Fiction

My debut novel, OFF THE YOGA MAT WILL BE PUBLISHED BY LIVINGSTON PRESS  IN 2022. https://livingstonpress.uwa.edu/

An excerpt from OFF THE YOGA MAT manuscript appears on the Blog  Writing Yoga®.
(click to see full excerpt)  It begins like this:

Nathaniel and Gil entered the stark warehouse below Canal Street; sage-scented fumes engulfed them and new age music droned...


My short story "Hovering" was read at the Liars' League series at KGB Bar in the East Village by actress Michaela Morton. Click here for audio file and text.

Here is an excerpt from the opening of  Off the Yoga Matt. Comments welcome! Follow me on Facebook (Cheryl J. Fish) Instagram and Twitter @cheryljoyfish for updates on publication. 

OFF THE YOGA MAT 

Chapter One “Inflexible”

Nate

“When others achieve success, how does that diminish you?” Nathaniel Dart didn’t care to consider what he heard on a talk radio program before leaving the house with a spasm in his back. His friend Gil and his girlfriend Nora finally convinced him to take a trial yoga class in a studio a few blocks away. As he walked down Second Avenue in the East Village with a slight shuffle, twinges running from his ass upward, Nate thought about the success of others that gnawed away at him. A cash bonus Nora received at the end-of-the-year. She deserved the money for a job well done, but he hadn’t grabbed her around the waist or smiled in a swell of support, nor had her taken her out to celebrate. And when Gil won a lottery for affordable housing in Chelsea which meant more space without breaking the bank, of course Gil rubbed it in his face, mentioning Nate’s dark studio apartment, moths burrowing in the closet. One other success throbbed against his bony vertebrate.   

His old study-group mate Monica Portman had landed a teaching job in Boston, a position that Nate should have applied for, could have applied for, if only he’d finished his thesis instead of watching dumpster divers pick food from garbage bins outside the supermarket. They’d cook what was still edible, and shout through a megaphone about the futility of waste in New York City. He was about to pass them on the street again, outside the Food Emporium, determined to find freshness in what had been declared foul.

The freegans sorted through packages with expiration dates, found perfectly decent bags of bagels and cookies and cut up carrots, decried the irony of tossing food with hungry and homeless everywhere.  For Nate, disgust with the vast inequalities in society lately took precedent over revising his chapter on jealousy as an evolutionary trait in humans. Nate’s research combined a trifecta of disciplines: science, literature, psychology. It sounded crazy to many when he claimed there was a jealousy hormone. Not only did it benefit species studied by Charles Darwin, like those blue-footed boobies on Galapagos, but homo sapiens too. Envious rage might motivate men and women to behave so that areas of their cortex relaxed the desire for control. Somehow the result could turn out for the better. Yet jealousy was no walk in the park. It caused primitive rage and destruction which Nate witnessed all around him; in his thesis he proved his point by examining characters in Shakespeare’s plays Othello and King Lear.

            How does their success diminish me? He wished he could put that thought out of his mind. Nate spent so much time in his swivel chair; one could say he lived where he sat. Now down his legs a tingling numbness, pain and trembling. He was in a darkish room with a yoga teacher asking them to bend from their core towards the floor.  He couldn’t reach past his knees, his whole upper body as stiff at age 39 as if he were 50 something.  I am not a yoga guy, he thought. I should have never set foot in this dusty old hovel. He was aware of the others staring at him.

Nate contemplated his future on all fours doing cow and cat, rounding his back, or was he supposed to flatten it? Who named these postures? The others in the class stood in unison, placed a bent leg along their thigh for tree pose. He grabbed a beam, uncertain of his trunk.

               “Focus on one point on the wall,” said the teacher, a strikingly fit woman named Lulu Betancourt, who welcomed them warmly and insisted they obey their own bodies.
 “Take a three-part breath and be mindful. Let air seep out like a leaky balloon.”

Nate smirked. He visualized a giant balloon emptying with farting sounds. He filled his lungs then exhaled as told. Relaxation could wash over him.

She introduced them to the series “saluting the sun.” A set of flowing movements that started with standing, progressed to rolling to the floor, then rising into the cobra and plank positions with a rhythmic grace, ending with an upward curl, palms pressed together in gratitude. A subtle choreography he punctured with jerking motions. Nate decided on his goal: to reach an inch nearer to his toes and roll down without collapsing.  His version might be called parody, not salute. He was determined to modify his moves, like the barnacles, finches and beetles Darwin observed.

 “Melt into the earth with a rushing sensation, rain drenching fields,” Lulu said. She leaned against the wall, bowed her head.

Nate tried to experience rain. Instead, he thought about money. He benefitted neither from the loopholes in capitalism that let the richest prosper, nor from a critique of its corruption. I am an academic serf living on rice and beans. I’ll apply for another fellowship or take an adjunct position at a City University campus.  He wondered about the job referred to by his advisor Offendorf in his recent nasty note. Offendorf had scribbled on the pages it took Nate many months to write, and even more months to find the courage to mail to the university down in Maryland, all with Nora’s goading of course.  Offendorf had the nerve to reply like this:

WAY TOO MUCH time spent on Darwin, Nate. It may be trendy to consider evolutionary theory, but I don’t care for that approach. Remove the sections I’ve MARKED. Take out feminism and limit psychoanalysis.  You’ve inserted too many footnotes. Let’s put this baby to bed. When are you coming to campus? Bring the revision−we’ll talk defense date. Oh, and I might know of a teaching position.”

  As Nate considered whether the job was real or just another one of Oppendorf’s bluffs, he was instructed to twist his torso while his knee cut across his folded leg. He thought of twists and turns in Nora’s desire at the dawning of this year, the final one of the twentieth century.

“Let’s conceive a millennial child,” she said. Nineteen-ninety-nine marched through Nora’s consciousness, a high stepping within her ovaries.  Fear of her upcoming, their upcoming, fortieth birthdays felt like annihilation.

“Nora. There’s no way I can give you a baby now.”

“I knew you’d say that,” Nora said. “There’s never going to be a perfect time.”

 “I’m not ready to be a dad.”

“You’d be very loving.” She stroked his hand. “My salary can tide us over.”

Nate felt wholly inadequate to take responsibility for a brand-new life.  He determined to finish his degree on his terms. When his mom visited from Long Island the other day, she slipped him a wad of cash.

 “Don’t say anything to your father.”

“You don’t have to keep doing this,” he said, feeling sheepish and small. 

**

Nate’s spine cracked. Lulu headed over to him during dandasana, a forward bend that segued into a seated wide-angle pose. She crouched down. “Breathe into your stretch,” she encouraged. He noticed a beady-eyed frog tattoo near her shoulder—green and black, sinister.  Lulu smelled of rose-oil.

“What’s wrong?” she whispered.

“I can’t concentrate.”  Why did she ink a frog into her skin?

“Observe your thoughts. They’ll dissipate.” She touched his head. “Probably.”

How should he respond to Offendorf’s biting commentary?  Say “I need Darwin like Shakespeare needed Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland,” the source material for some of the Bard’s plays?  

While resting in child’s pose, head on mat, arms and legs compressed like a floating fetus, Nate felt a surge of energy from the tips of his toes moving into his calves. So, what if Offendorf told him to cut one-third of what he had written. How does their success diminish yours? Disappointments acquired territory. One negative experience attracted others, expanding into new arenas.

               His old study group mate Monica Portman applied for everything. She took liberties. “I invented personal literary criticism,” she said, convinced of her originality. 
Wasn’t she coming to town? As Nate struggled to pick himself off the floor for the next posture, it occurred to him: send her the very same pages 
Offendorf trashed and ask for a second opinion.  Monica’s instincts resembled a baby sea turtle’s--born in sand, hurdling towards the ocean. 
He should trust her to guide him to safety. 

Then yogi Lulu announced to the room “return to downward facing dog.” His legs, his back, no, his whole being wouldn’t cooperate.  He lay collapsed down on the floor, a tired old mutt in dismay.

 

 

 

 


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