Posture by Graham Todd
Editorial intern Nick Hansen on today’s bonus story: Imagine trying to maintain perfect posture to avoid inflicting severe damage on your body. Imagine, like Graham Todd does in this wonderful story, how fighting to position your crumbling body might give you a new and painful perspective on the world.
My back’s ached for weeks, longer, and the doctor says it’s how I sit, stand, walk, everything. I could lose it, he says. “Lose what?” I ask. He just looks at my chart where the only info I provided was “back hurts.” He must have found that unsatisfactory. He leaves without explaining.
I should have said: Muscles, deep ones, ones you may have no names for, burn and, in the mornings, crackle like bubble wrap even when touched gently. The muscles feel dried out like they’re dying or already dead. There are lots of things I should say.
Afterward, on the drive home, I do think I get it. The doctor’s right. It’s as if at all times my chest must be up and forward, my shoulders back, head set just so on my neck as if it’s being pulled up by invisible forces, a string extending from the top of my head. I must orient myself exactly to face the whole world, or else.
It’s a lot, for us, me and my wife-to-be. Steering myself strictly from room-to-room making sure my posture is 100%, all my points of pain and fatigue monitored and checked again and again in a loop. Locating each overstretched and worn out fiber, abiding, walling each off from the rest as Troublesome Area One, Two, Three, and so on. Doing the same with breaths and time as way of containment, in increments of inhales and exhales. At home, as I bend over our days long pile up of dishes, I yell to her, ask about her day, try to calculate the sum of it, the one she might be too tired to talk to me about. Or perhaps she’s afraid I’ve had enough already, too—the back and all. “———,” she says. I can’t hear her. I have to go find her in the bedroom and face her, my body angled just so, all her noise and expression coming at me head on— can’t crane my neck, cock an ear, or else.
“I might lose it, the doctor says,” I say to my wife-to-be, bolt upright in the doorway of our bedroom.
“Lose what?” she says halfway under the covers, our laptop on her chest so the screen glows blue onto her face. There’s a small lit square in her pupil that stays put as she reads. A new solicitation from her deadbeat brother? He’s a state away and desperate for her to come. Her head is angled on the pillow in a way that would put me in the critical care unit.
“Lose what?” she says again looking up at me.
I say, “Exactly,” in a way that raises an alarm in her. An alarm that as soon as I see it, I realize I wanted to raise. And we look at each other in the bedroom for a while, me standing in the door frame, trying to mimic its angles of integrity, her on the bed with a knee up, our blanket falling all around the cap like it’s a mountaintop. She rolls towards me onto her side and pushes our laptop an arm’s length across the bed, making space for both of us.
“Another message from Bobby?” I ask, looking at it. I’d lie down, but there’s cords in my neck where little nobs of tissue have gathered, at other places it’s thinned out, like fat tearing.
She cocks her mouth to one side, raises her eyebrows. Her eyes close. “Rereading,” she says, just as tired as I am. “The one from yesterday.”
“Oh,” I tell her and we stay in our positions for another moment before I am drawn to the clock and see the time and have to go to finish the dishes or else we won’t have plates tomorrow. I tell her I care about her and she says she cares about me. Right now, that’s all we can muster.
I’m dunking a plate of hard-set egg yolk from breakfast by the time I notice my neck. In the back, just below the skull, there’s a little slab that feels just like a sheet of chain mail when I touch it and I know right then that tomorrow morning it’ll have aged a couple centuries and flake and give.
When I finally make it back to the clinic for clarification, I say my wife-to-be has gone to see about her ailing brother. “She worries enough,” I say and rub my neck. “But what can I do?” The doctor shrugs, and hands me a pamphlet as he exits our little room.
The title page says in large block letters that it’s gradual. That over time some Latin seeming fancy parts grow shorter, other parts grow longer, and a diagram of a body points out the end game: a cross section of a prototypical figure all alone in a field of white, the upper torso canted so radically forward that the head is down at the ankles, and all the little black and white jelly beans of the internal organs are shunted gravity-wise into an overlarge and rather lumpy head. It’s then that she appears in my mind, her hand moving over the driver’s wheel.
In the days between, I walk our neighborhood, monitoring and breathing with a rope butterflying my shoulders back. I see people on the street every day with terrible rounded spines. Humps. Whole groups with wonky legs all but dragging, people much older than me that are hideous and happy. Each morning at 7th and Wood, I see one old man jogging even, heading north. He sweats and smiles at me, his thin limbs jabbed out in terrible form. Form is all I’ve been thinking about and then I see him and all I can think of is her and all the different ways there are and how long and which one?
Graham Todd grew up in the tiny Pennsylvania town of Royersford and now lives and works in the San Francisco Bay area. He studied lit and creative writing at Stanford and recently received his MFA from Bowling Green. His writing has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Isthmus, Matador Review, and is forthcoming in Bayou. He’s currently at work on a novel.