Paul Lisicky

Two Pieces


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.

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