Not more than two nights ago, a slender and wiry man called Claude attended a gymnasium. It was the evening time, the sun had already set, but it’s purple persistence floated ominously in the horizon – as if at any moment, it could change its mind and return. However, the fiery ball of life continued its runaway and darkness nailed itself ever more securely into the night of two days ago. Our Claude, a talent of physicality, had slept uneasily and on his side – the result was a strange stiffness resonating in the upper portion of his back. Claude, the man of our time, which as I said before is two days prior to this very moment, awoke without a worry, swinging his arms side to side, bending at the waist, completing a full regiment of sitting up and pushing up exercises. His hope was to flick the pain away as nothing more than a funny flit of discomfort – temporary and inconsequential.
Claude entered the gymnasium, the wooden paneled floor painted wonderfully with marks of red outlining the exact degrees of a game known to the world as ball of basket – more commonly announced these days as basketball. A group of working men organized themselves at this wonderful gymnasium on a weekly schedule, the games were played to eleven with two sorts of score-able baskets – the basket made in the area inside of the beautiful arc was worth one point; the basket made outside of the beautiful arc, which was a much more difficult shot, was worth two. As is common in spontaneous games in which players are picked up at random, the play was rough and tumbled, a lonely chance for these men to exhale the stresses of their working week. Claude, an expert basketballer, was regarded by many – if not all – as the greatest player to frequent the pick-up game. This reputation put a sort of mark on Claude’s back, the men were rougher, meaner, and dirtier in their play against him. The stiffness in Claude’s back, which had lingered throughout the day, did not appear to affect him on the court. However, and it happened suddenly, on a particularly flamboyant play in which Claude had faked as if he were driving to the basket, stopped, baited his opponent back out to the arc, swam inwards, and then spun back the other way, he was pushed violently in the upper region of his back. Out of hatred or out of embarrassment his opponent had taken a faulty shot at our man. He had already been airborne, the ball raised above his head, when the push had occurred, and he landed abruptly on his left heel. His momentum was completely stopped, and the force jammed up his leg and into his spine, where a certain tear was felt. It was like the simple stub of a toe, or the breaking of a twig. He knew something was funny the moment he landed. He tried to walk the injury off, but it was much too painful – Claude collapsed on the court. He immediately slithered his way out of the gymnasium and home, where he hosed himself off and got into bed. He then had a very long and drawn out cry, the pain increasing at the pace of a rabbit’s sexual drive.
Two hours of sleep – that was all he could get with his back aching the way it was. He ignored his obligations to go to work and, instead, stayed in bed, unable to move, completely paralyzed, unable to gather even the dullest resemblance of a full breath. The phone rang that morning – it was a horrible ring, unearthly in its ugliness, ghostly in the way it haunted dreams, inhumane in its treatment of ears. Claude answered the call.
“Claude! Where are you?”
“Who is this?”
“It’s Antoine, you idiot…who d’ya think? Where are you? Are you dead? What’s going on…I heard you were beaten up!”
“Antoine…hmm. Yes, yes I’m dead…and I was beaten up! Beaten to death…that’s what happened. How did you get my number?”
“Suzy from accounting gave it to me…you two are banging, I know it…she wants to bang you!”
“Quiet down…what are you talking about?”
“Where are you?!”
Antoine was a greasy-haired Italian who was incessantly curious about whom Claude was sleeping with. Claude had never met a man so obsessed with another man’s sex life – he despised the Italian man, but as it goes, Antoine was Claude’s best friend. They were work friends, but those were the only kind that Claude had at the moment. Antoine was constantly calling Claude, poking for information, searching for advice, pushing to grab a bier – he had never called Claude at home, however.
“I’m in bed, Antoine…I hurt my back…I tore the muscle between my shoulder blades and I can’t move…I can’t barely speak it hurts so bad!”
“What were you doing? – having sex with Suzy in a boat! Now that’s the only way to tear your shoulder blades apart!”
“No! What is your obsession with Suzy and I…I was playing basketball and some thug shoved me in the back as I was about to put the ball in the basket.”
“Ah! What a horrible story…I think you should consider changing it to something more sexy. How about it was you and the old beauty across the hall…she broke in to your apartment in the middle of the night and she tied you up and made rough, violent love to you all night long…when you came to in the morning you were still tied…”
“…and she had broken your body, torn the muscle between your shoulder blades…”
“…ripped the soul from your chest…
“…and split your heart in two, bleeding on the floor like a…”
“Will you ever shut your mouth? That is not what happened and I don’t want that to happen…why don’t you go get yourself tied up by the old beauty across the hall yourself…why don’t you go make love to Suzy from marketing…”
“Wherever she’s from!”
“Okay, okay take it easy, Claude. I’m just saying…it wouldn’t kill you to spice up a story every once in a while.”
“I was playing basketball…now I’m in bed…high on pills and unable to breathe properly! The doctor even said so, ‘Wow, you’re fucked up’ – that’s all he said. Well thank you Doctor for your expert advice!”
“Well, it serves you right! That’ll show you not to waste your time with silly games!”
“It will teach me nothing except that I might develop a healthy addiction to prescription pills, lose my job, and never leave my bed again!”
“Oh, you’re so dramatic!”
“I am not…I’m hurt!”
“I’m going to tell Suzy that you want her to come over…you’re welcome!”
“Antoine, you will not! Antoine? Antoine?”
It was too late. Antoine had already hung up and was toe over heel in pursuit of Suzy from accounting. Claude lay in bed, frustrated, searching for his pills…they had run out! He had swallowed them all! He resolved to put on a funny movie that a friend from work, not Antoine, had recommended.
The movie started with a bang, and Claude quickly discovered that to watch a comical film with a back torn in wretched pain was to live in a sick reality of Godard’s Les Caribiniers and Satan’s hell…he cursed the movie and the friend and Antoine.
Just as he began to dip into sleep, there was a knock at the door, and a mousy sort of call from behind it.
“Claude! It’s me…Suzy…from accounting!”
“Ah, cursed pain! Cursed, cursed pain!” he screamed, unwilling to believe. It was the pain…it was the cursed pain playing with his mind.