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A young man drifting through life falls in love with a fitness influencer, only to find out that the love of his life has been by his side for years.
AT FIVE O’CLOCK, I walk out of my room and yell, “Nana, it’s time!” But Nana doesn’t hear me. She’s sound asleep on the couch, her head nuzzled into her crotch. I go back into the room and come out with a bag of VitaLife LiverBiscuits. I rustle the bag loudly to make sure she can hear me. Nana stirs and groans as she stretches her old muscles. Then there’s a loud thud as she jumps off the couch and the distinct pitter patter of her toenails on the linoleum floor. As she hobbles over to the back of the trailer, her nose is raised towards the ceiling. Her nostrils flare like a manatee’s.
“Good morning, beautiful!” I say, even though it’s not morning and Nana’s not beautiful. I wave a LiverBiscuit in her general direction and lure her into the middle of the room. Once she’s standing where I want, I lift the treat over my head. Nana sits. Her body is tense and her eyes are wild, but she doesn’t move. I flip the switch on the ring light and make my way around the tripod. Nana’s big brown eyes follow me impatiently.
Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day and I’ve decorated the room accordingly. Paper shamrocks are taped to the walls. There’s an empty Guinness glass sitting on a footstool next to her. I slide a green tie around her neck. Then I place a tiny leprechaun hat on her head and strap it under her chin. I got the tie and the hat at the Dollarama. I got the ring light at Dinky’s. The Guinness glass came from the kitchen cupboard.
“Staaaaay,” I say. Nana looks at me through the camera lens. A glob of drool has formed on the right side of her mouth. I hurry before gravity starts pulling it towards the floor. I snap three shots. They’re pure gold.
“That’s my girl!” I say and Nana runs towards me. I have a handful of LiverBiscuits in my hand and scratch her ears the way she likes it. The leprechaun hat slides over her eyes, but she doesn’t seem to mind. Her tail is wagging like a deranged metronome.
THAT NIGHT, Nana gets a new follower. Now, one hundred and thirty-two people follow her on Instagram. Mainly older women and other dogs. Ma says Nana is a beacon of hope for all the uglies in the world. She may be right. Most of her followers are ugly. Nana is ugly too: she’s a scruffy mutt with an awkward gait and wiry gray whiskers that stick out of her face like cactus needles.
Last year, when Ma rescued her from the pound, she was told Nana was probably six years old. Ma didn’t want a dog until she heard on the radio that the pound was overrun and gearing up for a good old fashion culling. Later that day, she exploded into the trailer with a blanket over her shoulder. I was watching Judge Judy and was so startled by her entrance that I dropped my HotPocket onto the couch.
“What the hell?” I asked.
That’s when Ma lifted Nana over her head and presented her to the world as if she were the freaking Lion King.
“This little girl here is gonna change our lives forever,” she said.
She was right.
ON ST. PATRICK’S DAY, I wake up early to walk Nana around Forest Hill. At Forest Hill there’s no forest and no hill. All there is is five blocks of trailers sitting atop the remains of the old municipal trash heap.
Nana and I follow our usual route. We leave the trailer and turn left down Fern Court. At the end of the road, we take a right onto Oak Lane. The second trailer on the right belongs to Robert Helton. Nana always poops in front of Helton’s trailer, as if she knows he’s persona non grata. In 1999, Ma and Robert Helton were engaged to get married. A day before the wedding, Helton had a heart attack. Ma said the heart attack saved our lives. Turns out Helton liked to gamble on the ponies. He owed some people some Big Cash. Helton confessed to this when he thought he was dying. Ma cried and Helton survived the heart attack. He swore he had returned from the dead a New Man. But Ma said, once a deadbeat, always a deadbeat. She was right. Last year, Helton was shot in the right knee by his bookie. He survived the attack, but we never did see him at Forest Hill again.
Because Helton is gone, I don’t bother picking up Nana’s poop. The tall grasses in his front yard hide a minefield of fecal explosives. We continue down Oak Lane. At the end of the road is the sole attraction of Forest Hill. It used to be that from here you could see the river and the thick marshes that covered both sides of the Peti. Now all you see is the cement siding of a new call center and the pump machines at Dinky’s BigStop. I worked at the BigStop for twelve years. Then Nana came and Ma said she was our golden ticket and that if we were smart and diligent and played our cards right, Nana could lead us to financial independence. So, I quit Dinky’s and became Nana’s social media manager.
I sit on the bench at the top of the hill and let Nana off her leash. She barks at the pigeons, and when they fly away, she jumps onto the bench and lays down next to me. She puts her head on my lap. As I scratch her ears, I pull out my phone to see how our St. Patrick’s Day post is doing.
That’s when I see the notifications:
IN GRADE 9, Abby Lobton was my lab partner. She was 5’11’’ and had long, red hair that she kept in a ponytail. Even though she was beautiful, Abby was still nice. She let me be the Lead Dissector and when it came time to cut the frog open, she was grateful for my courage. The next Sunday I went to her house to work on our lab report. She baked Cinnamon-Oatmeal cookies and we ate them on the kitchen island while we did our homework. “You know, you’re kinda smart,” she said as I was leaving.
In senior year, Abby was the captain of the volleyball team. She was gearing up to be the class valedictorian when Bruce Higgins got her pregnant. Bruce was two years older than us. He had long hair and a dragon tattoo and played the drums in an Offspring cover band.
After she got pregnant, Abby quit school. I knew of her whereabouts through Facebook. That’s how I learned that she had two kids with Bruce and that he quit drumming to become a roadie for Alan Poulsen. Abby celebrated this decision as a sign that Bruce was maturing. But a couple of months later, she posted that while touring the province with Alan Poulsen, Bruce met a waitress at the Dinky’s Steak&Wings in Salisbury and knocked her up too. The kids stayed with her and Bruce kept touring and getting women pregnant. In 2015 Abby got her GED. The following year, she got really into CrossFit. In 2018, she closed her Facebook account.
“LOOK AT THAT, BABY GIRL,” I say to Nana as I open Abby’s Instagram. Nana looks up for a second. Then she puts her head back onto my lap.
I scroll through her profile. Abby has 1,152 followers. Her latest post is a video of an aerobics routine. In it, she lays out a sequence of five quick exercises anyone can do while watching TV. The next post is a picture of her on a slick motorcycle with the caption “Grip and rip”. That’s the structure of her grid: video-picture-video. The videos are workouts. The pictures show the results of said workouts: Abby sweaty on a yoga mat. Abby at the beach in a bikini. Abby in the snow in a bikini. Abby in front of a Christmas tree in a bikini and a Santa hat. She has the same smile from High School, but her body is transformed. Her hips are broader, her breasts are fuller, and her thighs are thicker.
I’m immediately aroused.
I like several photos and follow Abby back from Nana’s account.
“Come on, girl,” I say to Nana. “Daddy’s gotta get back home.”
THE NEXT DAY IS FRIDAY, and Abby posts a picture flexing her biceps with the caption: “Today’s a good day to start the rest of your life.” That morning I take the bus into town. At Dinky’s SuperStore I buy a yoga mat and a pair of shorts. Then I walk back up Forest Hill.
When I get home, I’m winded and sweaty. “Is that for today’s post?” Ma asks looking at the yoga mat. Judge Judy is on TV. Nana jumps off the couch and runs towards me. She licks my shoes as I take off my jacket.
“So?” Ma insists.
“Yes, Ma,” I say and head into my room. Nana follows close behind.
I HAVEN’T EXERCISED since Grade 12 PE class, but Abby opens every video saying that I can go at my own pace. It takes 20 minutes instead of five, but I do the entire aerobics routine.
At first, Nana is bothered by my huffing and puffing, and paws at my legs for me to stop. Then she gets bored and jumps onto the bed.
After the workout I shower. When I come back, Nana is asleep on my yoga mat. I toss a dirty sock at her and say, “Nana, off!”. She gets up slowly and stretches her front legs. While she does this, I grab my phone and snap a quick shot.
Still wrapped in a towel, I type out the caption and post the photo to Instagram: “Downward facing dog [DOG EMOJI]. Thanks @AbbyFitness for the inspiration!”
Within seconds, the notifications arrive:
AbbyFitness liked your photo.
AbbyFitness commented on your post: “[Clapping hands emoji]”
OVER THE NEXT TWO MONTHS, I exercise every day. Not only do I do Abby’s routines at home, but I also spend plenty of time outdoors with Nana. I post photographic evidence of these excursions: Nana running on the beach. Nana hiking. Nana sleeping on my yoga mat, exhausted after a hard workout.
In addition to aerobics videos, Abby has started posting healthy recipes. I follow these recipes at home and post pictures of Nana sitting on the kitchen counter, wearing a chef’s hat. Sometimes I tag Abby in the caption. Even when I don’t, Abby likes Nana’s photos. She often answers with encouraging comments. I also make sure Nana likes all of Abby’s posts. When she posts photos in a bikini, Nana comments with a fire emoji.
Nana’s account is growing, perhaps because the algorithm favors constant interactions from large accounts like Abby’s. In early April, we reach 200 followers. By May, we hit 400. Ma insists we celebrate with a big feast at our local Dinky’s Steak&Wings. I agree. She orders the WhoppingRibCombo. I get a salmon steak and a side salad. After dinner, I give all my leftovers to Nana, and she inhales them like a vacuum cleaner.
Around mid-May, I start wondering if I should post a picture of myself to Nana’s account. Summer is just a month and a half away, and perhaps by the time beach weather comes around I’ll be able to take a picture of myself shirtless. I know it’s crazy, but I’m hoping I’ll have a six-pack by then.
What if I post the picture and caption it with something like: “Hi, @AbbyFitness! Remember me?”? I shut that idea down. I don’t want her to think I’m a loser.
CANADA DAY FALLS ON A FRIDAY. I’ve been putting off posting my shirtless photo because I still don’t have a six-pack. But I know it’s time. I’m looking strong and fit, and I need to do this before the weather turns.
For our morning walk, Nana and I go to Dinky’s SuperStore. It’s an hour there and an hour back. At Dinky’s I get myself a pair of red and white shorts and pick out a red and white bandana for Nana.
My plan is to post two pictures. The first will be of Nana and I running on the beach wearing our red and whites. The second will be a photo of Nana in a denim outfit. The caption will read: “Spent a PAWesome Canada Day with Dad.” I won’t tag Abby. She’s liked all our posts since March and I’m sure she’ll like this one too.
What I will do is DM her. As soon as she likes the post, I’ll send her a picture of myself and Nana in lab coats, acting as though we’re dissecting a frog. I’ll say, “Greetings from the Lead Dissectors.” I took this photo last night and it’s hilarious. Abby is going to love it.
At five, I come out of my room and say, “Nana, it’s time!” She jumps off the couch and sprints to the door. She has the energy of a puppy now.
We drive to Shediac Beach and find a spot far away from the crowd. I set up the tripod and take off my shirt. Then I set the timer. It takes several tries to get the shot just right, but once we do, it’s perfect.
This is the moment I’ve been waiting for. I take a deep breath and open Instagram. I’m about to post when I see a photo of Abby on my feed. She’s at a concert with Bruce Higgins. His right arm is around her neck. His left-hand rests on her belly.
The caption says:
LIFE UPDATE! This photo was taken 3 months ago at an Alan Poulsen concert. Bruce was in town with the band and we ran into each other by Pure Chance! It was like we were 17 again! Some may know that Bruce is Mindy’s and Bernie’s dad. Well, guess what? He’ll also be father to BabyNumeroTres!
PS1: By the way he moves, it looks like BabyNumeroTres is into aerobics!
PS2: To those of you asking–Eff you! Bruce is a New Man!
I throw the phone into the sand. Nana has stopped chasing the seagulls. She runs toward me and lays down. She must sense I’m sad because she puts her head on my lap and looks up. Her eyes are full of love.
“I guess that’s that, baby girl…” I say as I scratch her ears. “Ma was right, huh? Once a deadbeat, always a deadbeat.”