Neera hated the Triangle. She hated the Downward Dog, the Warrior II, and the Eagle. She hated the Lotus. She especially hated the Lotus, and the way the teacher, Hans, kept talking about positioning the ass. The word ass came up so many times during the hour long class that her leg started shaking halfway through. She did not want to think of blond Hans’ ass, and what he did with it, any more than she wanted to think about the asses of the rest of the class. Oh, the rest of the class. She knew they had better things to think about than how she couldn’t fold her legs, at the same she knew they couldn’t get her out of their heads. They needed the tightness of her joints, her stunning lack of grace, her tendency to topple over (for her midsection was wider than her tiny ankles could support) in order to feel more graceful themselves. Without the figment of her presence, they could not pull their legs across their midsections or stare straight ahead, calmly, into the mirror, as if they were gazing not at themselves, but at benevolent, if tranquilized, deer. Not even deer: mules. That captured it. They needed her more than she needed them but that didn’t mean she didn’t take in their disdain, their hidden wishes that she stay out on the sidewalk with the tight-bodied others, who nervoused the world with their grunts, sighs, and pills, and their need to hurry to the next corner.
Then after 45 minutes the class was still. They were on their backs, and Neera felt the top of her head numb, the soles of her feet get warm. She turned her neck from side to side. She rotated the base of her spine, breathing. Her muscles were real to her. Her palms tilted upward as if they were cupping light. The night in the woman next to her turned outward and away, as the night in Neera took in everyone in the room, and she held them as she would a dog, or some precious thing, but not too close. She’d let the dog wing through that trap in the ceiling, and there wouldn’t be trouble up there. There wouldn’t be ideas or politics or mathematics or even music, just pure gaze, free of body, looking back down on some helpless woman, whose eyes were wet, while the top row of her teeth were dry.
Holly did not smoke–or she did not think of herself as a professional. She slipped the last cigarette from the pack. Some loneliness, some wish to recharge–the effect of the first drag was the closest thing she could think of to being a child again, spinning round and round on the playground with her brother–must have compelled her to buy the pack, and when she smoked that cigarette back then, she must have cranked open the bathroom window and held out her arm as far as possible, so that her neighbors, upstairs and down, did not have to be subjected to the stench of it. She was doing the same thing this evening, relieved that she could now begin the next life, clean, exercised, smoke-free. She pushed her head through the window frame. She pulled in on the cigarette with her mouth. It popped softly, sparks flying. The view before her–the streetlights in the trees, the golden lights on the bay, the cruise ship steaming toward the channel–should have jolted her breath, but she was oh too used to it by now. She was thinking about her marriage, her late marriage. She thought of it as an ideal marriage at the time, full of kindness; fun; nights side by side on the sofa, reading or watching movies. A balance of privacy and togetherness: so what if they cared too much about equilibrium to fight? And just as Holly thought of her blindness, she saw the tower, among the other buildings, to the north, on the opposite shore of the bay. The tower must have always been there, but she hadn’t seen it till now. The building wasn’t worth describing. Twenty-some stories, balconies, white walls, steel-trimmed windows, a cube of arches hiding the water towers on top. It was designed not to make a mark. No architect could be proud of such a thing. It was an assignment, it was all about the money. There were buildings like that in the big cities all up and down the coast. When would she stop crying? The crying made her laugh at herself, though that laughter didn’t exactly stop the tears. So much to tell you you’re not the person you think you are: the person who notices, the person who brings light to the room. And just as the paper burned up to the filter, Holly remembered the last time she and her ex had had sex. It was the best sex they’d had in years, after a time of not very much of it. They looked at each other for the first time in a long time; a message so vast passed between them that they fell through some trap in the bed. And laughed because they’d found out what they’d been missing. There was still hope for them. Her ex must have been saying goodbye with his body, though he didn’t know that yet–or maybe he did. They caught themselves weeping. And the smell of fresh leaves on his skin again left her with something far clearer than tears.
Paul Lisicky is the author of Lawnboy, Famous Builder, The Burning House, and Unbuilt Projects. His work has appeared in The Awl, Fence, The Iowa Review, Ploughshares, Tin House, Unstuck and other publications. He is the New Voices Professor at Rutgers University and he teaches in the low residency MFA Program at Sierra Nevada College. A memoir, The Narrow Door, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2014.