Jamie Lyn Smith
Deprivation of Body, Generosity of Spirit
Akāliko: timeless, unconditioned by time or season.
When it all came apart with Brian, Tess called Brooke—rather than any number of other friends—because she knew that Brooke would not allow her to devolve into self-pity. They’d been friends their whole lives, playing varsity basketball in high school, rooming together at Baron. The two of them ran the college co-op bookstore, selling dusty, outdated volumes of Norton Anthology of English Literature and Principles of Biochemistry. The books gave the girls’ hair a not-so-faint scent of decaying paper, which they fought with pyres of incense and bowl after bowl of weed. They had study parties, spaghetti dinners, muumuu movie night, beginner ballet classes in the back yard, a failed composting experiment, and two illegal tabby cats. After graduation, Brooke left for the Peace Corps, but Tess stayed in the county to run her father’s grain operation. For many years, Brooke had Zach, and for much longer, Tess thought she had Brian.
Now, Tess felt like a nerve ending rubbed raw and left twitching. She could not think about Brian without tearing up, the skin around her eyes dry as paper, creased lines radiating out from each corner. The scent of juniper and cold air snapped at her lips as she took one deep breath after another. She didn’t want to imagine the scene unfolding at the farm. Brian packing his things into the truck and driving away, taillights glowing red and fading into the distance as he drove towards Randy’s house.
There were signs I missed, Tess thought, steering the jeep along the narrow road. The inordinate amount of time Brian spent on call at the firehouse. The way he insisted on “guy night” each week. Golf in the summer, bowling in the winter, deer camp in the fall, a week on the Florida coast each spring. Tess’s tongue turned to felt and shame brought heat to her cheekbones when she thought about that night on the farm computer. She was logging in to look for a message from a colleague in Wichita about a grain hybrid. Shuffling papers on her desk, she didn’t realize she clicked on Brian’s credentials. She glanced up to see a chat window, a window he shared with Randy.
I can’t go on like this, it said.
I don’t know how to tell Tess, Brian replied.
I love you, Randy wrote. You love me… What’s holding us back?
I think I stayed with her so long because she kept me away from you, he said.
Tess read on, and on. She read three years of Brian’s correspondence with Randy. Another man before that, someone Tess did not know, a police officer from the city. And others. Many others.
Tess printed the emails out and sat waiting for Brian at the kitchen table. It was just after the solstice, and dark by 4:30 in the afternoon, when Brian walked in the door, stomping the snow from his boots. The silver nameplate on his uniform refracted a glare across the kitchen when it caught the light.
“Sit down,” Tess said.
“What’s up?” he asked. His pace slowed as he approached the kitchen table, wary as a hound. He lowered himself into a chair.
She pushed the stack of emails toward him. Brian read them with a hand curved over his mouth. Tess felt almost sorry for him. She waited for him to tell her it was a lie, a joke, a misunderstanding. He leafed through each one, turning the pages faster and faster, his face darkening. There was tightness to his jaw when he finally spoke.
“What the fuck,” he asked, “are you doing snooping in my business?”
“All you had to do was tell me.” Tess said. “I would have been content to leave.”
He circled around the table, his face so near hers she felt her throat thicken.
“You better keep your mouth shut about this.”
“You worry about you.” Tess said. “I’ll worry about me.”
Brian spun her toward him, gripped her shoulders and backed her against the wall. Later, Tess told her friend everything except that: the sudden reach of Brian’s hand for her jaw, the shove then, and his breath in her eyes, the bruises on her shoulder blades, the marks on her wrists and arms. She would only tell Brooke that it got ugly and that she had changed the locks at the farm. Brooke ordered Tess to Akāliko, stat. “It’s a healing place,” Brooke said. “Come see me and rest. The last thing you need is to be alone right now.”
Tess eased the jeep into the drive at Akāliko and tried to steel herself for the public display of calm that this visit would require of her. Tess cut the engine and listened to the river thrashing against the dingy, grey snow in the valley. Brooke flung open the door and ran towards her with her arms open. Wet hands dripped dishwater down Tess’s neck when they embraced. Brooke rocked her side-to-side, whooping, “I’m so glad you’re here! Happy almost New Year!”
Tess forced a smile and thanked Brooke for having her. Brooke had tried to get Tess excited about the annual New Year’s party. There would be a DJ, a whisky tasting, potluck meals, cross-country skiing, yoga classes, and workshops on spiritual harmony. Tess was disinterested in each of these, but determined to bear it all for the sake of company. She shrugged her backpack to her shoulder, while Brooke hefted the crate of food Tess brought for the potluck from the cargo hold.
“Bare feet and off-grid in the ashram!” Brooke reminded her, leading Tess into the foyer. She plucked the phone from Tess’s hand and tossed it into a hand-woven basket. Tess sat down on the floor to unlace her boots.
“How are you doing, honey?” Brooke asked.
Tess shook her head, pressed her lips together. “I want to die,” she said.
“Great!” Brooke said. “I can see you’re going to be