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Man in Circles

Lately I am overcome with fatigue. I am too tired for sexual intercourse. Nor can I read a magazine article about it. I cannot call across a tavern counter with any kind of greeting, even to the bartender. Or read a book of any type. Watering the plants exhausts me. The dog is is on his own; I am too weary to clean the floor of the bedroom he has chosen. I believe he is expanding to more rooms but I cannot make myself climb the steps to check. The thought of sexual intercourse stuns me—the energy it requires. How it is even possible. Television would be acceptable but television requires a search for the remote. The computer requires the energy of patience, the anaerobia of frustration and besides, the computer is gone. So is the television. Door-to-door solicitors I don’t have to worry about but if I did, the knocking of strangers would leave me spent and trembling. It is a drain upon my psyche to hear the mailman’s boots trotting upon my gravel drive. But I am too tired to hide. I am too tired for sexual intercourse. It breaks my heart that my dog, for good reason, is growing sick of me.

The inevitable joke, of course, is that I should be too tired to care whether my dog likes me. I do care. I am not so far gone that I don’t care about dogs hating me. That gets my blood boiling; during these quick moments of energy I rush to the refrigerator. A 45-pound dumbbell is in my way, two of them actually, cruelly placed by my nephew. I simply haven’t the strength to move them out of the way. And then there is sexual intercourse; I wear myself out thinking about it.

At 8 o’clock I am to be picked up by one of the many friends who continues to indulge me. My brain cannot stir itself to figure out why I have acquired more friends the worse I become. The worse I become as a person, the more I become someone my friends want to be friends with. There. That’s as plain as I can say it.

This friend is taking me to a boxing match. I am much too tired to go to a boxing match. It’s not as if I can find a plush chair and fall asleep, as I often do when friends take me to the movies. I prefer kids’ films or family-friendly films. My friends understand that adult-themed movies usually include sexual intercourse and I am too tired for sexual intercourse, I am overwhelmed by the very thought of it, and the notion of having to explain this once again exhausts me.

The idea of driving to the boxing match also exhausts me, but the idea of two men hitting each other evokes spirited memories, memories of hitting and being hit and wishing we could have a ring to do it in properly, prettily, with a containment of grace and of course with resolution, a winner and a loser. A boxing match is for me the pinnacle of an ideal world. The lack of an ideal world—not lack of her, not lack of it—has been my problem all along. My friend, driving beside me, perks up as some of my fatigue clearly begins to lift. His posture rearranges itself. He starts to talk to me.

I keep on my coat and gloves in the arena. A man seated behind me requests that I remove my hat. My hair springs up higher than my hat. I turn to ask him if I may now replace my hat since my ears are cold, but he doesn’t hear me and not surprisingly this exchange has left me too enervated to repeat the question. The boxing is not what I want it to be. I want them far apart from each other so that they might have time and space for calculations before hitting each other. A clean hit, that’s what I want, and that requires math. Instead they clutch and stay in close and the throbbing clumsiness begins to remind—I won’t say it, you’ve heard it enough. My friend assures me the later matches get better but I leave and wait for him in the car and am content to sit there in the passenger seat, watching the dark, the later arrivals, the women dressed for this peculiar date as though they are in Las Vegas, which rural Pennsylvania is decidedly not.

When I am driven home, another friend who is a hunter and fisherman is asleep in his pickup in my long gravel drive. The pecking of our wheels on gravel awakens him and both friends join me inside and agree to stay the night. My hospitality is not premeditated but it results in the floors of the bedroom being cleaned and my dog taken for a long walk. An utterly tiny dog, nearly tinied out of canine identity, he returns exhausted and loving me.

Then my friends pour sparkling white wine. It is very close to champagne, close enough for us to toast. We toast our friendship. They set out cheese spread and crackers. My friend the hunter asks me if I think it is worth him trying to get any sleep since hunting season starts the next day, today technically, and he will be getting up at three. At three from my house, right? I ask. If I’m still invited, he says. I tell him he should stay up and that I will sleep and then drive him as far as I am able, until I am too tired to go any farther, and then I will wake him up and he can take over the driving. That means you will be sitting in a deer blind all day, he says. I tell him I can do it. I am happy to have my friends here. I thank them. I tell him I can do it.

Nancy Zafris’s latest book, The Home Jar, a collection of short stories, was published in 2013. She has also written The People I Know, winner of the Flannery O’Connor award for short fiction and the Ohioana Library prize, as well as the novels The Metal Shredders and Lucky Strike. She has received two National Endowment for the Arts grants and has taught in the Czech Republic as a Fulbright fellow. She is the former fiction editor of the Kenyon Review and former series editor of the Flannery O’Connor award for short fiction.