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Bliss sat on the wooden floor of the yoga studio, his legs splayed indecorously in front of him while the rest of the class sublimely assumed Lotus position. Bliss was not in Lotus position. He was not anywhere near Lotus position, or half-Lotus, or an infinitesimal speck of Lotus. He couldn't imagine anyone being any more un-Lotus. He'd taken a wrong turn, missed his exit, and was miles away from Lotus, standing in a phone booth in the rain at a gas station reeking of beer and piss, holding a receiver without a dial tone. That's how far from Lotus he was.
As a present for his forty-third birthday, Rachel and the kids had given him a series of yoga classes. That was almost a year ago. He'd been putting it off, making excuses, citing his being busy at work, too many murders to attend to. But the coupon was about to expire. He didn't want to disappoint his kids. C'mon, Dad. It was a present. You have to go. So now here he was in the Serenity Loft, knee-deep in a squalid mess o'yoga.
Bliss pulled harder on his ankle, seeing if he could bully it closer toward Lotus, but it was as if there were an equally strong Lenny keeping his leg exactly where it was. Isn't this how saints were put to death in the Middle Ages? Burned at the stake, drawn and quartered, having their legs forced into Lotus. He was sure he'd seen a fresco of it in some church somewhere.
Suddenly, his hamstring cramped. He shot his leg out to relieve the pain and wound up kicking the back of an older woman in front of him. She didn't turn, didn't flinch, just stayed completely Lotus, the gentle swing of her long gray braid the only evidence of the collision. His muscle relaxed, but he didn't dare bend it yet. He left it out, to de-Lotus. Maybe someone would have pity on him.
His family wanted him to go. The Girls-Rachel, Julia, and Cori. They wanted husband/dad Bliss to find more peace, to feel less stress, to be more at one with the universe. So he might be happier. More Om at home.
"It'll be good for you," Julia, his oldest, said. "I take yoga in school. It actually gives you more energy."
More energy for Bliss to pursue the depraved denizens of Gotham, the meanies who lurked in the shadows, who left the messes and spills he and his partner Ward were constantly cleaning up.
But he couldn't let the coupon expire. It was his birthday present. And, though it was probably the least yoga-esque reason for going, he went.
He had presented his coupon to a pretty, tattooed girl at the Serenity Loft front desk. She smiled and stamped it with some Japanese character that probably represented "balance" or "harmony" or "let's have fun watching the lumbering cop make a fool of himself."
He walked into the studio in his old, stained sweatpants and his Police Athletic League T-shirt and for a solid half-hour he tried gamely to be a yoga player. He tried Cobra position, the Cat pose, he tried Downward-Facing Dog until he could downward-face the dog no more.
The instructor, a woman about his own age, came over to him. Bliss tried not to notice the way her nipples poked through her leotard, sensing this might not be in the true yoga spirit.
She bent over him, her hand placed delicately, lovingly on his shoulder.
"It's okay," she said, her voice soothing. "Beginnings are always hard."
"I had a coupon," Bliss said.
"You need to stay with it."
"My kids gave it to me."
"Yes. Stay in the present."
"It was about to expire. I had to come."
"The next time will be easier," she said.
The next time, Bliss thought. That was what his first partner said-about the sight of death leaking from the hole in the neck of a livery cab driver hunched in the front seat of his cab, coffee and a donut in a little cardboard box next to him, the donut covered with blood, like cherry icing. It'll get easier. But he'd never been sure if easier was better.
"It's there," the instructor said with the gentle insistence of a Jehovah's Witness offering him a copy of The Watchtower. "It's inside you. You just have to find it."
But she didn't understand that Bliss expended most of his sentience trying not to find what was inside him.
He suddenly had an image of his father, Monty, walking in wearing his full dress blues (what he wore to police funerals), his shield festooned with the badges he'd earned in his twenty-two years of service in the Yonkers Police Department, staring in disbelief at his only son sitting on the floor as he did in kindergarten. And then Bliss imagined his father kicking him in the butt.
Let's get you out of here, son, before you get a rash.
Bliss grabbed his ankle in defiance and pulled it toward him, harder than he had before.
"Good," the instructor said. "Look at that."
He felt his father kick him again.
Let's get away from these nut jobs, Lenny. Queers. Lesbos.
He pulled his leg harder.
"Breathe into the stretch," the instructor urged him.
Bliss let out a groan.
He felt his father's foot, harder now. Relentless.
C'mon, son! This is no place for you.
It felt like his knee was going to snap. Almost forty-four years old and he was still trying to show up his father.
Lenny! Let's get the fuck out of here!
He gave one last protean effort and suddenly it was there, his left foot, resting atop his right leg.
"Yes!" Bliss said.
"Wow!" the instructor said.
He'd done it. Half-Lotus. He'd never get his other foot up, but he'd gotten one. He raised his arms in victory, making so much commotion that everyone's yoga-ness was shattered and they all turned to look at him, just in time to see Homicide Detective Bliss lose his balance, start to teeter, and then slowly, but inexorably, tip over until he lay on his back, one leg still crossed and the other sticking up in the air. Bliss heard stifled snickering from the class, until one woman could no longer restrain herself and, in a less than yogalike display, snorted and laughed heartily at the sight of Bliss lying helplessly on his back like a turtle.
You should have left when I told you, Lenny. You should have listened to your father.
Then his father turned his back on him and walked away. And his father was laughing, too.
Chantal ran into one of the stalls in the boys' bathroom, locked the door, knelt down and puked.
"Shit," said a voice. "You okay, man?"
She grunted as low as she could.
"Jesus, that stinks."
The boy flushed and left. Chantal flushed, too, then closed the top of the toilet, sat down, and took out the pregnancy tester and got the test started. The irony that she could be pregnant without having intercourse was not lost on her. Her own immaculate conception. She should just let Owen do it already, she thought. It would be tidier.
She followed the instructions on the package. She smiled, thinking how she was doing her pregnancy test in the boys' bathroom-Mecca of unwanted sperm.
She stared at the tester and prayed. Please God, help me. No green. Please God. Don't let it turn green.
In the commercials for the pregnancy tester, the woman waits with her husband in their cozy living room, staring at the strip together, both of them wanting her to be pregnant, wanting desperately for there to be a baby growing inside her. They had probably made love the night before by candlelight, moving together slowly like dancers, like people under water, the woman welcoming him inside her, wanting him inside her, completing each other. Not groaning and grunting like Owen did while he lay on Chantal's back, his weight pressing her face against his bedroom rug, leaving mottled marks on her skin, one of the ways he had of doing it without really doing it.
Chantal didn't think the tester company would be calling her any time soon for an endorsement: Close-up of girl in boy's bathroom stall. Wearing a shirt stained with tears, she holds the tester in her trembling hands, dread etched on her face, worried that her boyfriend's sperm had found its way from her thigh into her uterus, sneaking around where it wasn't wanted, trespassing. In the background, boys pee, a toilet flushes. It sounded more like a public service announcement from the Catholic church-see what happens when you have sex?
But the tester came up negative. She wasn't pregnant.
On the door of the stall someone had gouged a crude drawing of a penis and testicles. It had been painted over, but the outline was still there. If this had been in a novel they were discussing in English, she would have raised her hand and said that the author was trying to symbolize that even if you tried, you couldn't cover up the crude ugliness in the world, that it would find a way to show through. She was getting better at that kind of stuff. Finding the metaphors, the hidden meanings in the books.
She dropped the tester in the toilet and flushed, but it wouldn't go down. Another metaphor, she thought. She reached into the toilet bowl and pulled out the tester. The water was cold. She had never felt toilet water before. She wrapped the tester up in toilet paper as she did with her Tampax at school. That was kind of symbolic, too. Her period and her pregnancy both wraped up like a cocoon. Another metaphor. Metaphors, metaphors everywhere, but not a drop to drink.
Chantal discreetly deposited the tester in the trash basket in the hallway and went back to class.
She wasn't pregnant. She should be happy. But Chantal wasn't happy. She still felt nauseated and clammy. Maybe it was the flu. Or maybe it was just her, the way she was, the things she kept trapped inside her, the guilt, the shame, the secrets, churning inside her and making her sick.
She wondered if they made a test for that.
Excerpted from The Middle of Nowhere by Bob Sloan Copyright © 2003 by Bob Sloan. Excerpted by permission.
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