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30 Days to a Better You

 

Only two more days, Berman thought, as he pulled his boot free of the coffee-colored mud and headed west, back along the overgrown path, to where he’d left his mid-sized sedan. The hiking trail, still spongy from a mid-morning shower, threatened to engulf every step along the way. It was an excellent workout.

When he’d started his month on The Plan, Berman could barely make it three yards in the late-summer stickiness without pausing to wipe the sweat from his face. The rotten smell of the nearby swamp turned his stomach. Every step burned.

Just get through it, he repeated with every stride. One foot in front of the other. Don’t focus on anything else. It was easy to do in the seclusion of the trail.

By the second week, Berman’s life had improved dramatically. The petty office intrigues that had left him in an ongoing state of anxiety no longer held his attention; his wife’s pleasant cruelties were no longer an issue. He felt free again, light and vibrant, unfurled. He savored the reassuring solitude of his daily walks. He knew that as long as he followed The Plan, he never had anything to worry about.

Day 20. The routine was easier to keep, now. Hiking the abandoned trail was as much a part of Berman’s day as breakfasts reading the morning paper, or his nightly glass of the 50-year scotch he’d been saving since his wedding day. The heft of his bright blue backpack no longer strained his shoulders. His water bottle remained a little bit fuller each day. The Plan was working. 

He’d only stumbled a bit on Day 24. It was a Sunday. The Lord’s Day. The stifling heat had given way to cool breezes and crunching, fallen leaves. Berman paused at the edge of the putrid swamp, proud of all he’d accomplished in so short a span of time. He looked down at her hand, so small in his, her delicate wedding band screaming gold against her ashen, peeling skin. He paused, and remembered the way she would smile when they were young and still falling in love. Where had they gone so wrong…?

Berman’s reverie was broken by the loud SNAP! of wood echoing across the water. In an instant, he dropped the hand into the murky blackness, his eyes scanning the horizon for the source of the interruption. He spotted the glaring red of a windbreaker stabbing through the faded greens and tans of the vegetation of the opposite shore, then heard the familiar jangle of dog tags. Just a dog and its owner, out for a walk.

Had they seen…?

Just follow The Plan, Berman assured himself, as he lowered his gaze and attempted to maintain a casual gait back to his car. One piece a day. Focus on your routine. They’ll never suspect.

Once they’d married, Berman’s wife had always nagged him about his lack of follow-through. As he caught a glance at himself while adjusting the sedan’s rear-view mirror, Berman realized he was smiling at the thought.