On Mondays Jane meets with the Rabbi between 2:00 and 5:00, in his bed, at his home, which is walking distance from the synagogue. On Tuesdays she joins the Activist downtown at his floor-to-ceiling, glass-windowed loft that has a full panoramic view of the city. On Wednesdays Jane takes the bus to the university, building C, dorm 9, where she meets the Student who is of age but just barely. Thursdays go to the Police Officer; they meet after her morning shift at the usual hotel and check out long before the room is up. Fridays are for the Mute who sees her for sixty minutes and tips more than the others.
The meetings are coated in neutrality, dipped in a basin of bright blue, platonic paint that results in a formality that is often hard to break. No one gets naked; hands and genitals never meet, but
in time the shapes of each one of their bodies becomes imprinted on her skin. Occasionally arousal happens. Erections, Jane has decided, are best if ignored.
She is no longer surprised by this job. The only requirement is the ownership of the manual provided by the company, a book she rereads often and references only when asked. Jane is good at holding people. Good, too, at holding the things that come with the flesh. She holds the Rabbi’s deficiencies close and firmly plants the Activist’s insincerities and the Student’s loneliness in the compost soil of her heart. She holds the Police Officer’s fears and the Mute’s uncertainties securely in the combined palm space of her two hands.
With the Rabbi, Jane talks about God. In his kitchen they eat triangular pastries with raisin and apricot filling and discuss if God’s vengeance might instead be an act of kindness. His lemon-colored counters are stacked with sweet treats baked by members of his temple. The inside of his fridge is full of porkless entrées, prepared in bulk and snapped into various-colored plastic containers. The Rabbi’s congregants have struck up an amicable trade: the tending of their souls in exchange for dear Rosa’s braised brisket and Yael’s famous schnitzel. Jane wonders if they too see the hole inside their Rabbi’s chest. She imagines one day the empty part of him that needs her might instead finds placidity in them.
Always, they start with the Grape Popsicle (position 9, page 31). Arranged on the Rabbi’s four-poster bed and on top of the thick, acrylic afghan, they lie side-by-side with only their hands touching. It’s a beginner’s pose, one Jane introduced on their first night. She imagined they’d move on to other opening moves such as the Ice Breaker (position 25, page 79), the Horizontal Stack (position 28, page 60), or the Noodle Salad (position 22, page 59). But year after year, Jane crawls on top of the itchy, russet-brown quilt, lies on her back and holds the hand of a man of God.
The first time Jane met the Rabbi, she expected something more severe. She expected his holy declarations to have aged him, found a home in the creases beneath his eyes. Instead, he is young and looks mostly refreshed. He wears fitted sweaters pushed up to his elbow over colorful, starched button-ups. At the store, she finds herself perusing the racks of cashmere, lost in thoughts of him. She chooses warm marigold to compliment his avocado green, deep cerulean to wrap around his oxblood red.
With time the Rabbi settles more easily into the initial position, and through their interlocked fingers, Jane feels the moment he fully relaxes. He tells her how until one is aware of the God who judges, the God who cares, one cannot recognize the God who forgives. He tells her this is why Yom Kippur comes before Rosh Hashanah. She moves them into the Rabbi’s favorite position, the one he is only comfortable in when the words of God are on his lips.
In the Swirled Yogurt (position 4, page 19) Jane wraps her arms and legs around the Rabbi as he shifts to embrace her. She can feel his heartbeat underneath her ear as he explains how the Day of Atonement should and must come before the Day of Judgment. That our vengeful God is, in fact, not interested in the judgment of that which we have already repented. Jane takes the Rabbi’s words and like wet, heavy strips of papier mâché, lines her face. His nutmeg breath washes over her like the final layer of shellac and cements the message deep. She tells him she understands, speaks the words into the warmest, godliest part of his throat.
The Activist is really a Lawyer except he prefers to go by Activist or Philanthropist or even, she suspects, a nice epithet like Man of the People. He’s also a man of a luxury loft on the most upscale, trendy block of the city. He advocates with a wide, messy brush, surface area strokes that lack detail and sincerity. Yet, he funnels money into decent projects with speed and accuracy, and for that she can hardly call him a bad man.
When she arrives, he slaps his tablet into her lap and slides his campaign’s latest ad into view. Standing behind the bar-top, his back to the city lights, he shakes her up something special. Jane looks at the ad featuring a stoic and wet-eyed Syrian child as the ice goes in. Bottle tops get pulled, twisted, popped, and more than one slosh of liquid joins the symphony while she considers a contribution. Jane reaches for her wallet as the final pour goes in.
The Activist hands her a martini glass, gestures with his chin to the full-page, colored image and asks her if she thinks it’s good. Good? she asks as he slides next to her. His belt buckle makes a perfect match to the brass upholstery tacks of his burgundy, leather couch. He comes all the way in so his thigh is touching hers then pulls the Yawn N’ Stretch (position 32, page 85) even though it’s not one she has ever taught him.
His glass house makes her feel like people are watching, and perhaps that is exactly the point. Even as she tells herself to stop, she precedes each motion of her arm, each slant of her body with a thought to how it might appear. She performs for the richly photographed faces of his various projects. Orphans, children of color, and battered women stare at her from every high point of this man’s see-through walls.
The Activist settles his hand too high on her thigh, curls his fingers around the meaty part of her upper leg, and if Jane were a few years younger or a few parts more damaged, she might allow it. Instead, she stands abruptly. He apologizes but only just once– a one word, two syllable, shout. He holds his hands up so every finger is accounted for while Jane peers at him intently; she cannot judge his sincerity. And because she is evolved but not that evolved, alert but still surmountable, she tells him she suddenly remembers a prior commitment. Jane gathers her jacket and heads for the door. The last words exchanged are her own profuse and repetitive apologies with a guarantee that she’ll be back next week.
The Student is nineteen, misses his mom, and buys Jane presents on the first of the month. Jane meets him in the student union where they grab matching mango smoothies. Her straw is pink and his is blue, and their palms are sweaty and together by the time they find a table outside. The Student talks to her about midterms and financial aid, and when they run into a cute girl with a pixie cut and big glasses, he drops her hand and stutters throughout the introduction.
When they get to his dorm, the roommate makes his usual disappearance after a quick greeting and inquiry about Jane’s classes at the neighboring state school she doesn’t attend. Jane is majoring in dance and economics and finds the balance of the two extraordinarily difficult. Once they’re alone, she sits on the checkered comforter of his twin bed while he grabs her a water bottle from the mini-fridge. The room has confusing posters on the wall, and no matter how many times she asks him to explain, she still doesn’t understand.
Jane takes a swig of water then sets it on the bedside table. She brings up the girl with the short hair but he says nothing, turns pink, and then maneuvers both pillows to her side so she can sit with her back propped up. She’s barely got her lap available before he’s got his head in it. In the Lap of Luxury (position 2, page 17), he exhales loud and long and the warmth of it spreads across her belly. The Student tells her how his mom is sick but won’t let him come home. He calls after every chemotherapy session and talks to his dad and the both of them pretend they can’t hear the retching in the background. He wants to drop out or take leave or set something on fire. Jane rubs his shoulders, and before long she’s slumped down flat on her back with him lying on top. The Midday Nap (position 10, page 44) has him clutching her shoulders, nose pressed against her clavicle.
With the Student, Jane uses all her soothing muscles. She makes him yell when he’s mad, cry when he’s sad, and then name his fears. She’s running a therapeutic emotional retreat and does it in under two hours. His mom knew going away to school would be hard but made him do it anyways. The Student wants to tell her how much he hates it but instead gets up each morning and keeps trying. Through the washed-out jeans the girl at the store said were totally young and hip, Jane feels him get hard against her thigh. The Student hurries to adjust, and she gestures for him to face away so she can spoon him from behind. Spooning has a position and a page number but not once has Jane looked it up. She buries her face into his back, rubs her cheek against his cotton t-shirt and between his shoulder blades. Jane tells him over and over, until the very second their time is up, that he’s been a good and thoughtful son.
The Police Officer is a woman and they meet in room 411 which Jane pays for with money transferred to her account. It’s a modest but clean hotel and the Police Officer, who only has a half day on Thursdays, always knocks on the door instead of stopping at reception for an extra key.
After Jane answers the door, she disappears into the bathroom to stock up on mini hand soaps. While she’s gone the Police Officer removes the top part of her pressed uniform. She folds it carefully over the back of the chair then pulls off her heavy boots. Finally, she removes her utility belt along with a handful of police-issued items. Jane doesn’t enter the main room until she hears the distinct thud of the Police Officer’s service weapon as it comes to rest on the side table.
Jane moves towards the bed, lies down on her stomach as the Police Officer joins her in uniformed pants and an undershirt. Over the slope of the Police Officer’s hip, Jane watches the gun. The Police Officer is married to a man, has four children, and spends their ninety minutes primarily holding Jane.
With the Police Officer they change positions frequently, never staying in one longer than twenty minutes. They go from the Labor of Love (position 13, page 38) to Twin Cheeks (position 17, page 44) straight into Forking (position 11, page 35). Finally Jane and the Police Officer land on the Sugar Cake (position 25, page 64) where their limbs are twisted, feet hooked around calves and arms woven together. The Police Officer tells Jane how she is having to learn to be all the things she stands for at once. How she can no longer be just a cop, or just a woman, or just black. She has to be all of it at once, and many days she’s not sure she’ll survive it⏤ whether that be because some punk kid shoots her on the job or some punk officer pulls her over on the way home. Jane closes her eyes, presses her forehead firmly into the Police Officer’s throat. When the Police Officer swallows her emotions, Jane hears them go down.
Afterwards, when Jane is alone, she takes a bath and considers staying through the night. The room is booked until morning, and in the deep warmth of the water, she imagines she just might. She dries herself then spends long moments looking at the bed. The comforter is smooth and has edges that are sharply creased. There is only a slight dip in the center where the curvature of two bodies is barely recognizable.
Jane pulls the top blanket off. She registers the rough fabric of the comforter as it scrapes harshly against her naked body on its way to the floor. She snaps the sheets back and uses both hands to pull them off the mattress. With hair dripping onto the magenta patterned carpet, Jane throws each pillow across the room then stands back to assess her rage. Finally, it matches. The room looks as it feels, as if something significant and important has happened. Breathing heavily, Jane dresses, collects her things, and decides not to stay.
The Mute has photographs of a beautiful woman throughout his house. There’s also a glass box with a blue-ribboned, star-shaped medallion that Google tells Jane is a Medal of Honor from the Vietnam War. He’s in his seventies, has bright green eyes and liver spots on his face. The Mute stares unblinkingly at her when she arrives after the dinner hour on Friday night. She hangs her
jacket on the wrought iron coat hanger that is just inside the front door and has intricately designed swallows along the branches. He pats the top of her hand in greeting then shuffles toward the bedroom.
Jane’s never certain what he wants. When she tries the Lean On Me (position 27, page 66), he collapses into her side with ease. When she moves them into the Disguised Blessing (position 20, page 57), he settles his head on her hip with little prompting. She can hear his stomach digesting his soft dinner whenever they slip into the Dirty Martini (position 14, page 41). The 10:00 PM (position 10, page 33) sends shaky, gusty exhales from his mouth as she strokes his cheek, his 10:00 PM stubble scraping softly against the inside of her hand.
When he stares at her, she wonders what he sees. If he sees a woman who isn’t certain what parts of her arms belong to herself and what parts are in the firm possession of a rabbi whose lips are dusted in sugar and God. Or if he sees a thigh that with diligent repetition will soon fit in the grip of an activist. Maybe he sees her as a torso that curls around a student or legs that only fit between those of a police officer.
At the end of each session, Jane lies on her stomach and allows the Mute to crawl on top of her so that they are lined up like shadows. He spreads his body like syrup over her every limb. The position is not in her book and silently she vows to never share it with anyone.
The combined weight of an aging mute is just the right amount to hold down a girl who is part rabbi, part activist, part student, part cop. Jane can feel her breathing sync up to his, feel the Mute’s frail bones pressed against her own. The woman whose photographed face is everywhere must be wondering why he can’t seem to fill what she left behind. Afterwards, he rolls off her back and lands with a soft oomph on his side of the bed. Jane recognizes that she too is now partly mute.
In her own bed, in her own home, Jane falls asleep imagining them beside her. She can feel the Rabbi at her back, the Activist at her front and the Student by her feet. The Police Officer is beneath her and the Mute is on top.
She is almost one whole person.
The Rabbi has a wooden Star of David that hangs in his bedroom; on Monday Jane will see if her fist fits inside the center of it. When she arrives on Tuesday, the Activist will help remove her coat; she wonders if he will scrape his fingernails along the tops of her shoulders as he does so. Wednesday is the first of the month, so the Student will draw her something beautiful, add a trinket, and wrap the whole thing up. Jane will spend all of Thursday night in room 411, wrapped
in sheets that smell of the Police Officer’s body. On Friday, the Mute will finally tell her something; he will whisper it, profound and soft, against the inside shell of her ear.
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