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Thursday, 23 June 2011


Jonathan decided to squeeze in an hour at the gym before the party.  He found the whole process a struggle but he had to be true to his ambitions to be a fit and healthy oldie rather than a couch potato.  In the changing rooms, he picked out a vacant locker and began to undress.  As ever, there was a mixed cocktail of aromas in the room, sweat mixed with chlorine, a hint of disinfectant and the occasional waft of aftershave or deodorant.  He could not decide whether or not he liked the smell, but he supposed that fitness needed some identifiable fragrance to make people feel that they were doing something noble and worthwhile.  It always reminded him of that Bonnie Tyler song about needing a hero “fresh from the fight”, all moist and glistening.  There was always a light, misty steam, condensation on the frosted windows and a wet floor.  It was what it was, a sanctum for sweaty people to feel good about themselves.
Jonathan was very self-conscious in the gym itself, the workout room, amongst die-hard muscle men and women who seemed to know all about the equipment, how it worked, what the digital screens were flashing, speed settings for treadmills and tension settings for rowing and stretching.  He felt inadequate, even clumsy, but always tried to act as if he knew what he was doing.  He would follow a routine of warming up by observing others with their lunges and posturing and doing his best to imitate when they weren’t looking at him.  The gym walls were mostly mirrors and Jonathan knew he had to be careful where he looked and for how long and with what kind of expression on his face.  He didn’t want to accused of gawping.  He was careful enough with his sideways glancing and acute timing, anticipating when someone might look at him and averting his eyes just at the right moment.  He had a brief stint on a rowing machine, ten minutes on the cycling equipment and a good thirty minutes walking, jogging, running, then walking again to ease down on a treadmill.  It suited him fine.  Others, particularly but not exclusively, men were pushing themselves to limits that Jonathan would never experience.  He told himself he was for toning not torture.
As he worked the treadmill, he thought about Sophie and decided to accelerate his moves to find her accommodation somewhere else.  He thought about Dot and her blatant idea that they would soon be a couple.  He pictured Annie, or Angelica as she preferred these days, and wondered why she had moved back to Maple Court.  There were plenty of other flats and houses she could have chosen.  What was she up to?  He concentrated a little more on Molly and their book collaboration that was going slowly but well enough.  He wished that his life was or would finally be as interesting as hers.  Perhaps the book would be his ticket to more and more contacts, and a new network of friends and acquaintances, media exposure and all that jazz.  But, as ever, when he had these flights of fancy, Jonathan drew back and looked at himself in the mirror for a quick physical appraisal.  His red face and sweat-stained tee-shirt brought him back to Earth. 
After the session, he walked back to the changing room.  Apart from a rather overweight man in the far corner, he was on his own.  The fat man was naked, fresh from the shower, and Jonathan eyed him as an educational lesson not to ever, ever, ever get into a condition like that.  He was gasping rather than breathing and trying to dry himself with a towel that was far too small for his physical expanse.  Jonathan unlocked his locker to get a bottle of shampoo.  Just as he reached in, he heard a crash.  He looked round and saw the fat man lying on the floor, his face a deep red and his huge chest pumping out then sucking in.  Jonathan opened the changing room door and shouted for help down the corridor before rushing over to the naked man.  He hadn’t a clue what to do, no first aid training to call upon, no natural instincts or inclination in medical matters.
“I’ve called for help,” he said to the man whose eyes were bulging as if trying to escape from his head.  “Try to breath slower.”  The man either ignored this request or was incapable of controlling his bodily functions.  Then, suddenly, he stopped moving, stopped breathing and lay still.  Jonathan felt panic.  He shouted again for help and before long an attendant arrived, assessed the situation and began to administer the kiss of life.  After several frantic minutes, the attendant leaned back, wiped his mouth and looked at Jonathan.  The shake of his head was enough of a signal that the man was dead.  Jonathan sat on a bench and looked at the body.  He felt utterly useless and helpless.
“If I had known about the kiss of life or a bit of first aid,” he asked the attendant, “would a few minutes have made all the difference?”  The attendant looked at him.
“Don’t beat yourself up, mate.  Who knows?  It happened and no amount of analyzing will change things.  It was his time.”  Jonathan wasn’t sure whether he agreed with the comment and he sat for a while with his head in his hands wondering about this man’s fate.
“You’ll need to stay to give the police a statement,” said the attendant.
“Of course,” replied Jonathan in a half-daze.  He sat and looked in the direction of the dead man’s body, now covered with a sheet and gulped in a sob.  How quickly things can end, how out of control we are to fate and how little we really value our time and what we do with it.  It took the experience of watching a man die to shake Jonathan into a more organized way of living.  He was determined to be more decisive to get things done and vowed on that gym bench, with death adding to the atmosphere to spur him into a new, more alert approach to life and living.

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