by John F Musser, SSC | April 08, 2020

gym bag and bike

Sonny opened the car door wide, worked both legs around and out of the vehicle. He grabbed the top of the door with one hand and the frame with the other and pulled himself up. His pants were soaked. He had not known his bladder had emptied until he felt the wetness and smelled urine. Lightning streaked down both legs, and the searing flame in his useless flopping right foot was the only indication it still belonged to him. 

He hobbled down the concrete walkway to his front door. His stomach hung over his belt, his pale belly visible in the gap between his now-untucked button-down oxford and pants. Sonny hoped his son and daughter-in-law were in their basement apartment. His face burned with the thought of them discovering a fat old man who couldn’t hold his water. 

His son Caden never left home, and he'd moved his wife Grace in, way before she became his wife. The plan was for them to save up for a down payment on a house. But the boy needed a truck, and he was trying to get his wife pregnant, so he had to have a newer, safer SUV. He seemed in no hurry to leave. 

Sonny could hear the tinkling of the bell while he was still on his porch. Sonny’s father was ringing the small crystal bell with one hand and pointing at the closet with the other. He stopped shaking the bell and continued to point when Sonny limped into the room. Lately, if the blinds were open, he would point out the window. Blinds closed, he would point at the closet. Sonny had no idea what the faded green eyes saw. 

The old man’s arm was shaking, and a small amount of drool had pooled in his open mouth and drained down his chin. Sonny walked to the closet door and there was nothing except all the things a closet collects in forty or so years. A shirt, still on the hanger, was laying on the floor. Maybe one of the caretakers who came during the day knocked it down. Sometimes they dug around for things to steal – Sonny didn’t mind, they took pretty good care of his Dad. 

Sonny stared at the shirt – bending over was too much right now. He drug his foot against something when he turned. He looked carefully, it was an old pair of boots. He recognized them. Ten-inch tall, seven-ounce full-grain leather lace-up with a thick sole and solid heel. It had been a long time. He kicked them deeper into the closet and turned back to see the old man lower his arm in disgust.


Sonny was behind his desk when Virginia walked in, and he hoped the young girl could not smell the stink of pain and weakness. 

“I’m saving up for college. I am going to be a vet!”  

She was terribly young, and Sonny saw the fabric on one of her Chuck Taylors was pulling away from the sole.  

“It's a lot of forklift work, moving rolls of carpet and pallets of paint. We are looking for someone with experience.”  

She looked at him with such earnestness and hope that Sonny could not meet her eyes.  

“I live three blocks away. Right beside those storage units. During lunch I have to take Puppy for a walk. I use a towel to pick him up because his back legs don’t work very well.” 

Her gaze was intense, demanding his attention. Sonny lifted his briefly.  

“I've had him since I was four. You want to see his picture?” 

Sonny stared at his desk and Virginia said nothing. Pressured by the silence, Sonny nodded. With his face burning red, she made him promise not to scroll as she handed him her phone.  

“He's always smiling. Looks like he is grinning at you, doesn’t he?” 

Sonny wanted to cry, but tears were denied by the pills. He clasped his soft hands together to keep them from shaking. 

“One of my Mom’s boyfriends stole a fork truck when I was eight and kept it behind our trailer. He was more interested in me than her, so when he smelled a certain way I would sleep outside. If I can hook up that carpet dick and pick up one of those cans of semi-gloss with out crunching it, do I get the job?”


With agility gifted only to the young, Virginia hopped off the Forklift and walked to where Sonny was sitting on some stacked cases of paint. Sonny’s shirt was pulled tight over his belly and chest, his head down, chin lost in the folds of his neck. 

Virginia handed him an envelope. Sonny looked at her, confused.  

“It's the change and receipt for the safety boots last month. You said it was included in my package.” 

Sonny shook his head slightly. 

“Money. It’s money. You reached in your pocket and peeled two Benjamins off your roll and said it was petty cash.” 

Sonny tried to look up, but it was too hard. She looked right at him, not to the side, not a nervous smile and nod, not through him as if he didn't exist – she looked right at him. Virginia standing was eye-to-eye with Sonny sitting. She saw the bald spot on his head shining through the few wisps of hair, his breathing ragged, hands clasped in front of him.  

She reached out and firmly laid hands on him. One on each shoulder. Her eyes narrowed a bit. She poked at him with her fingers, digging around without permission. She balled up her tiny fists and pounded lightly on his neck where it sloped to his shoulders. 


Sonny continued to look at the floor, and Virginia thunked him harder with her fists, less careful, more deliberate.  

Your an old bulldozer rusting away in the field. 

She put both her hands on his soft unformed cheeks and tilted his face up. When Sonny’s eyes stayed firmly fixed on the floor, she tilted his head back further. She kissed him gently on his forehead. She smiled at him easily. 

“Hey, Big Man, did you used to work out?  My ex-fiancee said he did in high school and told me he benched four hundred.” 

Sonny smiled. Keeping one hand on his shoulder, Virginia squeezed in beside him. “What was your bench?” 

For some reason Sonny told her, then with increasing uncertainty about why he was still talking, he explained that the bench wasn’t his best lift, but he had a good squat, a serious deadlift, and as much as he hated it, the press was what really counted. 

“ know?” Sonny knew Virginia didn’t, but she listened and didn’t cut him off or talk over him, and she smiled for him to continue. Sonny wasn’t sure what to say, so they sat quietly. He hoped she would never know that the old man she was sitting with couldn’t make it home with out pissing himself. 

“I wish I could have seen you lift.” Sonny mumbled that he heard there were some old videos of him on the internet, but he was never able to...Virginia’s phone was in her hand, her thumbs flying. Virginia looked very pleased with herself as she walked around the warehouse and invited everyone to the break room. It was easy to gather around Virginia – she had time for everybody. 

Even though they were much older, the guys at the warehouse found themselves asking her advice on the oddest stuff – “Hell, I don’t know. See what Virginia thinks!” 

When she first arrived, one of the guys told his wife he didn’t think Virginia had much extra. Taking care of her dog, household expenses, saving for school, he didn’t think there was much left. “I don’t think she's eating right… Maybe we could fix up a little more in the evening? I could bring it in and give it to her like they were leftovers.” 

“From what you told me, she would spot that in a minute. Start grilling at night, make plenty for everyone the next day. We will do it a couple of days a week. Pretty soon a bunch of those good old boys and girls will start flexing their cooking muscles, and one of the geeks will have a spread sheet covering who brings what when and all of you will eat just fine.” 

So when Virginia gathered everyone in the break room, there was plenty to eat, and they were all happy to see each other and were much closer than before they started sharing food. Sonny had decided at least some time was spent talking about work, so he had changed the policy on clocking out during meals. 

Virginia was clearly comfortable leading this event, and everyone waited patiently as she got her phone connected to the big screen. She made eye contact, smiled, called them by name and maybe touched their shoulders or bumped them with her tiny hip. 

“Everybody feast your eyes on the Big Man!”  

It didn’t take long for them to figure out what and who they were watching, and then cheers and shaking heads in amazement and fixing Sonny a plate, and asking Virginia to back something up so they could see it again, and laughing, and for a short time Sonny was almost okay.


It was Sonny’s turn to walk Puppy. One of the supervisors had created a sign up sheet, so the old hound could get out about every two hours. Understanding that it was important for everyone to see the boss participating, Sonny was the first to sign up. 

Okay, he will howl once when you unlock the door to Virginia’s little apartment. Then simply follow the sound of his tail thumping the floor and he will gruff and snort when you round the corner. A little belly and ear scratching, some slightly distasteful clean up in the apartment, and you're out the door.   

Bent over from the hips, holding a big dog up wasn’t easy.  But when it seemed too much, Puppy would look over his shoulder and grin or move his front legs in a bit of a dance, like he was really going to take off. 

Sonny heard clanking sounds he had almost forgotten.  He crossed the street and headed through the gates of the storage facility.  Passing several closed garage doors, they eventually stopped outside an open one. 

The music was loud and the sun at Sonny’s back cast the interior in extremes of light and dark. Sonny squinted, and the little storage space with all the barbell equipment seemed very far away. 

After a bit one of the men walked out and offered Puppy a bite of what looked like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  His shaved head gleamed in the harsh sunlight and his skin was darker than Sonny thought possible. The man stared directly into the brightness of the day. He wore high-waisted baggy hammer pants tight at the ankles, and a t-shirt with the neck and sleeves cut out, a fanny pack with a pull tab hung low on his hips.  He stood easily in his unlaced Timberlands. 

He told Sonny his name. 

“The Babtist or The Revelator, you decide.  Next time, bring your shit with you.”


Sonny had just rolled his old man back on the mattress protector and tidied the blankets a bit, when his father cleared his throat.  

“Your wife stopped by today, sat right there on the foot of the bed and visited a nice long time. She wasn’t wearing that ball cap, hell no. Her hair is all growed back in. She looked so young, like when you two first met. She kissed me right here, on my forehead.” Sonny patted his father’s hand and saw his green eyes were clear and bright.  

“She must have heard you rooting around in the closet, she said to let you know your gym bag is sitting on your bike in the garage where you left it.” 

The old man lifted his arm and pointed out the window. It had been so many years since he heard his Father speak, Sonny knew he had imagined it. Perhaps Sonny was losing his mind, just like his Dad had. 

Sonny stood beside the bed for a long time. Then he gently lifted a long red hair off the stubble on his father’s cheek. Still holding the thick strand of hair in his hand, he walked into the kitchen, picked up the basket of medicines on the counter and flung them into the woods on his way to the garage.


Sonny stared at the picture for a long time.  His son wandered up out of the basement and walked over to him. 

“Hey, where are your medicines? I got a killer headache. Is that you and Mom?  Where did you find it?” 

“It’s been sitting on the mantle in the living room beside her ashes since you were about six-months old. You used to kiss it at night before you went to sleep.”


John had taken a knee to help Sonny get his lifting shoes on. “We gonna start with deads, you know that.” 

“I can’t, John. I can’t even cough with out shitting myself.” 

“Here you go Sonny, little wider grip, get your knees out, shove your gut down between your legs, big breath! You know this Sonny, tight tight tight, drive with your feet!” 

Sonny pitched forward when he pulled and dropped the bar, and if not for the guys grabbing him he would have fallen down. 

“John I can’t do this. My feet hurt bad, and 135 kicked my ass.” 

“Sonny, you keep coming back, everyone is here for you. You're gonna be good.”


Sonny saw his VP carrying a large round pillow-looking thing into the break room and asked him what he was up to.  

“Its a bed for Puppy. It makes more sense for him to stay in the break room during the day when Virginia is working. He can sleep in when she comes in early, then one of us can go to her place and walk him here.” 

 Sonny stared at him. “Who you got lined up to manage the build-out?” 

“I’m gonna do it, Sonny, and don’t you have a bunch of tests scheduled at the hospital today?” 

“Pay as we go – we don’t have the cash, so we wait till we do. Better pick someone to run it, your gonna have more on your plate pretty soon. And listen, the dog can’t stay in the break room, someone might complain, better put him in my office, close to the desk.” 

“Sure boss, whatever you say.”


Sonny, with his ancient gym bag over his shoulder and towel walking Puppy, was headed to train when the little Honda hopped the curb and came straight at them.  

When Sonny opened his eyes he didn’t know how long he had been out, but he was on the ground and his face was wet, and he just knew the dog was dead and he was covered in blood, and had been too weak and slow to save his little friend. 

The hound licking his face indicated otherwise. 

“Shoulda seen that big old man! He saw that car and he was all like...BAM! Done snatched that giant dog up...BAM again, Jumped way up in the air and then floating and turning all cool like this ain’t my first rodeo bitch, then BAM AGAIN crashed into the windshield and on the ground. Arms wrapped around that dog the whole time!” 

Sonny could hear a siren, and he could see the guys from the gym headed toward him from one direction and the work crowd from another. 

Deputy Dan the Dick from the gym was out in front. He had his uniform pants and boots on, bare chested, and running with his gun belt slung over his shoulder.  He knelt down and put a hand on puppy and placed his lips close to Sonny’s ear. 

“Pussy! Anything to get out of squat day.” 

Virginia helped Sonny sit up and watched as he refused transport from the rescue squad and wouldn’t sign a release. Dan the Dick offered to sign for him, and the pretty EMT saw he had written his phone number in the signature block. Dan flexed a bit as she stared at him. 

Sonny’s daughter-in-law Grace was waiting at the door when Virginia, the guys from the gym, and the puppy helped him in.  She hugged Virginia, and thanked her for looking out for Mr. Sonny. She bathed Sonny’s face and head with a clean white cloth and some warm water from a small crock basin.  The water turned dark with blood. 

“Mr. Sonny, you may have broken your nose again. Like the old days?” 

After a couple drinks, the guys from the gym left, but Virginia was in no hurry and it was the most natural thing in the world for Grace to invite her to stay. The old puppy settled in on the floor in the living room, and Virginia went to Sonny’s closet to find a shirt to sleep in. 

Virginia returned to the living room with a shirt in one hand and Sonny’s old boots in the other. “Your Dad pointed these out when he saw me go by.” 

Sonny was in the guest room, where he had been sleeping for the last ten years or so since he moved his Father in. The moon shining through the window cast deep shadows. Virginia was standing in the doorway. The shirt she wore glowed white and brushed the top of her bare feet. Her hair was down and moving, touched by a breeze not there. The room went dark as clouds passed in front of the moon, and when it emerged Virginia was gone.


Sonny slept the entire night. In the morning, he laced up his boots and left. His VP was waiting for him in the office. 

“Virginia is not headed to college in the fall, she doesn’t have the cash. She wants as much over-time as she can get. And Sonny, your Doctor has left a bunch of messages, you gonna ever call the guy back?” 

Sonny sat quietly behind his desk. 


Caden was waiting for Sonny when he got home. 

“Where is Grace?” 

“Not here. Dad, I need to talk to you about a couple things. You been late getting home, puts a lot of stress on us. You need to think about your family, and you shouldn’t be exercising with all the stuff wrong with you. Sometimes Grandad needs something after those ladies leave, and I have to come all the way up the steps when he rings the bell. Also, Grace told me that girl spent the night last month when you fell down. Grace doesn’t like her much.” 

Sonny shook his head, looking at the floor. “Your wife worked nights and doubles on weekends, serving booze to drunks to put herself through school, and you expect me to believe she has trouble with a woman who has dirt under her fingernails from working all day?” 

“No, she didn’t exactly say that. But you know Grace isn’t that person anymore.” 

Sonny studied Caden. Caden had never had to sling five gallon buckets of block filler or spread tar on a roof when he was a kid. Caden never had to pay a mortgage. Caden never had to bounce at a strip joint to make payroll for people whose family depended on them for a paycheck. 

Caden never had to hold his young wife after she decided to have a baby and delay the treatment that might have saved her life. Caden never had to worry about anything. And none of that was Caden’s fault. 

“I haven’t been fair to you, son.” 

Caden sort of waved his hand in dismissal, and Sonny sat quietly and watched him send a few texts and then walk down the steps.


John was not sympathetic. 

“Okay Sonny, get your shit together.” 

“I ain’t got it today.” 

“Fuck you, lift the weight.” 

Sonny stepped up to the bar, bent over and grabbed it, and just like the old days started the pull. It took a long time to break free, then even longer to get just below his knees. Sonny’s body started to shake hard, and the bar slowed to a crawl. He started seeing those little lights floating in front of him, and the shaking got worse. But he had been here many times before, and with blood flowing from his nose and maybe a newly cracked molar he stood up with the weight. 

He could hear his friends screaming at him and Virginia’s voice rang through clearly. Sonny figured he was pretty close to passing out, because he thought for sure he saw someone laughing and whispering with Virginia, someone with long red hair. 


Sonny and Deputy Dan the Dick where the only ones left in the gym. 

“Know a good lawyer?” 

“Sure Sonny. Hookers or blow?” 

Sonny told him what he needed. 

“Yeah, that was my third guess.” 


Virginia had posted his deadlift, and Caden was waiting for him when he got home. 

“Pretty reckless of you. Think of someone other than yourself, Dad.” 


It was a cool morning when Sonny walked out to the garage, and started his bike up. He sat on it and stared at the closed garage door while the fumes filled the small space.


Virginia was sitting on the floor beside Puppy. She had a single piece of paper in her hand, and she was careful not to let her tears fall on the note. She smiled gently as the guys gathered around and waited patiently for her to share the rest of her story. 

“It’s going to be okay.” Grace, Caden and the Deputy watched the ambulance leave. The lights were flashing, but there was no hurry.


Caden was frantically trying to read through a stack of documents in his hand. 

“I don’t understand… he sold our house, set up some trusts? It looks like he has a new will. Now this.  I can’t believe it.” 

Deputy Dan the Dick shrugged and smiled at Grace. Caden was trying to text and juggle the papers. 

“We got nothing.” 

“You got ninety days to find a place, right?” 

Caden gestured at the long-gone ambulance. “He even had Grandpa hauled off to a nursing home. It’s pretty nice, costs a fortune, you know. Sort of a package thing, what ever level of care you need. They hire a lot of the guys for security...wear a polo shirt, ride around in a golf cart...everybody there seems to like the place...” 

Grace was watching Caden carefully. “Caden, lets go. We'll get your Grandfather settled in. Mr. Sonny gave me power of attorney for a bunch of this. And stop trying to text him – he left his phone in the garage. Along with a lot of other stuff.”


“Is it going to rain Mom? You see those big clouds?” 

“It may rain, baby, but it'll be fine. Besides, you see that sun shining through up there? We might make it before it hits.” 

“Look at that guy on the motorcycle, Mom! He’s a giant! Look at him, his arms are bigger than me! Look at all those tattoos!” 

The young boy waved frantically as the bike pulled alongside the car. The Big Man smiled and waved back, pausing a bit, before he eased onto the throttle and was gone. 

“You think he is going to get rained on? Will he be all right?”

“Baby, did you see that Big Man? I can tell you for sure that
he's been through worse storms than this.”

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