Jamie Lyn Smith

//Jamie Lyn Smith

Jamie Lyn Smith

​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 The two of them ran the college co-op bookstore, selling dusty, outdated volumes of Norton Anthology of English Literature and Principles of Biochemistry.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 a real charmer this weekend.”
            “It’s true,” Tess said. “What do you want me to say?”
            Andrew wandered in and Tess engulfed him in a hug she knew he didn’t want, enjoying how he went slack, then taut under her embrace. Tess knew him well enough to know that he was perhaps less enthused about her visit than even she was. When he talked to Tess, she always felt as if she were being lectured by a host on National Public Radio who had been brainwashed to spout Zen-wisdom desktop calendar aphorisms. Andrew had carved these sorts of sayings—sayings that Tess found just a tad too smug—into the woodwork above each doorway in the ashram. Timeless, proclaimed one doorway. Unconditioned by time or spirit, smirked another.
            Bullshit, Tess thought. Time changes everything.
            “Tess?” Andrew asked. “You still in there?”
            “Tess is preoccupied with healing,” Brooke said, patting Tess’s arm.
            “It’s okay,” Andrew nodded, placing a hand on his chest. “We understand.”
            “I mean, I’m grateful you guys let me come here—” Tess said.
            “Let you?” Brooke said. “We want you here.”
            Brooke stared at Andrew. He blinked, ran his hand through his beard. “We sure do,” he said, mala beads clicking in his hand. “We hardly ever get to see you.”
            “Well, I hope you’re ready to have some fun,” Brooke said, brushing a chunk of auburn hair back from her face. “Let’s get this stuff into the kitchen.”
            Tess followed Brooke and put the crate on the counter, letting Brooke and Andrew rifle through it. They ooh’ed and ahh’ed at the home-canned jars of vegetable soup, blackberry jam, peaches for a cobbler.
            “Is this your starter?” Andrew asked, spinning around the jar of beige, spongy-looking sourdough.
            “Sure is.”
            Andrew lifted a bag of flour out of the crate, frowning, and then set it aside. “It’s okay,” he said. “I have organic in the pantry.”
            “We grow grain for that company,” Tess said, putting the bag of flour back in the crate. “It’ll be okay just this once.”
            “But organic makes such a difference…”
            “It’s true,” Brooke said. “Andrew went to a seminar with a man who is a professional techno-emotional cuisinist—”
            “Are you freakin’ kidding me?” Tess asked.
            “No seriously, just listen—”
            Tess tried to follow the logic as Brooke drew out a complicated theory weaving intuition, the Bhagavad Gita, “mindful cookery,” and “culinary-emotional intent.”
            “You’re overcomplicating it, dear,” Andrew said, wrapping his arms around Brooke’s waist and beaming at her. Tess waited for him to pat Brooke on the head as if she were a hapless puppy. “This chef can tell by the way the bread tastes if the person kneading it was angry, or discouraged, or upset, or in love… it’s amazing.”
            “Indeed,” Tess said.
            “I was skeptical too,” Brooke giggled. “But I can tell by the way Andrew makes my tea that he loves me.”
            Andrew kissed her, and their lips lingered. Tess tried not to hate their guts.
            “Why don’t you let us girls catch up?” Brooke said, gently pushing him back a bit, glancing at Tess.
            Andrew squeezed Brooke’s hand and said, “I’ll be in the meditation center.”
            Of course you will, Tess thought. Where else would you be?
                                                                                                             
            Brooke showed her upstairs to the tiny loft where Tess would sleep. The room was made of polished timber so beautiful that Tess felt as if she were suspended in amber.
            “You guys have done a ton of renovation,” Tess marveled. She’d been skeptical a few years back, when Brooke first announced her intention to move in with Andrew and run the ashram. He’d come into the property at Akāliko after his parents left him to handle operations there. They headed west for states where marijuana had recently been legalized, to build multi-purpose communities in dispensaries and expand their empire of spiritual wellness workshops and low-level weed trafficking.
            Tess knew it wasn’t Andrew’s fault he was so ardently committed to whole living. Tess’s lunchbox had been full of Hostess Twinkies; Andrew’s had probably been full of kale bars. Nonetheless, the work he and Brooke completed at the center was impressive.
            “Andrew and I planed all these beams,” Brooke said watching Tess take in the room. “We’re thinking of adding on more sleeping quarters, but for now… welcome home.”
            “What do you call this thing?” Tess asked, gesturing towards a circular, tufted tapestry cushion on the floor.
            “It’s a zabuton,” Brooke said.
            “Where we come from,” Tess reminded her, “it’s a bean bag. Why can’t you just have a pullout sofa like a normal person?”
            Brooke laughed. “Everything here is special.”
            Tess flopped down onto the zabuton. “Especially you.”
            Brooke lay down next to her.
            “Doesn’t it get a bit overwrought?” Tess asked. “All of it?”
 &
nbsp;          “You know,” Brooke said, “I was drifting around so much when Andrew and I first got together that I find I like doing stuff this way. I don’t have a chance to be anything but purposeful. I’m so busy minding the small things that the big things fall into place. And, I mean, we space out sometimes too, it’s not like this is a Netflix-free zone.”
            “You probably know every line from Gandhi,” Tess said.
            Brooke hit her with a throw pillow. “Thanks to you.”
            Tess laughed. She had introduced Brooke and Andrew at a party, years ago. Brooke had recently returned from Guatemala, heartbroken over a breakup. They hit it off, but Brooke ran hot-cold. She left him again and again for other men, other countries, other projects, returning intermittently to rekindle things at her convenience.
            It wasn’t until Andrew cut ties with Brooke and became engaged to a svelte, blonde ski instructor that Brooke returned to the township for good. She set up her massage table and hung her shingle in the village of Lorca. Brooke befriended the ski instructor, and then introduced the blonde to a handsome surgeon. Within a few months, Brooke was ensconced at Akāliko with Andrew, and the ex-fiancée was living in a subdivision up north, wearing mall khakis and making hors d’oeuvres.
            They lay silent for a while. Tess heard a lone, winter fly buzzing and listened, following the sound to the skylight. She pointed at it, and Brooke nodded. It buzzed again.
            “Andrew’s busy. We can kill the little sonofabitch,” Brooke whispered, swatting.
            She missed. They laughed and fell quiet again.
            The fly landed on Tess’s knee. She smashed it. Brooke grinned.
            “Done,” Tess said.
            “How are you, honestly?” Brooke asked.
            “I’m really, really devastated,” Tess said. “Totally betrayed and heartbroken.”
            “Well… that’s understandable. Here you don’t have to think about him at all. Just make yourself have fun this weekend… who knows, maybe you’ll meet someone…”
            “I don’t want to meet someone. I want him to come back.”
            “Why?” Brooke snapped. “Why on earth would you want Brian back?”
            “I still love him,” Tess said.
            “What are you, like a total doormat?” Brooke said. “He was terrible to you.”
            He was. Tess knew it was true. Everything she was hanging on to about what they had been was a lie, but she wanted more time to tell that lie to herself before coaxing herself into letting go of it. She still woke each morning expecting the weight of Brian’s arm across her waist. Now he woke up that way with Randy. Tess could not stand it.
            “Brooke,” Tess said, biting back tears, “Would it hurt your feelings if I went to Lorca tonight and slept in a hotel?”
            “Why? No, no, and no!” Brooke said.
            “I just… I really want to be alone, okay? I feel like crying all night. I don’t want to do that in a sleeping loft while you guys are having sex, like, ten feet from my bed.”
            “We aren’t going to have sex,” Brooke said. “It’s full moon, and we’re observing Five-Precepts.”
            Tess reluctantly asked what the fuck that meant, launching Brooke onto a tangent about deprivation building sensual response, restraint shoring up spirit of intimacy. Tess focused on a shelf of animal figurines. A zebra. A jackal. A water buffalo. Anything but the mating rituals of Brooke and Andrew. Or Brian and Randy.
            “By the way,” Brooke said, “Zach is in town and he’s coming to the party. Did I tell you he called me?”
            “No,” Tess said. “How’s Andrew with that?”
            “Yeah, of course. Someone invited him, and Zach called to see if it was all right, and I said I didn’t mind.”
            “When is the last time you saw him?”
            “When I tossed his backpack off a moving bus in Peru,” Brooke said. Tess high-fived her, and Brooke rolled onto her stomach.
            “He had it coming,” Tess said. “But I’m glad you two are all right now.”
            “Check this out,” Brooke said. Her eyes lit up, gossip at the ready. “Zach’s… companion is some girl he met at Burning Man. She’s bringing a portable disco lighting system and a trunk full of costumes. He said she’s a contortionist.”
            “At least I’m not the only one getting dumped for some tchotchke,” Tess said.
            “Can you at least pretend to be interested in something other than feeling sorry for yourself?”
            “I’m trying,” Tess said. “How would you feel?”
            “I would feel, like, maybe grateful that your future doesn’t include that asshole, that the universe has better things in mind for you than getting treated like dirt by Brian Crowe.”
            “You said that last time,” Tess said.
            “Last time he messed up, you said it was the last time too.”
            “This was different. Last time, all he did was wreck my truck.”
            Brooke nodded. “Yes. I guess that’s true, babe.”
            Brooke squeezed Tess’s hand.
            “Where’s the bathroom?” Tess asked.
            “Over there,” Brooke said. She hefted herself up on one arm and leaned over the edge of the loft to point out to a wood-paneled cubby that Tess initially mistook for a closet.
            “It’s a dry toilet. When you pee, sprinkle a little sawdust on it. When you shit, sprinkle a lot of sawdust on it,” Brooke said
.
            Tess immediately determined not to shit for the next two days.
            “Where do you shower?” Tess asked, clambering down the short ladder to the main level where Brooke and Andrew slept like ascetics on what appeared to be a giant zabuton.
            “Oh, outside in the summer. In the winter, we bathe in the washtub on the deck.”
            Tess eyed the closed bathroom door. “People pay you money to stay here under these conditions?”
            Brooke’s short laugh came just a hair too late, and Tess realized she had hurt Brooke’s feelings. She cracked open the toilet door. “Hey. I’m just kidding.”
            “Hundreds of years of innovation in plumbing and electric. Wasted on us,” Brooke said cheerfully. She paused, listened, and laughed. “Are you holding your pee?”
            “I can’t pee when you’re listening,” Tess said, pulling the door closed.
            “Still? After all these years?”
            “Run some water.”
            “Andrew will never forgive the waste of this,” Brooke chided, but she went to the small sink in the bathroom and turned the lever. As the water ran, Brooke said, “When you want to take a bath, just fill the tub half way with snow, then pour in boiling water. It’s the perfect temperature. You’ll like it. Trust me.”
            “Wow,” Tess said, closing the door to the toilet. “I feel so conscientious, not flushing anything.”
            “Well, hopefully,” Brooke said, “some of our mindfulness will rub off on you.”
            “Oh, goody,” Tess said, “I can’t wait.”
                                                                                                             
            Tess awoke early the next morning to find Andrew and Brooke engaged in a sun salutation in the meditation room. Andrew brought his finger to his lips when Tess opened the heavy, engraved door. The room was magnificent: mirrored walls on two sides. A wood burning stove heated water that circulated warmth up through the gleaming teak floor. Alabaster walls caught the light, and floor-to-ceiling windows afforded a view of the mountains. Neutral-tone beige yoga mats, sitting blocks, and meditation pillows sat stacked in neat towers. Red prayer shawls and elaborately embroidered tapestry hung from the vaulted ceiling.
            She asked where they kept the coffee, and Andrew stopped his yoga to make it for her. He fussed over hand-grinding the beans, fetching clarified water from a designated bucket, measuring out the proportions just so. Tess gulped it down, and asked for a second cup.
            “I really don’t know if I could drink another,” he said.
            “That’s all right,” Tess replied. “More for me.”
            Tess enjoyed watching him parsimoniously spoon two small heaps of grounds into the old-fashioned percolator. They sipped the brew in silence that was, Tess thought, less than meditative, while Brooke made small talk on a list of things they needed for the party and sent Andrew to town to fetch them. After he left, Brooke glanced out the sliding glass door and topped off her own cup, firing up the stove to make a third pot.
            “I love him to pieces,” she said, “But the coffee rationing is ridiculous.”
            “If a man kept me from a second cup of coffee, I would never let his dick within a mile of me again,” Tess said.
            Brooke looked amused. “Oh, darling. You haven’t changed a bit.”
            “Hey,” Tess said, swirling the sludge in the bottom of her cup, “read my grounds?”
            “I don’t know…” Brooke said. “I haven’t done that in a long time.”
            “You predicted Brian,” Tess said. “You owe me.”
            “Well,” Brooke said. “Maybe I can foresee his imminent demise.”
            “Make it slow and painful.”
            Tess put her saucer on top of the empty cup, closed her eyes, and made a wish. She slid the cup across the counter.
            “You drank from one side only?” Brooke asked. Tess nodded. Brooke touched her hand to the side of the cup every few moments to see if it had cooled. After a moment, she lifted the cup and looked at the saucer. Her eyebrows shot up.
            “What?”
            “No. It’s nothing,” Brooke said.
            “Bullshit. Tell me now,” Tess said.
            Brooke laughed and said, “I looked at it wrong.”
            Tess almost believed her. She opened her mouth to speak, but Brooke frowned and shook her head no. “Shhh… I’m reading.”
            Tess waited, wishing she had made more coffee to pass the time. Brooke looked in Tess’s eyes and said, “What I see is a journey, and you standing on top of a mountain. You’re holding a man’s head, like a mane by your fist, holding it over the mountain like this…”
            Brooke extended her arm. Tess tapped the counter with both hands, drumming the marble. “Then what?”
            “I don’t know,” Brooke admitted.
            “What do you mean you don’t know?”
            “It’s not science.”
            “A lion mane?”
            “Yes… and well… You seemed very proud of yourself. Triumphant.”
            “Let me see.”
            “You can’t read your own grounds,” Brooke said, pulling the cup away from Tess. “It’s such bad luck.”
            “You’d better not be messing with me.”
            “I’m not.”
            Brooke rinsed the grounds down the sink.
            After countless questions from Tess and Brooke’s many avowals that she was sorry she even agreed to do the damned reading, Brooke left to collect some friends from the airport. Her car wasn’t even at the mailbox before Tess went to the sink and peered into the cup.
            It was no use. Clean as a whistle.
                                                                                                             
            Tess went for a hike, leaving her bathwater on to boil. She walked off the trail, following a deer path where the pines grew straight and tall as telephone poles, and deep crevasses plummeted down to the river past cliffs of flinty grey shale and pink limestone. After a while, Tess sat on a large rock that overlooked the river, trying not to think about Brian, focusing on the scent of the forest, the call of winter crows. Tess recalled Brian telling her that people with late-stage hypothermia hallucinate warmth. Maybe that’s what she had done with him. She jogged back up to the house, enjoying the way the bitter air burnt her lungs.
            She tried not to think of Brian as she stepped into the bath, soaping and rinsing herself, scraping her knee raw against the metal washtub. She stood up in the tub and caught a glimpse of her reflection in the sliding glass door. She’d lost so much weight that her stomach was concave. She stood in the chill until her nipples hurt, whitening from the cold. Her thighs were goose-pimpled like chicken skin and tendrils of wet hair stuck to her shoulders. Shuddering, she wrapped herself in a towel and stepped inside.
            “Hello…?” a voice said.
            A woman stood at the bedroom door. Long, red hair hung down her back in a froth of curls. She wore striped leggings, a smock-like print dress, and a furry hat. A man stood behind her, his brown dreads stuffed under a scruffy green toboggan. He waved.
            “Tess?” he said, taking off his sunglasses. “Hey… it’s Zach.”
            “Zach Royce?” she asked. He smiled. “My gosh, I didn’t recognize you with the… hair and all.”
            “Yeah, yeah, I know… Sorry we scared you,” he laughed. “This is Evah.”
            Tess extended her hand, trying to keep the towel from slipping.
“Nice to meet you,” Tess said. Evah wriggled like a puppy. Tess didn’t know whether to pat her on the head or shake her hand, so she held onto her towel.
            “Where is everybody?” Zach asked.
            “Andrew and Brooke went into town,” Tess said. She slipped Brooke’s bathrobe on over the towel, tied it at the waist, and faced Zach. He pulled her into a hug. They hadn’t seen each other in years. His matted dreadlocks made Tess want to reach for the scissors. She suspected that he fancied himself a good freestyler, a man of the people, fluent in elementary Spanish.
            “So how was… Venezuela?” she asked.
            “Revolution ain’t all it’s cracked up to be,” Zach said. “I was mostly leading hiking parties for eco-tourists through the jungle, but we got robbed so many times by traficantes that I thought I’d come back to the states for a while and let things cool off. You?”
            “I manage the farm for dad,” Tess said. “Spend a lot of time on the river.”
            “Where’s Brian?”
            She said it. “We broke up.”
            “Awww, man. That sucks,” Zach said. “You guys were together for—”
            “Five years,” Tess said. She struggled to smile, “It’s for the best, I think. We were so young when we met—”
            “What, like 25?”
            “Yeah. And you change, you know.”
            “You haven’t changed at all,” Zach said.
            “I’ve changed forever,” she said. “I don’t know yet if it’s good or bad.”
            “All Zach’s friends are, like, freaking out over turning thirty,” Evah said. “But I think it’s when your life begins.”
            Tess resisted the urge to ask Evah if she was old enough to buy booze and whether she could indeed count to thirty. Tess said, “Why don’t you guys settle in? I’ll be right down.”
            Before leaving, Evah turned and touched Tess’s arm.
            “Are you ok?”
            “Yeah, sure…” Tess said.
            “Then why were you crying?”
            “What are you talking about?” Tess said.
            “I heard you… when we were coming up the stairs.”
            “I wasn’t crying.”
            Evah shrugged. “Okay.”
            Evah took Zach’s hand and whispered something in his ear as Tess closed the door behind them. She dressed and went downstairs to find Evah standing on the dining room table in the great room, setting up a portable disco ball and several small speakers to “bang out” what she assured them was twelve-hour-long playlist of trance and electronica. Tess left Zach watching Evah and snuck a look at her phone. Nothing but a long voice mail from Brooke asking her to check the pantry and make sure they had plenty of organic flour.
                                                                                                      
            By afternoon, Ak
ā
liko was humming with the influx of revelers from Brooke and Andrew’s crowd. Tess knew a few of them from trips into Laurelton and Stowe. She made small talk with Sara and Michelle, the couple who owned the ski shop. There was a whole passel of lefties from the Baron underground: a couple who repurposed wool army blankets to create small-batch hybrid denim fashions that they sold for a small fortune to hipsters on both the left and right coasts. A couple of gentleman farmers enthralled a group of locavores with a florid description of the sheep-castrating process. Todd, who ran a forage-centric CSA, bantered with an environmental lawyer about the dangers of arugula. His beautiful raw-food wife was a self-styled Internet personality who somehow made a living by recording ukulele parodies of pop songs on YouTube. Tess wandered over to where Brooke and Andrew were sitting on tapestry floor cushions, in a circle playing a board game.
            “I’m in over my head,” she told Brooke. “You’re collecting eccentric friends again.”
            “I keep the good ones,” Brooke grinned. She whispered, “I hear you met Evah?”
            Tess nodded. “She’s one of those if-you’re-not-open-she’ll-pry-you-open kind of people,” Tess said.
            “Arm hair so thick you could braid it, bless her heart. Poor Zach.”
            “Your eyes still green over him?” Tess glanced at Brooke.
            “Please. That water done run under the bridge,” Brooke said. Tess smiled at her friend’s rare relapse into country parlance.
            “You’re awful critical of this gal of his.”
            “Well she’s far too young for him. A grown woman would have been long gone around the time he did that to his hair.”
            Brooke dropped her eyes. “So cliché.”
            The game dragged on, so Tess went to the kitchen to start the bread. Zach stood sipping maté out of a straw while Evah iced a cake, vegan and sponge-like, that she explained to Tess was crafted out of carrots and spelt flour.
            “What’s the occasion?” Tess asked.
            “My birthday,” Zach said.
            “Your birthday is in May,” Tess said. It was the week after hers. Tess remembered that they both had to wait until the very end of junior year to get a driver’s license.
            “Good memory,” Zach said. He tipped his chin towards Evah. “Shhhhhh…”
            “The icing is made out of non-pasteurized soy cheese,” Evah gushed. “C’mon, try it!”
            Angry raisins puffed out their chests at Tess, as if daring her to try a bite. “I wish I could,” she begged off, “But I… I don’t eat sweets any more.”
            “Cooool… I’m paleo,” Evah sang, using the wooden spoon as a microphone. “But not on birthdays!”
            “Will I be in your way if I start the soup and bread?” Tess asked.
            “Of course not,” Evah said. Zach drifted off after a few minutes, leaving Tess to struggle at making small talk with Evah. Tess soon learned that she needn’t struggle much at all. Evah was happy to ruminate on how she didn’t work because she felt weighed down by furniture and belongings, so she stuck to seasonal jobs in the service industry that let her travel and experience the world.
            “How do you… get by?” Tess asked.
            “People are always there for me when I need them,” Evah said. “It’s like the universe just puts them in place for me.”
            Tess turned her attention to loosening the ring at the top of the mason jar of soup. The lid slipped off—it hadn’t sealed. Tess sniffed at the jar, and a thick, sour smell emanated from it. She slid the jar away, making note to put it in the compost heap, when Brooke stuck her head in the door.
            “We’re having a cleansing meditation session in the ringzai room,” Brooke said.
            Tess dumped the bag of flour into the bowl, sending up a hazy cloud, hoping to disappear behind it. She made a well in her palm, filled it with salt, and stirred it in with her hand.
            “Come join me?”
            “Maybe next time,” Tess said.
            “Andrew’s really good at this sort of thing,” Brooke said. “Seriously. Trust him a bit.”
            “It’s not him I don’t trust,” Tess said, pouring in the sourdough. “And I just started this bread.”
            “Go on if you want,” Evah said. “I can finish it.”
            “That’s ok,” Tess said. She drizzled olive oil over the lumpy mess in the bowl. She felt the grainy dough molding together in her fingers when she squeezed them into fists.
            “It might help you handle your feelings,” Brooke said.
            Tess sank her hands into the mix and said, “To hell with ringzai, I’ll heal when I want to; there’s a feeling.”
            There was a small silence, underscored by laughter from the next room.
            “Get it together your way then,” Brooke said. “I was just trying to help.”
            “Please,” Tess said. She felt her eyes well up, hot with tears. “I can’t think about it right now.”
            “Okay,” Brooke said, “Okay.”
            After she left, Tess began kneading, smacking the bread down onto the baking stone. Tess concentrated on the window-paning dough. She jumped when Evah put a comforting hand on her shoulder.
            “I understand, girl. It’s why I avoid committed relationships. Life is a lot easier if you don’t have to worry about pleasing anyone but yourself.”
            “What would this world be like if all of us did that?” Tess said.
            Evah turned to Tess and touched her arm. Tess despised her even more.
      &nb
sp;     “What’s that old saying?” Evah said. “…‘Love is the delusion that one man differs from another?’…”
            “All right,” Tess said. “Enough.”
            Tess extricated a doughy hand from the bowl and stepped back. Evah’s arm fell to her side. The girl frowned.
            “Everybody has a story,” Evah said. “Including me.”
            “Huh,” Tess said. “Spoken like someone who lets other people solve their problems.”
            Evah turned on the water and filled up the mixing bowl with castile soap. The scent of lavender wafted over to Tess, tickling her nose. Evah dried her hands, then picked up a spatula and began working the icing on Zach’s cake.
            “I grew up in Eastern PA,” Evah said. She jerked her head in the direction of the window. “Old-order Amish. I left when they tried to make me get married. I haven’t been back. I had to learn to let go of everything that hurt.”
            Evah was by now whirling the spatula with her hand, leaving a pattern of perfect, interlocking swirls. Evah covered the cake with a sheet of wax paper, and put it aside. She popped the spatula in her mouth. “So I like my freedom now that I have it.”
            “How old are you, really?” Tess asked.
            “Twenty,” Evah said. Tess studied her for a moment, then cut the dough in half and handed it to her. The girl flattened it with her palm, pushing it with the heel of her hand, turned it over and began again. Tess smiled at her.
            “Drives me crazy when people show off making stuff I used to dream about buying at the store,” Evah said.
            “Please,” Tess said, “Reach over and set the oven timer for fifty minutes?”
            The rest of the afternoon passed quickly. There was lunch to eat, a kitchen to clean, soup to stir. Zach and Tess and the lawyer and the lesbians went cross-country skiing. Brooke led a yoga session in the meditation room. The raw-food wife sat strumming obscure indie-rock songs. Later, Evah opened a huge suitcase full of costumes and handed them out. There was a tutu. A headdress made of peacock feathers. A jackalope costume. A Richard Nixon mask.
            What an ungodly nightmare this will be once everyone is drunk, Tess thought.
            By 7:00 more partygoers were pouring in and dinner was ready. Brooke sat Tess next to a bearded fellow who attempted to capture her interest with statements like, “I only make pies with indigenous wild apples.” Tess got up three times during dinner to visit the whisky bar. After her third double, she asked him what kind of music he listened to. The fellow leaned in, earnest and willing to enlighten her, musing at length on his affection for French political hip-hop.
            Andrew stood on a chair and rang a spoon against his wineglass.
            “Friends, fools, lovers,” he said. “I am so glad you are all here with us. This is a special New Year’s at Akāliko.” Andrew stepped down from the chair and offered Brooke his hand. “Stand up please, honey?”
            Brooke wiped her mouth with her napkin. She looked almost shy. Andrew led her over to the fireplace, where he sank onto one knee, and took a small velvet box out of his pocket. Brooke’s hand flew to her mouth. She looked at Tess, who smiled and concentrated on arranging her face into a masque of happiness. Fierce happiness.
            Tess smiled and clapped at the right moments, but her mind drifted backward. She remembered Brian kneeling in front of her last Christmas. Brian getting choked up, fumbling. Brian asking her the same thing Andrew was asking Brooke. Yeah… Tess had said. Yes. Now Brooke was saying yes, and the room was breaking out in ecstatic cheers, singing, “For he’s a jolly good fellow…” Brooke and Andrew were surrounded by people embracing, shaking hands, and congratulating them.
            Brooke took Andrew’s hand and tried to make her way to Tess, tears streaming down her face. Zach stopped Andrew and shook his hand. Brooke hugged Zach, who lifted her hand in the air and kissed her ring. Tess worked her way towards them and saw Evah kick on the sound system, sending disco lights spinning around the room.
            “Let’s get this party started!” Evah bellowed into the microphone. “Give it up for Andrew and Brooke!” The walls of Akāliko fairly shook from drum and bass, people surged to the dance floor, and she was grateful to Evah for rendering conversation impossible.
            Tess hugged Andrew and Brooke, screaming congratulations over the music. She made a show of dancing with the two of them, then stood on the perimeter of things for a couple of songs, clapping and cheering while they danced, making sure to catch Brooke’s eye every now and then. She wanted to be happy for them, she did. But after a very short while, all the air went out of the room, and the scent of the dancers’ sweat drove Tess into the kitchen where she helped dry the dinner dishes and swept the kitchen floor clean. She kept herself moving until she had a chance to slip a bottle of good small-batch whisky into her pocket and ease out a side door. Hurrying in her stocking feet across the frigid brick sidewalk, Tess snuck around to the meditation room. Mercifully, the door was unlocked. She sat herself down on a yoga mat and drank until she passed out.
                                                                                                               
            Tess awoke to the din of the still-pounding beat of trance music. She rolled over onto her stomach. Moonlight filtered in through the windows. She glanced at the clock. It was already a New Year… My God… it was two in the morning. She stood up, capped the bottle she’d been drinking, and stashed it behind the sitting blocks.
            She wandered back into the great room. It was dark except for the strobe light and spinning colors from the disco ball. Evah had changed into a sequined leotard and rainbow shimmering tights. She danced atop the table, writhing and undulating with a hula-hoop. In the corner, someone was passed out in someone else’s lap. There were a few feet sticking out from under the pool table, and Tess immediately decided she didn’t care who they belonged to. God, her head hurt. She fumbled to the kitchen for a glass of water. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, there was
Zach, costumed in a pair of leather chaps and a magenta vest made out of fake fur.
            “Hey,” he said. “I thought you left.”
            “What the hell are you wearing?” she asked. “A Muppet?”
            He laughed. “My work uniform. Did you know I was a stripper when I lived in Cali?”
            “This surprises me not at all,” Tess said.
            He began a gyrating dance, moving towards her.
            “Something is wrong with all of us,” Tess said, covering her eyes. “Especially you.”
            Zach laughed. Tess’s glass clinked when she drew filtered water from the refrigerator, one of Brooke and Andrew’s few concessions to modernity. The dispenser groaned, an animal sigh that she wished she could echo. Zach put his hand on her shoulder.
            “Nothing’s wrong with you, Tess.”
            “I need to go lie down again,” Tess said. Her voice cracked.
            “Brooke told me what happened with Brian,” Zach said. “I’m sorry.”
            “Me too.”
            “I’m shocked,” Zach said. “I thought you two were really good for each other.”
            “Stop,” Tess said, starting to cry. “Please stop.”
            Zach put his hand on her arm and she looked up at him. He dipped his fingers into the glass, stepped toward her, and rubbed the cool water across her eyelids. She put her hands on the counter behind her to balance herself. He leaned toward her, pressing his chest into hers, his hips moving her toward the counter. He smelled like sweat not necessarily his own, gin, salt. His eyes were all iris.
            “Are you on shrooms?” she asked.
            “Yeah,” he said, nodding. “Good ones.”
            “Got any more?”
            No one paid attention when they slipped through the great room. They passed Evah, who was grinding against the fellow with the beard as a rapper cadenced in lilting, staccato French. The couple underneath the table had disappeared. The door to the medication room whispered against the wood floor when Zach closed it behind them.
            Tess chewed the shrooms straight, the dense acrid taste and leathery texture drying out her mouth. They unrolled yoga mats and sat passing the whisky back and forth. Tess talked. She had never told anyone the whole story, all of it: the humiliation of discovery, her swift turns from beloved to betrayed to battered. They fell silent. Zach put his hand on hers. Tess took a swig of whisky. When she passed him the bottle, he leaned in to kiss her, smiling as liquor spilled from her lips to his. She pulled him in closer, the bottle clinking dully on the wood floor when it slipped out of her hand.
            Tess shivered when his hands moved from her waist to her breasts. It had been years since anyone touched her except Brian. They undressed quickly, working their way across the floor to the pile of yoga mats, leaving a trail of clothing in their wake. Zach paused, naked, to throw a couple of pieces of wood onto the fire. Backlit by the glow of the stove, his hair fanned out in all directions like the spikes on a dinosaur. When he closed the grate, the room went dark, and she let herself fall into it all, the unfamiliarity and desperation that only comes from deprivation of spirit, from the generosity of one body comforting another.
                                                                                                       
            Tess froze when she heard the door open. She saw Andrew, silhouetted in the doorway. “It’s hot as Hades in here,” Andrew said. “I thought for sure the stove would be out by now.”
            When the lights snapped on, Andrew saw the bodies in the corner, the clothes on the floor. Brooke stepped into the room behind him, giggling as she stumbled over the threshold. She caught her breath.
            “What’s this?” Brooke said.
            “Oh, hey, Brooke,“ Zach said, “Sorry…”
            Tess sat up, crossing her arms over her chest. Zach leaned over, hiding her behind him.
            “Tess?” Brooke said. “Really?”
            “It’s cool,” Zach said. “Give us a minute—”
            “Cool?” Brooke said, hands on her hips. “I don’t think this is cool at all.”
            Andrew turned his back on Tess and Zach while they scrambled to cover up, turning his head only slightly to say, “This is a sacred space.”
            “Shut up, Andrew,” Brooke said.
            Andrew looked at Brooke, astonished. “What?”
            “Take it easy,” Zach said.
            “I can explain—” Tess began. But she could not. The shrooms had kicked in. The lights were cruel and far too white in her eyes, which kept closing and blinking as the rays sent small tracers spider-webbing across the floor. Zach was on his feet, a pillow across his groin.
            Brooke kicked their clothes at the two of them. “Get dressed.”
            “Brooke, wait a minute—” Tess stuttered, reaching for the right words, reaching for her sweater, pulling her pants on.
            Brooke turned to her, “What were you thinking?”
            Zach tugged his shirt over his head. “Look, we’re all adults…”
            “Stop,” Brooke said. She raised up both palms, as if pushing against an invisible wall. Zach and Tess were both dressed. Andrew clasped Brooke’s hand, his expression a mix of bewilderment, confusion, and concern.
            “It’s no big deal, Brooke—” Zach began.
            “
How could you?” Brooke said to Tess.
            “It was an accident,” Tess said. The room whirled. “Shit.”
            “What the hell is wrong with you?” Brooke asked both of them.
            “Hey. It’s been a long time,” Zach said, kindly.
            “Like that matters to you,” Brooke said. “You… you—”
            “Brooke?” Andrew asked. The four of them stood, tense as coiled spring, in the paneled room. The fire crackled, snapped, threw sparks. Tess could hear the sound of her own breath. The room loomed around them, dwarfing their reflections in the mirrored wall, their voices echoing off the wood floor.
            “I want you both to get your shit and go,” Brooke said.
            “Hold on…” Zach said, “Don’t do this.”
            Brooke poked a finger towards Tess. “She was my friend. You’re my ex. This is my meditation room, my house…”
            “It’s actually my house,” Andrew said to Brooke. She stopped short, then turned to face the windows overlooking the mountains. Tess could see her friend’s reflection. Brooke was so angry her face had taken on a pallor of stone; she seemed rigid as the Buddha statue that gazed on them benevolently from the altar.
            “It’s our house. I want you both to leave.”
            “I don’t think anyone should drive,” Zach said. “We both took some stuff.”
            “Took some stuff?” Brooke clenched her teeth so hard Tess thought she could hear them grind. “Is that your excuse?”
            “No one meant to hurt you,” Tess said. Brooke glared at her.
            “I don’t see why this should bother you at all,” Andrew said.
            “I was with him for years,” Brooke said. Tess felt her heart compress, pause. She looked at the floor.
            “I didn’t mean to,” Tess said. Zach and Andrew traded glances. Andrew took Brooke’s hand. She leaned against his side, burying her face in his shoulder.
            “We’ve all had a lot to drink,” Andrew said. He squeezed Brooke’s hand. “We’ll sort it out in the morning. Let’s go upstairs. Now.”
            Brooke glanced from Zach to Tess to Andrew. Her shoulders sank. She turned to leave, pausing at the door. Without turning around, Brooke said, “Sleep wherever you want tonight, but in the morning, I want you both gone.”
            Tess called after her but was answered only by the stomping of Brooke’s feet against the beveled floor and the slamming of the heavy wood door. Andrew followed Brooke, closing the door behind him. Tess straightened up the mats. She blushed at the wet spots that she didn’t know whether to conceal with a pillow or leave open to dry. Zach smiled at her.
            “It was fun,” he said. “For an accident.”
                                                                                                          
            When Tess went into the great room, Evah was still dancing. She beckoned Tess over to her, but Tess ducked her head and hurried up the stairs to Brooke’s door. She knocked. She thought she heard Andrew and Brooke talking, but the urgent undercurrent of voices ceased when she knocked. No one answered. Tess called Brooke’s name a few times.
            “My keys are in my bag,” Tess said. No answer.
            She went back downstairs to the kitchen. The soup was bubbling in the crockpot. Tess gathered up her mason jars, stacking them back in the crate. There was a thudding, heavy sound from the stairwell, and she hurried over to find her backpack at the bottom of the stairs, her things scattered. Tess picked up her toothbrush, a fleece jacket, a pair of socks. She crammed them back in the bag and closed it with an angry tug at the zipper.
            She’d had enough. She was tired of Brooke’s sanctimonious attitude. Brooke had the same petty jealousies and unresolved feelings as everyone else. Tess was tired of Brooke’s claim on enlightenment when Brooke was just as proprietary and fucked up as everyone else. Tess was, in fact, tired of everyone else: these assholes that smacked of such certainty that they were better, more together, somehow immune to the toxicity of human life by virtue of their diet of cleansing herbs, weird music, and self-congratulation. She never wanted to come to this party anyway, and Brooke had insisted, knowing that Tess would hate it, but pushing, pushing, pushing for her to heal when it was impossible to do so because the whole ashram’s heart was as raw as a steak.
            To hell with it, Tess thought. She reached for the spoiled jar. She tipped the jar over, stirred the contents into the soup. In the foyer, Tess laced her boots, grabbed her things, and went to the Jeep. It was almost four in the morning. She could probably get a room in Lorca. It was closer and an easier drive than going all the way home. She started the engine and let it run for a few minutes, staring ahead at the light snow falling in the bluish glow of the moonlight. The clear black of the sky made the stars seem brighter, closer, and colder.
            She wondered what Brian was doing. If he felt badly for how he treated her. If he felt anything at all, other than the desire to hide his hurt, desire, and burning shame.
            She wondered if that was all they had left in common.
            Tess felt her eyes burning and was searching for a tissue when there was a tap on the window. Zach.
            “You can’t drive,” he said. “You’re drunk and shrooming. It’s New Year’s.”
            “I’m going to the motel in Lorca,” she said.
            “You can’t,” he said. “You’ll end up in jail.”
            He opened the passenger door and got in, rubbing his hands together.
            “Brooke’s going to kill me,” Tess said.
            “Pretty salty,” he said
. “It never occurred to me she would give a shit.”
            “I should have known,” Tess said. Zach looked at her but she did not elaborate.
            “What about Evah?” she asked.
            “We’re not like that.”
            “Yeah, no kidding.”
            Tess burst into laughter and he laughed, too, until it wore thin. They sat for a moment in silence, the dull whir of the fan still blowing frigid air across their knuckles, eyelashes, knees.
            “You can’t drive. We’ll set the alarm early and have you on the road before Brooke even wakes up.”
            “No,” she said. “I’ll take back roads and go slow.”
            Zach reached across her and grabbed the keys from the ignition. He was out the door before she could even unbuckle her seatbelt, laughing and slipping in the snow. Tess chased after him, trying to keep her footing. He was nimble as a goat, bouncing from drift to drift and ducking in and out of the pines. Zach climbed to the top of a rock and held the keys aloft. Tess jumped up beside him. He steadied her, his arm on her back.
            The whole expanse of the valley lay before them. It was a sloping drop with a few outcroppings, limestone flecks catching the moonlight. Below it, the river curved silver and the ground sparkled with snow.
            Zach twirled the keys on the end of his finger.
            “Stop it,” Tess said, breathless. “I don’t have a spare.”
            Zach pretended to fling them over the edge, fumbling at the last minute. Tess lunged and lost her footing. She felt branches, stones, ice, and snow. She struggled to stop herself, unsure whether to curl up or open her arms to break the tumble. She could hear rocks falling after her. She felt a strange, searing throb in her side. When she landed, she could taste the thin metal trickle of blood in her mouth. She lifted one limb at a time. When she tried to move her left leg, she cried out.
            “You all right?” Zach called. She could not tell if his voice was above or below her.
            “I did something to my leg,” she said. “I don’t know.”
            “I’ll get help,” he said. She listened to him struggle up the hill, and then to the few moments of silence while he was inside. Soon he returned with Evah, and they helped her to her feet, hopping along a winding side path, back to Akāliko.
                                                                                                           
            Tess awoke under the glare of fluorescent lights, the hum of some kind of monitor. She knew she was in the hospital. Someone kept saying, Brian… Brian…
            Shut up, she thought. God I wish that idiot would shut up.
            Tess ran her hand across her face. Her face was still there, although it was a little sore on one side. Her chest cavity ached. Her teeth felt like they were wearing little sweaters, and her feet were cold. Why were hospital blankets always so terrible? She looked down at her body, saw the leg in its cast, and swore.
            “Hello,” a voice said.
            Tess turned her head toward its origin. Evah sat beside her making prayer ties, the bright red fabric cinched around a circular orb, fragrant with sage. She leaned over and pressed a cold cloth to Tess’s forehead. She said, “I just fed you an ice chip, and I think it made you drool.”
            Tess said. “How long have I been here?”
            “Oh, just since last night. They knocked you out to calm you down… you were calling for Brian, and plus the pain.”
            Plus the pain, Tess thought. That is the pain. All the pain. Shit.
            “What time is it?”
            “About seven,” Evah said. “You missed New Year’s Day.”
            Brooke snoozed in a chair on the opposite side of Tess’s bed. She stirred at the sound of their voices, blinking sleep out of her eyes and pushing her hair back when she saw that Tess was awake.
            “Thank God,” Brooke said.
            “You don’t believe in God,” Tess replied. “So why are you here?”
            “Liability,” Brooke said.
            Tess snorted. “Thought that stuff was for the bourgeois.”
            “You need to cut this shit out,” Brooke said. Tess looked away. Brooke was right. She did need to cut that shit out, and a lot of other shit along with it. The blip blip blip of a monitor did little to bridge the silence.
            “Brooke,” Tess said, “I’m sorry.”
            “It’s not just your fault,” Brooke said. “It’s mine.”
            “It’s Zach’s fault,” Tess said. She tried to crack a smile, but her face throbbed. “Ouch.”
            “He’s downstairs buying a sandwich,” Evah said, “But he’ll be up in a few.”
            Tess asked to read her chart and learned that she had two cracked ribs and a hairline fracture in her fibula, various abrasions, and a loose tooth.
            “They’re going to let you out tomorrow morning, as long as you don’t throw up. Which by the way, everyone at the ashram, including Andrew, has some terrible diarrhea,” Brooke said.
            “Oh, God…” Tess sighed. “That’s my fault.”
            “What did you do?” Brooke asked, eyes narrowing.
            “Nothing,” Tess said. She closed her eyes and whispered, “I’m still a little woozy.”
        &n
bsp;   She knew her friend did not believe her. She knew someday she would have to cop. She had no plans for that day to be today. Tess pointed at Evah. “She escaped the Amish.”
            “Yeah, she told me.”
            “You were right. Remember the coffee grounds?” Tess asked Brooke.
            Brooke frowned, and shook her head. “No… Come in for a landing, please…”
            Tess tried to sit up but could not. “It was Zach. The dude in the cup was Zach. I saw him, he was a lion, his hair was just like a lion when he put more wood in the stove…”
            “Just try to rest,” Evah cooed.
            “I didn’t behead him,” Tess told Brooke.
           ​ Brooke shrugged. “You missed your chance.”
            Tess turned to Evah. “I fucked your boyfriend.”
            “Big deal,” Evah said. She tied another prayer knot, winding the white cotton cording around the clump of sage, her hands a blur as they circled the red fabric. “For that matter, so did I.”
            “Me, too,” Brooke said, quickly adding, “Not lately…”
            The three of them laughed, Tess’s sounding raspy and causing her to clutch her ribcage to fight off the knife of pain that shot around her torso with the rapid intake of breath.
            “Why are you here?” Tess asked Evah.
            “Same reason you are.”
            “Oh, hell,” Tess said.
            Evah reached for the plastic mug, took the lid off of it, and selected an ice chip. She held Tess’s gaze before bringing the spoon to Tess’s lips. Tess closed her eyes, felt the ice sting her teeth, until she trapped it between her tongue and the roof of her mouth. Evah straightened back and smiled.
            “That’s better,” she said. “Let me know when you want more.”

Jamie Lyn Smith is a native of Knox County, Ohio. An alumnus of Kenyon College and Fordham University, she is the recipient of a University Fellowship from The Ohio State University, where she completed her MFA in Creative Writing. Her work has appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Pinch, Low Valley ReviewThe Boiler Journal, and Barely South. Jamie Lyn is a recipient of the Haidee Forsyth Burkhart Award in Creative Nonfiction and a Peter Taylor Fellowship from The Kenyon Review Fiction Workshop. She teaches creative writing and literature at Bluffton University, where she edits the literary magazine Bridge. Current project include Ever, a collection of new short stories, and a novel, Appalachia.



























































By |2018-12-05T15:23:34+00:00December 5th, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments

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