by Rebecca Ferdinand
You are late again, as always. You had hopes of wafting into the changing rooms with fifteen minutes to spare. You would probably join the slick City girls, deftly swapping regulation pencil skirts for their Lulu Lemons. You wanted to luxuriate in the extra time to pull your leggings over the expanse of your thighs and, between Instagram scrolls, appreciate the pleasing way they shape your bum in the wall-to-wall mirrors. But, of course, at 5.01 an email lands in your inbox like a bomb, here to explain to you exactly how stupid you are, with the entire world copied in. You feel the heat of humiliation rise from your gut and flood your head. You sit in your chair for a minute, crumpled. The reply you bash out won’t fix this entirely. Changing is a cramped two-minute cardio session in a toilet cubicle.
So here you are, rushing to the studio through streets of steel and glass. You dodge tourists and take side roads. The roars and clinks of the Friday evening crowd are your soundtrack. When you finally crash into the gym, you only have time to slam your bag into a locker, before you slip into the studio, just as the instructor shuts the door.
Welcome, I’m Jem! Are there any injuries I need to know about?
Not for you. Not physical ones anyway, so you do as she is telling you and pick up the weights first, one in each hand, with arms outstretched and chest open. Breathe. You unfold. You twist your wrists first to the ceiling and then around to the floor, cutting the weights over-and-under-and-over-and-under. You burn from your shoulders right down to your wrists. And remember to breathe. You inflate.
“How can any of that matter? It can’t matter. Not when you can feel like this.”
You find your place at the barre and grasp it with both hands. Lean into the barre, bend your elbows. Your forearms shudder. And stretch. You push out and lock your arms straight, your head almost touching the barre, and then send your right leg out behind you, pointing your toe, lengthening, taking up space. You repeat again and again, push and point, push and point push and point. Somewhere around the eighth repetition you cheat and turn your head slightly, sneaking a look at yourself in the studio mirrors. You admire how much higher you can get your leg now, compared to last week. You are a force. You could take off.
You don’t get to put your leg down. Jem doesn’t do breaks. So you rest your forearms on the barre with your right leg bent behind you. On command you pulse your foot up and up and up until you don’t know how many times you’ve had to. You let the searing in your thighs flood your thoughts, drowning your work, the office, that email. How can any of that matter? It can’t matter. Not when you can feel like this.
Afterwards, you stand in the shower, legs still fizzing. You let the water run salty down your face and into your mouth. Last week you didn’t complete the final set of reps. You remember feeling your legs seize and fail, long before Jem had finished shouting the counts. But this week you made it all the way to the end. You take your time now, massaging yourself with grapefruit lava, as the steam rises and warms your fatigued body. You feel substantial. You are stronger.
Rebecca Ferdinand does marketing for a brand you’ve never heard of and writes at home in the evenings. To keep sane she steers clear of social media and goes to barre class on the regular.