by Andrew Malinak

At the beginning of the season, at the start of an epic summer, I didn’t yet know where the journey would take me. I had goals in mind, but they paled in comparison with what I would be unexpectedly up against.

It was a big year, and there had been many big years before this. Behind me successes and failures were plenty, and surely many more of both lay on the road ahead. At present, I was up for any challenge, as I’d trained myself to be. Not just willing to face any challenge, but to succeed; there was nothing another swimmer could do that I could not do. I believed this.

To present, the season has gone as planned. I woke up in the mornings, went to work, then swam. Day after day after day. I completed one swim, then a harder one. I’d watched others do the same, letting their training and resolve and spirit meld with my own. Like I said, I was ready for anything.

Then there was this morning. It was grey outside, the kind of grey morning that could only be the Pacific Northwest or Scotland. For days now I’d been hearing about Craig Lenning’s calves. The others said they were as near to perfect as an Almost-God’s calves could be. It is known that swimmers have better calves than most and such a claim would be taken lightly in most company or if the comparison were made between Craig Lenning’s calves and a non-swimmer’s, but no, this talk came from a group of swimmers. In short, there was good reason for me to believe that Craig Lenning had fantastic calves.

I’d describe them for you myself, but at this time I’d never actually seen Craig Lenning’s calves, owing partly to the chilly weather that week that kept all of our legs covered most of the week and partly to my own lack of observation. If his calves were in fact as sublime as I’d heard, surely my eyes would have passed over them a time or two and been struck by their magnificence, but as this had not happened I was skeptical.

My skepticism was only heightened by my own hubris. While I consider my own calves to be merely adequate, I’ve heard some murmurs about them being more than adequate. My utilitarian calves are good for the usual things, running, jumping, and pushing off from sandy seafloors, and they actively keep me from wearing skinny jeans. We cohabitate peacefully, but I’ll admit once in a while their size and shape draw some attention.

When Craig Lenning’s calves came up in conversation again that damp morning, my reaction was again formed by my skepticism and hubris. But then the discussion of Craig Lenning’s amazing calves turned to my calves, and the room quickly came to the conclusion that my calves were not inconsequential, and they were presently in close proximity to Craig Lenning’s calves. To the room it was clear what was needed, they declared a competition must be held, a calf-off.

Aside from hearing about Craig Lenning’s calves, I’d also heard about Craig Lenning’s last calf competition. I’d heard it wasn’t even close. My memory now is a bit hazy on the details, I think the other man survived, although now I cannot be so sure. And soon it would be my turn. Two against two, and I wasn’t even scared. Not just because I hadn’t seen Craig Lenning’s calves, but because Craig Lenning is a swimmer, and I’d trained myself to be ready for anything, and to be able to do anything any other swimmer could do, and to succeed.

We stood in front of the fireplace, both wearing shorts, both facing the wall with a panel of judges behind us. In my imagination Craig Lenning’s stick legs look cold and feeble, but Craig Lenning’s calves are not sticks, they do not look feeble. The competition begins, and we are directed to flex our calves in various ways for thirty, forty-five seconds, an hour it feels like. My calves have never worked so hard at making the perfect angles and ridges, intentionally trying to draw the stares of everyone in the room. And then in was done.

A short pause to deliberate and then a unanimous decision. Craig Lenning’s calves have won, and my adequate calves and I are left to contemplate what we are really doing with our life. What have we been training for this season and all the preceding years if not to be able to defeat Craig Lenning’s calves? Was there anything left for us?

Crushed. This was supposed to be an epic summer, but it wasn’t.