by Anna Paikert
Everyone in the meditation class must be sad.
Tonight it’s raining as I wait outside the center. Vicky asks us to call it a center, but really it’s her house. We sit on the green carpet in her living room; there are only six black pillows to go around, so usually, two people don’t get pillows. Each week Vicky shakes her crazy gray hair, looks at the two pillow-less people, and laughs: Your ass will know true suffering. Only one person’s ass will know true suffering once I return to college and surrender my pillow.
I wait for Roy’s car to pull up next to the curb. I am the person who leaves rehab and takes a swig as soon as the gate closes. Roy is always late and I’ve planned speeches telling him that he’s selfish, but I never go through with saying them.
Finally, the lights of his old Gio Prism signal me through the raindrops and I jump in. He does not kiss me or say Hi or How are you. He drums the fingers of his left hand on the steering wheel and turns up the volume on the stereo with his right.
The newscaster says: The bees are dying this summer.
We will drive to his parents’ house. The split ranch with the fading yellow paint on Maple. His bumper sticker reads—The suburbs: where they rip out the trees and name streets after them.
We will enter through the garage and go to his wood-paneled basement and have sex. The springs on the futon will sigh: this again, this again. I will not relate to women whose bodies turn off their minds. I will wish that he were the other boy. I will think: this again, this again.
I will want to tell Jules about it the next morning and then realize that that’s probably selfish.
In June, Jules and I celebrated my birthday in the car.
I turned 20. Before returning home, I made an effort to tell professors that I was staying at my ‘parent’s house’ because I assumed that’s what people say who reach an age that’s considered an adult. Of course, only children and the elderly think of 20-year-olds as adults.
The sticky air floated through the cracked windows, ruffling Jules’ stringy blonde hair and my red waves. She gripped the wheel, glanced at the digital clock, and lowered the volume: Hey, happy birthday.
I felt guilty, so I nodded, and raised the volume. We shook our heads and tapped our fingers. The guitar, drums, and bass conversed for us.
We continued driving to the festival. Off the highway, past the mountains, behind the museum to see the band—our band—we’d seen each year since we were teenagers. We spoke in their lyrics: “Half of it’s you, half is me.”
The weekend was green amongst the gray summer. Jules held her phone close as we walked through the field wrapped in song. She never got the call: Come home, Mom finally died.
It seemed childish to believe in the magic of their music; that it would save her, at least for the weekend.
That night, in the tent as the music still hovered around us, I inched my sleeping bag closer to Jules’. I whispered: “Half is me.” She smiled.
We were 12 the day her mother, Margot, kept driving. As always, she picked us up behind the school near the duck pond.
We listened to her, from the backseat of the minivan, talking to the radio, shaking her blonde bob: Jesus, would ya listen to this crap.
She drove past my house, looked at us in the rearview mirror, and said: Girls, you’re not sitting at the kitchen table doing that damn homework they give you. I brought suits. We’re going to the beach.
I once told her that the beach was the only place where I felt free and peaceful.
It was spring, but the sand burned our feet. Jules and I ran around, kicking the grains behind us, watching Margot sun herself.
My mother, I knew, was lying in bed, hand melodramatically draped on her forehead, palm up—an eighteenth century portrait of illness. The headache, of course, was back.
I stared when Margot flipped her body, burrowed her breasts in the sand and unhooked the straps of her bikini, which slipped off her back.
C’mon, Jules tugged my elbow. Together, we ran into the waves—the Atlantic greeting and then releasing us.
Three weeks after the festival, Jules stood in a circle of adults, their black dresses darker against the yellow sun. The time your mother… Margot would’ve liked…
The reception was at a friend’s house and it seemed odd that pictures of Margot crowded their mantle, sweating wine glasses littered their patio. No one mentioned the divorce Margot once insisted on or the winter that she moved to the ski house for a week.
The adults surrounding Jules offered her exaggerated frowns, knowing they would be next. Jules looked up at me, and I hurried over, grabbed her elbow. We ran to the side of the house, then leaned against the bricks, breathing heavy. A non-orphan and a half-orphan. Jules shut her eyes. When her pale eyelashes fluttered open, they were still dry. We smoked three cigarettes between the two of us, and then walked back.
I spent the next week or so sitting on my bed, staring at the old furniture ‘in my parent’s house.’ Vicky might have called it meditating. It wasn’t because of Margot; I probably would’ve ended up there anyway.
I thought about returning to college: weekdays in classes and coffee shops overlooking manicured hills; weekends in a fun house isolated in the dark, full of girls and boys wobbling and guzzling beer. Listening to the boy I love and resent read me poems about his girlfriend. Knowing we would not jump the fence of the playground again, crawl into the wooden playhouse, and lie inside, shivering and kissing, blanketed in feeling understood. Instead, sitting far from each other, I would ask something like: Is it cold outside? Impersonal questions about the obvious and mundane to avoid the silence that asked the real question: why can’t we speak like we used to? If I found a lump, waiting to wrap and wind itself around me too, I would ask him to have sex with me: I know, I know, I know you have a girlfriend, but can’t we go back to tracing the lumps of each other’s spines? I will not ask: Why am I not good enough to be your girlfriend?
Only later will I learn that relationships cannot be figured out, that I do not have to attach my feelings about myself to others. (Though I will giggle when Vicky makes us repeat: I am perfect just the way I am and I am growing.)
I stained my bedroom walls with worries and stuffed my dresser drawers with anxieties.
Even though it should’ve been the other way around, Jules rescued me. She knocked on my bedroom door.
-Your mom let me in.
-She got up to open the door?
-She’s worried. Anyway, get up. We’re getting tattoos.
The parlor was clean. Polished oak countertops separated three chairs—sterile recliners like the ones in the dentist’s office. A bell chimed after we entered and a man with a lip ring behind a desk covered in stickers smiled: Welcome. He handed us papers to sign.
I asked: Will it hurt? Answer: Not as much as you think it will. Jules stifled laughter and mumbled: Yeah, yeah.
The man from the desk led Jules to one of the chairs. Another man, with a self-conscious smile, walked toward me and introduced himself: Hey, I’m Roy. Come this way.
I settled in the chair and told him that I wanted a single wave—solid black, no blue—on the bottom left of my forearm.
In the distance, I heard the buzz of the other drill inking Jules.
Again, I asked: Will it hurt? Roy looked at me, his hazel eyes directly meeting mine, and replied: Maybe. But I won’t let you feel it all.
He spoke as he bent his sandy hair down and began tracing the outline with permanent ink, using one hand to gently hold my palm and the other to guide the needle, long and stiff, stinging me. I looked away from my arm, studying his face tight with concentration, and listened to the story he told about a woman who asked to have her own name tattooed on her back: I mean, what the fuck is the meaning of that one?
I laughed, and imagined us slumped together, knees bent and touching, leaning against the stone building near the duck pond, sharing a cigarette, discussing the lives of the parents and toddlers who would pass by, pausing to kiss.
The drill stopped and Roy used a paper towel to absorb the dots of blood on my arm. I looked at him: Thanks. He looked at me: Listen, if you need help taking care of it afterward and want to get together, give me a call. Bending down, he scribbled his number on a piece of paper that he tore from a spiral notebook.
I nodded and walked toward Jules. She straightened her right arm; the ink was still raised and vulnerable on her reddened bicep. Margot’s maiden name breathed in Garamond: Ambrose.
In the morning, I will leave Roy’s basement and walk to Jules’ too quiet house, shoes swinging from my hands.
I will step on a bee on my way and it will launch its missile into the fat of my foot. Jules will bring me ice and we will lie on her bed listening to music and murmuring lyrics: “Sun gets passed sea to sea.”
I will turn to Jules and repeat another line of Vicky’s: You are exactly where you’re supposed to be.
Jules will giggle and mumble: Such bullshit.
But then, we will just sit.
Anna Paikert writes fiction, poetry, and essays. Her poetry has been published in Big Lucks and her fiction in Red Weather. Visit her website: http://
Editor’s note (Ian): In this story, summer is a time of hesitations, and permanent decisions made spontaneously. Paikert summons a luxurious haze through precisely-chosen words, colliding images of nostalgia (the wooden playhouse, the day at the beach) with signals from an imminent future, while leaving room for the present tense of uncertain melancholy. The story opens in a meditation class and closes on a partial repudiation of the New Age platitudes that constitute meditation class; the space between is open to memories, projections, and observations of the everyday. Paikert’s story is a formal meditation, trusting its reader to follow the connections of the mind at its center.
Beyond her gift for atmosphere, Paikert has a keen sensitivity for details that quickly draw and complicate characters. Early in the story, she writes, “We will enter through the garage and go to his wood-paneled basement and have sex. The springs on the futon will sigh: this again, this again. I will not relate to women whose bodies turn off their minds. I will wish that he were the other boy. I will think: this again, this again.”
Then near the end, “Only later will I learn that relationships cannot be figured out, that I do not have to attach my feelings about myself to others.”
This brief story is full of the wonder, sadness, and introspection that is summer in the life of a young person. Paikert gives us life in a handful of details.