Melissa Peabody sat mumbling in her lime Volvo. She was parked in an alley off the main street of the town. She felt a time-space vibe with cars and trains going back and forth, and passengers disembarking into the station. She felt her life falling into whatever holds up everything and she was frightened.
As she looked for him, she could feel the shiver in her neck. He would do this bad thing – this culmination of all bad things in his life – and it would not be contemplated or repeated again.
She took huge breaths. The Ujjayi breath, with the seashell vibe in back of the throat, calmed her. Down here, a few suits and heels hurried in the cross walk of the chaotic avenue and into the coffee shop. They would have fancy drinks, with vowels at the end and archetypes of sugar. Up there, geese turned toward the 1920s’ bank and movie palace, landing in the cemetery – only to take off at the backfiring of a van.
“Oh, pretty birds.” Melissa started the engine, gassed it a few times and drove deeper into the alley, which seemed like a portal into the last century – she wished it so. She fussed with her face. She opened the trunk and returned to her car. Many times she told herself to keep the trunk open a few inches.
At last, he rounded the corner to suddenly appear. He was crouched and hurrying, but not so much that others might notice. Melissa smiled into the rear-view mirror and closed her eyes. By now, he was somewhere next to the spare tire, in a womb-like world, and he could not be seen. “Back. Good. You hear me?”
“I hear you,” sounded the trunk voice.
“I’m driving now.”
“Don’t hit anything.”
“I’ll hit you,” she said. Melissa drove down the street. The cemetery offered stone and serenity in contrast to the shoppers and kids in motion. Kids crossed the street; like butterflies, they had colorful jackets. She didn’t want to be seen. She pressed the accelerator, the car lurched. She saw a mail truck and slowed down. She wondered if, after an unpardonable episode, one could return to a normal life. Would she sip tea, read or pet her cat with unaltered serenity, with any peace? Like any nightmare, it seemed clear in retrospect: excitement, choices, counter-choices, bad outcome.
She drove down side roads, barely noticing anything. “Are you there?” he suddenly asked, his voice sounding like it came from a speaker.
“I hear you thinking. Less of that. It makes me crazy.”
She made a sharp turn. She heard his body thump twice. She remembered when her long-estranged sister and she had made a box for performances: they popped out of it, to dance and sing, to be someone else. Summer of 1968 when hippies danced and famous people got murdered. The lime Volvo with its secret cargo meandered down streets lined with broccoli trees. A new mansion appeared in skeletal outlines. On she drove, once or twice making sure no one was following. She wanted to get far from other people, to be alone forever, even from the mistake in the trunk of her car.
The sky over the river and the rest of the world below was lapis lazuli. A lovely Sunday morning for yoga, Melissa thought, emptying her paisley bag. Her yoga class took place in Native Park. It consisted mostly of older women, a blue-haired teenager, an old man (who wobbled when standing but did all the postures that required more land), and a newcomer.
The newcomer was eager but, like a tiny bird, he needed to be fed. In fact, each student was a mystery and a puzzle. As usual, Melissa made sure to tame the yoga brand for which she was certified, but she couldn’t get too soft. People seated all day needed to uncoil and sweat, to release the crush of civilization.
The newcomer was full of muscles and tattoos. Perhaps he had been a little gymnast. He had a 1980’s look, she thought, with his hair the male version of Farrah Fawcett’s hair. One could be stuck in worse places.
Melissa handed him a block and a polka-dot tie to assist with postures. Once, he fell asleep under the oaks, this cathedral of sunlight and shadow. She nudged him with her foot. He smiled. He eagerly and naturally got into each posture, but still had to learn how to keep his mind and body in sync – the curse of modern times.
“Good going, Matthias,” said Melissa; “Now there’s a headstand.”
“It shows how the world really is,” he said.
“So, it goes.”
The class looked back. Matthias was one of those people who, it seemed, everyone liked or knew already. The class did a few more postures, then got into a relaxed sitting pose, “Is it possible to use yoga for everyday life?” asked the elderly man with cheer.
“That’s the whole point of it, Mr. McDougall,” Melissa replied.
“Do you care for yourself or others first?” a woman continued.
“It’s like being on an airplane. You put the oxygen mask on first, then on others.” More questions emerged, but she answered everything easily. She marked time and timelessness by the teaching of yoga and meditation. Tempus fugit, or so it seems.
Each person leads two lives: she remembered that from a Chekhov story in high school. Two lives. She wondered if she steered more by the inner or outer world. She knew that her best self was spiritual and interior; this was on display to others through teaching. She was a conduit, a healer, a wounded healer. The world of formal faces and polite speech, of lines and time, was where you found fruition through action, where you healed others amidst the continuous Big Bang that is life unfolding, the clashes in an atomized arena, vibrations in the afterglow.
After a month of Matthias’ cheeky attitude, pole-like headstands and caressing conversations, she took up his offer of dinner. It seemed like a roll-of-the-dice decision, but it was something she had warmed up to over a month of Sundays, “I usually don’t do this kind of thing,” she said.
“Doesn’t yoga allow forbidden fruit?” he had asked.
“There is no levitation either.” She looked away as emotions twisted on her face. Two days later, he picked her up in a classic black Mercedes, which she dubbed “the vampire mobile.” She wore a batik sarong and he complimented her for it. She noticed a vaping pipe and tobacco on the back seat. He gave her a rose. One cliché after another tickled her mind. He exuded animal magnetism and the formality of a doorman.
He stuck incense in the candle on the table. They had veggie antipasto, cavatelli and broccoli, salad and Chianti wine. Dessert too. It was the first time in years that she’d eaten zeppoli and cannoli, “You are corrupting me with sugar, Matthias Franz, you are,” Melissa said.
“There are only a few tastes humans have. The others are sour.“
“There’s a myriad of tastes,” she cut in; “I’ve had enough sour.”
Matthias gave her a slanted smile. He sprinkled in ideas from religion and science, backing it up with stats that gave validity to Melissa’s more mysterious mind. She brimmed with experience, ancient texts and New Age fuzz. She looked great in a flowery skirt and shiny long hair that curled at the end, “You see the way I drink a half glass of wine with water?” Matthias said; “Ancient Greeks mixed water with wine too.”
“You have that Alexander the Great hairstyle. The lion mane.”
“I have a tiny roar left.” On the way out, he lifted a French fry from a vacant table and took a bite.
“Matthias Franz, you have a fiendish name.”
“You kill me with kindness.” The following Sunday, as usual, he attended her yoga class. Meditation continued in the garden with its circle of statues and foliage heads in trees. Afterwards, they went for a stroll.
Days later, the old man Mr. McDougal, who attended yoga each week, fell off his bicycle and died. Melissa and Matthias attended the wake. They took extra time near the water fountain and mints, then they went into the main room. Matthias had tears in his eyes, lamenting the wisdom that went “down with that ship.” He stared at the corpse with its rouged skin and thin lips which, days before, had voiced what others wished to know too.
“He accomplished what he had to do,” Melissa said. “Then he moved on.”
“Did he want to?”
“You have to want to.”
Afterwards, in his car, they jostled each other about the best way to die and be buried. They put together the notion that people today, just like in ancient Egypt, are mummified. Melissa wanted to be cremated and have her ashes dropped in Native Park and the Ganges River. Matthias joked about sky burial in Tibet or else a green burial. They were under a lamp in the parking lot. She pulled at her long hair which ended in waves, “I’ll die in my sleep,” she said, yawning.
“Death isn’t easy,” she replied. “You have to prepare for it.”
“Prepare? Just live each day –”
“Look,” she said, “I’ve had sorrow. My parents were cutouts from a folktale. The way I learned to swim was when my rummy uncle tossed me into a lake. Grandmother was my hero, but she arrived late, exited early. And more: I had to remove my husband from our home when he returned drunk as a skunk from driving our child from school. I’m a great mom.”
“Is that all you can say?”
“You’re great. Life is hard.”
They embraced, laughed, trembled. Matthias said that sometimes disagreements and ugliness lead to epiphanies, the way hunger leads to a divine meal, the way dark nights of the soul wake to sunlight. They took a deep breath, retained it, released it. They retreated back to their seats and fell silent. Suddenly, shakti and shiva joined, the dragon was released, their eyes met. They melted into passion and lovemaking as effortlessly as the transition from one posture to another. The moon silvered their furiously passionate faces that showed the release of shakti.
Later, she felt that she wouldn’t let him steal her heart. He was eight years younger and more talk than experience, more puzzle than illumination, the mystery that burns things.
Later, she wondered if people had eccentric DNA through the centuries, propelling her into the arms of a charming bad boy. She wondered if the unconscious approximated the universe.
Later, they blew a kiss at each other and the fairytale evening was over.
That night, alone in her apartment, she returned to journal writing. She sat near the window and the ocean scene by Monet; the colors felt lovely and colored one’s eyes and those eyes saw the world better with that Impressionist myopia. It had been years since she’d kept track of her thoughts. She realized that Matthias was a chessboard of dark and light squares – but so was everyone else. He was her project, her mission.
After the longest hour that time can be, Melissa parked in his garage and helped him out of the trunk. Tools dangled from the walls and ceiling. Gasoline odor pervaded. Various outfits – motorcycle jacket, golf shoes, insect-like biking tights – showed the sink holes of time, his interests. He leaned in one direction then the other, like he needed straightening out.
“My breathing stopped. I was floating. I was lost.”
“It’s over now, Matthias,” she said. She looked away, but his heavy breathing redirected her gaze. She held onto him and felt the reverberations snake across her body. He kicked the money bag and bent to unzip it. His hand hovered over it but didn’t touch the green color.
“You knew this was the right time?” she asked.
He nodded in all directions. “Didn’t you hear me banging? I was dying.”
“I heard nothing. I was concerned with driving.”
“It was like death, like war; soldiers came at me with bayonets. I cried for my mother. I created war; now it’s over.”
“Breathe it in, and out.”
“Send it back, give it away, sorry,” he said, elbowing the air; “I don’t want the money.”
“Don’t fuck with me. I just robbed a bank.”
She caught his forearm and bit her lip. She brought her leg back — to kick him.
“I have no words.”
“We’ll create world peace,” she said; “I’ll spend years in jail so you can feel good after the stack of evils in your greasy life.”
“It’s too much to ask for,” he said with a slight smile.
“You’re the worst thing that can happen to a woman.”
“I was the worst thing. I feel relief, a new feeling. You saved me.”
Richard regularly publishes stories, poetry, essays and interviews. He and his wife also create videos called “Childe Hera’s World” series. His latest publications are poetry in The Paterson Literary Review; a story in Months to Years; and an interview of Dr. Daniel Antoine (from the British Museum) in Minerva Magazine.