And with the turn of the calendar month it is warm enough for me to take my socks off for Zoom Pilates. I can see on screen that most other people have never had cause to revert to socks and have remained barefoot throughout the winter – either they are hardy types or they have bigger heating bills than me. Probably the latter. Even when we had that snow three weeks ago and my front room was consistently cold, there the rest of them were, baring their toes on screen whilst I was well and truly socked, as I have been since November.
Everyone is a little less flexible first thing in the morning, this is what the teacher says by way of easing us into the class. She tells us to sit on the mat and draw circles with our feet, clockwise then anticlockwise. I like this part, it’s easy. Next, arch stretching: folding my toes all of a scrunch and then pulling them back towards my face. So far so good. A gentle beginning, painless, with no contortionism required and not much flexibility called for. Or so I think, until the teacher – putting her feet right up close to the screen by way of demonstration – asks us to spread our toes.
But keep them flat! It’s as if she has seen my big toe stepping out of line, an errant soldier. Thirteen little boxes on screen, and she has helicoptered in to pin-point my pathetic, delinquent toes. I nod to the teacher. I’m trying, the nod says, and then I talk to my toes. (I’m on mute, I don’t care if the rest of them can see my mouth moving.) I am desperately coaxing my toes to move. Come on, a few millimetres will do. They are stubborn. Disobedient. Non-responsive to talking therapy so I try barking therapy instead, all shouty, like a Sergeant-Major. Not a flicker of movement. OK, so don’t speak to them this time; this time really engage your brain and have your brain send the message to them to separate, open like a sunflower. If you can’t talk them into it, then think them into it. Four of the five move, but each little toe remains mulish and immobile. It is as if they are glued to piggy number four.
Should I be able to move them? Teacher says so, but I don’t see how. Have they died? Conked out? Is this serious? I close my eyes and try – really try. I open one eye and peep in case they are moving when I’m not looking. Maybe they’re shy. No. They’re not shy, they’re just lazy, they have given up! I look around the room and decide I’m as likely to make the cheese plant on the hearth levitate by the power of positive thought as I am as to try move my little toes. What does it mean to have unresponsive, sleepy little toes? Is there something wrong with me? I make a mental note to google it after class: Cannot move little toe meaning; Inert small toe consequence; Lack of toe agility implication. One of those will do. I must remember.
I’m back looking at the teacher on the screen. Her little toes are flapping away like babies’ socks out pegged on a washing line or the queen’s white-gloved hand waving from the window of her limousine as she drives down The Mall. How come mine won’t do that? I reach forward to move them manually and realise I can’t do a full forward bend to meet my feet. Dear God. I bend my leg and bring my foot to my thigh and open and close my little toes with my fingers. I wiggle them about and bend them. This little piggy went to market. This little piggy fell asleep. Come on, wake up little piggy. I’m talking to my toes with kindness, cajoling them with a nursery rhyme when the teacher singles me out, again. Eimear? Have we lost you Eimear? You should be on your back now. Time for criss-cross. Bloody criss-cross. What is she trying to do to me? I can’t even move my little toe never mind this torture.
I call my brother after class. He knows everything. No really, everything. He is reassuring. Nothing to worry about. Only bonobo monkeys can open all of their toes. I want to believe him in the same way as I wanted to believe the car mechanic last week who told me that the diagnostic light that appeared on my dash (which, according to the manual indicates a serious fault with the engine) was itself a fault and nothing to worry about. But back to my toes, my body’s diagnostic light. I’m away off to wiggle them.