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By S. F. Wright

Bill had always been big; in high school, he’d played linebacker. But upon finishing college, finding a job, and getting married, he spent most of his free time watching football, baseball, and basketball; and eating. He and his wife favored buffets and chain restaurants.

One night, unable to sleep, Bill watched an infomercial: a muscular man named Ken Jakes, in a solemn, motivational voice, related stories of out-of-shape men who’d transformed their lives by following his training program, while before-and-after photos displayed flabby, meek-looking men next to their new, robust, sinewy selves, allegedly months after starting Ken Jakes’ program. One of these men was then profiled. As poignant, inspirational music played, the man spoke about being 80 pounds overweight and miserable, until he started Ken Jakes’ program. The man was now in the best shape of his life, felt wonderful, and was in a great relationship. A photo appeared of the man (buff and shirtless in swim trunks), smiling, his arm around a bikini-clad, buxom brunette, who looked 15 years his junior.

In bed, Bill lay awake thinking about the woman in the bikini, while his wife snored a few feet away.

Bill bought Ken Jakes’ book. He thought about joining a gym but instead—to his wife’s surprise—purchased a bench press and weight set. He read Ken Jakes’ dietary suggestions and began monitoring what he ate.

At first, the workouts weren’t just hard but grueling; Bill would wake up an hour earlier every morning. He ate healthier, preferably foods high in protein. When he and his wife went out, he was selective about what he ordered.

After a few weeks, there was noticeable change; after a couple of months, Bill looked fit. People at work complimented him. His wife, in bed or when Bill got out of the shower, would touch his biceps.

Bill wanted to get into even better shape; and he wanted more on top of that. What that was he didn’t define to himself, until one evening at the Barnes and Noble (where he’d stopped to check out Ken Jakes’ companion cookbook), he saw it: a young woman with brown hair, firm buttocks, full breasts, and a fairly pretty face (with perhaps too much makeup that maybe hid a poor complexion—but so what) smiled at him.

Bill hesitated—but then reminded himself of how fit he looked.

Her name was Amy; they met for coffee the following weekend and then went to her place (she lived in the lower half of her parent’s two-family house). Bill had never felt so alive, so virile. They’d meet often on Saturdays; Bill would tell his wife that he was going for a jog or to the GNC.

His wife began to suspect, Bill knew. It broke his heart when he realized that she was scared to confront him. But then she did, and he felt justified in feeling annoyed. At first, he denied it; then, he admitted it.

He got his own apartment, bringing his weights and bench press. He continued seeing Amy; meanwhile, the divorce was finalized. Then Bill and Amy broke up; she told him that she was getting back together with her boyfriend. Bill was sadder than he’d have expected. But then he met Claire: blonde, younger than Amy, stouter but in a muscular way, with small yet firm breasts. And she was better in bed than Amy.

Bill continued lifting. The highlights of his week were the way he’d feel after his workouts and while and after fucking Claire. He felt if not invincible, then something like complete.

One day, he ran into his wife at a Starbucks. She was with a dumpy, smiling bald man. She’d lost weight, but not much. She was pleasant to Bill; but Bill sensed that she sensed him judging her body.

Then Claire left. But shortly thereafter, Bill met Paula: lithe, strong, kinky; sometimes during sex, Bill, despite his physical shape, feared he’d have a heart attack.

Work went on, women came and went, weightlifting continued. Bill had gotten his first silver hairs a few years ago; now he was almost completely gray. But he had all his hair; and he was still muscular. Sometimes, he’d wonder how long could he keep this up. But then he’d think of his weights, the girl he was with—or the next one.

S.F. Wright lives and teaches in New Jersey. His work has appeared in Hobart, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, and Elm Leaves Journal, among other places. His short story collection, The English Teacher, is forthcoming from Cerasus Poetry, and his website is


Fiction, The River

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