I want to get big, I told him.

He tapped his pen on his clipboard: complimentary fitness consultation, the form said. I could see his list: pushups, chest presses, flys, something about a pulldown. What did computers have to do with this? The middle of January and he was wearing shorts, tennis shoes, a polo shirt with Fitness Plus embroidered, in a perfect arc, across one side of his chest. He had great…pecs? I wasn’t sure of the right language. A nametag: Dave, Certified Personal Trainer. How does one get certified? I demand to see your papers.

Fitness training must be a bulk business, I said. He didn’t laugh.

Do you have more specific goals? he asked. Sticking to the script.

I want bigger arms.

Biceps? Triceps? Forearms?


He scribbled notes I couldn’t read, then held them to his chest when he saw me looking: a secret bodybuilder’s code?

I want to look good in a tank top this summer, I said. I want to wear one of those shirts with the arms torn off, the ragged edges left behind, like the guys on those cable shows who pick up speedboats that have been repossessed.

We’ll see what we can do.

Dave showed me how to do dumbbell curls, tricep presses, forearm lunges, skull crushers. Three sets, twelve reps each. It should burn, he said. You’re tearing the muscle down, then building it up again. It’s a cycle. Trust me, it works. And protein. You can’t get enough protein. Fish should be your middle name. He looked at me for the first time. He had hard blue eyes, like steel.

The next day it was hard to pick things up, including the phone. But I wanted to do it all again. I wanted to rip everything apart.

Dave speaking.

I want to do more arms. They’re still burning.

Who is this?

Sign me up. I’ll be there in an hour.

I’m booked until three weeks from Wednesday. Then something about “setting up a time” with Susan.

Does Susan know arms?

Excuse me?

I hung up.

I never went back, but it still happened. I started with soup cans, then bags of flour and encyclopedias, added pull ups, hanging from the rafters in the garage, finally the front end of my car. I was eating tuna around the clock; the neighbor’s cat waited for me by the back steps when I came home from Sam’s Club. Before long, nothing fit anymore, but who really needs sleeves?

One day I went to show Dave. I had to squeeze through the door sideways; club goers in their spandex shorts and Under Armor shirts were swept aside in my wake. When I found him he was showing a skinny middle-aged man how to do a correct sit-up.

What do you think, Dave? I curled my arm. It didn’t burn anymore. He reached out to touch it.

I have my own nametag now.



Gary Eldon Peter’s short stories have appeared in Water~Stone Review, Great River Review, River Oak Review, Blithe House Quarterly, and other publications. His awards include a Loft-McKnight fellowship and two Minnesota State Arts Board grants. He earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and is currently a faculty member at the University of Minnesota, where he teaches in the College of Education and Human Development.