By Rae Mosher
CW: discontent with body
Maya stood on the treadmill crying. She had been here for 10 minutes now. Not sobbing violent and ugly, not one tear rolling down her cheek like a falling petal, just crying.
She hated running. She was pissed as hell that she had to do this. But she hated the guilt she felt from not doing it as well. And she hated feeling like a failure.
But right now, she hated that she had been getting up every morning at 5:30 am for two whole weeks to run before work, and there seemed to be no real difference. She still felt fat, and now, she also hated running. Wasn’t it supposed to get easier as she made it into a new habit? Wasn’t two weeks enough to move her past the slog of the beginning stages?
As she cried, she chastised herself for crying over such nonsense. There were people living under a thick canopy of war. People who had lost their children. People being persecuted for their skin or their gender. And here she was, standing on her treadmill in her home gym in her 3,000 square foot house, her skin white, her job secure. And she was crying because having to exercise felt unfair.
And because the kitchen was a mess and she’d rather read her book or watch Wheel of Fortune than clean it.
It was a big step just getting onto the treadmill today, just getting her shoes on and walking into this room. Her time was completely hers: her husband had taken the kids to visit his brother’s family in Virginia and she was going to drive up and meet them after work today to stay the weekend, which meant that there was no one home to know if she didn’t actually run this morning. No one to keep her accountable but herself. She had whittled away her first solitary hour drinking coffee, looking for houses for sale on Zillow, and entering Publishers Clearing House. She had exhausted her mental energy working to come up with compromises and justifications that got her out of having to come to the basement and put one foot in front of the other and move this conveyor belt.
Her sister had asked her if she might like it better if she ran outside, but she had vehemently said no.
“I get up before the sun to run,” her chin pointed her response, like a finger. “I don’t have the luxury of self-care during daylight hours.”
But also, it would throw her off to deal with dodging broken sidewalks, having to be aware of cars, turning corners, maneuvering nature – she needed a steady rhythm of running in place to be able to do it at all. And now the sun was beginning to peek around the very edge of the horizon, like a crack of light under a closed door. Her “time for herself” would be over soon, and what would she have done with it?
She looked up at the affirmation she had written in Sharpie and taped to the wall: Take care of your little planet.
She had taken her daughter to see The Little Prince at the community theater a few months back, and the message learned too late by the young royal was that he could search the whole universe for something new and better than his small rock and solitary rose, but it would be in vain, for once he left, he realized that he already had everything of value that he was searching for, and it was worth the effort to maintain. It was that maintenance that conveyed love and cultivated appreciation.
Maya was choked up with emotion at the end, and she had tried to speak with other audience members in line for the restroom about her epiphone. But no one else seemed to get this theme – they all responded with recognizing the imagination of youth: “You know, you have to have vision to see that the drawing of a hat was actually a snake that ate an elephant. Look past the surface. When you hear hooves, think zebras.”
Maya tried to explain her new understanding to her sleepy four-year-old on the drive home.
“Do you understand what I’m saying, honey? That you have a beautiful bedroom, that’s all yours – not everyone has their own bedroom. So you have to show your appreciation by taking good care of it and picking up your toys.”
Maya took a big sip of water and began to walk on the treadmill. Just walk. Walking was better than standing. After a minute, she’d speed it up and run. She turned on her music. It was a slow, bummer of a song. She stopped the treadmill to change the Spotify station. She began to walk again. She pumped it up to 5 mph. Everything on her felt weighed down, like medicine balls hanging from ropes tangled around her torso. Her feet were clomping and her back hunched. She told herself that this was the hard part, that if she got through the first two songs, then it would get easier. She just needed to get her breath into a rhythm. Stand up straight. Change comes from hard work.
She had to pee.
She paused the treadmill’s advance and stepped off to go to the restroom. She sat on the toilet and considered the catch-22 of the need for hydration versus the need to expel. One was necessary for movement, the other stopped it.
It only took twenty seconds to relieve her bladder, but Maya couldn’t just sit without diversion. She picked up a magazine from the magazine rack on the floor. A centerfold spread of a house sparked her interest. White walls, farmhouse details, a built in banquet. Maybe if Maya had a smaller house, she would be able to put her focus, energy, and money toward lovelier details rather than putting band-aids on this dated vacuous space just to maintain. She hated her kitchen and would sit, staring at the smudged, yellow walls and think about how she would do a 60k renovation when she won the lottery. New wall color, new floors, new cabinets, new layout. Until then, she would have to be satisfied with just not caring that the kids occasionally drew on the walls with crayons – she hated the yellow, so why not be okay with hating the crayon marks as well? One day she would overhaul it all. She tried to sit and be happy with what she had, at least until the kids were older and the dog had died. Until then, she would sit with what she had.
She put the magazine back down and washed her hands. She looked at herself in the mirror. There were horizontal lines on her forehead from years of squinting at the computer screen, and one deep-set vertical one that she was sure had been there since puberty. There was a day when she caught her own reflection in the screen of the laptop while working that she realized that she always scowled while concentrating. Every hour of being productive and working hard meant another hour confirming the lines in her face, like the folded edge of a dog-eared page, re-creased often. Botox was on her ‘one day’ list too, right under re-doing the kitchen.
When she went back to the treadmill, the clock on her phone read 6:56. She still needed a shower and to make breakfast before leaving at 7:30. There wasn’t any more time. She felt the deep throb of disappointment and shame begin to burn in her belly. Fucking loser. She could skip the shower and buy herself some more time – she could just dry shampoo her dirty hair. Could she walk for 10 minutes if she skipped her shower? Only if she did not exert enough to get sweaty.
Instead, she went upstairs to the hall laundry room to peel off her untainted workout clothes. She opened the door of the washing machine to find a damp knot of sheets like a knuckled fist. How long had they been there? Should she wash them again? Were they beginning to grow sour with their stagnation? She shook her head and opened the neighboring dryer door. She pulled the piecey mass of clean whites out in clumps and haphazardly piled them on top of the machines, trying to avoid any single socks from falling behind and becoming lost against the wall. She leaned her belly against the machine to try and peer into the shadowed space behind the dryer for any stragglers. On her tiptoes, she angled and stretched and could just barely see a lone white sock fallen beneath the snarled ducting twisted like a coiled snake in a tight space. It was settled in with tufts of lint like a bird’s nest. She could not reach it.
The ball of sheets she removed as one solid thing and transferred it into the dryer, turning it on ‘heavy duty’ to ensure the damp was eradicated, even at the center of the tight bunch.
She kicked off her tennis shoes and undressed right there. She threw her sports bra, shorts, underwear, and socks into the washing machine and walked, naked, to the bathroom. She had decided to not start the new wash until after she had used the water to bathe.
She began her shower like a meditation, standing in the silence of the hot water; the white box of the stall was like a sensory deprivation tank, removing her from all screens and outside influence. Here, she was able to think clearly. She made a plan in her head while washing her hair: she would run for 10 minutes as soon as she got home from work, not considering other alternatives, just get home, re-put on her still-clean sports bra and shoes, and get right on. No time to consider why she shouldn’t. Then, she conceded the sin: she would take another shower. This repeated task in her day rubbed roughly against her sense of efficiency, but that would be her sacrifice: the sense of order in things.
This was the solution, because she didn’t even bother lying to herself about exercising while out of town, so she needed to do something with which to congratulate herself before leaving.
She was doubled over, drying her dangling wet hair like polishing silver, when she first noticed it. A twinge of something off, unfamiliar. The bathroom was filled with humid steam and the lingering perfume of her shampoo and conditioner, but behind all of that, there was just a touch of smoke. Odd enough that she stopped and wrapped her hair up in the twist of the towel and opened the hall door.
The smell was much stronger out here, and she was unsure about what to do, so she did nothing. She stood looking toward the door at the end of the hall, closed against the noise of the dryer within. Smoke was seeping around the edges of the door like gentle, beckoning fingers, and her mind flashed through the basics she’d learned in grade school about what to do in a fire. Don’t touch the doorknob, it’s hot. Don’t open the door. Crouch low, crawl below the rising heat and choking cloud.
There were two doors into the bathroom – one from the hallway, the one in which she stood- and one from her bedroom. She turned around and went back through the bathroom and into her bedroom. Propriety told her that whatever her next step with the fire, she should probably get dressed first. She didn’t want to make the news standing in her front yard naked, waiting to be wrapped in a fireman’s rough blanket. The smoke was only delicate tendrils from the doorjamb, so she thought she had some time.
Once dressed, she stood again in the doorway of the bathroom and hallway, watching the closed white door. There was a little tiny bit of bubbling paint on the moulding at the top of the door, but she still did not sense that a great giant of fire was going to burst forth and reach her. She felt as though she were at a safe distance.
Her mind ran through the potential next steps, after the adrenaline excitement of the burning itself. There would be damage and debris; her home, her things, her furniture, would either be charred or soaked or both. There would definitely be a rebuilding. She would need a new washer and dryer, maybe she would get the kind that was candy apple red, or a deep royal blue. This laundry room was in the center of the house, conveniently located on the upstairs hallway, flanked by bedrooms. Her master closet was on the opposite side of the far wall from where she was standing now. Maybe if the fire reached that, she would have to buy all new clothes. Maybe she would let it burn just a beat longer before she called 9-1-1.
Maya walked back into her bedroom and picked up her small suitcase; she walked down the hallway, away from the smouldering laundry room, down the stairs and into the foyer, where she picked up her purse and keys. She went out to her car and started it up.
As she drove away, she made a new plan in her head: She had already showered, so she would just check in at work and then leave early to drive to her brother in law’s. There would be extra people there – aunts and uncles – to help with the kids, so she could probably steal 20 minutes over the weekend to go for a run. It would be nice to grab some time for herself.
Learn more about Rae in her bio on the Featured Authors page.