By Cayt Mirra
a disappearance in five acts
(in which said acts become progressively smaller)
Dale blinked as the fluorescent lights assaulted her retinas; she took a deep breath, and walked through the open doorway. The rhythmic hum of rows and rows of machines seemed to her the perfect soundtrack to the eerily doppelganger-esque women in front of her: blonde, thin and apparently high on Prozac. They seemed to move in unison, stopping and lifting their pristine heads to look at her, ponytails bouncing behind them. If it was possible, their smiles seemed to grow even wider. But, Dale thought to herself, their eyes were dead.
‘You’re new here!’ said blonde girl 1. ‘Please take a seat through here and one of our coaches will be with you shortly’.
‘Oh, ummm… OK thanks,’ muttered Dale. She felt clumsy. Her mouth was dry and her feet seemed to drag as she walked, her arms flopping about uselessly at her sides. She didn’t want to be here.
And yet here she was, joining a gym.
The coach entered. His muscles glistened and his blonde-tipped hair was held hostage with a wet-look gel to create a look that, Dale thought, was completely inappropriate this side of the 90s.
Why the fuck am I here? she thought. But it was too late now. She was here. When she could be at home reading a book or going out for a beer.
‘Hi Dale, welcome to the Flash Fitness family!’
Dale was pretty sure she vomited a bit in her mouth. She tried to smile. She tapped her foot. She wanted a cigarette.
‘First off, let’s find out a bit about you. Oh, but before we start, here’s a Flash Fitness tracker. It’s complimentary when you sign up’. And before she could say ‘get me the hell out of here’ the sleek black fitness band was around her wrist, blue lights flashing up at her as if waiting impatiently. ‘So Dale, tell me why you’re here.’
‘Ah, I guess to improve my fitness?’
‘That’s a great goal. And do you have a goal weight?’
‘I’m pretty happy with the weight I am now actually,’ she replied indignantly, her voice finding its strength.
‘Great,’ smiled the coach, unperturbed.
The conversation went on much like this until suddenly there were forms in front of her and the coach was handing her a pen.
‘So if you could just sign here, I can take you through and show you around.’
Dale assessed her options. She could sign now and then just cancel later, or she could walk out now. But she didn’t want to be rude and she felt like she had wasted this man’s time. She would just call later and apologetically back out.
She signed the form.
She had to admit, the place had everything. A sauna and steam room, a pool, every type of fitness class she could imagine, even a cold-pressed juice bar and a hair salon. She had still tried to cancel her membership, back in that first week. Thinking back, she could hardly remember what had happened. She had spoken to a girl and it had seemed really hard to do because she had signed all those forms and she would have to cancel in person and really she should give it a go. So Dale decided if she was paying the fees she might as well get her money’s worth.
She signed up for a Pilates class and a spin class to start off with. One night a week she relaxed in the steam room and then went for a swim. Soon she was coming in before work for yoga and meditation, and on the weekends for boxing and a chia seed and cucumber juice with friends. Because she had gym friends now. They wore expensive active wear and had bouncing blonde ponytails.
She had developed a liking for protein bars and vege chips. She had purchased some pricey compression leggings, so that people would know she was serious about this whole fitness thing.
The beautiful people at the gym smiled at her as if she was one of them. Why had she ever thought that they had dead eyes? Why had she ever felt judged? Before she had been heavy, stuck in mud. Now she was a bird, in flight with her flock.
Soon she was doing three sessions a week with a personal trainer. His name was Sven and he was gorgeous. She wore her fitness tracker religiously. It didn’t have a screen – it sent the data straight to Sven. He assured her that she was improving dramatically.
People complimented her on her improvements. They all thought she looked great. She wanted to look even better.
She had lost weight. Thirteen kilos to be exact. She was very proud of this fact – proud of being lesser.
She had gotten rid of her phone. She didn’t need it. Her old employer kept calling her, wondering why she hadn’t come in. The ringing was interrupting her workouts. Plus, she saw all of her friends every day at the gym anyway. The other people – the ones she had known before – they had only been holding her back.
She started adding protein powder to her cold-pressed juice to give herself extra energy; she seemed always to be tired. She did not go home every night. Flash Fitness gave its members 24 hour access (what good value!) and so she would often stay all through the night. She especially enjoyed a late night swim. She had gone down three clothing sizes, which had given her an excellent excuse to buy a new wardrobe.
The water had been cut off in her apartment, but that was fine, because the showers at the gym were much nicer than her one at home anyway. Plus, she was doing three back-to-back classes every night now. Who wouldn’t need a shower after that? Her mornings were reserved for Sven, followed by juice with the girls. Then she would go for a steam and a swim, and wolf down a protein bar or two (she was such a pig) before her evening classes. She was thriving off the routine.
Her hair was falling out. She kept meaning to pop into the Flash salon to see if they could help, but it was so hard to find the time. There was so much to do. So much to become.
She felt a sudden explosion of pain as her face hit the treadmill. She must have passed out, just for a second. She pulled herself up and looked at the display board. She had been running for four hours. A tiny voice in the back of her brain seemed to be screaming at her that this was wrong, that four hours was too long to run. She hadn’t had anything to drink since her last cold-pressed juice, and she was due for a protein bar. That must be it, she was just low on protein and her muscles had given way.
She wiped her face on her towel, but it came away red. Her nose was bleeding from the fall. She staggered to the bathroom and washed her face. The room swayed as she stood and surveyed herself in the mirror. She seemed to be seeing herself with fresh eyes. What had happened? Her hair (which she was fairly sure had once been black and curly) bounced behind her in a blonde ponytail. Her mouth was frozen into a perpetual smile, but she had dead eyes. There was no other way to describe them. Her bones seemed to jut out from her body at weird angles, holding up her skin like tent poles.
She had to escape. She had to run.
Sweat splattered onto the display as her feet pounded over and over on the rotating rubber of the treadmill. She felt that if she could just run a bit faster she could escape. But of course this was futile. She ran and cried exhausted tears, giving more of herself to the machine.
Beep. Time’s up!
She went to the weights. There were more of them than there was of her. She was outnumbered. But she could still lift them. Again and again. Her arms hurt. More weight. Her bones snapped.
She thought about leaving and the band around her wrist gave her a quick zap. Time for a swim! The water burned through her skin like acid but on she swam. Lap after lap, bleeding into the salty water. The scarlet droplets exploded in the clear water; a violent juxtaposition of ice and fire. As she sank into the pool’s murky depths, she seemed to dissolve into nothing. Because she was nothing. She was gone.