There were only two others in the gym, working out in front of me while I ran on the treadmill. The younger one in her early thirties grabbed a set of ten-pound dumbbells, and lunged forward onto one bent knee. I had seen her before. She started coming in probably every day for the last three weeks. Every now and then she’d have the older one, some old toad in her fifties, but most of the time she was alone.
She looked good. Tall and a little puffy around the edges of her face, her hair pulled back in a ponytail. She looked kind of like what you would imagine your old high school girlfriend from the suburbs might have become. Kind of bratty. She had scowled when she moved up and down. Always looked pissed off, with thin lips, and wrinkles above her eyebrows that crashed into each other just above her nose. But she was cute.
Both of them wore yoga pants and oversized sweatshirts, and that was all they had in common. The brat looked like she had just let herself get a little soft, and was fighting to get back to what she had. The toad was squat and you just knew that she hadn’t been other than a pudgy toad since she was a little girl.
The toad leaned with her butt against the glass, and checked her cell. “I’ve gotta get my teeth done.” She had the voice of a two pack a day smoker.
“Which means I’ve got to find the time to get down to Park Slope on a lunch. Wish my dentist would just move his office to the city. You know I’ve been seeing this guy for 30 years. The receptionist keeps making jokes like he’s having an affair.”
She swiped through the screen and held it out, but the brat never turned back to look. She just kept stepping forward, with the weights pulling her down.
“We wouldn’t do anything like that. But if he ever gets a divorce? Ya never know.” She clutched onto her phone and started swiping with her fat fingers. Probably looking at other photos. “I can’t believe his wife doesn’t get jealous. But that’s just how we are. It’s so bizarre.”
The brat had been doing laps in front of the treadmills, marching back and forth in-between me and the rest of the world. I couldn’t tell how much room she had under that formless shirt. She kept blowing this highlighted strand of hair that fell into her face. She would step lower, working on her form and slowing everything down. Everything about her had become cold. Clinical. I couldn’t tell if she was pissed off or just sad.
“I’ve got to stop flirting with my dentist. We’re not getting any younger. But you get it. Did you know Hannah was seeing that guy who works on the 27th floor? What’s his name?”
“Colin.” She took another step. “Everybody knew.”
“Excuse me for being out of the loop. But I’m not a part of that gossipy clique, so what do I know? Anyway, I talked to her and asked her what she was doing with Colin. She’s not that young anymore. 27. That’s when the inflection changes. Before that everybody says ‘Oh you’re not that old,’ but once you turn 27 it’s ‘Oh, you’re not that old.’ Then it’s a slippery slope to the grave.”
The toad stood up off the glass and took the dumbbells out of the brat’s hands. “You’re gonna give yourself a heart attack.”
“Summer is coming.” The brat walked away and squatted with her back against the wall.
“I know. Can’t hide behind the old coat for much longer.” Toad took small steps with the weights, and barely dipped. It was as if she were doing her friend a favor by taking a turn. “We should go somewhere. Barthelona. My treat. Just kidding.”
“I’ve got to meet with the lawyer.”
“Is he cute?”
She didn’t answer. The brat was all business with her back against the wall for support. She winced and her thighs shook, as she rolled her butt into the wall to buy herself a few more seconds of resistance.
“You know that’s what a lot of these guys get into the business for. Convince a bored woman to make a change and pounce on her when she’s desperate.”
“He left me.” She spoke in-between breaths.
“So you should get with the cute attorney. Stick it to him.”
“I never said he was cute.” She picked the dumbbells back up and started lunging again. She dipped until her back knee touched the floor. She forced her chest out, so that the shirt hung like a curtain around her tits.
“Just as well. I couldn’t go to Barthelona anyway. The little old man is totally blind now, and he’s starting to go senile. I need to change his wee wee pads. You know he’s 17? I’d never got one past 15 before, but this little guy just keeps on putting along. My friend says I need to put him down, but he’s fine most of the time. Next year though. We should go to Barthelona. Get some tapas. Drink some vino tinto. Go see Gaudi.”
I couldn’t imagine the hell of vacationing with Toad. Brat dropped her weights and went down to the floor. I could only see her pink trimmed sneakers bicycle kicking through the air. Toad just looked down over her.
“You got comfy. I know that you thought you were fooling everybody with those big sweaters. By the way, you did it all wrong. You quit drinking, but I saw you carbing up at lunch. A few of the girls joked around that it was only a matter of time before you two were gonna make an announcement.”
Brat sat up. “What kind of announcement?” It was the first time Brat looked Toad in the eyes.
“That things were going soooo great.” Toad flicked her fingers out and lightly brushed against the brat’s belly.
“I’m just teasing you. You weren’t getting big like that.” Toad had this gaping wide mouth, and small teeth. I could tell that Brat was repulsed.
“It’s just the winter weight.”
“I was kidding. You’re so damn sensitive. Look at me. If I were a bit younger I bet people would be asking me if I was gonna make an announcement.”
The brat walked behind me and started running on a treadmill two spots to my right.
“You’re running now?”
She pushed a button and I heard three beeps and the steady increase of a high pitched motor. Ten minutes without any conversation. Just the sounds of both our feet pushing off the tread and the occasional laugh or snort when Toad saw something she liked on her phone. Then a thin pregnant woman walked by. She was in her twenties and the rest of her body was still thin while this perfect sphere grew above her fleece pants. She got on the step machine in front of us and let her legs kick forward ever so slightly. She looked over.
Then Toad started. “Jesus, look at her. We get it. You’re pregnant, honey.” I just wanted her to shut up. I didn’t even want to eavesdrop anymore. I just felt bad.
“Like anybody cares. Anybody can get pregnant if they want. Hell, get me to the right doctor and I could probably get pregnant. Not that I could with work. The little old man’s about all the responsibility I’ve got time for.”
The brat hit the red emergency stop button on her treadmill and slid off the back end. I realized that I was looking over and quickly looked back up at the TVs.
“Hey, what’s going on?” Now Toad was concerned.
“I’ve gotta go home.”
“You okay?” I heard the shift in Toad’s tone. She lifted her voice and inched closer. The brat nodded.
“Let’s get out of here and get a coffee. There’s this bistro down the street. The owner’s got a thing for me. I think he’s married, but he gets me free espressos.”
“I’m a little sweaty for that.”
“Maybe he likes his women a little sweaty.” Toad leaned against the treadmill.
“You still haven’t seen my apartment. It’s right around here. You can use my shower if you need. Or whatever. I’m getting new furniture this summer.” She wouldn’t stop.
“You sure you’re feeling alright?” Toad’s voice shook. “We can order in.”
“I’m trying to lose weight.”
“One night won’t hurt anything. Chinese. A bottle of white. Talk about those bitches at work.”
The brat shrugged. “Summer is coming. I’ll see you at the office.”
She walked out. I looked out the window, hoping she’d walk past me, so I could take another look. I didn’t even care if Toad was watching me. Finally I saw her in those black yoga pants, with a green jacket around her puffy sweatshirt. She had her head down and walked against the wind. It looked like she was crying.