Gymnasts flick across the screen. They jump, twist, swing; balance on their stupendous arms. The shapes they make are clean and pure and their legs are modestly covered. Only arms and chests are on show here; below the waist they are thickly clad and appear unencumbered by muscle.
I’m watching a Russian with shoulders like the Himalayan foothills, veins popping as he hurls himself round the parallel bars, when Dave comes in with a pizza.
Next to me, pizza is Dave’s favourite thing. He likes them all-any brand, any topping, deep pan or thin ‘n’ crispy. The one he holds now is in a box I don’t recognise and he tells me a new place has opened up by the bus stop. He’s quite excited about it. Inside the box is a fourteen inch quattro formaggi with extra ham. We eat it while we watch the competition on the pommel horse.
We sit on the floor when we’ve finished to see the television better, and I lean against Dave’s stomach. This also appears unencumbered by muscle and, in his case, it’s true. All over he is smooth and soft like rising dough.
After a while, Dave gets hungry again and goes out to get another pizza. The gymnastics finish while he’s out and the swimming starts. I like the swimming, particularly those underwater shots of the turns with bodies bucking like seals and turbulence streaming off them. I watch the way the swimmers haul on the water as if it’s solid and then pull themselves up onto the poolside just as easily. They are sleek even out of the pool, shaking off mantles of water, hairless bodies glistening.
Dave comes back with another pizza, this time just a twelve inch. It’s one of my favourites, frutti di mare with extra mussels and prawns. We eat it on the floor, marvelling at the strength and speed of the swimmers. Dave puts his arm round me, the flesh sinking into my shoulders. It’s too hot and heavy and I move it away.
I fall asleep for a little bit and when I wake up Dave is phoning for another pizza. It’s late and only the delivery places are still open. I can’t believe he’s still hungry but when he tells me what he’s ordered-a twelve inch pepperoni with olives and anchovies-I agree that it does sound good. We watch a summary of the gymnastics while we wait for it to arrive. The winner is young, red-lipped, and he grins and waves madly at the crowd when he sees his scores come up. I wish he wouldn’t, though I suppose it’s understandable. I prefer the competitors to look proud, disdainful; to show how superior they are by ignoring the rest of us. Smiling makes them too human.
Dave picks up the TV schedule, tracing the times down the page with a thick finger, and tells me that the athletics are still to come. The sport goes on right through the night.
Eventually, the doorbell goes and the pizza is here. I manage a couple of slices even though I’m not really hungry. Dave finishes the rest of it. It’s nearly two o’clock now and when I look out the window there are no other lights on and the street’s empty.
Dave asks if I remember watching the Barcelona Olympics. Of course I remember, because we’d only just met then and it was exciting to watch and exciting to be with Dave. We put the television on the chest of drawers and lay in bed and let it all happen in front of us. Wasn’t it good, Dave says, and I go ‘mmm’. It seems a long time ago.
There’s a bit of chat in the studio and then the camera is suddenly zooming in on a woman’s face. She looks pained and sweaty and is clearly not enjoying herself. A broad leafy street is visible behind her and I realise she is running the marathon. Back to that later, says the commentator, and the camera zooms again, this time to the running track.
Athletes are lining up for the hundred metres, settling into their blocks and adjusting their clothes. Where the gymnasts and swimmers were nearly all white, the runners are practically all black and I’m wondering about this when the doorbell goes again.
It gives me quite a start but Dave says he ordered another pizza from the first delivery guy, and he goes to answer the door. They never seem to mind coming out for Dave and he stands on the doorstep chatting for ages. When he comes back in, he’s got the pizza and also a big tub of coleslaw. This was free, he says, looking pleased, and tells me we were the last delivery of the night and they just brought along what was left over.
I tell him he’s such a pig, that we don’t need hand-outs, and that it’s obscene to eat another pizza. He looks hurt and says he only got it in case he was hungry later when everything was shut. Oh, really, I say.
Another hundred metre heat is about to start and the camera is dwelling on tensed thighs and taut biceps. Dave is spooning coleslaw into his mouth and sneaking bites from the pizza. Mayonnaise has dribbled down his t-shirt.
The starter pistol goes and the runners hurtle down the track. At the end, the winner raises his arms triumphantly. A few moments later, the race is replayed in slow motion and what was fast and powerful before becomes as graceful as a dance. When the winner lifts his arms it is as if to embrace a lover.
Dave leans over and kisses my neck. You look tired, he says, why don’t you go to bed? I look at the clock and it’s half past three. I am tired, but I don’t want to go to bed.
Not yet, I say.
We’re back to the marathon, camera tracking the bodies toiling up a hill. They throw cups of water at themselves, squeeze sponges over their heads. Why do they do it when it’s so unpleasant; I can’t understand. Dave says he can see why: that it isn’t just running as fast as you can, it’s learning what your body can and can’t do, having the self-discipline to keep going even when it hurts, and not being distracted by other things, other people. Oh, yeah, I say, and what about having the self-discipline to stop eating pizzas?
He doesn’t answer me and I keep on talking. We’re back in the stadium now, watching the long jumpers. Look at him, I say, watching one of them rock back and forth on his heels, now that’s a perfect body. He sprints towards the sandpit, then leaps, stretching his legs out ahead of him. The arc he draws is impossibly long and elegant, then he crashes heavily into the sand. Why can’t you look athletic like that, I say.
Dave laughs, which annoys me, and says he does look like an athlete only it’s a shot-putter. He’s very amused by this joke and when the shot-put comes on a few minutes later he cheers and then won’t stop giggling. I don’t find this funny at all, and I keep going on, I can’t seem to stop, about how at least they’ve got muscles underneath the blubber, and they’re good at something other than just eating. When I’ve finished, Dave looks at me but doesn’t speak and we keep watching without saying anything.
We’re back at the marathon again. By now, the runners are haggard with tiredness and the ones at the back look as if they would really like to give up and get into one of the cars following behind. I know that’s what I would want to do and I say this out loud, breaking the silence. Dave shakes his head. All the work they’ve put in, the training, the sacrifices, would be worthless, he tells me. None of them would drop out unless they absolutely had to. Even if they were last, even if they hated it sometimes.
I watch them plodding on, wondering what they’re getting out of it at this particular moment. But Dave’s right, you have to look at it long term, and if you’re going to be a marathon runner, making it through the race is probably the most important thing. Even if you sometimes long to be a sprinter.
I sigh and give Dave a hug, rubbing the warm expanse of his back. Sorry, I say, and he kisses my hair.
The first runner has reached the stadium now. She slogs through the tunnel and starts slowly round the track, managing a wave at the crowd. I want to go to bed but I can’t now. I need to see her finish, to know she makes it.