It was four in the morning. A big gorilla looking guy lumbered into the prison exercise yard. The yard had changed little since the old days under Stalin. Morning’s first light silhouetted black mechanical shapes, and the silence was flawless. They called him Tarzan, but never to his face. He was always here first. This was his place. This was his time. This hour of solitary exercise was the closest thing to love he had ever known. Against the purple background of morning light, he saw the silhouette of a man at the horizontal bar. In seven years no one had ever intruded by being here this early. Now, who dared?
Tarzan went toward the black silhouette. “That’s my horizontal bar buddy. How long you going to be?” Only silence.
He got to the man and saw he hung motionless, hands at his sides, a thin rope leading from his neck to the horizontal bar. Suicide. There were lots of suicides, but Tarzan took this one personally. He went up close to the dead man’s face and recognized him; the new guy who worked in the kitchen, thin and blond.
“So what do you expect me to do now? Look what you’ve done! Anywhere but here. Why have you done this to me?” Tarzan circled the man in slow steps, feeling lightheaded. He took a sharp breath and felt his thoughts fly out in all directions and he desperately needed to hold on to at least one.
The only thought he could grasp made his head hurt. His knees wobbled with weakness. “My horizontal bar. The last time someone like you hung himself on my horizontal bar, the guards cut off the bars and took away our exercise privileges for two years!” The consequences of what he saw were more terrifying than seeing just a dead man. “You kill yourself and you kill me!”
“Why here? Why exactly here, on this piece of equipment? It’s for my exercise. Why didn’t you come to me and say, ‘I want to be strong, like you. I want to fight for my life. I would let you teach me pull-ups and lifting weights.’” Tarzan stood still, looking at the man. “You don’t hear anything.”
But it was not Tarzan’s way to give up. More than strong, even more than callous, he was defined by his ruthless persistence. It was what made others step aside, at the horizontal bar, and in the mess hall.
Tarzan circled the corpse, “You are dead, but I am alive. You understand. I am alive and I don't want my exercise privileges taken away for two years.” He started to feel panic. “You don't even know what it means to have two years in prison. You’ve only been inside for two months and you hang yourself at my expense.”
Tarzan should have been on his second set of pull-ups by now. No matter what had happened, his body had its own cravings and needed to strain and sweat to burn away the demons that swarmed in his head. The panic fanned his anger. How could he save the most precious thing in his life?
“Why, did you do this to me, on my bar? Anywhere but here! I won’t let you take this from me!”
Then Tarzan’s head moved to the side, like a dog’s when it gets an idea. He looked over toward the prison’s gray stone wall and his eyes searched for one of the old iron hooks that stuck out of the wall.
There one was, rusted yet sharp.
Tarzan took down the body and carried it toward the wall, murmuring on his way, "You were weak. Now you’re dead. There’s nothing left for you to feel. We who are alive need exercise to stay strong.” He slammed the limp body onto the hook with such force that the air rushed out of the dead man’s lungs, and the corpse gave an involuntary yelp.
“Hang there, buddy. There you can’t hurt me. You’re dead. It doesn’t
matter if they find you on the hook or on the bar. After my third set I’ll
call for a guard to take you down.”