Time was once when Ellie felt perfectly happy to seen in the buff amongst good friends. Communal changing rooms, skinny-dipping, hell, even the odd shared shower didn't faze her. This here is the very woman who once spent several glorious weeks tanning it up on the nudist beaches of San Tropez.
However, having since accumulated several children, one badly botched tit-lift, and a lumpy duffel-bag where her belly used to lie, these days she much preferred to own a little privacy whilst disrobing.
Yes, of course she is all too aware of her flabby flesh, which is the obvious reason why she coughed up the certainly not insubstantial subscription to join with a sodding gym in the first place. How demoralising and cruel to be expected to undress before this plethora of bronzed, vitally young and svelte, anorexic/bulimic stick-insects.
Ellie continues to curse as she negotiates her sizable knickers off, ever straining to hold her towel together, whilst simultaneously darting the evil glare to anyone who may even be thinking to look her way.
It's all more than just a tad demeaning, especially when the mutinous towel goes and hits the friggin’ deck.
Thank God for the Prozac she thinks, scraping up the wretched rag, and re-winding it.
Finally, with jogging pants successfully donned, and hair scrunched back into her eldest daughter's elastic hair band, she steels herself ready to enter the ladies-only section of the gym.
Only to meet with further mortification.
The so-called “ladies only” section appears thickly populated with male fitness instructors, all there to helpfully assist the aforementioned Barbies to further stretch and tone their oh-so-supple torso’s.
What joy. Here she is in the middle of the set of Baywatch, and guess who the guest beached whale is?
Taking to the treadmill, she thumps around for a bit, belatedly realising what a sound investment a sports bra might be.
Red-faced and breathless, she tunes her earphones into The Jerry Springer Show, and tries to focus on the upset young man on screen who has just discovered his fiancé is not actually technically "one hundred per cent" female, after all, when she becomes vaguely aware of someone trying to attract her attention. Looking over, she recognises an old acquaintance from her pre-housefrau days.
Ellie hits the stop button and unplugs herself, sucking in her gut as she tries to look pleased.
“Ellie, my goodness, I don’t believe it - God, how long’s it been?” Her eyes do a quick stock-take, “You haven’t changed a bit!”
Slanderous bitch. Ellie opens her mouth to protest, but is cut short.
“So how have you been? It’s been a whole ’nother life-time, hasn’t it?”
“And some,” Ellie shrugs, “Where to start, eh? You’re looking well, though - good to see you, Melissa!”
Smiles all round.
“Yes,” Smile still fixed, “Must press on, eh? See you in the steam room, perhaps?”
Highly definitely unlikely. Nodding, “Sure, later maybe.”
Watching her iron bum effortlessly bound up the stairs, Ellie reflects upon the various injustices in life, and at how damn fine the skinny cow still manages to look. Resolving to add an extra vigour to her work out today, tomorrow, and to every other single day of her entire life, she replugs herself into Jerry Springer.
Ten minutes later, she’s ready for either a shower or an ambulance.
Later, dripping her way over to the private, if rather too cool sanctuary of a lockable toilet cubicle, she modestly towels off and dresses, allowing herself the virtuous and noble smugness that only a soon to be ex-fattie-thunder-thighs can feel.
Joining the hairdryer brigade at the mirrors, she’s surprisingly at peace with the world. Back on the street, and still enjoying the unexpected and novel surge of endorphin, she is even okay about bumping into Melissa again at the car park - whom she finds is now transformed from merely looking good into now looking simply and utterly stunning.
Nope, Ellie finds she bears her no grudge whatsoever, hardly.
In her current state of well-being, she doesn’t even resent Melissa’s Mercedes-Benz, greeting her with an almost genuine smile.
“Hey there, again!”
Fumbling for her keys, “So where are you living now, are you still at “The Oaks”?”
“God no! That was years ago - we’re still in Wimbledon though, Priory Avenue.”
That of the mansions and acres of lawn. Ellie should have guessed. She dimly recalls the husband is in something to do with venture capital - or assett stripping by any other name.
“How about you, you still have that flat above Allied Carpets?”
“No, no, I sold that after I married, we’ve a house in Eversham Road now.”
“That’s amazing, we’re practically neighbours - I can’t believe we haven’t met up sooner. Look,” She fumbles in her bag to produce a pen, “What’s your phone number? We must do lunch one day, what do you think?”
Ellie reels it off, semi-flattered, but doubting she’ll call. It’s a nice gesture. They say their goodbyes, and drive off. Barring any other chance meeting, it’s the last Ellie expects to hear from her.
Hindsight is a canny thing, but pretty darn useless when you come down to it. Neither Ellie nor Melissa have any idea of the life-altering encounter they’ve just had.
(More to come, tomorrow.)