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Cardio Theater
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Cardio Theater

by Jessica Penot

I’m running again. It is all I can feel. The salty taste of sweat in my mouth. The rhythm of my feet pounding against the tread mill. My body in motion. Like a machine My heart pounding in my ears, drowning out all the noise around me. I can still hear the hum of the tread mill, but just barely The machine glows red, showing me everything I ever need to know. My heart rate. My speed. How many minutes it takes me to run a mile. It takes me eight. My body is in motion. Like a machine. All around me, in the surreal red light of the cardio theater, men and women run. We are consumed by the desire to be something God never meant us to be. I won’t have a period this month. I haven’t in years. Whatever I was meant to be is gone. My body is perfect, but no longer female. It is all tight lines and sinews. Lean muscles that cut angrily across my flesh. Tan skin, painted in the artificial glowing light of a tanning bed.

I am beautiful. They all want me. How could they not. Blue eyes glow out of a perfectly sculpted face. I always show just enough skin to reveal the body I’ve worked so hard to earn. I’ll never have sex. I’ll never have children, but everyone wants me. Like a statue or an idol. And still I’m running. I’ve already spent an hour doing weight training. Toning away any hints of fat, now back to the theater. The theater where we all run in the dark, mesmerized by the glowing movie screen blasting some movie in front of us. It is some shark movie today, where perfect people with perfect bodies battle some vague underwater menace. We watch them and remember why we run, because we need to be perfect.

I’ve lost track of time again. Sometimes I go into the cardio theater and I forget about anything else. It is strange. I look down and I realize I’ve been running for three hours. I should be concerned. I should be tired. I should be overwhelmed with apprehension about my dead end job in some office with no view. I should worry about being late. I’m always late. Maybe I keep my job because my boss likes my legs, or ass. I look around. We’ve all been running for hours now. The hiss of the machines is gone. Beautiful bodies pushing eternally forward and no one seems to notice that all of us have watched the same movie four times.

Even as I realize this, I can not stop. I have to keep going. The screen dims. The movie fades. There is only the red light now and the steady rhythm of our breathing. No one notices. The light that once spread out through the glass door, the only white light in the room, fades away. I sense fear, like some distant beacon, but I can not feel it. I do not want what I know is coming, but I am powerless to stop it. I’m consumed by the motion of my body. My perfect body, in an ocean of perfect bodies. The treadmills are gone now, but we still run. We run in the dark. We run into the void. We run from something behind us. Something we know will kill us if we stop. The other runners are afraid now. Their faces are twisted with anxiety and stress. The peace of the theater is gone. It has been replaced by dread and regret. I wonder how long I can run before I collapse, before my body just gives up. I don’t eat. How long before the energy in my starved body vanishes?

I have been running for years. Running to escape the fat little girl I used to be. Running in terror, from the imaginary monsters of my own psyche. We all have. All of us lost in that theater. It occurs to me as the first runners begin to fall, that maybe all the monsters tied up in our fears and yearnings and broken psyches striving to be something nature never meant us to be, have become tangible. Maybe the figurative has become literal and the death we have always craved has become real.

Copyright Jessica Penot 2006

Jessica Penot is a relatively new writer. She has been published in Nocturnal Ooze and Expressions Magazine and has stories in upcoming issues of Cthulhu Sex Magazine, Theater of Decay, and the Lightning Journal. She is a psychologist and has also had articles on post traumatic stress disorder published in scientific journals.

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