Melly and Jacklyn roped Helen into going to the gym with them. They had actually asked her several days in advance and Helen had readily agreed because, as much as she loathed exercise, she did enjoy free things and Melly was offering her a free day pass to the swanky gym where she had a membership. Regrettably, the day they had chosen was the day following the Funk Night excursion and Helen had spent a large portion of the wee hours following midnight vomiting profusely. She wasn’t the only one, according to the group message thread that had been set up specifically to organize Funk Night. Sometime around four o’clock in the morning, Priscilla had sent a photo of the back of Tallulah’s head. She was bent over the toilet bowl in the bathroom. Priscilla had taken the photo to show off the surprisingly good fishtail braid she’d done for Tallulah to keep her long, beautiful, black hair from her face. Priscilla had followed the photo with a selfie of herself, wherein she was eating poutine, giving a thumbs up, and grinning like the drunken idiot she was.
To be fair, Helen had been warned by several people about how terrible her trip to the gym was going to be with Melly and Jacklyn. Priscilla told her about the time Melly had abandoned her at couples’ yoga and how that had somehow lead to her going on a date with a drug dealer. Helen wasn’t entirely sure about the correlation because it was a lengthy rant and she had tuned most of it out. In any case, she was reluctant to ask for clarification lest she have to endure the same rant all over again.
Iggy told her about how she had been both physically and emotionally scarred during her gym trip. Apparently she’d had to run eighteen billion miles and they forced secrets on her. That really didn’t seem that bad to Helen. She was terrible at keeping secrets anyway and most of her friends knew that. If anybody really needed to keep something from the world, they generally knew better than to tell her whatever it was. On the other side of that, Melly had used Helen’s abhorrent secret-keeping abilities to spread information throughout their friend group in high school. It was all surprisingly well thought out and strategic.
Tallulah’s forewarning bore the most weight in Helen’s mind. She said things like, “Melly will take you to an aerobics class where a spandex-covered Eastern European woman will try to kill you”. Tallulah said she could barely walk home after and that there wasn’t enough water in the world to replace what she had lost doing pulsing squats. Helen didn’t even know what pulsing squats were. Tallulah said they were the work of the devil.
“Pulsing squats are what’s waiting for you in the deepest depths of hell,” she said forcefully. At that point, Helen really should’ve known better, but her love of free things got the best of her.
She met Melly and Jacklyn at Melly’s fancy, expensive gym early on Sunday morning. Aside from being more tired than she’d ever been in her entire life, Helen felt alright, which is to say she felt much better than she expected she would after her night out at Funk Night. Upon further reflection, she came to realize that was only because she was still drunk. It had been nothing but false hope. Another hour later and she was openly praying for death in the middle of an aerobics class while a woman with terrifying thighs shouted at her to work harder. Tallulah had been right; Olga was a terrifying woman and her “Fitness or Else” class was hell.
“It’s called ‘Fitness for Health’,” Melly said, rolling her eyes after Helen had told her she was going to die. They were taking a brief water break. Helen was trying to remember how to breathe properly again. It wasn’t working. She was for sure going to die in that exercise room, surrounded by the smell of strangers’ body odour.
“Whatever the hell it’s called, it’s horrible,” Helen grumbled. Melly didn’t seem to care about her plight very much. She was completely fine, breathing with ease and barely sweaty. Next to her, Jacklyn looked flawless. They both had such nice hair. Helen’s hair had formed one gigantic curl on the top of her head. She had put it up in the hopes that that would somehow dissuade it from taking over her head. She wasn’t sure that had been an entirely effective tactic.
“I’m sorry about you and Evan,” Melly said apropos of nothing. Maybe she thought that Helen wasn’t currently suffering enough and obviously the best way to combat that would be to start a conversation about her ex-boyfriend who had cheated on her with his secretary like a rom-com cliché. Besides, she knew Melly was sorry about her and Evan because she said that exact thing literally every time Helen saw her. The first time it had seemed normal. Loads of Helen’s friends were upset that she’d been cheated on. The more Melly brought it up, however, the more it began to seem like she wasn’t upset Helen had been cheated on exactly, but upset that she and Evan were no longer together. It was vaguely unsettling. It had the air of being supportive without actually being supportive, but was masking itself as something supportive.
“Yeah well, I’m sorry he’s a prick,” Helen returned.
“You smell like vodka,” Jacklyn remarked, wrinkling her nose.
“I went out last night and Sybil’s friend Suze got me hammered,” Helen answered. Suze had gotten everybody hammered. She felt alright about bringing it up because she knew both Melly and Jacklyn had been invited out as well. Melly couldn’t go because of her one year old daughter, which was reasonable, and Jacklyn cited something about needing to spend more time with her cat, which was absolute horseshit, but no one had questioned it.
“Ugh, Sybil,” Jacklyn and Melly said immediately at the exact same time. Helen looked at them in surprise.
“What,” she returned. It wasn’t even really a question.
“We don’t like her,” Jacklyn explained.
“Because she’s a mean bitch,” Melly added. It felt redundant. Either word would’ve sufficed.
“Yeah, alright,” Helen agreed, because it was true. It also didn’t really seem like a big deal to her. Sybil wasn’t that mean. It wasn’t as if she was going around making children cry or punching strangers in the face. She just had a very sardonic sense of humour. Besides which, both Melly and Jacklyn seemed perfectly content to be friends with Priscilla, who had once told Helen her face was too fat for bangs, claiming it was helpful advice from the bottom of her heart. Helen had had bangs at the time. She’d never had them again, but it hadn’t been especially comforting advice at the time.
“So you agree with us!” Jacklyn crowed triumphantly. Helen did not in fact agree with them. She considered refuting that point, but they were so delighted. They were high-fiving and Helen still felt like death so she let it go.
Olga called them back to hell a few minutes later and they began pulse squatting again. Helen could barely feel her legs. It just felt like there was fire in the general vicinity of where her thighs should’ve been. She was dreading the following day. She for sure wouldn’t be able to walk up or down the stairs. She was contemplating the merits and logistics of using her grandfather’s walker to get around when the nausea set in. It came on fast and it came on strong. Mid-pulsing squat, Helen came to the conclusion that she would almost definitely throw up on her running shoes if she didn’t make it to a toilet immediately. She bolted from the studio, Olga shouting at her as she went, sprinted to the women’s’ locker room, and managed to find an available stall. While she was heaving over a toilet bowl that had already seen the sweaty asses of many strangers that morning alone, Helen decided that it was one of the lowest moments of her young life, if not the lowest.
Helen went to Priscilla’s after the gym because it was much closer than her grandfather’s apartment and she didn’t think her legs would be able to carry her all the way back there. Priscilla was in the kitchen with Jemima when she got there, but Tallulah was nowhere to be seen. Helen assumed she was either hurling in the bathroom or dead. Iggy and Miles were sprawled on the living room floor as they hadn’t quite made it to either of their homes the previous night. Miles was scrolling through his phone and Iggy was snoring like a freight train. She was a very slender woman, but she made such tremendous noise.
“I threw up at the gym this morning,” she announced to the apartment at large, sliding onto an available bar stool.
“You went to the gym?” Jemima asked, looking stunned, horrified, and amazed.
“Yes and it was disgusting,” Helen answered candidly. “I could taste the Chinese food I ate after the bar last night and the woman in the stall beside mine had toe fungus. I think this might be the lowest moment of my life. This is it, I’ve reached rock bottom.”
“Ah well, at least you can only go up from here,” Priscilla said, patting Helen on the head reassuringly. “Or just continue to plummet until you die.”