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A NIGHT AT THE Y / Robert Garner McBrearty FINISHED WITH HIS DAY JOB, Ralph stops back at his apartment just long enough to change clothes and kiss his wife and baby goodbye before rushing off to his night shift at the Y. He stands behind the front desk, with his left hand picking up phones and with his right dispensing towels and locker keys. With a harried grin, caffeine-inspired energy, and the sinking reaUzation that there is baby spit-up on his blue sweater, he greets the incoming members who are frantic to run, swim, lift, jiggle, jazz, and whirlpool away the jangled nerves of a long day in this fastpaced city just east of the Rocky Mountains. As the members burst through the front doors, stomp snow from their boots, and charge the desk with lowered heads and hunched shoulders, they remind him of truculent buUs, and he is transported by a memory of a day in a mountain town in Mexico twenty years before. The buUs are poised in the cattle truck, ready for the run. Ralph, twenty-one years old then, full of wild hope and amoebic parasites, dagger-thin and crazed from dysentery and ingestions of medicinal tequila, has taken refuge on the steps of El Patio café. Nine bulls come down the ramp—motley, scraggly, apathetic buUs to be sure. No monsters of Pamplona in this September fiesta. They clomp into the roped-off square and the crowd lets out a coUective half-gasp, half-giggle as it huddles against the barriers and gathers on the steps of the café. Young men prance in the cobblestone streets, whistling and jeering. The bulls come to a standstill, snort, wheeze, roU anxious eyes about. Perhaps in the backs of their dim brains flickers the uneasy suspicion that this bacchanal can only finish with them on the wrong end of a pubUc barbecue. These humble, pastoral beasts see no cause for confrontation. They show no inclination to trample, hook with their horns or spew foam. They'd luce to laugh this off; couldn't it aU be resolved peacefuUy? They stomp on the cobblestones, leaning their heads together, discussing their strategy as their breath rises in white puffs on this crisp, blue Sunday afternoon in late September. They try to back up the ramp into the truck, but four exasperated rancheros swing cowboy hats at their rumps; disconsolately, the The Missouri Review · 183 buUs come forward into the sunny but bracing afternoon, and the crowd releases another excited cry. In his memory, Ralph sees himself backing up as high as he can on the café steps, wedging his way behind chüdren and serapewrapped women. But the other young men, so boldly chaUenging the buUs, seem to beckon to him: Come down! Run with the buUs! And briefly he yearns to encounter his fate, to die on those dusty cobblestone streets with a horn in his chest, blood in his boots, a wine flask tipped to his Ups, whüe his fingers rise and twitch gracefuUy, keeping time with the mariachi music as he fades ... on brave marvelous soul! The rank odor of sweat and soggy towels and leather basketbaUs wafts over the desk, and from the gym comes the reverberation of bouncing baUs and the triU of a referee's whistle. Ralph's memory of the fiesta momentarily sUps away and he finds himself back at the Y desk, in the present, though he wonders, given the vast and inexpUcable discoveries of modern physics, just exactly what is the present. His uncertainty about the nature of time makes him suddenly aware that he wiU never be able to explain modern physics to his son, or even cogently describe the inner workings of a telephone. Thinking of his inadequades as a father makes his heart flutter as he continues handing out towels and keys. His rush-hour helper, Maggie Vivigino, the twenty-two-year-old, green-eyed oUve-skinned weight room trainer, joins him behind the counter. Her taut body ripples beneath her purple leotard, and Ralph imagines she would have made a wonderful companion for his former self when he was cringing on the steps of...


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pp. 183-194
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