Questions Answered
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Armistice"
Originally featured on 06-17-2009
As part of our series "The Summer of Our Hopes and Fears"

Optoperspiphilia: An addiction to the sting of sweat in my eye. I say ‘my’ rather than the all-inclusive because I made up the word, and if you’ve got similar proclivities, come up with your own damned word. I should qualify that; it gives me pleasure when sweat from my forehead rolls down into my eye and it hurts, under the condition that I’m engaged in something that does not allow me to wipe it from my eyes. For instance, lunges with a dumbbell held out in front of me in both hands at shoulder height, with AC/DC blaring over a surround-sound stereo that makes the waxed wood floor seem more slippery than it is. I can squeeze one eye shut and wince as I dip down for the next lunge, lower to the floor than the last one, my shoulders shaking. I know this is working when I can’t distinguish the pain in my eye from other sensations. I say it’s an addiction, but what I mean is it’s a standard. Like when people say it’s not a true orgasm until you get that spasm in your elbow, whatever your body does that only your body does. It’s not a workout until my eye drowns a little bit. And it always starts in my left one. I should also qualify the term by stipulating that it has to be my own sweat. Someone else’s sweat in my eye would not have the same meaning. Mind you, that’s not merely speculation: tried a training routine forehead to forehead with my partner one time, knocked over two exercise bikes on my way to the water fountain it hurt so bad.

 

When I was five, my mom told me not to use the hot water faucet in the bathroom sink. I said I’m not a baby, I can handle warm water. So I thought about it. At the age of seven, I thought about it some more. By eight, I was rational enough to weigh my hypotheses. Maybe water would come out. Maybe something else would happen instead. Maybe an army of enraged spiders would spurt out of the faucet and spread across the sink like an angry shadow. Maybe instead of things coming out, just sound would come out of it, really high pitched sound that could make your ears melt, speaking words in a language nobody spoke.

I didn’t know. Then I found out.

 

The Flesh Center was open Tuesday through Saturday from Eight in the morning till Nine in the evening.

“So they’re, like, slaves? Like sex slaves? Except, workout slaves? What are they—I mean, what were they, convicts? War prisoners? Or are they bred?”

“That’s a horrible question.”

“You mean it’s voluntary? They’re employed to do this? Are they drugged or something?”

“Shut up. It will make sense when you’re there.”

“Let me get this straight; so, basically, we’re talking about a fragmented wrestling match, like lifting weights, except instead of weights, some dude is pushing down on your hand with his knee while do a bicep curl, or he’s sitting on your shoulders with his hands pushing on a low ceiling like he’s doing a military press while you try and do squats, stuff like that, right? So it’s like you’re both working out at the same time, your resistance against his, economical motion or something, and he stays buff all the time—that’s kind of ingenuous I guess. But stupid.”

“It’s more organized than you think. There are stations.”

“Is this, like, how athletes trained on some obscure Greek island in the fifteenth century?”

“No. Stop trying to make this something other than what it is. Just try it for a month.”

 

The red knob was forbidden because if you turned it on, when you turned it off it would keep dripping, because some pipe connections needed to be tightened and mom and dad didn’t know anything about the tightening of pipes and hadn’t the time nor the inclination to deal with it, so they told me not to use the hot water. For reasons the entirety of which I do not expect to understand, finding that out made me very, very, very, very, very angry.

My favorite question I ask young children—in the interests of confusing them—is whether all the types of liquids the human body produces come out at the same temperature. And if so, why aren’t we born with a knob for hot and a knob for cold? I have never received a satisfactory answer. Sweat is never hot or cold. Its biological purpose is to be neither hot nor cold.

 

“You’re full of shit. That place doesn’t exist.”

“Why?”

“Why what? Why do I think you’re full of shit, or why doesn’t there exist such a place? Your question could also be asking why it is that you are full of shit, having established that it is none other than shit of which you are full. I don’t know, you tell me—”

“No. My question is, why do you abhor the idea of physical contact?”

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

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