Read An Excerpt

by Rain Mitchell

Genre: General Mainstream Fiction, Mainstream

 | Read Book Review

“The fast was incredible,” the woman says as Katherine kneads her calves. “After the third day, I had absolutely no hunger whatsoever. I mean, what is that about? And for the ten days, ten whole days without a bite of food, I was still . . . you know . . . a few times a day. Amazing amounts. I’m so happy to have that out of my body.”

“Who wouldn’t be?” Katherine says.

Cindy’s monologue, which began even before she lay down on Katherine’s table, has officially crossed into TMI territory. No surprise there. Katherine guessed what was coming as soon as Cindy told her when booking the appointment that she couldn’t wait to describe an “amazing experience” she had during a ten-day cleanse. This is Cindy’s fifth massage with Katherine, and each time she comes, she has a new amazing experience to recount in detail; most of them involve getting something out of or off of her body. A new diet, sinus rinsing, high colonics, a sweat lodge.

What is always a surprise to Katherine, is finding out yet again how boring it is to listen to someone’s dietary and digestive adventures. Katherine is no stranger to all this (flirting with “healthy” fads helped her kick her more dangerous addictions), and she has to admit that Cindy looks good, her skin taut and glowing. But sometimes Katherine thinks she ought to post a sign reminding clients that she doesn’t need to know about their bathroom experiences in quite so much detail. She reaches over and turns up the music a few notches, hoping to send a subtle message.

“You’re probably wondering what I ate to break the fast, right?”

Not really.

“It’s usually the first thing everyone asks.”

Assuming they’re able to get in a word.

“I was supposed to start off with a day of this green juice. I’m not sure what was in it, but it tasted like I was drinking hay and it made me so nauseated, I reached for the first thing I could get my hands on to try and get rid of the taste, and that happened to be a chocolate chip bagel that Henry had left on the counter in my kitchen.”

Here comes the requisite attack on Henry.

“Thanks a lot, right? I mean, he knew I was going to break my fast that day. He’s into sabotage. But, hey, I love him, anyway. Omigod, his ass is so beautiful, like a marble statue. I’m not thrilled about his wife, but at least he was kind enough not to tell her that there’s another woman in his life, which I think is kind of sweet of him. So the bagel wasn’t what was on my plan, but I figured since I’d already eaten it, I might as well enjoy it and then, have you been to that new bakery on Hyperion?. . . . “

There’s a weird disconnect Katherine has noticed among some of the people she works on. They talk about their bodies as if they’re temples of purity they want to honor by getting massage, doing yoga, eating only organic foods. But at the same time, they spend half their waking lives trying to empty out their systems and purge them of normal bodily fluids and effluvia, as if they’re at war with their most basic and healthy functions.

The good thing about the talkers is that you can tune them out and focus on your own obsessions, like, oh, let’s say figuring out a way to make a connection with the redheaded fireman who just started working at the station up the street. Big Red. Now there’s someone worth obsessing about.

When she’s finished with Cynthia, Katherine puts a scented eye pillow over her eyelids, tells her to take her time, and goes out to the reception area. She strolls behind the desk and nearly bumps into Alan. He’s kneeling behind the counter, going through the class sign-in sheets from last week. Lately, he’s gotten more and more insistent about checking the sign-in sheets against the receipts, trying to prove that Lee isn’t collecting from everyone or is offering a sliding scale to some students. Katherine is keeping her mouth shut on that.

“Hey, babe,” he says.

There are so many reasons that being referred to as “babe” by Alan makes her slightly ill, Katherine wouldn’t know where to start complaining. Instead she says, “Heeeey,” with exaggerated flirtiness she hopes he finds insulting.

She’s never entirely trusted Alan—the amazing body, the long hair, the too-handsome, chiseled face, the way he preens in front of classes when he’s playing live music—as if it’s all about him. Since Lee confided that he moved out on her and the boys, she trusts him even less. Lee is better off without Alan, but he hasn’t earned the right to walk out on her. As for the reasons behind that move, Katherine has a few suspicions of her own, but she’s keeping her mouth shut about that, too.

“Do you know how many people are signed up for my Kirtan workshop next week?” he asks.

“Three,” Katherine says.

If Alan had his eye on his own business instead of counting up Lee’s receipts, he’d know this. Katherine rents her massage space at Edendale Yoga, and she ends up spending more time at the studio than anyone else, including Lee, waiting for clients and killing time between appointments. Out of fondness for Lee, she tries to keep her eyes on as many things as she can, but in a low-key way—she’s committed to not getting overly involved in anyone else’s life. Still, too many people have their unskilled hands on things around here—mostly studio assistants who trade front desk duty for free classes. In addition to having minimal knowledge of how to work the computer programs they’re always in such a rush to get into class, they leave money on the counter, credit card receipts scattered around, and the computer screen littered with Post-It notes with questions, requests, and assorted details about unfinished business. Last week, Katherine saw one that said: “I cldn’t figger how 2 print rcpts, so let evry1 in free. Hope OK. J Tara”

“Three,” Alan says. “Perfect. I was hoping it would be a small group. That makes it so much easier to work with them.”

Katherine says nothing, the best way to let him know she isn’t buying that comment. He’s a good musician and has a nice voice, but after the last workshop he gave, she heard a lot of complaints from students that he mostly performed and didn’t let them do much.

Katherine also knows that Alan was supposed to leave the car at the school for Lee today, but she can see it outside the studio. Classic passive-aggression and an issue she is not going to get in the middle of.

He walks into the studio, and through the glass doors, Katherine can see him “stretching” a routine that involves a lot of preening and prancing, a few push ups to get his biceps pumped, and a handstand that he holds for almost a minute. Supposedly he was a runner or something in college, and he does have a practice that would be a lot more impressive if it wasn’t so obviously intended to impress.

Alan’s music career is the reason he and Lee moved out here. The fact that it didn’t work out as he planned doesn’t say anything about his talent; show business didn’t work out as planned for most residents of this city—herself included. Katherine’s sat through enough of his coffeehouse and private performances to know that he’s a skilled musician and a capable songwriter. But sadly, he tends to oversell himself in front of an audience, or let out a trace of bitterness about the disappointing size of the crowd, so you end up feeling like a jerk for having shown up. “I had confirmation from forty people that they were coming tonight,” he once said from the stage to an audience of ten. “I guess they had something better to do.”

As far as Katherine’s concerned, Alan’s behavior toward Lee is just a lot of unattractive acting out. The spoiled boy who’s used to being the center of attention needs some space to lick his wounded ego. As for what she saw him doing in the office two weeks ago . . . more acting out.

She gathers up the sign-in sheets and goes back into Lee’s office, turns on the computer, and pulls up the receipts for the past week. Because she’s a body worker and a former junkie, everyone assumes her computer skills are basic. Sometimes it helps to keep expectations low.

The last thing Lee needs right now is to have Alan breathing down her neck about all the free passes she hands out and the bartering she does with some of the regulars and the sloppiness of the studio assistants. She tries, whenever she can, to get rid of the Post-It notes and bring a little sanity to the accounting side of things. Alan would probably be upset if he knew, but it’s not like he’s going to handle the job himself.

Katherine is so absorbed in what she’s doing, she barely notices the sound of sirens. When they register, she heads out to the sidewalk and sees the fire trucks headed down the hill. Another brush fire somewhere, no doubt. And no sign of Big Red on the truck.