No Pain, No Gain

Elsa Halling

(1950 words)

Brenda tugged viciously at the laces of her battered trainers and tied them with a resigned sigh.  She wrestled her sports bag, containing the safe, comfortable clothes of the outdoor world, into the locker and turning the key, she left the changing room.

As she made her way down the polished corridor, with its tubs of plants, to the glass door of the fitness room she glanced through the large window into the swimming pool and was relieved to see that, for the moment at least, it was empty.  The absence of swimmers made the pool look empty of water too and she was almost tempted to take advantage of the tranquillity of the glassy surface and swim straight away.  Why not spend twice as long as usual swimming and dispense with the torture of the fitness room?  It was tempting, but years of self discipline pushed the thought out of her mind, and she continued dutifully on to her regular thirty minutes of torturous boredom.

Swimming, she knew, was excellent general exercise, but what her body demanded was the disciplined exercise provided by what everybody brightly called 'a good work-out'.  It was not Brenda's idea of enjoyment.  Enjoyment was losing herself in a well written novel, taxing her brains over the Telegraph crossword, or walking with her Labrador through the fields in the Spring sunshine; not mindlessly heaving weighted bars up and down with various parts of her anatomy.  Coming here on a bright April morning on one of her precious days off work made her feel very noble.  Visiting the fitness centre was her martyrdom; a necessary evil imposed upon her by an uncooperative disk in her spine which at some indefinable point in her life had chosen, very inconveniently and very maliciously, Brenda thought, to slip out of place and cause havoc with her sciatic nerves.  It was only the all too painful memory of the agonies she had suffered, and the hours of fitness therapy she had endured in order to 'rehabilitate' her back and relieve the symptoms, that gave her the incentive to come here at all.

She pushed open the heavy door to the long narrow fitness room and walked to the far end.  Like the pool, the fitness room was also empty, but from above came the raucous music, strident yelling, and persistent thumping of an aerobics session in progress.  The piles of clothes in the changing room had told her she was not the only customer that morning, but until now she had seen no evidence of them.  'At least I am spared all that noisy bouncing about,' thought Brenda, as she selected the correct weights and began her biceps and triceps strengthening exercises.  She minded it less when she could progress in an orderly manner along the row of equipment; somehow it seemed to take less time when she was didn't have to dodge about.  It was nice to have the room to herself; normally she had to come in the evenings when the place was full, often with rather sweaty young men who spent a long time lifting weights and admiring themselves in the mirrors which ran the full length of the room.  She had just progressed to the second instrument of torture, and was lying on her tummy lifting a weighted bar with the backs of her legs when the door opened quietly and Brenda was joined by a younger woman.

The newcomer spent a few minutes on stretching exercises, something Brenda never bothered with herself, then perched herself on the saddle of one of the bikes opposite Brenda and began to peddle.  From her supine position she could only see the girl through the mirror and didn't recognise her at all.  It was a fairly small club; the cost of membership made it fairly exclusive and Brenda knew, by sight at least, most of the other regulars.  She decided this girl must be a new member.  Or perhaps, Brenda admitted, she had never seen her before because she rarely came herself at this time of day.  The fair-haired girl was peddling slowly but deliberately and smiled a 'good morning' to Brenda as she moved on to the next piece of equipment.  Brenda smiled back and returned the greeting.  From her new vantage point Brenda was able to make a better inspection of the girl.  She took in the latest style in lime-green leotards, worn over black knee-length cycling shorts and the chunky new ankle covering trainers.  The girl was in her early twenties, Brenda estimated, and was a good shape, medium height, with her fair hair fastened up with combs, accentuating her slender neck.  Comparing her own outfit of baggy tee-shirt and less than skin-tight leggings which concealed her short, thickening body, Brenda sighed and thought of the days when she could have worn an outfit like that.  The girl certainly wasn't exercising to lose weight, and at the rate she was peddling wasn't doing anything much for her cardiovascular system either, she thought rather spitefully.  'If she's here to show off her figure in her fancy leotard then she's out of luck, the only men around here on weekday mornings are retired.  You'd think she'd know that,' she mused.  'She'd be better off upstairs with the aerobics class, they all go in for that sort of gear.'

Turning her back on the girl Brenda concentrated on exercising her inner thigh muscles, adjusting the weights up to her customary level six before she did so.  By the time she had completed her set of sixty-four swings the girl had moved onto the weight equipment on Brenda's side of the room, and was working on the exercise Brenda had been doing when the girl had first come into the room.  Brenda squinted along the room to see if she could tell how much weight the girl was moving.  Brenda always liked to compare her fitness with that of other women.  Level six was pretty good for a woman of her age, who had only come to fitness training in her fifties, and she always felt smug to note that many of the youngsters were only able to lift four or five; or could only be bothered to.  Most of them were only there for the social part and spent more time in the bar than they did working out.  Although she couldn't be absolutely certain of exactly how many weights the girl was lifting Brenda could tell that it was nothing like six; two or three at the most.  A warm glow of satisfaction spread through her.  'Just a new-comer', she thought piously.  The mindless pumping of weights gave Brenda's fertile mind plenty of scope for speculation.  She began to wonder how the girl managed to be here at nine thirty on a weekday morning.  She had an intelligent face and didn't look to be the sort who would be unemployed.  Anyway if she didn't have a job she wouldn't be able to afford to be here, she concluded.  When Brenda had been the girl's age she had been married with a couple of young children, and wouldn't have had the freedom to do this sort of thing, not that she would have wanted it then.  Her earlier scrutiny of the girl had established that she was not wearing a wedding ring, 'Not that that counts for anything these days,' she thought sniffily, 'perhaps she works shifts, or she's taken some holiday, like me.'

Finally Brenda's torture was over.  She had completed her set of exercises and was free to swim, the one part of her twice weekly regime that gave her some pleasure.  Filling in her exercise chart she made for the door.  The girl looked up from the floor where by now she had progressed to body crunching and gave Brenda a little wave as she left the room.  'Seems a friendly sort, it's a shame this exercise business precludes having a bit of a natter,' she thought, as she made her way back to the changing room.  Brenda so resented the time she had to spend at the fitness centre that she rarely wasted any in engaging in long conversations with other members.  She was always polite, and passed the time of day, but that was all.  This was an alien world to her and she always longed to get back to real life.

As she passed the window to the pool Brenda checked its occupancy.  By now a couple of women were idly bobbing around, chatting in the deep end.  Probably refugees from the aerobics class, she thought.  At least it won't be swarming with screaming children, she consoled herself; the local schools aren't on holiday.  Back in the changing room Brenda retrieved her sports bag from the locker and headed for a changing cubicle.  There was quite a big open changing area, but Brenda preferred the privacy of a cubicle.  She peeled off her damp tee-shirt and leggings and put on her new swimsuit.  Brenda had never got through swimsuits so quickly before.  They used to last from one holiday to the next, and she only bought new ones because she fancied a change.  Now they needed replacing because they actually wore out.  Her last one, a bright turquoise and blue one from Marks now had not a shred of stretch left in it, and sagged when she got out of the water.  It reminded her of the cotton seersucker one she had had as a child, which weighed a ton when wet.  This new one was black and white and fitted snugly.  Brenda checked that she had put all her belongings in her bag, picked up her towel and opened the cubicle door.

She was vaguely surprised to find the young woman from the fitness room in the main changing area already pulling on her swimsuit.  It still amazed Brenda how long it took her now to do simple things like change her clothes.
The girl smiled and said, 'You swimming too?  What's the water like?'
That answered one question Brenda thought, she is a new member.
'Not too bad usually, it's a shade or two warmer when there has been an aquarobics class, but normally it's quite comfortable.'
'That's good, I hate getting into freezing water,' the girl laughed.
'Is this your first visit?' Brenda enquired.
'Yes I've just joined.  Have you been coming long?'
'Almost two years.'
'Like it?'
'Well enough, I'm not an enthusiastic keep-fitter, but I have to do it to keep my back in shape - slipped disk.'
The girl nodded sympathetically and followed her out of the changing room and into the pool area.

Brenda sat down on the edge of the pool and slid herself into the pleasantly warm water.  She turned to face the girl,
'It's lovely this morning.'
It was only then that she noticed that the girl was still wearing her trainers, the bootee style ones she thought so clumsy.  She looked at them then up at the girl,
'Aren't you going to ...' she began.
The girl laughed.  'God, yes, I'm always forgetting I can't swim in them.'
She bent to undo the laces and then fiddled around inside the right one.  Sitting down beside the pool the girl pulled off the left one, revealing a slender foot with red toe nails.  Brenda's jaw dropped though when she pulled off the second boot, to reveal - nothing!  Nothing but a tidy pink stump.
'The water doesn't do the screws much good,' she smiled ruefully, 'motor bike accident last Summer.  I'm getting myself fit to go back to work too.'