Sunlight fl oods the studio and refl ects off the mirror, casting glass-splintered patterns on the wood fl oor. I shield my eyes and look at the class. Another group of thirty-something women. Some are chubby, some are lithe. They’re always inflexible.
Beyond the usual faces, a late student walks into the room. She doesn’t look at me. She takes a mat from the pile and positions it near the back, then sits down and tilts her face to the sun. There’s something familiar about her. Something that makes me stare for a moment before starting the class.
Pilates is all about breathing. Training the body to breathe deeply from the bottom of the diaphragm. As I count to three, the class collectively sighs. It is an expiring sigh, like the sound of something taking its last breath.
In the middle of the warm-up, I see a large, red-brick house and a swimming pool with deep blue water. I lie down on my stomach, rest my cheek on my hands and watch her out of the corner of my eye. She is here in my class and I feel as if I am sinking to the bottom of that pool where there are shadows and other things I do not want to see.
I usually walk among the students, correcting posture and manipulating the less-experienced women into the right position. I know I’ll have to come to her eventually, and when I do she seems small and fragile. Sweat darkens her T-shirt and she smells strongly of perfume or floral deodorant. As I kneel down beside her and place my hands on the base of her spine, I try to think only of the things I can see. Her black exercise mat, the marks in the wood floor, the fi ne layer of dust illuminated by light from the window.
“It’s Roxanne, isn’t it?” she says, turning her head and looking at me sideways.
Her hair is longer, her face slimmer; there’s now a fan of wrinkles at the corner of her eyes.
“Yes,” I answer, quietly.
“I knew it,” she says, smiling. “I saw you.”
I don’t move, but I can feel perspiration build under my arms.
“Last week, going into the studio.”
“Do you live in London now?” I say, then look away from her eyes. “Do you all live here?”
“No,” she says, sitting up so that I have to look at her. “Just me.”
She still has soft, creamy skin, but her make-up is more professional now, drawing attention to her good features and minimising the bad. I notice how confi dent she sounds when she doesn’t have to speak in French.