Thumb

While the rest of the class performs sun salutations in synchronized bows, Caleb stands breathless on his mat. Something in him has come loose. He looks ahead, to the sea of butts in sweatpants around him, and tries not to stare.

“Remember that you control your own comfort. Remember the sources of that comfort.”

Everyone is focused inward, on their respective inner children, who have been scolded since adolescence to stand rigid and tall. Like everyone else, Caleb is here to undo that damage, and as he turns his attention inward and touches his toes, he remembers his thumb.

Until he was thirteen, his left thumb lived in his mouth. Not when anyone else could see, of course — he had some survival instinct — but every moment alone, he had kept it there, until the pacification it provided was finally outdone by the shame. He tied his arm to the bedpost one desperate night, and from then on formed nuanced opinions on social issues.

He returns to a standing position. This is a judgement free zone. As he returns his prodigal digit to its rightful home, he feels the erasure of two decades. Perhaps this position completes a circuit within him, a mudra. He bows again with elbow tucked in, and he is stretchier, more fluid, more of a human being. Maturity is pretense, he realizes, something we have to prove to each other. We live between quotation marks.

The class has turned their attention to him, and they applaud his breakthrough. He continues to perform his asymmetric gestures to the heavens, up and down, long after the class has stopped. He is a fever. Even when he falls forward onto his jaw with the full force of his body, he swallows, satisfied. He will always be complete now.

#memory, #nostalgia, #pride, #shame, #society, #sucker, #yoga

Robustness (part 11)

The echoes of their footsteps built up a rhythm that colored the moment. The techno soundtrack implied a chase scene, police officers behind them, pistols drawn. Neither he nor Leslie was athletic enough to vault over obstacles or slide under railings, and in fact their running would have more realistically been called jogging if not power walking. If power. Nonetheless, they made the sounds of running. If he remembered the moment later, it would be dynamically framed, with wipes and swipes and filters.

Once they hit the pavement, their movements lost resonance, and they shuffled forward with characteristic asthma. She stayed a few steps ahead, which was fine, given that she knew where she was going. The way she walked was lopsided, but had a grace of its own, as if compensating.

He caught up to her for the sake of conversation. “Thanks for letting me stay with you.”

When she didn’t reply, he continued talking, like he was supposed to. “It’s good to be back. You have no idea what I’ve been through in the past few years. Don’t you miss when things were simple?”

Before he was socialized, Leslie had tried to instruct him in the art of conversation. “It’s rude not to answer when someone speaks to you,” she had said. He couldn’t remember the exact context, only the maternal tone of her scolding. She’d always seen him as a child, and somehow that had seemed flirtatious to him at the time. Before he was socialized.

“Did I tell you you could stay with me?” she asked, but Ezekiel wasn’t entirely sure the question was directed at him. The artificial lighting of the streets at night had taken his attention. Shadows cascaded in all directions from almost everything.

#awkward, #city, #fiction-in-parts, #idiot, #memory, #oblivious, #reunions, #unreality

Comfort

Greta didn’t have a key anymore to the old house, and though her parents lived far away from civilization and had nothing worth stealing, they kept their estate secure. She’d grown up in this unfamiliar place. As she waited for her mother to walk herself to the door, she looked across the wasted farmland to the nearest semblance of a landmark, the tombstones of her grandparents.

The door opened. “Oh it’s you,” her mother said, neither joyful or dismissive. Greta followed the pace of the walker to the back of the house and her father’s bed. His deathbed, soon enough. Her mother collapsed in her favorite chair, and though she didn’t sleep and hardly ever did, Greta felt like she was alone in the room with her dad. He wasn’t awake, but he was breathing. His breathing was loud and augmented by machines.

“You’ve never felt pain,” her mother said behind her, “so you don’t understand.”

Her dad had always snored, and it was strange to see him sleep without snarling. Now that he was quiet, she wanted to talk to him.

“We kept you comfortable all your life,” her mother said. “You never so much as scraped your knee. All you know about suffering is we made you brush your teeth, we made you eat broccoli. You were spoiled, child, spoiled rotten, and you never recovered.”

Greta grabbed her father’s hand, though she couldn’t remember touching him before. He had a warmth to him she didn’t expect, because he wasn’t yet dead. Machines were keeping him alive in a way he’d never been able to do himself.

“We never beat you like we should have. We loved you too much.”

Greta never beat her parents either. And soon it would be too late.

#death, #memory, #microfiction, #parents, #sickness, #weird

Abridged

His main duty was to sweep the front porch every morning and every afternoon to keep out the fleas.

Mary Lou bought several cases of lima beans. They ate nothing but for years.

The children found a set of false teeth in the yard. No one ever found out whose they were, but they became a favorite toy.

An older boy tied him up and rolled him in a wheelbarrow up and down hills until he peed all over himself. Mama switched him for making a mess.

One cup was for blood pressure. One cup was for heart stuff. The rest were vitamins.

He owned an apartment building. He did all the maintenance.

He was fixing the light, but someone told him not to strain himself.

His children were good at math and science, but they struggled with English and common sense.

“You should write your memoirs,” someone told him, a nurse who was struggling for something to say that wasn’t pity.

A postage stamp cost seven cents, the same as a bottle of soda or a gallon of gas.

He woke up in wheelbarrows sometimes. He was covered in sweat.

A cup of coffee could kill him. So could a dash of soy sauce. So could almost anything.

His daughter had a husband who mistreated her, but he couldn’t really blame her for not knowing any better.

That might not have been his daughter. That might have been a novel by James Michener.

It could have been anything.

#alzheimers, #experiments, #identity, #memory, #microfiction, #prose-poem