The Gym (London 1993)
18+ "Come on, Winnie, push." Winston arched his back and strained against the bar. "Push!" The muscles in Winston's arms and chest burned. He closed his eyes, let out a primal roar and fully extended his arms. The weights rattled for a moment before Winston steadied the bar. "Yes!" shouted the trainer and helped guide the bar onto the bench press rests. "Well done, Winnie, that's a PB."
Winston sat up and smiled. Sweat streamed down his face. He savoured its bitter, sweet taste on his lips and waited for his lungs to stop heaving for oxygen. "Man, that felt good," Winston said, standing up and swinging his arms in wide-stretching circles. "What's next?" he asked the trainer.
"Have a break for a few minutes. Catch your breath, rehydrate, and I'll set up your last weights. Okay, champ?"
Winston fist-bumped his trainer, who handed him his towel, and he headed to the rest area. As he walked through the gym, towelling the sweat from his body, Winston eyed his pumped-up muscles in the full-length mirrors lining the walls. He paused and struck a body-builder pose in front of the mirror.
"Looking good," Winston smiled at himself and carried on to the rest area.
"You want a drink, Winnie?" asked the gym attendant behind the counter.
"Yeah, something cold, refreshing and light," Winston replied. "I've got one set to go."
The attendant nodded. "When's your next big race?" he enquired, reaching into the fridge for a sports drink.
"Indoor Championships, in two weeks," Winston responded, giving his brow a final rub with the towel.
"Reckon you'll do okay?" the attendant asked, placing the drink bottle on the counter.
Winston's eyes narrowed. He grabbed the bottle, unscrewed the top, and took a long, slow sip before answering. "Not only am I going to do okay," he said, emphasising his words with a pointed finger, "I'm going to win, and I'm going to set a new world record."
The attendant blushed. "Sorry, Winnie, I didn't mean to, err, um—"
"It's cool, man," Winston cut him off mid-apology and smiled. "No offence taken." He turned away and carried his drink to a table on the far side of the rest area. A vein in his temple throbbed, not from the bench press, but with seething anger. Winston had lied—he had taken offence. When would people have more faith in him? Hadn't he proved himself a champion? When would he get the respect he deserved?
Winston rubbed the vein in his temple and reflected on the source of his unpopularity. He blamed the media. Too often newspapers headlined the darker side of his life, relegating his successes to the inside back pages. It was the same with the TV and radio news.
Winston had been a late-comer to international athletics, but like his races, he'd made up ground on his rivals fast. That's how he lived life, fast. As a kid, Winston had regularly won inter-school competitions. Teachers encouraged him to join an athletics club. But young Winston hadn't needed a track to perfect his sprinting. Running from the cops gave him all the practise he needed to win those schoolboy races.
And then one day, after snatching a handbag, his speed and luck failed him: Winston tripped and fell. "Bloody hell, son, you're quick," the panting cop had told him, slapping cuffs on his wrists. "You ought to put your talent to good use. You're wasting it in crime."
As he'd done with his teachers, parents and even the parish priest, all of whom had said the same thing at one stage or another, Winston sneered at the cop's advice. They were establishment figures, and the gang he hung out with hated the Establishment. His life of crime would have continued and likely escalated. But on that day, the cop put Winston in a holding cell with a busted-faced ex-boxer.
"You want to end up like me, boy?" the old man had asked him. "If I'd stayed out of trouble, I could have been a world champion. I could have earned millions. Instead, I've spent the best years of my life in jail, using my fists to fight for packets of smokes. Wise up, boy. You've got a gift from God. Use it!"
The judge handed Winston a suspended sentence with a "last chance" warning. He heeded the judge and his ex-cell mate and joined an athletics club. To his surprise and frustration, Winston wasn't an instant success. He needed coaching and a disciplined approach to fitness, diet and mental preparation. "You want to be the fastest," his coach told him, "you need to be the strongest."
Winston listened to his coach, followed the training program, and joined a gym. He was soon dominating regional track events and attracting the attention of national talent spotters. When Winston debuted internationally, the newspapers nicknamed him, "The Meteor", as much for his meteoric rise in athletics, as for his scorching speed on the track.
But despite his new life in athletics, Winston did not sever links with his old gang. And his occasional brushes with the law still made more news than his triumphs on the track. It left him angry and determined to be stronger and faster.
Winston tossed the empty drink bottle in a bin and walked back to the weights area. He had rested too long and felt tight, so he stretched and warmed up in front of the mirrors. Winston flexed his limbs and smiled at the bulk and definition of his muscles. He liked the powerful image in the mirror. And the thought that after the Indoor Championships, he would be on the front page of all the newspapers. And on the TV and radio news.
The hours he'd spent training, his diet, his mental preparation, his strength and conditioning, would come together in a few blistering seconds on the track. It would all be worthwhile, even the risks he'd taken in the gym, to finally gain the respect he deserved from the media and public. And the Establishment!
Winston noticed his trainer nodding at him in the gym mirror. "Looking good, champ."
"Feeling good, man," Winston responded, tensing his body and flexing his biceps. "And in two weeks," he added, "I'll be feeling even better."
© 1994, 2019 Robert Fairhead
Sydney, NSW, Australia.
A middle-aged dad and dog owner, Robert is an editor and a writer for Tall And True and blogs at RobertFairhead.com. He enjoys reading, writing, playing the guitar, walking his dog, and watching Aussie Rules Footy with his son. Robert has worked as an electrician, sales and marketing rep, computer programmer, dog trainer and (wanna-be) writer. He also had a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.
As I wrote recently (Tall And True blog post, November 2019), I started working on Both Sides of the Story for the Ian St James Awards in February 1994. It was my third submission to the annual awards, the UK's biggest fiction prize for unpublished writers.
The idea for the short story came to me while working out in a gym. The news at the time was full of stories about people for whom the public (including me) had little sympathy. Phil Collins' Both Sides of the Story music video was on the gym TV, and it got me wondering: could I show both sides in my short story?
And so I set about writing four vignettes and a fifth piece to pull them together—Westminster, Bosnia, A Council Flat, and The Gym are the vignettes. You'll have to wait for the final piece that links and resolves these stories.
In the meantime, let me know what you think of my attempt to show both sides of a story.