His body is breaking down. Bone keeps rubbing bone in his ankle from nasty landings, until at last he has surgery and ends up in a cast. Poles keep snapping beneath him, bruising his rib cartilage, his kidneys, his bravado. He strains his Achilles, pulls a hamstring and knee ligaments, keeps inflaming his spine, elbow, shoulder and shins. Empathy from his coach? Parnov calls him a girl. Empathy from his wife? Sometimes—when there's anything left inside her to give at the end of another grueling day.
Sex dries up first during heavy training. Then affection becomes an awful lot to ask. Then basic kindness crawls out the door. Viktor and Tatiana become like wounded animals, each obsessed with self, unaware of anything except fatigue and the ache in their hips, their arms, their ankles and shoulders. Every moment, they exist in one of two conditions: training or recovery from training. His anger boils over, scalds, then evaporates. Hers congeals below the skin, below politeness, leaving him to dig helplessly for what's wrong.
Let's go out, he says suddenly. C'mon, Tatiana, just like the old days, when we'd go to dinner, talk and laugh away a few bottles of wine and a couple shots of vodka, dance till two and fall, hungry, into bed, then wake up slow and slaked at 11, like cats in a patch of sunlight, hung over and gloriously unstrung. Just what the doctor ordered, no?
"Viktor, you know I can't do that now," she replies. "It would take me two weeks to recover."
Who can jump the divider the most times in 30 seconds? That's the object of a little contest at a coaching clinic at the track stadium in Adelaide. It's sort of like Viktor and Tatiana's marriage. Her eyes meet his. She's challenging him.
Wait a minute. He's supposed to vault in a competition in a few hours. She's the one who tells him he gets distracted too easily, that he lacks a systematic preparation to help give him what she has: the focus of an ice pick. Now she's going to try to prove she's the fastest divider jumper in the family? This cannot be.
He steps up to the blue plastic divider. This is crazy, he's thinking, this is my wife. But who is she anymore, his wife? The girl who used to lie in bed, weak with fever, now looks people in the eye and says, "Before, I was in the middle about everything. Now I want to have everything—or nothing." At home, she nods to the glasses of water in their hands, blurts out, "First one to finish wins!" and starts gulping. At training, she's calculated the differences between their results and begun betting him a dinner that he can't triple-hop more than two meters beyond her, frog-jump three meters more, shot-put four meters farther. She takes the wheel of their car and roars down the road as fast as he does.
All the clothes he used to drop on the floor and then find folded in his wardrobe drawers? All the breakfasts she used to prepare while he stretched, all the dinners while he rested? Why should she do all of that, when their workload is identical, when her earnings are creeping past his?
"Think of cleaning and cooking as your hobby," he replies. He says that only once.
Up come her fists when they argue. "Let's fight!" she says.