by Elaine Barnard
She was sprawled on the gym floor next to my favorite stretch machine, a towel beneath her buttocks. Couldn’t she pick a less obtrusive spot to exercise? I used the stretcher at the culmination of my workout. I was usually exhausted and needed that rejuvenating stretch to recover. I was never in a mood to tolerate interruptions in my schedule, in my cool down phase before I drove home to a hot and cold shower, some chilled chardonnay and a dinner of sorts.
She did not move as I approached. She lay there like she couldn’t her hair a shaggy blonde mess, her skimpy gym shorts revealing several pounds of extra flesh. What was she doing hiding in the stretch room anyway? This was a gym for God’s sake. Lying on the floor was only acceptable if you could spring back up which she obviously could not.
“Am I in your way?” I asked in my sweetest manner rather than telling her she was in mine, that she was blocking my stretcher. If I used it, I might conk her head, knock her out or something equally alarming.
She stirred. “You’re okay,” she murmured. “I checked. It’s close but we’re safe.”
I’d like to be a little safer, I thought, but said nothing just proceeded to wipe down the bed of the stretcher as a sanitary precaution. Can’t be too careful in a Pandemic.
In the process of protecting myself, I couldn’t help but notice the mesh brace on her knee. “What happened to your knee?” I asked out of habit not really that interested in her knee. I could be here all day listening to knee, hip, and back complaints. I usually tuned them out.
She patted the brace. “It’s holding my knee together, until…” she winced. “Until I-I” … She took a deep breath. “Have surgery. Tomorrow’s the day.”
I climbed on the machine, locked my ankle in place and started to invert the stretcher only half listening to her as my tense muscles relaxed into the reclined position.
“My problem is I-I can’t afford the therapy, home care and everything else that my health plan won’t pay for.” She sat up slowly. “We spent all our money on my son’s knee therapy. He was eighteen. He healed. He didn’t need surgery. But me, just look at me. I’m too fat and I know it. Doctor says that contributed to my knee problem.” She winced again. Sweat stained her shirt. “I’d have to take off work. I can’t afford to take off work.”
I adjusted the lever on the machine. I was up to one hundred now. It felt good to stretch tight muscles, to relieve the tension that I could never resolve.
“My kids have tried to help me around the house. Maybe they’ll even cook dinner tonight. I mean a real dinner, not a frozen Marie Callender’s or a Papa John pizza.”
Suddenly she doubled over with pain. Tears streamed down her pale cheeks. Against my better judgement, I lowered the machine, slid off and held her. “It’s all right,” I said, knowing it wasn’t.
She calmed a little as she struggled to stand. “I asked my doctor to give me a local. I don’t want to be knocked out. I don’t want to lose control, I told him. He-he refused. ‘That’s not the way I operate,’ he said.”
“Being knocked out isn’t all that bad,” I told her, helping her to stand straight. “You wake up and it’s all over. You’re ready to start a new life.”
She looked at me, her faded blue eyes glimmering. “You think?”
She leaned on my arm. I smiled with reassurance even though I had no knowledge that anything I said was true, but I hoped it was.
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