Friday, February 19, 2010

Today, in the manner of Alexander McCall Smith

It's a great exercise to try to write in the style of an author you know well. I'm currently reading Smith's La's Orchestra Saves the World, and with his tone in my head, I thought I'd write about a little moment today as he would see it. This draft came to be in about 20 minutes and I like that there's a lot going on, though not polished as yet; feel free to offer literary critique to improve upon it.

She entered the room containing the treadmills, stationary bikes, and other such mock transport, their users frantic in motion while remaining in place. Like much of life, she thought, as with the act of transferring a shirt from washing machine to dryer, to bare back and back again. It’s the action and not the journey that matters sometimes.

Only the recumbent bike spared her knee from further duress, but today three elderly ladies perched on the gym’s three machines. One had just taken her post, and would surely not be releasing her turn soon; the woman next to her, wrapped in conversation with the first, would not acknowledge passing the allowed time limit. She blinked rapidly and looked from her friend to the floor when Amy asked how long she’d be. Older women came to the gym for the health benefits of socializing, with the exercise a conduit, a ritual, a thing you do. Their half-hearted half repetitions between coffee breaks told the story. Too, a sense of territoriality surrounded even exercises done poorly; this second lady probably used this bike every day at this time, and as one grows older, one needs consistency, Amy thought, and not disparagingly. To ride in the same spot and know you’d not move an inch is a comfort.

The final lady looked up from her book. “I’ll be about two minutes,” she said. “I need to get to two miles.” Amy thanked her and checked her assumptions: here was a woman with goals. Two miles is about all she’d do today, as well. She stepped away as to not hover, into the vicinity of four televisions broadcasting three separate programs. A show on makeovers caught her eye; already several before and after views of average-looking women had been shown, and this rushing through the story helped when one had but a short time to take it in. Most shows like this build a long narrative of why a woman deserved a do-over, whether she battled cancer, or regularly herded her four young children and had no time to herself, no time to shop for anything but sweatpants. But here we saw the women bundled in winter gear on a city street one moment and strutting into the studio the next, their hair a new shade, thighs girdled up, makeup as for nighttime glamour.

None of the women Amy saw looked improved upon. They simply looked like average women wearing heavy makeup. Some people can wear makeup and be transformed; others cannot. Similarly, there were men and women in this gym with nice bodies who somehow weren’t attractive. People were here to improve on themselves—their health and appearance—but there’s no manufacturing beauty, in the end.

The woman popped her head over to where Amy stood, neck craned toward the TVs. She said nothing, only gestured toward the bike. Amy sat in the still warm seat and looked at the screen of the machine, which thought the first woman was still there but lollygagging a bit. It read, “Pedal faster.”

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