Linda was hanging from the inversion machine. It was for her back that had lately been acting up. It was also said to help with sleep problems. Something about getting the blood back into the brain, restoring balance, to counteract gravity and our modern lifestyles in which everyone spent too much time upright.
I got the vision of a monkey hanging from a tree, first by one arm, then the next, flipping over and down, restoring the blood flow, regaining equilibrium in the bloodstream, while eating a banana.
It was hard to have a conversation with her as I rowed away.
“My doctor wanted to put me on Prozac. But I wanted to try this first,” she was saying, though I don’t think Elaine or Meryl could hear above the whir and buzz of the equipment in Ladies Choice. Both of them were pounding the miles on treadmills.
You could see the jowls beginning to form under Linda’s chin in that position and I wondered if that was what John saw as they made love, or if in fact it was what Mark had seen when he was with me. Thirtysomething. That’s what we all were. Actually getting close to forty, as were the actors on the program of that name now, which the three of them had watched religiously. I had watched it because they did, but found myself shouting things at the television, making Sadie’s black ears point up and her tail wag tentatively. She did not know how to take those outbursts of mirthful annoyance. I’d go and make myself a Margarita and entertain myself with more of my witticisms.
After a particularly long look between Michael and Hope over some concern about the First Child Ever Born on this Planet I’d make some particularly apt comment and laugh, and Sadie would come back with her squeak toy, which would make my joke even funnier. There I’d be slapping my knee, laughing, the rubber clown squeaking in Sadie’s jaws, bobbing up and down in her mouth.
Sadie was like that. A good dog to match my moods. After work, as we walked through the woods around the lake at Stone Mountain, her rabbit-like leaps over underbrush represented my sense of freedom from the cubicle. Her alert ears signified something to be looked at.
But the days had gotten to be too short to drive to Stone Mountain after work, so we took our evening walks around the sidewalk-less subdivision where we would meet retirees in Velcro sneakers and young fathers huffing behind jogging strollers on their own constitutionals.
Everyone seemed to be on Prozac. Linda and I were resisting it. Mark had suggested it for me. I had become whiny, unhappy. “Why can’t you live in the moment?” he had said, quoting his favorite PBS personality, whose self-satisfied smirk graced the cover of one of his many books. No, that was “Follow your bliss” in large letters on a purple t-shirt and with the rest of the words of wisdom in smaller print following it on the back.
Those were his responses whenever I brought up anything in the future, even if I talked about plans for Christmas in October. The love-making session with the preface of “follow your bliss” as he started opening my mouth with his tongue was the way those conversations ended. And then afterward he’d be snoring away while I’d be prowling the kitchen, then watching Jay Leno, with the sound way low.
It was what would happen in the morning that would be the problem. Mark did not like to be awoken in the night, so I’d settle for a fitful sleep at 2:00 a.m. on the couch. I’d be in the bedroom getting ready for work at 6:30 and he’d be in the mood for more if he didn’t have a job and would just be taking calls at the little desk in the living room he called his office. He’d be pulling me to bed with him, his firm hairy body warm and smelling of sleep. I felt as if I had weights around me, sucking me down to a cold vortex of gray swirling clouds. Sometimes I’d cry.
It was my mood swings and insecurity that drove him away. Marriage to someone who was as unhappy as I was was out of the question. Plus, he didn’t like pressure. There was no U-Haul truck in the driveway any more. Only Sadie who had shown up in my yard the week after Mark left.
“My nutritionist suggested a colonic,” said Linda, the words coming out in a deep gurgling voice.
I added quickly, “Um, well, is that healthy?”
“Well, there are so many impurities in our food,” she added, in all seriousness.
A picture of people grazing, literally on all fours in a field, chomping away on grass, entered my thoughts. Mark’s laugh in appreciation popped into my head. I sped up the rowing.
It was in January, the month after Mark had moved out, that the four of us decided to take advantage of the Ladies Choice 2-for-1 deal. I had signed up with Linda, and Elaine and Meryl, the two Prozac sisters running on the treadmills, had signed up together. It was a place where I knew I would not run into Mark or the woman he was now living with. Someone much more perky than I was. Someone who would not give him an ultimatum.
I had begun to see a therapist. She had said, “Three years is a long time. You need to give yourself time to heal. Get yourself a support network.”
So here we were, Elaine and Meryl, running intently and glowing with sweat on the treadmills, Linda in suspension. And I could feel my shoulders building with each pull of resistance against the current. I gripped the paddles as if I would drown.
Mary Grabar's poem, "Queen Anne's Lace," one of two published in the summer 2007 issue of the Saint Ann's Review, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Three more of her poems are scheduled for publication in The Houston Literary Review in March 2008.
Her short stories have been published in The Pedestal Magazine and in Ballyhoo Stories. She is shopping two novel manuscripts, Dancing with Derrida, a satire on the academic life and the sexual revolution that takes place between Athens and Atlanta, Georgia; and The Secret of Little Sister, a literary mystery based on her Slovenian heritage. She has studied creative writing informally with Mary Hood and Bret Lott.
She earned her Ph.D. in English from the University of Georgia and teaches at Emory University and Georgia Perimeter College in Alanta.