It’s the bottom two buttons that concern you–how they buckle and oval twin lopsided windowpanes to your undershirt. Tucked snugly into your khakis, the bulged and stressed wrinkle of obese pentameter breaks along your waist. One button passes like a half moon into the buttonhole–tonal stripe cloud cover of wrinkle-free poplin when you sit at your desk. The reflex is to flex and straighten the posture–hug the muscle to the spine. Breathe. Always breathe. Hope no one notices. No one notices but everyone notices.
Smoke break by a dumpster. The smell of burnt sugar.
She sits you down, takes your hand in hers, and tells you that it’s noticeable. Dysfunction spills out of you in a languid, glacial, ennui. You breathe deep. Swallow hard. Turn red just beneath the surface. You recoil slightly. The wicker furniture strains beneath you. Your Romeo y Julieta robusto smoulders in a rusting ashtray. It dies a slow, ash-choked death. There is so much loss condensed in such few words it’ll take a long time for you to unpack it. For it to bleed out–like a gut shot. Mr. Orange dying in Reservoir Dogs. Someone could have saved you both the trouble. Hail of emotional gunfire. Count the shells. A rain of lead. You pour the molten cooling metal into a pint glass. Drink it down. You crawl along for another six months. A year? Longer? Why do things which kill you gradually never feel so much like death as you expect? Why does it cling so violently to your insides–choke you from the inside out without you knowing?
Packing boxes and a U-haul. Emergency room faces the city limits.
All you know is how this treadmill seemingly leads to nowhere. The television. The A.V. connection for your iPod. Your playlist. The sound of distortion drowning out your heart. Forty-five minutes later, you wipe down the machine. Your legs ache slightly. A steady incline of time and distance. Speed and elevation. You are surrounded by soccer moms and retired bankers. White collars and grey hair. Minivans and sportscars. Stretch marks and bald spots. Infidelity and immaturity. You feel your muscles untangle from the Gordian knot of neglect. Hot shower. Gravity prevails in your stretch. Breathe through your muscles, sink into the carpet. Melt into a couch.
Oil smokes in a wok. The white of this rice.
It’s always worse on airplanes. You’re slightly embarrassed but have gotten better at asking for the extender belt as soon as you get on board. The last time, the flight attendant didn’t even wait for you to ask. She passed it to you discreetly, a shared shame. You are the person no one wants to sit next to–spilling over the armrest, uncomfortably packed into already uniformly uncomfortable spaces. The commuter flight with a hang time of forty-five minutes felt like several lifetimes. Turboprop turbines spin and whirl loud enough to almost drown out the disgust of your neighbor. You will be woven into his trip narrative–the horrible flight story: long lines, surly TSA agents, overpriced water, and the fat bastard in 7A. You know this and all you can do is be the overstretched fabric in a patchwork of hours. He pushes past you on the escalator–so much hurry in so much waiting at baggage claim. Your luggage laps you on the conveyor belt. You will feel the full weight of your body on the Holiday Inn Express mattress. Box springs struggle against the plush corpulence. You will think about the wilted collar and exaggerated gestures of 7B as you fish another chicken wing out of the pooling hot sauce sea. You drink another beer, sit at the edge of this bed and feel your heart pound–a violence is going on just beneath your sternum. That hammer swings with a steady ferocity. Not so much a flutter as an escape. Not so much a warning. Not so much if but when.
Cabin pressure. Whiskey melts ice in a plastic cup.
They don’t know this other you. Neither does she. All she knows is this older version of you. There’s second-hand accounts from social media photos. She says she can see it in your face. Old friends noticed a difference when–but you don’t. Not really, anyway, but it’s more a matter of how you always saw yourself in a mirror. You don’t trust it. You can’t trust what you see, even if your clothes tell a different story. You understand what gradual feels like–it’s really how change marks your body. Those flashes of change aren’t really the kind of change that breeds familiarity, just contempt. Overnight. Over months. Overweight. Over waiting. Over it. Over and over and over again. A repetition but not a cycle. You will always overreact. Overthink. Over and over and over again. They don’t know this other you. Neither do you.
The whites of your eyes. Frozen egg rolls into frying pan.
Jim Warner is the Managing Editor of Quiddity International Literary Journal and Public Radio Program at Benedictine University and the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals including The North American Review, [PANK] Magazine, Midwestern Gothic, and The Minnesota Review. Follow him on twitter @whoismisterjim.