Janet sits two rows up and to the right atop a pink pillow with purple hearts, and a perfectly complementing zafu that’s purple with one giant pink heart currently hidden by her ample bottom. With any luck, she’ll be feeling much less zen in a few weeks when I get my revenge. She senses me and turns, flashing me a bright smile. I grin and nod and pretend everything’s fine, because that’s what I do. The instructor lights the incense because that’s what he does.
Whisps of smoke rise, hinting at the existence of unfelt breezes as it twists and turns, beaten one way and then ripped another until finally only fragments are left spinning like mini-cyclones just before fading from existence. I breathe in the sandalwood from across the room, seated as I am on my own very traditional tangerine and maroon zafu cushion, knees painfully locked into a position I’m not entirely convinced I can ever leave. The instructor is talking about something, murmuring like a stream, his voice so monotonous that it blends in with and then is overpowered by the sounds of the street beyond the door in this tiny room just above a curio shop.
That’s what he wants, what he insists upon. I can only think of her. But I’m going to try, because anyone will tell you—I can really use some help.
“If you feel something, take it with your mind and examine it, then release it,” he says, yet another way of telling me that I’m insufficient.
Because in my mind, there’s no exit, no hole through which thoughts escape into this unknown place to which he seemed to refer. I squirm as my left butt cheek starts to lose feeling, and I cheat. I open my eyes to look for a clock, or a wayward shadow, a shard of moving sunlight to tell me how close we are to finishing this ten minute meditation. There’s nothing there but the red sashes that cling to the walls, several of which partially conceal tiny holes that look as though someone took pot-shots at the Buddha in the window with a pellet gun, and yet missed.
It was probably someone like me. Even now, I wondered whether that stupid statue was light enough for me to break with a solid kick.
Not that I hate the Buddha.
I’m here in part because I don’t have anywhere else to be on a Sunday morning, and weeks ago, before everything, Janet had invited me.
Just when I start to ruminate about my former lover, as I always do, the dengze gong sounds, and the silence is instantly decimated by the movement of bodies, many of which are at least as sore as mine, or they’re damn liars, because I know how old Janet’s husband, Gus, is in the front of the room there. He probably takes drugs before coming, because even now I watch him stand without so much as a wince. Oh, it’s a lie, but a good one. The instructor nods at him like they’re old friends. I mean, they are old friends I think, so that part makes sense.
I’ve watched too long.
Gus is taking it as an invitation to come to talk to me. I look to my left and right, but I don’t know most of these people, and all I get are calm, knowing smiles and meta-effing-kindness, and no real way to avoid Gus. So I suck in my breath, and turn toward him, shaking my head and smiling back like my back doesn’t want to murder me in my sleep.
“I’m so glad you’ve come,” he says, in that same patronizing tone that says in the subtext: “it’s about time you listened to me.”
“I’m happy to be here, Gus,” I say, with hopefully a subtext of: “fuck off and die.” He definitely misses the innuendo.
“Ever since Jack, we’ve been so worried about you.”
“And he seemed such a good man, too. You know,” he says, sliding one brown eye toward the front of the room, where an enthusiastic-looking and a far too chipper mountain-man just so happens to be looking our way. “Scott is available now. His girlfriend has decided to flee to California and follow her dream to be an actress.”
“He doesn’t look too broken up about it.”
“Not the possessive type. He’d never dream of standing in the way of her dreams. You could do much worse.”
Now he is beginning to sound like my mother. I’m changing the subject.
“What about you, though? How’s Janet? What’s going on with you two?”
“Oh, we’re fine,” Gus says, tossing his gorgeous blonde mane with brown lowlights as he over-accentuates the state of her relationship. He has hair that most girls would kill for...or would have half a century ago if he was in a hair-metal band.
I, for one, am surprised that they’re “fine,” given who Jack was cheating on me with. But Gus had chosen to let Janet stay, whereas I had chosen to relieve myself of Jack. Strong, proud, triumphant Jack. Also handsome, chiseled Jack. Also Jack-of-the-wandering-penis. I mean, I knew Gus hadn’t believed me when I told him about the two of them, but now he’s turning denial into an art form.
“I told you, nothing happened,” he says, starting to get flustered. I can tell because he weaves his fingers together when he’s anxious. “Janet says that you’re mistaken. It must have been some other woman.”
I don’t even know where to start with that.
“Have a seat,” the instructor says, and I seek out my pillow while Gus seeks his. I lower myself upon it, despite my complaining back and the fact that my knees somehow now bend even less than they had before. I look like a pretzel that someone shattered and then tried their best to put back together and lean against a pillow. That is to say, I have no seating position that makes sense for meditation or anything else. I struggle to stay on my zafu when the bell starts again.
“Only five minutes this time,” the instructor says. “Then we’ll break.”
What time is it? You never can tell in these places. The five minutes seem to take another twenty.
But by the end of it, I do feel better. This meditation hoodoo is working. It did take the better part of an hour to get to the ten seconds of time during which I managed to expunge Jack from my mind, which is no small feat, given what he’d done to my emotional state. And the fact that when I got home, I’d have to find somewhere to hide his body.
“Need a ride?” Janet, of all people, asks me. The nerve of some, as though I hadn’t walked in on her and Jack. In my apartment. “Gus has some shopping to do down at the old Torpedo factory. I thought you and I could use the time to…talk.”
I scan the perimeter, but somehow, Gus has left without rubbing in my face how much happier he is in his denial than I will ever be in my acceptance of the truth. My mouth twitches slightly.
“Does he know you’re offering?”
“I think it’s better he doesn’t know, don’t you?”
I can’t help a little smile at that. If all goes well, I never have to attend another fucking meditation session at all. But that few seconds there at the end…I think back to that. Calmness, peace, tranquility. For the first time in days.
And, better than that, I finally figured out what to do with Scott. It came to me in a flash. There’s an overgrown community garden only blocks from our apartment. I’m smiling a lot now, and I’m pretty sure it’s starting to creep Janet out.
“Have you seen Scott?” she asks. My grin fades, and my teeth clench themselves together as though I’m biting on one of those rubbery mouthguards at the dentist’s office—the gall.
“Since I walked in—“
“No need to get all into that,” she says, looking around as though someone might overhear. But at this point, only she and I and the instructor left. The instructor very deliberately minds his own business.
“No,” I say. “No, I haven’t. And no, I don’t need a ride.”
I’ve got far too much work to do. And besides, I’m feeling more relaxed now. This meditation thing really works! Maybe Janet doesn’t have to join Scott after all. I mean, she’s really Gus’s problem, isn’t she?
“You should tell him,” I say. “You should let him know. He deserves to know.”
“I know,” she says, nodding as she pushes the ancient wooden door open. It creaks under the weight of too many repaints. She holds the door for me ever so kindly.
I pass through and probably out of Janet’s life. Probably.
On returning to my apartment, I swing by the neighborhood Ace hardware for a handsaw. Then, a few minutes later, I pass through the door into the room. There, on the couch, sits Jack. He’s starting to smell a bit, hence the need to do something with him.
“It’s time,” I say.
He doesn’t say anything back because he’s not alive.
It will be messy, but that’s what I have all the tarp down for. Besides, it’s not like this is my first rodeo. I hold the saw up and see the dark circles under my eyes in the distorted reflection. As I bend it, my face stretches into something unrecognizable. Then I let it go, listen to the satisfying twang, and get to work.
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