I actually wrote this a few years ago now – in 2009, my records tell me. An atypical, fairly straight little storyette. Not from my life, or at least not all of it, but from many lives.
She was running. Her breath was coming in shallow, throat-sharping breaths, sweat slicking her fringe to her forehead, cheeks flushed, sweat making increasingly wide and acrid splotches under her arms.
She flicked a glance at the digital display. 5mph. Heartrate wobbling dangerously on the edge of the red warning bars. 48 minutes completed. She pushed the speed button a couple of times, slowing the machine to a trundle while she plodded for a minute, holding her hand against the side of her body as if to prop it up. She glanced at the display again, then took a swig of water, wiped her forehead, and broke back into a run.
Three quarters of an hour later, and the staff were gently intruding into her treadmill trance to let her know the gym was due to close in half an hour. Reluctantly, she stepped off the machine, stumbling a little as her feet touched steady ground for the first time in over an hour.
She stood directly under the showerhead, barely moving, allowing the hot stream to cascade over her for a while. She emerged pink from exertion and heat, braced herself, and stepped onto the scales.
She’d lost a pound since yesterday. She was disappointed. Losing weight was great, but at this rate she’d be huge for months.
She dressed and drove home, revolving plans to shift the remainder of the weight. Perhaps if she just had cereal tonight, then she could have salad for lunch tomorrow, maybe allow herself a couple of those nice sesame Ryvitas later on. And she needed to run more, of course.
She got up early in the morning and, despite the chill in the early spring air, went for a run outside. By the time she stood, drooping, under the showers at work she’d run miles and was once again pouring with sweat. She allowed herself a small biscuit with her morning cuppa, but uneasily resolved not to have milk in her tea all day to compensate.
She ate lunch – a small salad – at her desk rather than go to the cafe with her colleagues. She couldn’t bear the clumsy “oh go on, one cake won’t hurt” comments and figured that when they protested “But you’re skinny already, you don’t need to lose weight” they were just being kind. It only took standing in front of the mirror to see that her neck was still fleshy, her stomach rounding over the top of her trousers, thighs too chunky and rippled to contemplate. She disgusted herself.
Her head ached, and she was struggling to concentrate, numbers and formulae blurring and flipping before her eyes. She kept blinking firmly and opening her eyes wide to try to make the shapes swim into a smeary kind of focus.
As she passed her hand across her forehead again, she noticed her colleague, Mark, looking at her. He saw she’d noticed and smiled sheepishly and then asked if she was ok. She flipped a feeble, feelingless smile at him and said she was fine.
She’d been letting her head drop, she realised. He must have been staring at that fleshy neck, practically forming double chins in that unflattering pose. Concerned about me my arse, she thought bitterly.
She left at five on the dot, not that she really managed to do much, and turned down, yet again, the weekly invitation to the post-work Friday night booze up.
She drove straight to the gym and ran for a couple of hours before she weighed herself again. She’d lost a pound. The child in her wailed and stamped her foot in frustration. Maybe if she stuck to the black tea, got rid of the biscuits, and didn’t have cheese with her salad she’d do better.
She drove home and wept as she listened to a voicemail from Mark, tentatively asking if she was ok and whether she’d be up for going for coffee at the weekend. Great, she thought, take the piss out of the fat girl. I bet they were all listening to him, snickering into their drinks at the idea the fittest bloke in the office would be interested in a munter like her.
She went through the cupboards in a tearful rage, flinging anything vaguely unhealthy into a bin liner and ditching it in the wheelie bin in disgust at herself for owning so much of it.
Overwrought and determined to avoid eating that evening, she went to bed at nine o’clock.
Another early morning, another pair of size 6 tracksuit trousers, another revolted glance in the mirror as she left the house. Ignoring the texts from her colleagues, the cheery g’mornings from her neighbours, the pain in her sides and the sweat on her body, she kept on running. Always running.