Theme VII: Body, “Sisyphus’s Machine”

By Nikolas Reda-Castelao

A treadmill elicits a silenced thudding when one’s foot strikes against the polymer strip. There is a crashing and contest of tertiary bodies, a fragile contraption supporting an awkward one as the runner jumbles electrons in their legs to escape the delta of the strip. Gabe couldn’t keep up with the demand of the strip and was launched into a detached door, smashed hard against the split pine. His body became a rogue orbit that was slung by the universe into cataclysm.

One time, Gabe found himself trapped under the maw of this machine, a robotnik seizing its autonomy. It grinded on his skin and tried to rip the fat off of him; it tenderized him and made him fear running in place. It squealed over his cries. There was no droning pound of foot on strip, but a stripping of foot as his ankle was caught in an awkward erection under the front of the treadmill. Luckily, that day, it was at 6 mph. The same thing that pulled him under the machine also saved him from a fearsome one.

Most of the time, though, when he is running, the thudding cannot be heard, like the screaming of a hundred lost souls between two continents. He is just blaring music in his ear to pacify and sanctify this endeavor to move forward whilst constantly being thrown back, and yet finding oneself never moving. When the music plays too long and too loud, he releases himself from the machine and the thudding plays back to him in his head, a punching at the skull from the brain. But his forehead never caves in because of the equal force applied by the outside world. The world fights at the ears and the eyes.

He sees what he is not. He is not a plastic-sealed, made for TV, aesthetic commodity of a man that has a geometry of perfect squares and angles to them; he is more a like a celestial body being thrown out of orbit by a rapacious treadmill. His biometrics are revelatory, his immune system the Cold War debutante, his strength a hairless Sampson. Yet, somehow, he is also permanently aware of which hole his belt buckles into. He is aware of the tension of fabric on his skin and he knows more than most men the way a body contours and interplays between astronomy and geometry. He has felt his loathing bubble in his throat in the middle of a run and make rancid offensive smells. He has taught himself to push them back down because if he does not run until his soles has been scraped thin, then he may as well not have ran.

He is unwilling to wait for his stomach to settle. He is very untrusting of the body’s communication skills. It is out to get him. It has Trojan horses hiding in his fitness, flaccid fat cells frantically fighting to fuck him. Fuck him at the Shakespearean defeats in the cafeteria. Fuck him when he goes to have “one last hurrah” and then he consumes a planet of food. Then it fucks him when that planet becomes a supernova and bursts, a pinprick singularity releasing loathing and consuming him with a black hole mind, reminding him:

He is forever running forward whilst being thrown back, and constantly being held in place.

He kept running, though, because one time in middle school he asked an acquaintance how to be attractive to women, and he was handed a comprehensive itemized list, 30 or so suggestions, with the 1st priority objective reading in glaring letters “Lose 80 lbs!”

At that age, that’s almost an entire person.

He thinks his eye blinks the way it does, and it does so in a way that is particularly sudden and hard, because the world is stinging. His hearing has been steadily going for years, but he theorizes that it’s just trying to hush out the backhand positivity. He takes what he wants to hear and accepts it, because he wants to take a break from running so much. He broke his knee from running so much. It was the same summer he drunkenly rambled on about how he was 175lbs of muscle just to discover that he was 210lbs of mistaken anguish. He ran with that knee until he was 168lbs of optimism and ran those fearsome speeds on that treadmill. He did, he was so brilliant. And then whenever he got off that treadmill, he limped because his knee was a geometrical equation trying to find the distance between the splinters of his cracked joints.

He could barely walk. He cried sometimes from how painful it was. His leg almost became unusable, just being thrown ahead of him, hoping to catch pavement so that he can drag himself forward. It wasn’t a hot pain, it was like white fire, and it was ice in the form of fragmentation grenades with nails belting again the lower right quadrant of his patella. It was a geyser of freezing water. He bathed in ice, which somehow hurt less because at least he could brave the gravity of Motion.

He thought it was worth it. He thought, ‘I may be in pain, but at least one day I will be desirable’. He was pretty poorly educated in the currency of affection. He was pretty reserved. He found solace in books, in thoughts, in non-physical things, in non-breaking things. In asking the surgeon the science of a menistoctemy and what the recovery process looked like. He was anxious about whether his optimism would be raped by the fat cells, lurking and rapacious. He worried about the tightness of his belt and how it would creep to his throat. That belt would latch onto the polymer of a fearsome treadmill, and then it will drag him under.

He remembers when he first set out to fight his own body and he was thrown, like Icarus, back onto the world for his hubris, for defying gravity, for defying the words of Newton, spoken to him like everyone woman he’s ever fallen for. Every time he steps on a treadmill, his scars glares at him and he confronts the swollen mass in the mirror, and he runs to battle once again.

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