did not want her husband Sam to think she was shallow, thus looked for a place to mourn alone, joining a cheap women’s gym.

The frosted storefront windows hid a phalanx of shabby fitness equipment.  The first time she pulled open the door a bell tinkled, triggering an image, a ragged little girl from her dreams. Come along, she found herself thinking. This girl was her responsibility. Come along. The two of them stepped onto a treadmill, and began walking briskly to nowhere.

Joanna couldn’t sleep. She re-watched Peggy Sue Got Married. When the movie first came out in the eighties, she’d found the premise pathetic. Now it appealed: go back in time, figure out the past, return to the present, enlightened.

The past included years as an indestructible teenager, when a million things happened in one night, and if the night included a kiss from her brother Jude, it was just one among many sensations like eating Zeppole from a grease-stained paper bag, riding a Ferris wheel, flirting with broken toothed carnies, smoking cigarettes, sipping gin from a silver flask, and shooting water into the mouths of clowns.

What she and Jude shared.… What he initiated and sometimes she refused was secret because they were iconoclasts, and because ratting out her brother felt like ratting out the self. She’d so needed male attention and, like any girl, was used to constantly rebuffing it. Even then she’d understood that desire could be a form of grief, how Jude, like the other boys and men she knew, might grab her body thinking it could help. And if in moments it was shameful and confusing it could also be pleasurable, flattering. It was nothing, a tacit harmless hoary joke.

Now, almost forty, she believed in cause and effect: exercise and health, sun and wrinkles, smoking and cancer. She was angry, afraid of the invisible scar. It was a scab, ripe for picking.
Mary Rechner is the author of Nine Simple Patterns for Complicated Women (Propeller Books). Her stories have appeared in New England ReviewGettysburg Review and Kenyon Review. “Short Sale,” published in Burnside Review, will be performed at the New Short Fiction Series 20th Anniversary reading.  Find her on Twitter.