A Work-Out with Strange Lights
Veronica bounced on her toes, not knowing what to do with herself. She was doing it, wasn’t she? Finally doing it! Let her mother eat her words. She was wearing the robes, and she was going to finally practice tai chi. Finally. She tossed a stray curl of red out of her eyes, and saw chattering people starting to fill the room. Her lips thinned, and she reached for her phone, only to feel empty pockets. Again. Her fingers fidgeted. Agnieszka had insisted sternly on no phones. Her room, her class, her rules. Veronica breathed, and reminded herself that not once in her nearly three decades of life she had had something stolen inside a locker. So she relaxed, or tried to.
“First time?” Someone suddenly broke Veronica from her fidgeting.
“Pardon?” Veronica said without thinking. She blinked, and looked at the woman. “Oh, hello. Eh... yes. Yes, my first time.”
The woman was elderly, but beaming like a sunrise. Skin the colour of polished wood, with smiling and laughing wrinkles, she looked like a well-cared antique, and probably able to run up a mountain faster than Veronica could. She was wearing baggy trousers and an old t-shirt transparent enough that Veronica could see the tell-tale shape of a sports top.
“That energy you have,” She began softly, melodiously. She placed a hand on Veronica’s elbow. “is just what you want for this.”
Veronica blinked, “What do you mean?”
“Well, you’ll see,” She spoke softly and eagerly. Maybe she was a school teacher. “but part of what we do here is to redirect existing energy...”
“Exactly!” Her hand tightened on Veronica’s elbow. Not that Veronica minded, she needed something strong and grounded to stop her from biting her nails. “So, you’re slightly familiar with this?”
“Just a tad, really. I just know it is supposed to relax and energize you, at the same time. Never actually seen it performed, either.”
“Performed?” The woman’s eyes tightened for a second. “Well, it is quite easy...”
Veronica took note of how the woman’s chest rose slowly and steadily, even through the tightening of her jaw. Veronica suddenly was aware of how her skin was grazed by the cotton of her outfit, a red variant on the lady’s. She could feel it touching, like a breathe of wind, and it felt so nice. Odd, how she hadn’t noticed that. Odd, how her fingers had stopped fidgeting a while back.
“Oh, even if you have no experience with it, you do have experience with energy movements. You’ll find it easy, once you pay close attention,” The woman said, winking. “Besides, you’ve already let your energy travel, you have.”
Veronica matched the rise and fall of the woman’s chest, imagining as if the older lady was a grounding rod and she a dying storm. All of her raging, nervous energy captured by this unmoving, experienced, tempered fact of life and gently transferred elsewhere. Grounded, pacified.
“Oh,” Veronica whispered as the woman let go of her elbow. The world became immaterial for a moment, as if she was floating in a space, as if a boat with engines shut off in the middle of the ocean. Suddenly she felt a little disjointed, a little alone. Veronica shook her head, banishing the thought. When she looked around, the woman had been swallowed by the crowd.
“When did you people show up?” She whispered to herself. The room was quite full now, making Veronica wonder how they could all practice in such a reduced space.
At that moment she saw Agnieszka move towards the front of the room. Standing in front of a wide, mirrored wall, the woman was now wearing something flowery: long, pastel-coloured trousers, and a long-sleeved shirt covered in pink petals. The shirt had a low V-neck, and even from this distance Veronica could see the checkerboard pattern of her leotard underneath. Veronica gasped, bringing one hand to her chest, feeling what was under her own robe-like red shirt. She felt only skin down there, but for a moment it had felt as if something was tightly holding her.
“Good day to you all,” Agnieszka said, voice carrying over like the serene echo of a small creek. “And welcome all beginners to the wonderful world is tai chi.” She brought her hands together in front of her chest in prayer position. “Please, do thank yourself for allowing yourself to come to this place and begin, or continue, your practice. Every moment spent in yourself, is a moment that will always come back doubled.” She bent at the waist, leaning forwards.
It happened a little too fast for Veronica. She blinked, and looked around herself. At some point the disorderly chaos of chattering women turned into neat rows and she had somehow been added to one. She brought her hands together, and followed, three heartbeats behind, and bent and thanked herself. Thanked herself for what? Veronica stood straight again, and looked about to see some other girls and women lagging behind. What a relief, at least it wasn’t just her.
“Now, I like my practice to take place in a special space. Serene and quiet. Not stark, but one where we have the bare needs for the practice of tai chi.”
“Isn’t this a little crowded for movements?” Someone at the front asked. Veronica couldn’t see over the heads of the women blocking her.
“Some would say yes. But to me practicing tai chi in a group becomes about group movement,” Agnieszka’s smile broadened, her eyes sparkling. “In time, we all develop a collective rhythm and it feels like we’re one and the same mind. It can be powerful.” There was a pause. Her voice had broken into emotion, her eyes twinkled. “But you will feel that soon enough. Now, I’d like you all to start with the first position...”
Veronica stood with feet together, shoulders relaxed and down, head staring forwards. Her arms mimicked Agnieszka’s, placing her hands as if on a table, just below her bellybutton.
“Slow, controlled movements, ladies,” Agnieszka’s voice was slow and methodical, like the flow of a river in summer. “And as your palms come down to rest on the table, you can feel it there. Solid, grounding. There is energy under your palms, there is energy in stopping and grounding yourself. Feel it.”
Veronica’s eyes widened. “Oh.” She whispered.
There, just where her palm ended and the air began; there, where her fingers touched; there, where the solipsistic phenomenon of the self, as experienced through skin, ended; Veronica felt something solid and grounding. And that feeling travelled everywhere, making her feel as if a boulder, as if a tree, as if a tower. Veronica gasped, as did many of the other women in the room. They all gasped in unison, and they all felt it. The reality of energies otherwise disengaged from their lives. And in that moment Veronica understood why she should’ve thanked herself.
K loaded two ten kilo plates onto one end of the barbell, then clamped them shut. She let her hand trail across the metal smoothness of the bar before testing that the rack wasn’t wobbling. On the other end, there was a woman of stocky build in a neon orange top, and leggings the colour of futurepunk music . She clamped her side into place and nodded at K with a knowing, sneaky smile. K’s lips thinned, her heart beat a little erratically.
“All yours,” K said as she looked away from one beauty and down to the older woman getting ready under the bar. There were two more women in her group, one spotting the other rolling her shoulders. The former was tall, and proportionally strong, wearing baggy trackies and long-sleeved surfer’s top under a ripped shirt that had seen better days.
K had already forgotten all of their names.
“Thanks, dear,” The woman said. Short, with blonde-going-white hair, she looked more at home in a charity shop than wearing a pair of white shorts over a blue leotard and about to get lift forty-five kilos—was the woman that heavy, really?
K stood to the side, ready to help, as the charity shop woman had requested. The three spotters moved in practiced support, as the woman shouldered the weight. She took a step back and breathed in deeply. Fingers wriggling, feet grounding, charity shop looked straight ahead with focused eyes. She took another deep breath and K readied herself in case something happened. The barbell went up straight overhead as charity shop dropped into a lunge. All forty-five kilos suspended on straight arms, tight hook grip. Charity shop breathed in, slowly, deeply, and then slowly brought her legs together to wide standing as the bar lowered back onto her shoulders.
“And I still got it,” Charity shop said before going for a second overhead lunge. And a third, and a fourth, until she did her ten reps.
K clapped her on the shoulder, giving a little squeeze, She was grinning wildly as beads of sweat began to fall down her face. K couldn’t help but return that beaming grin of self-discovery; to break your personal record always felt good.
The barbells were changed; more weight loaded. K looked around the room, smiling to herself at the sight. Pride and jealously mixed in her bosom, reacting to a room full of emotions: there were smiles and grinding teeth, frustration and joy in the pain withstood. Accomplishment and boundaries pushed, framed by beads of sweat. A place like this pushed you to do better first, and only once you were changing out of your clothes, in front of your mirror, you realised how it pushed you to look your healthiest. A little self-indulgent, but K couldn’t help herself sometimes; the eye-candy was scrumptious, in most gyms. Yet, K had to be careful; it was her first time here, and she didn’t not want to be banned again for staring a little too long at the wrong age group. Some people could be sensitive, but not as sensitive as K’s imagination when she saw a woman in an outfit like Trainedform Maria’s.
“Trainedform...” K whispered.
K blinked, realising she had lost herself in her own head. She turned to spot the bar once more, as a more experienced woman attempted the same move at eighty-percent her max rep weight. K took a step back, giving her enough room. As she stepped back, K caught sight of Nana, in her group, across the room. She waved, catching her friend’s eyes. Nana gave a smile, face red and sweaty. She looked ready to bite the head off of someone, and, yet, she was still here, in a room full of strangers, some obviously showing off their bodies, and doing something that was quite painful. K was impressed, proud even. She gave a thumbs up.
The barbell was changed. K helped load it up, then got under it. The cold bite over her shoulders was a sweet reminder of earlier days when she wasn’t as tall. She wrapped her hands tight around the bar, textured steel biting her skin with playful character. It was comforting, like a good handle on a power tool. K stared straight ahead, seeing Maria inspecting the class, taking care of them. In that wonderfully bedazzling outfit. Trainedform... K shook her head—focus. Focus. She breathed in, feeling heat and strength and power surging from the core of her being, muscles and joints at ready. K glanced at Maria again, and the warmth spread. Trainedform... She breathed in rhythmically and exploded in power. A single moment stretched out. She breathed out rhythmically, and realised her legs moved from lunge to standing and the cold caress of the bar was back on her bare shoulders. When did that happen?
“How many was that?” K said, holding the weights steady over her shoulder, turning to look at the woman next to her. Jen, was it?
“Eight,” She said in the girliest lisp K had ever heard. K turned to look forward, biting her mouth to stop the shiver spreading down her back and collecting as if an overdue bill between her legs. That voice of all things, like what a little boy thought girls sounded like. Not the fact that the girl wore a zip-down Arena brand triathlon top with high-visibility neon highlights on the stitching to do weights training—fuck, why was that so hot?—but her bloody lisp. An annoying voice triggered a tasty wrongness. Damn, she was horny.
K breathed in deeply, slight bend to the knees, tension and the bar shot upwards as she dropped, catching her weight in a lunge position. Once, twice. Her arms ached, her shoulders were burning. She felt a familiar pressure around her belly, deeply entrenched as if every muscle had compressed her bones ever so slightly. She felt grounded and sweaty and hot. Really hot. She smiled to herself as she paced the barbell back on the rack, staring straight ahead at the tight ass in patterned green tights right in front of her. Oh... when did that one show up? Just now it had been a pair of really short black shorts. But... how would this green ass feel under the squeeze of her fingers? K stared for a second longer and then stood up.
“Ah, that felt really nice,” K said. Hoping her voice wasn’t betrayed, she rolled her shoulders. She was stiff, she was.
“The control on those...” Charity shop lady said, “You barely pushed anything, the bar simply floated off of you.”
K shrugged, unloading the bar for the tall woman. K smiled at the woman and suddenly saw how young she actually was, probably not even out of college yet. “I had a good coach when I started lifting, that’s all.” K said, turning her head downwards as she played with her wrist guards, in an attempt to hide her blushing. Dangerous places.
“Oh, don’t be modest. It never becomes pretty girls like you,” Charity shop said and immediately turned to the tall college girl with her ill-fitting runner’s gear. “Now, dear, you ever done this?”
Pretty girls, K thought.
The runner girl shook her head.
“Okay, let me tell you how to do it proper-like. So we’ll go with just the bar, so you get the right move just right...”
K blinked, the words fading. She saw something dazzling, black and white patterns dancing like oil ripples on a lake. She blinked, trying to pull away only to fall deeper. Muscle tensed, making something primeval inside K purr. Her inner ears tingled for a moment; there was a tempo in the air, barely there, and something to be read hidden amongst ripples of shapes...
“Everything okay, ladies?” Trainedform Maria said, turning towards the tall girl who was just shouldering her weight.
K looked away from those toned, beautiful, long, toned, possibly good to bite legs with the mindboggling patterns. She breathed in deeply, biting the inside of her mouth. Not here. Fuck, she was too horny. She looked away and caught Nana in the corner, just shouldering a barbell with two light plates. Her squat was amazing. And the way she was dressed! Oh, that outfit was so Nana, K mused. You could see where she had compromised for what the shop had carried, in her leg-hugging leggings and the arm-hugging long-sleeve of her leotard. Two bits of shiny, smooth, yellow spandex that K would love to sneakily run her fingers over, every now and then sneakily moving a hand up the quiet girl’s t-shirt or short making Nana squeal in a flustered, uncomfortable—
K felt something catch in her throat. Her eyes wide, she breathed in loudly; anything to mask the sound of her heart drumming a heavy metal song in her ears. Drown the distracting ideas. Drowning... Damn, it felt like a lake down there, K thought. So wrong. Nana was her friend, and she knew just how Nana was about other women touching her. K breathed rhythmically. It was all just in the head, a fantasy. It would never happen. What Nana needed was support. So K looked up, caught her friends eyes and gave her the most supportive smile and thumbs-up possible.
Nana quickly broke eye contact and looked forward. Slowly she squatted, slowly, got to the bottom and felt her knees shaking on the way up, shaking hard. Finally she stood up and felt a hand on her back correcting her stance again. How did the others do it without shaking? K basically had used telekinesis to make that bar float! And that hulking woman in front of her was shouldering a bar that was even bending from the weight on it!
Finally after a short eternity, Nana placed the bar on the rack and felt as if someone had installed a boiler somewhere between her pancreas and intestines. She so wanted to curl into a ball on the floor, but not really. Something in the primeval part of her brain, the one aware of how to be a human, told her not to, and, for once, she was open to its advice. Odd, that, moving like a human; moving naturally. Did it count if you were using external sources like a barbell? She let her hand trail on the steel rod, and began to unload the bar for the next one in the queue. Each disc that just two minutes before felt heavier than weeks of lumbering self-depreciation were now light by comparison. Nana wondered if that was exactly how it worked, strength building; that you were strong because you knew just how light things were compared to others. Nana huffed, putting her hands on her knees; they were really smooth and really yellow, she realised. She stared at the colour, wanting nothing more than to be home under a blanket. But at the same time she wanted to be here and see this through. She looked up to see Stephanie put a hand on her shoulder, smiling. The girl looked like Nana, with thick glasses and a shy stare that met you halfway and then abandoned you. Nana tapped the girl’s hand, saying she was okay. Stephanie giggled and then went to lift her bar.
Maybe it was seeing people like her that made it difficult to run away screaming and crying. They were, after all, just regular women; Stephanie was shy and small, hiding leopard-print tights under baggy shorts. Karla was chubby, but wore it with pride. Gretchen was middle-aged and fragile looking, but used colour and long stripes to lead the eyes away from her body to her still-astounding face. And Angharad simply looked like a stereotypical girl from Carmarthen, just in pink leggings and a lot of make-up. Good thing that pushing twenty-percent of her body weight distracted her so, because Nana was having trouble accepting the fact that not every woman in that space was there to “look hot”. Some of them wore simple clothes that wouldn’t look out of place on a Sunday afternoon watching bad films on Netflix, probably with a hot brew in your hand, and a blanket. A thick, woolly blanket.
They were like her, each woman in the room. And they were like instruments, creating a symphony. Bass grunts, and metal staccatos as people shouldered cold, uncaring steel. Clinks and clanks, metal against metal. Heavy breathing. Deep gong impacts that shook the building when a bar was dropped. The whole place was layered with the sound of women. So simple, having these four women to help her just be here. Nana had to give kudos to Maria for pairing them up. That woman understood the importance of support. Your turn, Nana thought before moving to spot Stephanie. Just in case, you know? Spotting wasn’t about the eventual failure, but the support allowed people to push beyond their made-up limits. It made sense to Nana only after she lifted her second set. She was never going to fail, but having Karla and Gretchen there to catch her and nudge her a little when she faltered did made her complete the ten reps. She never thought she would get past three! Such strange concepts, the gym taught you.
Through her glasses, Nana looked around. There were those who looked like hobby Olympians. There were those who simply were fit, like K. There were old ladies and teenage girls. There were overweight and underweight people there. They were all people. Individuals, and not part of that very other group of people Nana didn’t like. Hypocrite, much? Suddenly the room wavered and that sinking, self-realization feeling in the pit of her stomach reared its ugly head. Nana bit her tongue. She was strong. She lifted those weights, she could lift that feeling and banish it! But—
Through her glasses she saw snippets, parts of a whole. All of them photographs on a timeline, a journey onto itself. Each one unique, each one personal. Different places of that journey, but they were all travellers. Damn it, K, you were right, Nana thought, and suddenly the feeling was gone.
Nana looked at K, wanting to meet her eyes once more and not look away. For once, she wanted to hold that gaze and say it. Her mouth puckered, though. K’s hand on a tall, dark woman’s lower back, squeezing softly. She saw them talking, a little too close, smiling. Nana’s left eye twitched. Why? Why here? Her thankful stare turned cold, dagger-like.
“Okay, ladies,” Maria said loudly from somewhere in the middle of the room.
Nana straightened. Had K seen the anger on her face? Hopefully not.
“Now that the warm-up is done, it is time to get into the WOD proper. If you could all put the racks away and find a space with your own barbell, please. And load it up to the same weight you had on your first set.”
The clank of metal filled the room as the women began to change the space. Nana took a barbell and found a space at the back, wondering exactly what was going on.
“I thought that had been the workout.” She said out loud to no one.
“Oh, don’t worry love,” Maria said. “The fun is about to start.”
Hundreds of thoughts had passed through Veronica’s mind in the space of twenty minutes. There was a phenomenological bubble made manifest, her body moving in rhythmic perpetuity. A metronome of flesh. Veronica became Dark Wave, with its repetitive, calming beats, intertwined with introspection in the form of synthesised sonic manifestations. Veronica became music. Breathing controlled by movement, movement controlled by breathing. And at the front of the room she stood, their trainer wielding calming commands, a puppet mistress in an outfit designed to question’s the individual qualities of one’s senses, break down systems of thought.
“You turn to the left, leg stretched out, heel first,” Agnieszka says. An instrument human, she was. The woman flowed from pose to pose, like melt water flowing down a mountain endless and unimaginable. Veronica stared and, like the other twenty women in the room, she mimicked. Copied their trainer. “Push out the energy, breathing out, your hands flowing into the next position. You allow the energy to enter you as you breathe in, and allow it to come to you,” She continued, flowing inwards, left leg bending and weight flowing onto the right. Feet planted on the floor, hands floating, moving in the air as if something else were holding them.
This feels so wonderful, Veronica thought, moving in unison with her trainer. Their trainer. Inwardly, Veronica smiled, even if her face was calm and focused. Through the body, focus and freedom-of-the-mind ensued: allowing for a stream of consciousness to play uninhibited. Images from yesterday, from today, from tomorrow and from the many times she said out loud “I’ll go to tai chi this week” and here she was. The movement was its own metronomic meditation. Of this pretty lass, the mind was liberated. Strings attached to her body, but the mind was everywhere else and here at the same time. Someone else was moving her, yes. Yes, she had all control. Breathe in, move; breathe out, move. But Veronica didn’t know how to move. Agnieszka did. She was training them.
Veronica gasped. Everyone gasped. Realisation collective: one body, one thought. A spike of energy spread from Veronica’s spine all over her body; a blanket of static permeating over her skin. Her hands were moving so slowly, moving real energy, as Agnieszka had said. Allowing yourself to tune in to the energy around you, inside you, and guide its flow, was key. Veronica was being trained. It made her relax further as she moved her hands as if there was a ball between them. She breathed in, right hand just under her chin, left hand just under her navel, palms facing each other. She transported the ball of energy to the right, her legs flowing with her. She let the ball dissipate, giving it to the world, and as she moved back to center she crafted a new one. Her own energy. Her own self.
“Bring the energy close,” Trainedform Agnieszka said. Her trained voice met the sounds filling the room at the right moment in time. There was the music of Agnieszka, and the music of the room, and the music of each woman’s body moving to mimic Agnieszka’s every movement until there was a whole rhythm to the room. “And then send it back to the world.”
Veronica was barely a hand span from the woman to her right and the woman to her left and the woman right in front and the woman standing behind her, and yet they never touched. They moved as one, flowing in and out like liquid puzzle pieces.
“Breathe in,” Their trainer said as she came to center, hands being placed on an imaginary table. “Step forward, breathe out. Let your mind guide your breathing, guide your movement.” Her hands came close together, closer yet.
“This isn’t a tai chi move,” Veronica heard someone whisper softly.
“Shhh...” Agnieszka said. It echoed softly, loudly, powerfully. “No more words. Just move slowly. Let the movement think for you. Just let your thoughts flow out, and let the moves flow in.”
Veronica did. They all did. There were no more words spoken.
Veronica brought her hands close to her chest, so close, pressing them tight. Where were her thoughts?
“Flow in. Feel the air that you bring with your movement, feel the energy you allow into your own self. Feel how it tightens around you, inside you.”
Veronica breathed in, feeling it. It was there, wasn’t it? It wasn’t just wishful thinking.
“With every step, with every move,” Their trainer said, arms flowing in the air like a river in spring. “You are aware of something pulling at your body. You’re not restricted, no. It is one with you. You’re moving, freely, as usual. You are in control. Just follow the moves, and you are in control.”
Yes, in control, Veronica said. There was a familiar tug at her arms as she extended her right arm rightwards, palm stretched upwards, elbow bent. She paid it no mind. There was a ball of energy in her hands, and she spun it around, left palm now facing upwards as she began to flow to the left. She could feel something tight against her skin, everywhere. So wonderful, Veronica thought, but paid it no mind. The synthesis of energy in her mind, body, soul was everything.
“Such a wonderful feeling, when you become in tune with the world, with one another, with me, your trainer,” Agnieszka said, every word in rhythmic synchronicity with her flowing motions, and the barely-there music in the room. “It is a sensation of closeness. And you can feel it on your skin. Everywhere on your skin. So tight, never restrictive—comforting.”
“Yes,” Veronica whispered.
Many others whispered.
“And you move and feel it spreading, can you not?”
“Yes,” They all whispered.
“Keep moving and breathing, feel the growing tightness spreading everywhere. Every move you’re aware of it. The energy in the air, you can feel it on your skin. In your mind. Everywhere.”
Veronica moved, nodded. Hands one way, hands the other way. It was there.
“Never restrictive, but comforting. Covering your skin. Can you not see it?”
Agnieszka moved calmly, softly. She looked like a projection of black-and-white film onto a ghostly form. She wasn’t bound by gravity, she wasn’t bound by this world. She was her own form of energy. Every move made Veronica’s eyes pulsate. Such was the energy they moved with every flowing motion of their bodies; it made them feel what could only be felt if they opened themselves to it. Looking at Agnieszka hurt, but it was a good hurt. It was the pain of tearing down preconceptions and learning new modes of listening. With every move Agnieszka dazzled the group. Her body a black-and-white wonderland. Patterns made to trick and deceive and hide and enlighten. Her legs shone under the lights, shone so nicely. Her body so strong, so beautiful, encased so tightly in a wonderful outfit.
“Yes,” Veronica heard her body respond.
“You’re becoming stronger. Better, if you can feel it. So many layers of it, everywhere on your skin. Energy upon energy. Look at it, see it happen before your eyes. See yourself becoming trained.”
Veronica followed the flow of her arms. Moving from the left, she saw the long sleeves of her tunic shrink. She breathed in, coming to center, feeling the tightening around her chest. She breathed out, right leg outstretched, and followed her right arm as the sleeve became skin-tight. Had she been in any other mindset she would’ve stopped to look in wonder. But she couldn’t stop, didn’t want to. She simply felt as her robe once a soft caress, become a close embrace. She felt the turquoise material tighten around her belly, over her breasts. Felt the open collar close slowly around her neck in a soft turtleneck.
“You will become your best self,” Agnieszka said softly. Echoing everywhere, everything. “In tune with one another. With yourself. With all of the energy in the world.”
Veronica felt the energy wrap around her body tightly, pulling and tugging. Her legs moved, and she felt the fabric growing tighter there too. What would it turn to?
“Yes,” They all answered.
“You’re connected to me, your trainer...” Trainedform Agnieszka whispered.
Veronica looked intently, following the moves, reading the words on her trainer’s body. They were becoming clearer and clearer, those hidden meanings, as her outfit became tighter and tighter. She was intent, but her eyes gave her more to feast; on the periphery of her vision, she could see the other women in the class. Wherein there had been baggy trousers, there were none. Where she couldn’t see what was hiding under the comfortable robes, she now saw the details of hipbones and scapulas.
What... Veronica thought for a second. She kept moving as one with the room. She blinked and looked slightly to her left. It was an act of a strong will, to not look at the truthful words in front. Veronica’s head snapped back to the front. No... She willed her head to turn again, her body moving, all of their bodies an orchestra and Agnieszka a conductor. Veronica turned slightly, saw a girls trousers turn from dull to something shiny enough for a Hollywood magazine. Her head snapped back forward.
“Breathe in, and breathe out. The energy is yours to control. And every time you complete a cycle, a wave...”
“You learn Sorensenze...” Veronica whispered in unison with her Trainer.
Clamouring and cathartic were the notes coming from the speakers, fit for a riot. Intensity permeated every beat, a basic, electrifying energy like that of a skipped heart beat. Drums galloping to war. Guitars shredding like artillery fire reloading. Bass vibrating the atomic fabric of the universe. It fit the space: steel and banging, grunts and rhythm. The music informed the work-out, and the work-out informed the music. Which had come first? It didn’t matter. They were perfectly matched. Physical space, psychological space, emotional space; come together, a mighty offense. Washing upon their selves was finality.
At the front of the room Maria held her barbell in a sumo squat grip, loaded to twenty-five percent of her body weight. How K knew that, it was beyond her. She felt her hands beating against the warm steel, beating, beating to a rhythm she should know. But it felt different. It felt... metallic. It was a testament to her station, that she could hear the woman’s voice over the clamour of, well, everything.
“Good job, ladies!” Maria said, loud enough, just loud enough, to be heard over the music. “Now, we will be doing increasing sets. Starting with five...”
And in unison the whole room strained. They lifted their bars, coming to standing, thrusting their hips close to the bar at the very top.
“Four...” They came down. The sound of some bars being dropped, a deep, powerful beat against the floor that made the whole room shake.
“Three...” They repeated. K was barely breathing hard, but she could already feel her muscles burning. This would be a work-out that would stay with her for days.
“Two...” K heard other people breathing louder. Heard people struggle, but didn’t hear a single faltering sound. She breathed steadily, focused.
“One...” She had to focus, do well. It was a fun workout, and it was the most intensive she’d done in a long while. K had to do well. She had to do her best.
“And now, time for slow push-ups!” Maria said, coming down to a high-planche. “As we agreed, modify as necessary. But these are going to be really slow push-ups. Do what you can!”
K saw one of the young girls come to a kneeling push-up in front of her. Her leggings were riding in between her buttocks, and her calves were quite toned. K came to a high-planche, focusing.
“Let’s do eight, people! Just eight! Three seconds on the way down...” And then they all began lowering, at intervals. Some slower than others.
K lowered, slowly. She had to focus. Focus on her own body, focus on Maria at the front, and what glimpses of sense could be seen. Focus on drowning out the heavy metal playing all around them. Focus on not staring too long at the other pretty girls and losing her focus.
“And now, to the standing crunches!” Maria said. K blinked, coming to standing. They did eight? When?
Their trainer was standing on a little platform at the front of the room, legs apart. Her leggings were refracting light off from a nearby spotlight. Looking away was somehow more difficult than not looking at it. Maria stood tall, hands behind her head. You could see her tight muscles contracting, her weight pivoting slightly to her right, as her left knee lifted high and strong to touch her elbow, before coming down.
“And two...” She said loudly.
K breathed in as her leg touched the floor, breathed out as she crunched. Sweat was rolling down her back. Heat was filling her body. Sweat rolled down her forehead. She could barely think. She simply followed Maria’s instructions, through the pain, through the exertion. What was it about a collective class that made you push, even when you wanted nothing but to quit? Focus. Lose focus, and you risked hurting yourself. Lose focus, and you risked failing. No one wanted that, least of all K. Let others laugh if she couldn’t finish a work-out. But she would never allow herself to go through that again. It was okay to fail, but K wanted—needed—the high at the end of an accomplished work-out. She needed it. Focus. Do not falter.
Her hands gripped the barbell once more. K breathed in, heart hammering infinitely in her chest. K tensed as Maria commanded, feeling her unitard cling tighter against her skin, sweat reducing the space between fabric and skin. K lifted. They all lifted. Clink of metal, grunts of exertion, the scent of sweat, all in unison. All following the trainer. Focus. K felt her unitard pull and tug. Felt the metal bar warming up to the heat from her hands. She felt head leaving her body in waves, lifting off in the colder air. If K could focus on anything but the workout written in the pattern on Maria’s outfit, she would see the vapours dancing in the air.
“Good ladies. Breathe, and focus on your moves. Nothing else matters, but focusing on finishing this one workout. Come on!” Maria said as she came off the floor from another set of push-ups.
K breathed in and focused at the front. The women to her sides faded into darkness. K focused. The music faded. K focused on Maria. Focused on the swirling, confusing mass of lights around the woman. Lights played off the trainer’s leggings, off her taut belly, off her muscular arms, off her bright, orange top. Somewhere in the room there was a spotlight, shinning imagination turned into light and casting a shadow in the shape of a trainer on the wall. There were patterns in those lights, moving like a dance. In the darkness of the room, Maria’s legs multiplied, danced, moved right inside K’s mind. She couldn’t look away. She had to focus on the meaning hidden amongst those fantastical patterns. K breathed in, lifted. Followed instructions...
“Good girls,” Maria said. The room was silent; only her voice carried any presence. They lifted, all of them, the weights in their hands forgotten. Bodies moved, commanded by the trainer at the front. K stared ahead, over bodies she would lust over, and stared only at the pretty patterns and nothing else.
“And hundred.” Maria said, and her barbell dropped. All barbells dropped at once. All women remained standing, some with shaking legs, some with useless arms. But the coach had not moved, so they couldn’t move. They could only stare ahead, at the dancing magical patterns, engrossed in their unique meanings.
K stared ahead, breathing deep and slowly. The feeling of heat coming from deep within, traversing through skin and out into the colder air, was liberating and oppressive all at once. K was trapped in the sensations of her own body, trapped and unable to think. The heat was everywhere, wrapping tightly around her brain. So K stared ahead, and read. The music was gone, replaced by the sound of hammering hearts and panting breathes. In comparison with the guitars and drums, the silence was too loud. K retired from that silent nightmare, retired into the warm bondage of her own body; trapped inside her flesh, was her mind. K read the contract of swirling patterns projected upon Maria, absorbed its meanings. K was being trained, K realised, somewhere inside her own mind, and it felt so good. So she read, to learn, to be trained by a Trainedform, for a Trainedform knew what to do and K didn’t. Trainedforms knew how to imporve K. K wanted to be better. K focused, stared ahead, waited.
“That was amazing, girls. All of you deserve an applause and a reward!” Trainedform Maria said, clapping loudly. No one else moved. The claps echoed eerily in the pitch-black room. “How do you feels, girls?”
“Hot...” Came a series of whispers. “Hot...” Intake of breath. “Hot...” Came the whispers.
“Good! As you should. You feel really hot, don’t you?”
Intake of breathe. Outtake of breath. “Hot...” They whispered in their own time.
K felt hot. Had been feeling hot for a while now. Her unitard felt so tight against her skin. So very tight. So hot. Her skin was wet, everywhere. Where did the sweat stop and something else, something sticky and tasty and oh so wrong, began? K couldn’t tell; K focused on their trainer.
“It is time for a small reward, girls.” Trainedform Maria said, and if any girl noticed the smile on her face, they couldn’t do anything about it.