Become an O:JA&L Member through Patreon.

William R. Soldan


Yucaipa Mountains by David Farrington

Owen has never liked the idea of these damn machines. Something about moving but never getting anywhere that feels too apt a metaphor for his life. But here he is, day three, placing one foot in front of the other, sweating, gasping, his doctor’s voice still quacking in his mind: “You know, you’re not getting any younger, Mr. Rhodes. You really need to get your weight under control and start taking better care of yourself if you want to keep dysfunction and disease at bay. Mid-thirties is make it or break it time for us men, especially ones with results like these.”

Earlier this week, the doctor, an athletic looking guy with a square jaw and frosted tips, sat on his little swivel stool rattling off some numbers. Percentages. Mortality rates. And those words—dysfunction and disease. Ha! He’s been dysfunctional as long as he can remember. And that’s just what they called it in all those meetings he attended early on: a “disease.” One for which there is no cure, but one that can be arrested. Sure enough, he put the cuffs on that particular beast, only now instead of blazing eyes and sunken cheeks he has hypertension, stretch marks, and can’t see his own dick when he stands up. He’s become a distended version of himself, as if he’s not himself at all.

And perhaps he’s not. Hasn’t he read somewhere that the body’s cells die and regenerate, replace themselves every seven years or so? Yes. Of course, he supposes it could be fake news, but it’s so hard to tell what’s true and what isn’t anymore. No wonder he smokes and eats too much, Owen thinks. What other comforts are there in this world, now that old devils have been put to bed?

* * *

He reaches the top of the Great Pyramid of Giza in one go by the end of his first week, according to the machine’s digital display, before one of his overburdened knees feels like it’s going to buckle and break. But he doesn’t give up, and the next day he begins another climb. Soon he makes it to the top of the Eiffel Tower. This makes him think of Myra, how she looked just after they’d married, pale and emaciated. Strung out. Both of them were by then. So bad they missed their honeymoon. Her mother had entered them in a raffle at the bridal shop where she bought Myra’s dress, and they’d won a trip to Paris. “How will we make it through?” Myra asked him, her dark eyes desperate. They wouldn’t, he knew, no chance, so they celebrated their new union shooting dope and smoking crack in the Marriott instead.

She’s living in Madison now, remarried with three kids. He’s seen them on Facebook, considers contacting her sometimes, letting her know he finally beat it, finally got it together. But then he looks at his bloated form in the mirror, the sagging tits and jowls, smells that constant sour stink that seems to creep from every crevice of his body, and thinks, Good one, fat boy.

* * *

He drops twenty pounds in only a few weeks, gives up cookies and soda and Krispy Kreme’s. He quits smoking, too, starts drinking shakes that turn his bowels to soup and make him shit constantly. He munches on kale chips and carrot sticks. His breath begins to reek like stomach acid and something else he can’t describe, something rotten, but at least his clothes are looser.

At his next six-month check-up the doctor is stunned, agape with shock at how he looks, and with his numbers. “Cripes, you’re in better shape than I am,” he says, slapping him on the back. “You’re like a completely different person!”

* * *

He also begins lifting weights, but it’s the climb that drives him. He imagines the proverbial carrot dangling just out of reach, on the next landing, the next precipice.

He’s passed the highest point of the Empire State Building, Toronto’s CN Tower, the Burj Kalifal in the heart of Dubai, and soon moves on to mountains. He wonders how many cumulative hours he’s climbed. Days surely. Weeks? Months?

* * *

He ascends.

White Butte, ND, 3,507 ft.

Mount Vesuvius, Italy, 4,203 ft.

Mitre Peak, New Zealand, 5,551 ft.

Mount Ishizuchi, Japan, 6,503 ft.

Higher still.

Elkhorn Mountain, Vancouver, 7,207 ft.

Pic la Selle, Haiti, 8,793 ft.

Schilthorn, Switzerland, 9,744 ft.

Mount Hood, OR, 11,250 ft.

* * *

“Slow down,” the doctor tells him. “Too much of even a good thing isn’t good, you understand? You lose any more weight, well, we’re looking at a whole new set of concerns.”

* * *


Mauna Loa, HI, 13,684 ft.

Matterhorn, Switzerland/Italy, 14,692 ft.

Alpamayo, Peru, 19,511 ft.

Machapuchare, Nepal, 22,943 ft.

Mt. Everest, Nepal/China, 29,029 ft.

* * *

The moon, he learns, is 238,857 miles from the earth. It would take approximately nine years to reach it walking non-stop. The world record for longest non-stop walking is held by the Belgian Georges Holtyzer: 673.494371 kilometers or 418.49 miles in 6 days, 10 hours, and 58 minutes.

* * *

Seven years to be a new person.

Nine years to reach the moon.

It becomes a mantra he chants under his breath until the words manifest, superimposed and pulsing like neon lights across his vision.

Seven years to be a new person.

Nine years to reach the moon.

Owen can feel the old him melting away, dripping, puddling on the floor.

Seven years . . .

nine years . . .

seven . . .

nine . . .

He wonders

who he’ll be

when he gets there. . .


About the writer:
William R. Soldan grew up in and around the Rust Belt city of Youngstown, Ohio, where he lives with his wife and two children. A high school dropout and college graduate, he holds a BA from Youngstown State University and an MFA from the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts program. Twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, his work appears in publications such as New World Writing, Elm Leaves Journal, Shotgun Honey, Bending Genres, The Best American Mystery Stories 2017, and others.

Image: Yucaipa Mountains by David Farrington (1940-). Oil on canvas. No size specified. 2010. By free license.

OJAL Art Incorporated, publishing since 2017 as OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters (O:JA&L) and its imprint Buttonhook Press, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporationsupporting writers and artists worldwide.

Become an O:JA&L Member through Patreon.