Literature 4-22-2008

miniStories: “Fitness” by Mark Ehling

Read "Fitness" by Mark Ehling, selected by one of our spring 2008 judges, Stephanie Ash, to be a winning short in the inaugural round of's flash fiction series, miniStories.



What do they tell us? “Drink water.” Right? “It’s good for the skin.”

But that cheeseburger? A cheeseburger is itself an extension of death. And it tastes good. Which causes confusion.

All my ancestors faced the same problem regarding sausage, entrails, scraps, viscera and the entire subset of organ meat. “How can we take organ meat, and turn it into something that tastes good?”

The solution is fry it up in salt and fat.

Or sugar…. My childhood memory of breakfast is dominated by a particular kind of eastern European pastry. On the inside… a prune. Maybe a plum… a food-like center. No one would ever guess. But the outside: murderous. Because that prune had been dipped in fat and sugar and rolled in fried dough. And so my dad sat at church one day and when the priest said, “This mass has ended, let us go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” my dad blinked––just once, an involuntary spasm of neuro-electricity. Immediately he began to sweat. We drove home in silence. The family dispersed in its usual way––reading, napping, fleeing the house for an hour if possible––and on my way out the door I looked at Dad. He sat in his favorite chair. Something was wrong. His face… glistened. He did not look well. And I said, “Hey Dad. Is this right? Did you have a heart attack in church?”

He said: “I was waiting to see if anyone would notice.”

When I’m old I want that little shot of schnapps before dinner––just a little peppermint schnapps in a glass of Sprite––and I want to drink a beer, and I want that to be okay––all my grandchildren, sons and daughters, they’ll say: “Gramps, would you like your favorite beer, and a Schnapps, and good chair at the table? Something to facilitate the storytelling process about the old days?” Yes I would, dear hearts… and I want my life, and my things: my meat and my salt. And I want fitness.

When I run, I like to think of nothing, and I like to want nothing. When I was young, I ran for time. To best my time. Now I run for the quiet. Occasionally the fast cars pass me on the road. A neighbor… someone I know. They honk. I don’t even wave anymore. This is my time with the world. My feet pound. My chest is a drum. All I hear is my breathing. One and two and one and two and breathe and breathe….

That, and I recommend flexing. Like cats. With the entire body. You’ve got to get tight. Then relax.

Get tight.

And relax.

Get real tight.

And then… relax.

For some reason, it seems to help.

About the author: Mark Ehling is a writer and graphic designer living in Minneapolis. His short fiction has appeared nationally–in magazines such as Utne Reader, Denver Quarterly and The New Orleans Review–and he has written and produced several plays in the Twin Cities. He is currently completing a short film, How to Live Better, which will premiere in Spring / Summer of 2008.


Mark Ehling is a writer, teacher, and multimedia artist living in Minneapolis. His stories, comics, plays, and films have appeared widely, and he is most recently the author of a book of picture-stories: River Dead of Minneapolis Scavenged by Teenagers. …   read more