She is busy, she wants to be busy, nonstop, to go to bed exhausted at ten and wake up angry for the day at six and not waste a second of it in melancholy or dreaminess. She is in love with her own sense of purpose, in love with books, the people she has found online, the people she knows IRL, the accessibility of this hidden and burgeoning world of occupations, protests, demos, strikes and talks, she is in love with her own sense that she incarnates a truth that she can’t yet quite express but that she will grow into that truth and that where once she was a child, a girl, now she will be a weapon.
After she eats her breakfast she heads straight for the gym, she wants her body to be flat and strong, to burn off her boobs, her bum, build muscle in her shoulders arms and thighs, develop stamina, strength, speed.
She's always the first into Wavelengths, the staff still bleary and yawning, settling contentedly into the early morning calm, the wash of chlorine coming in from the empty pool, bleach from the freshly swabbed floors. Lee used to train there, before they modernized it, in the cramped, humid studio above the pool, though he actually worked over at the bigger centre in Lewisham, did extra hours up in Woolwich at Fitness First, Gymbox in Charring Cross, the Reebok place over in Canary Wharf that he used to run to for his sessions on Thursday evening. Lewis used to go with him sometimes, up Creek Road and past the Cutty Sark, down through the foot tunnel to the other side of the river, threading through the quiet cul-de-sacs of flats and mini-marinas then following the DLR line from Mudchute, watching the HSBC tower and its endlessly flashing light grow incrementally closer with every footfall, every breath.
Here she is then, 7:10, the gym virtually empty. Lewis lays down two of the exercise mats in the area next to the free weights, watching the day reluctantly brighten through the big windows that look out onto the road, the local authority flats opposite that are being gutted and resold as part of Renovate UK's Smarten Up! campaign. The same company that are trying to kick everyone out of her block too. A white canvas banner, “Renovation is Segregation” is slung between two of the flats on the third floor, a riposte to the "Renovation is Innovation" slogan that has been springing up everywhere.
Lewis warms up with stretches both static and dynamic, stretching is important, too many people skip it Lee always insisted to her, then she begins to jump gently, experimentally from one side of the mats to the other, seeing how she feels today, how sluggish her system is, how much she has recovered from her previous workout. She takes her work log and pen out of her pocket and lays it down on the floor in front of her. Keep a record, Lee told her. She is keeping a record, a record of everything. Everything.
She jumps sideways, lands in a crouch, jumps back again and again, begins to pick up the tempo.
She's trying to leap across and land into a controlled, single leg squat, arms out to the side, not too wobbly, good form, form is crucial, but each time she topples over backwards, has to jab a hand round to support herself.
The boys in the evenings, at the weekends, when she can't avoid them, like to look and laugh, make comments, but she has her headphones in anyway listening to Kate Bush or Nina Simone. She refuses to listen to urban, whatever that means, fuck that. That's what she is supposed to listen to, right? Worry about her nails and her hair and how seductive she is and what she is wearing and the size and shape of her arse, the best way to get it looked at, but she just doesn't give a fuck about what the boys think. She is not going to try and dance or sing, though she dances, though she sings or have the kind of attitude they think is all hot and sexy. She will have an attitude alright but a different one altogether, not sassy and competitive and all about getting the attention, getting the juice. She will have a real attitude, cold, clean, sober, sexless.
Probably she gets away with things, gets a certain amount of distance and respect because people down here knew her brother, not because he was a big man or tried to run things or any of that but because he gave his time and he was respectful to everyone, because they know what happened to him and they respect her mum too for what she has been through and done in the community. Because despite all the shit that has happened to her she has kept it together, kept her dignity.Yuk, she can't believe she used that word. That's another term, another cliché she wants to scorch away. Dignity. Who is ever dignified but the defeated, the weak, the abused, the murdered, raped and marginalized when they are silently bearing their suffering, pleading their little case in quiet certainty that it is hopeless.
Fuck dignity, she wants power. She wants revenge. Strength.
Strength, strength, strength. They want you to fall apart, they want you to give in, to give up, to collapse, to say: I have had enough, I won’t fight anymore, I won’t resist you, even in my mind.
Lewis springs up from the left-hand side of the mat, the leap only takes a second or so, a huge effort, pushing the body up as high as it will go, at the apex of the curve the brain and muscle calculating at tremendous speed, beyond any possible conscious thought, the descent, the impact, how to lean into it, draw yourself down into a crouch, muscles minutely calibrating balance and counterbalance. Down, her body compressed, her mind so finely, mistily infused in all her muscles that she knew the minute she heard about the idea of the mind/body split that that was some bullshit, that the mind, if the body lies untended, unworked will drift and detach and have a seeming remoteness, but there it is: Descartes didn't do enough cardio, as the guys on Left-Wing Workouts, her absolutely favourite YouTube show like to say.
Pause, feel the signal switch, the muscles that have caught and stabilized you reverse over to those that will propel you back. She is swamped by a pair of Lee’s old Adidas tracksuit bottoms which she has rolled up and one of his T-shirts, far too big for her, that she always wears in tribute. As she leaps she sees her reflection in the glass, caught between the grey dawn and the antiseptic gym lights, seeming to ripple and flutter through the air, a series of strips and folds billowing along behind her, undulating up then layering tent-like around her tight, balled-up body.
The body is amazing, you have such abilities, capacities, powers latent within you. So much that goes unexplored that is never dragged up to surface. There is a life within you, your body's life, burgeoning, reticulated, poised and waiting just as your death is waiting, think of yourself not crawling between heaven and earth but caught instead in an uninflected state between the body's life and the body's death. No matter how much she loves her, Laura doesn't understand it, can't be persuaded of its existence, having never experienced it, the extraordinary, elevated clarity of the body's penned up energy, honed, channeled, doubled and redoubled, mounting, peak upon peak into a rare, pure seam of elated clarity. Not just the runner's high, the post workout buzz but the hormonal balance, the chemical surfeit, the body's extraordinary capacity to generate opiates endorphins, dopamine, to sweat out toxins, oxygenate the blood, heighten all the senses. Lee knew this, loved this, didn't drink, dodged KFC, kept his diet clean and explored his body's capabilities, this was where his interest lay. Lewis understands it too, she picked it up off him she supposes, used to help him with his workout routines, all body weight, pushing the table back and trying press ups and lunges and leaps and he never told her no, you can't do this, you are a girl, quite the opposite, he told her, try, try again, think about it, practice, the first time it is impossible but the fiftieth time, the hundredth time, your body is not a given any more than your mind is, it can be altered, it can grow, develop, learn.
She hears the same things from her mum about studying, when she can't understand something, her mum says, come at it from a different angle, you explain it to me, and then often she finds that yeah, she does get it, or is closer to grasping it. Now read more, don't worry about getting it all straight away, tackle different books on the same subject and read, read, read, your brain will do all the hard work for you if you just get out of its way, your brain is smarter than you are, grant it autonomy. Your body will reward you for letting it live, just as your brain will. Patience, patience. It happens. She reads up on physiology and diet and the way the body is a whole, interconnected system of tissues and tendons, ligaments, nerves and neurons, constantly converting and breaking down food, manufacturing chemicals in a set of extravagantly complex interactions and interdependencies. She knows the theory that we have three brains, the ancient brain of the instincts and drives, the affective brain and the cerebral cortex the nexus of imagination and memory, and she feels that perhaps we have three bodies, the inert body, the stagnant body, the sedentary, daily body, the alienated body cut off from its purpose, its nature, which we only experience negatively now, a drag on us, a burden, most present to us in illness or pain, then the smothered primal body of constant activity and exhilaration developed over millenia to toil and sweat and be pushed, to operate at a high level of chemical and hormonal production, the affective body, the joyful, sensual body of touching and caressing, of stimulation and sex, the untouched body, dead and dormant ready to spring suddenly to life at the lover's behest.
The body, the body, the body.
Lewis takes a deep breath and leaps. Some day soon she will perform the impossible and it will seem commonplace and natural, she will look back and wonder why, how come at some point she just couldn't get there. She will land on one leg with the other straight out in front of her and settle into a perfect, stable, solid, squat. One more attempt and her workout will be done. Then a shower, back to the flat to eat and help her mum with Lee before she has to leave for work. She goes into the changing room sometimes and and sees girls in there taking photos of their abs or their arses in the mirror, pouting, knowing they're going to put them up on Facebook or Twitter or upload them to Tumblr praying for a like or a retweet or some accolade like DAT AZZZZZ!!!! or HNNN!!! and she hates that people do it for the wrong reasons, she wants them to fuck off out of her gym, has to control her anger and just leave, stamp back up Resolution Way and past what she can only think of as the Other Gym, The Fascist Gym that has taken up residence in the arches under the railway bridge. All she sees in there is white people. Middle-class white people paying double the rate of Wavelengths, pretending to be soldiers in a separate space filled with barked commands and quasi-military insignia and that worries and disgusts her as much as the girls doing selfies in the mirror or spending all their time chatting shit to the fitness instructors or on their hands-free in full makeup and box-fresh gym gear, walking at 3.4 mph and trying to get eye contact from every boy that goes past. She jumps again, and feels her heart thump hard enough against her ribs to pin her up there in the air at the peak.
Sometimes it almost all comes into focus, she feels on the edge of a system, a holistic system of her own, the body within the body, the mind within the mind, the world within the world, the interrelation and interdependency of these things and somehow, more and more she begins to think in terms of blackness. She watched a documentary that she found in a box of old VHS tapes in her mum's room a few weeks ago called Baldwin's Nigger, intrigued by the title, and she was blown away. She has read everything she can get hold of by Baldwin now and is in love with him. There is a line in the film she remembers, that struck at her and stung her into an even greater state of wakefulness, “we are the flesh that they must mortify”.
Love. She thinks of Laura, how she is entranced by her body, loves to see all that voluminous pale flesh gathered up in her small, dark hands. And in truth she even actively encourages her to grow bigger, fatter, imagines her as a yielding, mountainous, rose-pink and white continent over which she joyously scrambles just as Laura sees her perhaps as an adventurous, determined son, powerfully and doggedly, demandingly plucking pleasure from her. The desire within desire. These rings and knots and circuits, feeding back and shifting in an endless, ungraspable exchange. At least, ungraspable for now, for her, but she will read, and listen and watch and study, and then she will strike and turn the world inside out, so that it its buried truths may liberate us all.