Credit: Chi Birmingham

We’ve joined a hipster gym. We didn’t need to buy new workout clothes like before, when we belonged to the YMCA or that posh spot on Lincoln Avenue where everyone wore the same brand of Lycra racerback and neon sweats or, sometimes, no shirt at all. I’m in my black tights, and you bring the high-tops you had before we bought the house. At the hipster gym we wear your old shirts from when we first got pregnant and painted the office soft blue. Only, when the baby came he was a girl. But we said, She’ll be the kind of girl who doesn’t care about gender norms. Like at the hipster gym, where all the boys dress in skinny jeans and all the girls in ex-boyfriend sweaters.

We pulled our shirts from the rag bin, where they were waiting to wipe grease from the chain of your bike. Now your bike is getting a fixed-gear modification so we can ride to the gym, always pedaling, never gliding. Salvaged rag shirts are perfect for a health-conscious hipster—holes in the armpits and a splotch across the stomach where you wiped the brush clean before a cigarette break. Then, for the baby, we quit taking those breaks. Now we’ll have to pick them up again. Even though we stopped, the smoke stayed. It accumulated near the mobile and fueled the tiny felt airplanes and shooting stars that circle the top of the room. Why didn’t we think not to smoke in the baby’s room? When we were smoking, you say, it was an office.

In our first group class, we look up at the ceiling, where in other rooms mobiles hang and in other gyms there might be clouds of salty exertion and bleach. But we aren’t at those gyms. We’re at the hipster gym, and the girl up front is instructing us to splay out on our flannels like urchins. Let your ribs poke out, she says, like they’re breaking the seal of your stomach. I know what that’s like because that’s how the baby comes. She says, Let your eyes sink into your skull. Turn away. She asks, Why did you eat that bacon this morning? We don’t know why. We linger there till we can feel the burn, and then she says, Crinkle your neck. Don’t think about your breathing. When the class is over, I grind my teeth until we get a cigarette.

Does this paint stain look like grease? you ask, pointing to your shirt. I shrug and turn my lip down, like a woman I saw on the retro stationary bike, her jellies spinning the wheels slowly on her way to nowhere special. In the cardio room everyone is unimpressed, and everyone has coffee in nipple-top water bottles and secondhand mugs. No one there has much in the way of hips. We wonder where the word “hip” came from. Maybe it’s because cool people swing their hips, we say, and swing our hips. Maybe it’s because they show their hips, and we exhume each other’s midriffs. Maybe it’s the owner’s name, Mr. Hipster, you say. Maybe it’s because they haven’t had children, I say as I measure my womb-widened pelvis. You say, Maybe they don’t want them. I have another cigarette, then we need to buy a new pack.

At home, you try to have your own class. I’m the instructor and I say, Don’t relax. Let your mind wander everywhere. Imagine your body is a lake. Fill it with things: furniture, newspapers, boom boxes, office chairs with many spinning wheels, and cribs. Make your mind choppy and listen for the reverberation. Focus on things that aren’t breathing—which is easy, because most things in our house aren’t.

We pay a lot to take class. At first we think it’ll be cheap, but then we see the papers. When we sign, we don’t talk about the cost.

"Moving on at the Hipster Gym" author Tova Burstein
“Moving on at the Hipster Gym” author Tova Burstein

The instructor shrugs into a sweater that’s too large. I think, Maybe it’s her father’s. But then I see the plastic hook and a torn-off edge from the price tag, still clinging to the sleeve. Slump, she says, like you’re riding the bus. Spit, she says, just on the floor, nearby. And I do, without breathing or thinking about it. Feel the tater tots and roast beef inside you, she says. She doesn’t say, It should’ve been hummus, it should’ve been tofu. But you think it anyway. She says, Peace probably won’t happen. And she’s right, and that’s why she’s the instructor. That’s why we joined.

After class and after my cigarette, I want to go somewhere alone. But you wrecked the Toyota and the bike isn’t fixed yet, so we just go home. On the bus, I think about class. You pick at your shirt and I tell you, It doesn’t look like grease. And because the baby didn’t make it, stopped breathing in the middle of the night for no reason, I don’t tell you that the stain looks much darker than that.

Next: “The Gentle Grift”