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"The Witch Goes To The Gym" by Maureen O’Leary

The Witch

I’m trying to tell you that I love your aerobic dance class but jazzercise is isn’t cool anymore, right? It’s so bad for the knees with all of that high impact and jumping up and down. The body shaming aspect is terrible as well. I don’t know how you get past that on a political level. None of what you say to us seems body positive to me. I mean, why do you tell us to go for the burn?

My kind is sensitive about the burning bit anyway. You would understand if I asked you not to tell us to go for the burn. At least offer a trigger warning before class begins.

I notice that you tuck in your thumbs like a ballerina when you do the arm swings like you wish you were a real dancer. Your formal training shows in your turnout. I guess you never outgrow the ballerina’s duck walk. You never outgrow tucking in your thumbs and going for the long lean line between the middle finger and the shoulder, the hip to the knee, the ribcage down the stomach. My wrists are as thin as sticks. My hands are triangular as the heads of vipers. The waistband of my leggings is a bridge across my hipbones. They stick out like handles. Can you see my pretty bones? I am always hungry.

I can tell you had dinner last night. Is it weird if I say I want your body? You have the expensive leggings that are powerful fat compressors. Where does your fat go when you squish it so? Would the fat pop out of your neck like a balloon animal body part if I squeezed? How your head would explode if I squeezed your neck. How pretty would be your bones.


The Teacher

The class started out fine. She played “Jump” by the Pointer Sisters to get them started because she considered that song to be a real pick-me-up. Old school. She started doing a little jumping herself, on her toes, side to side. Elbows up. Her job was to show everyone that exercise was fun. Everything was possible with exercise. Anyone could have the body they wanted as long as they were willing to work for it.


The Lady Taking The Aerobic Dance Class On Her Lunch Break

The women at the school where I teach sit around the lunch table in the break room and say terrible things about people. They took the Spanish teacher Ms. Mendez who was on yard duty in the cafeteria and shredded her between them with their filthy claws, talking about her gray roots, her too easy laugh, her shoes from Target. When the bell rang Ms. Mendez might as well lay bleeding on the table, her flesh torn from her bones. I vowed never to eat with those women again. I have a prep period after lunch so I thought I would get some exercise instead. I thought I could dance to the music and forget that in my absence two English teachers were ripping out my entrails and feasting on my blood. The dance teacher started playing a tune from the 80’s and I thought, oh this will be fun. And then my skin started burning as if someone turned on a heat lamp. As if someone in the room were on fire.


The Man At The Front Desk

I couldn’t tell at first if it was just woo-hoos from ladies excited to take the class or actual screaming. I thought at first, woah those chicks are really into that old school jazzercise. I was thinking we should add a few more to the schedule, get enrollment up. Then I was like, I better call 911.


A Child Of One Of The Dance Class Student In The Gym Daycare Room

My mom ran in all sweaty and crying just when I got my turn to play with the Barbie car. She grabbed me and ran with me out the door. She squeezed me too hard. She hurt my ribs. She smelled like smoke. She smelled like bacon.


The Police Report

Officers responded to a report of a fire in the dance studio at In Shape Health Club on the 1900 Block of Broadway. Upon arrival the officers located the victim, an adult female, with life-threatening burns and a missing arm. The victim was transported to an area hospital and died at the scene. Several dance class members claimed to witness an adult female set the victim on fire. No incendiary materials were located. The suspect was not located and is considered at large. Officers conducted an investigation and generated a crime report.


The Woman Who Cleans The Bathrooms After Hours

The witch jumped down from where she was hiding behind a panel in the ceiling. These old buildings and their hidey-holes, I swear to God. You’re not getting the best of me, I said. I know what you are already. You ruined the dance studio floor with your tricks. You killed a nice lady. But she didn’t care about anyone but herself. She checked her teeth in the mirror, picked out the meat. She wanted to know: Are you going to snitch on me? She smelled like a barbeque and that made me kind of hungry even though I knew where that stink came from. I never had enough at the end of the pay period to eat so I always had to go a couple of days every month on peanut butter and crackers. I am no rat, I said. She looked at me in the mirror where I stood behind her and she put her head to the side a little in a way that made me think of a viper. Snakes eat rats as well I know, but I said to her, I am not afraid of you. And she said, why not join me? Become one like me? And I thought about that offer for a good hot minute before I said, no way, mean lady. Now be on your way.

Maureen O'Leary is a graduate of Ashland MFA.


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