the short story project


The Protein Shake

“I take the hydrolysed whey protein. The partially pre-digested type,” he said. “Because you can’t compromise on this stuff, especially when it’s all too easy to fill your body with food that’s not natural or interfered with,”

Pre-digested? That can’t be an actual product? Perhaps in gyms around the world personal trainers are regurgitating chicken breasts into the mouths of their trainee’s like a bird feeding its young and calling it partially pre-digested protein.

“Here’s my licence,” I say, trying to steer the conversation back to its original course. “I can’t have been going more 30.” But, he tucks the piece of plastic into his notebook and leans into the window.

“The milk protein you get from those is fine,” he says, pointing to the glass bottle protein drink sat on the passenger seat that sparked this whole debacle. “But, dairy products aren’t good for the digestive system. It slows the metabolism down, so I try to steer clear,”

At least my priest has the professional courtesy to pretend to listen to me.

“I may have sped up slightly. But, it was just to overtake that taxi that was slowing down.”

“It’s because I’m cutting at the moment,” he says patting his stomach. “Got 2 weeks holiday coming up which means no fat or carbs.”

If I’d known this ahead of time I’d have dressed as a potato and be home by now.

“So if I did break the speed limit it can’t have been for long. But, if I did then I can’t apologise enough.”

“Don’t know about you, but after you’ve spent so long bulking, so long eating and eating and eating, that cutting is just torture.”

Is this actually a cry for help? If I ask him if everything’s all right will he cautiously look around before leaning into the window, tears forming in his eyes, grab my hand, nod towards the squad car and say “It’s the Sarge! The Sarge won’t let me eat anything other than grilled chicken breast and broccoli. He won’t let any of us eat anything that’s not plain and boring and completely fat free.” Before mouthing the words ‘Help me’.

“But, once you cut out all the crap, after a while your taste buds seem to reset. They start to pick out the subtleties of everything. Something like Chicken and Broccoli is like a full on orchestra in my mouth,”

When he says orchestra I can only assume he means a bunch of drunks singing round a burning barrel.

“I’m pretty sure that I can’t have been though. What speed did you clock me at?”

“And I’m scraping the isolation days and focussing on a more whole-body regime. The gains are so much better.”
If he states ‘And this is all possible because I let Jesus into my heart’ then at least my lawyer can plead extenuating circumstances.

“I think it’s because you’re hitting more than one muscle group at once. Just look at this,” he says pulling the material on his trousers tight around his thigh. “Since I’ve been squatting, you can see the bulk I’ve put on. And that’s not even flexing,”

I can only guess that, for some reason, I didn’t do a good enough job of masking my indifference. Being presented with a chicken leg wrapped in polyester can do that to a man I guess. But, something in my reaction seems to startle him.

“Yeah, well,” he says with a stutter, fidgeting awkwardly. “I’ve been focussing on strength, not size. Hypertrophy kicks in between 10 and 12 reps, so getting the size won’t be difficult,”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m sure it won’t,”

“It won’t be,” he snaps. “My stamina’s already there, it’s just a case of changing my workout. Watch this,”

He steps back and starts doing squats there by the side of the road. His gaze not shifting from me with every deep lunge he makes. I have a sense memory of Sunday school.

“This really isn’t necessary,”

Between deep, heavy gasps for air I think I hear him mention something about Hafsor Bjornsson not quitting. Which I assume is a reference to some kind of religious text.

“I’m serious, you really don’t have to…”

But, we’re down the rabbit hole as he shifts from doing squats to press ups. But, not just ordinary press-ups, he starts doing the type where you have to launch yourself upwards into the air and stretch your arms out in front. The first one is impressive, but the remaining two are, shall we say, lacklustre.

 Then his high-vis jacket, stab proof vest and belt are in a bundle on the floor, and he’s trying to throw his legs up into a handstand. I mutter something about him needing to take a breath test because he’s stumbling about so much, but it falls on deaf ears.

He does a standing jump up onto my car (not that he knows, but I mark him down for not locking his knees out), then slides down the bonnet onto the floor disappearing out of sight, only to reappear bear crawling back to the pavement.

A short sprint takes him to a playground where pull ups – both underhand and overhand he makes clear to point out – are completed on the monkey bars. A crowd of inquisitive 10-year-olds gather round asking him relentlessly what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. They don’t get an answer. Until, the loud one of the group finds the officers heaped possessions, takes the Taser and shoots 50,000 volts into the cop’s buttocks. Then he’s calling them all types of names.

The group gathers round him and watches with silent fascination as he flaps around like a fish out of water. The loud one taking a disturbing pleasure in making the poor guy dance for him. I let him get two good zaps in before I intervene and help him back to the car.

Sat perched on one buttock on the back seat, he’s pale and his hands are shaking so I ask if he wants something to drink, but I only have the protein drink to hand. He grabs it with both hands and chugs the lot.

“I’m sorry,” he says, handing the empty bottle back. Some colour returning to his cheeks. “I’ve probably ruined your nutrition for the day.”

“Dude,” I say laughing, squeezing in next to him. “Look at me,”

He looks from me to my car and back again. An expression passes over his face as a wave of realisation hits him. The fragments of evidence picked up by his subconscious over the course of our conversation finally coalescing: My specially modified car; my walking stick; my 300lbs of belly fat hanging down to my knees.

“I bought that because it was the only chocolate milk available. But, can I offer a word of advice?” Embarrassed, he runs a hand over his face and nods. “Give yourself a break. You’re in great shape already, do you really need to go further? Being fit and healthy is great, but is it the be all and end all? What is life if all you’re aiming for is to look good in a pair of swimming trunks in front of people you’re only going to see for two weeks? Two weeks out of your entire life. It just feels like a hell of a lot of compromise for precious little reward. Everything in moderation.”

“You’re right. You’re so right,” he says coming to life again.

I pat him on the back. “Don’t sweat it. Nobody’s perfect. I’m just glad I could help. Now, get yourself off. Go for a drink or something. Anything but the gym.”

I offer him my hand, but he leans in and embraces me. He says something softly, but he’s pressed so firmly into my tits I can’t make out what’s said.

We shake hands, and he tentatively drives away. I breathe a sigh of relief. He’s heading off to bore somebody else now. And didn’t discover the 10 kilograms of heroin stashed under the backseat of my car.


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