You’re fat, she told him. Look at you, she said, it’s hanging over your belt. Fatty Boomsticks, she said. He turned side on and looked at himself in the wardrobe mirror. I’m not that bad, he said. Fatty Boomsticks? That’s a bit much. He sucked his gut in, held it there, breathed out slowly. He felt his stomach push back against his belt. He adjusted it around his waist, pulled it further down so it sat on his hips. He could feel the buckle digging into his flesh. She was right. He had let himself go. I’m forty-three, he said. It’s only natural. Your metabolism slows down. Do you know what you should do, she said. You should get a bike. Conrad has got a bike. A racer. He goes out with a load of others. Him and his mates. Every Sunday. They’ve all got bikes. They ride all over, all over the countryside. They go on the Wolds. Eighty miles he did one day, she said. Conrad was Abi’s husband. Abi was her friend. They went for drinks on the last Friday of every month, Abi and Debs and a few other women from the office where they worked. Tonight was one of those nights. She was running a hair dryer around the back of her head, sat cross legged on the bedroom floor in her dressing gown, a towel around her shoulders, her going out clothes hung up on the back of the door. Her new going out clothes that she’d brought back from town that afternoon. You’re right, he said. I should do something about it. Get back into the gym. Get on the treadmill. She pulled a face. You won’t though, she said. You say you will, but you won’t. What time do you reckon you’ll be back? he asked. Don’t know, she said. Not late. She kissed him lightly on the cheek. He could smell her perfume, heavy and sweet. It clung to her hair and her clothes. Have a nice time, he said. I will, she said.
Simon heated up ready-made lasagna in the microwave. He ate half of it and then left it on the table. He went back upstairs and took off his shirt and jeans and socks. He stood in front of the mirror again in his boxer shorts. His belly sagged. His man tits sagged. He got down on the floor and lay on his back, clasped his hands behind his head and pulled himself upright. He leant forwards and tried to touch his toes. It was harder than he thought it would be. He lifted his legs and tried again, tried to touch his knees with his forehead. That was a little easier, but not much. He could feel the folds of flab concertina around his mid riff. He managed four sit-ups before he felt out of breath. There was a pain across his shoulders and a thin film of sweat on his chest. He could hear his own breathing. He lay flat on the floor for a while and stared up at the ceiling. He could see a spider web in the corner of the room near the wardrobe. He lay there for a while before sitting back upright and pushing himself up from the floor. He sprayed Lynx under his arms and around his body before getting dressed again and going downstairs.
He watched TV and drank beer. He watched Britain’s Got Talent then turned over to watch a documentary about polar bears in the Antarctic. Then he watched Top of The Pops 1977. He worked his way through five cans of beer. He fell asleep on the settee and did not hear her key turn the lock or her stocking feet tiptoe along the hallway and up the stairs.
The shop was small and the bikes were hung in rows on either side. The man was small and wiry. He wore a tight dark blue top zipped to the throat and shiny black shorts that looked as though they’d been sprayed onto his legs. His calf muscles stood out like slabs of rock. He was very helpful. He pointed out the different models and explained their capabilities and limitations. He explained the gear systems and wheel types and the different types of terrains they were each suited to. Simon was impressed with his knowledge. I never knew there was so much to it, he told the man. I thought a bike was just a bike, he said. The man laughed. You can get a bit obsessed about it all, said the man. It can get like an illness. I just want a standard one, said Simon. A beginner’s bike. Nothing too ambitious. The man rubbed his chin, thought about it. Then he pointed out a dark green racer above their heads. He fetched a small stepladder and climbed up to the bike, unhooked it from it’s fastening and passed it down. It was heavier than Simon had expected. The way the man had handled it one with one hand, Simon had expected it to be as light as a feather, but the weight of it surprised him and he had to quickly use both hands to stop it dropping. Even so, the tyres bounced on the floor and the bell gave a ding. The man stepped down from the ladder and held the bike by the handlebars, invited Simon to sit upon it. Try that for size, he said. That’s a twenty-inch. Simon hitched up his jeans and swung his leg over. He balanced himself on the saddle and gripped the handlebars. His toes barely touched the floor on either side and for one brief second he panicked, thought he was going to tumble over and send all the other machines crashing. He let go with one hand and grabbed the man’s shoulder. Woah, he said. He laughed. Nearly went there, he said. I haven’t ridden a bike since I was at school. Not since I had a paper round. You’re OK, said the man. Simon let go of his shoulder and grabbed the handlebar, shifted his weight from side to side, his toes pushing off the floor, left to right, left to right. He swayed from side to side. That’s fine, said the man. You could maybe even do to have that seat raised a touch. Raised? said Simon. I don’t want it any higher, surely? I’ll fall off! You won’t fall off, said the man. You’ll be fine. Simon turned one of the pedals backwards with the top of his foot, his other foot planted on the floor.
How does it feel? Asked the man.It feels fine, said Simon.