“Repeatable Sequence #3”

Catch a glimpse in the track windows. Push, push, push. Catch reflections in the weight-room mirrors. Push, push, push. An old, narcissistic mind-twitch: imagining friends and strangers witnessing this heroic effort. See me running three miles. Jeeeezus. Look at me lifting a barbell. See me on the Stair-Master. Next to a guy covered in barbed-wire tattoos. Both exhausted.

“Howya doing?”

“I’m doing.”

“Not too busy today.”

“We beat the five o’clock crowd.”

“The perks of being self-employed.”

“Or unemployed, as the case may be.”

It took a pink slip for de-policing. The opposite of excessive force. And a costly divorce and a foreclosure. And bartenders sharing not-so-subtle hints. When is a cop not a cop? And the clinic doctor finally flat-out: drop some weight or else. Keep a blood-pressure cuff in the locker. Avoid the donuts. Walk a couple laps between sets.

Peek into the dim yoga room, as a class disperses. The last person out humming a song.

“You forgot your water bottle, ma’am.”

“Thanks. I lose one a week.”

“And your mat.”

“Oh, I’d forget my head, if it wasn’t screwed on.”

“Enjoy that class?”

“Great. You should try it.”

“Do I look like a guy who does yoga?”

“No. But appearances can be deceiving.”

“Right, that’s right.”

Stare at the monitors above the stationary bikes. A cooking show and a baseball game. Push, push, push. Ratchet up the resistance a notch. Local news at five: another black teenager shot during a traffic stop. There but for the dumb luck of God.

Weather channel predicts a storm after midnight. Faint patter of rain on the metal roof. A familiar sound from the backseat of the car. Across the decades. The downpour crescendos into a cascade of muscle spasms. Push, push, push. The time when. The time when. The time when. Stinging paper-cuts of regret.

Earbuds in. Walk it off.

“You okay, buddy?”

Barbed-wire guy veers in from the jogging lane.

“I might have tweaked something.”

“Worst advice I ever got was ‘play through the pain’.”

“Wish I could.”

“Muscle tear can take a while. Better slow it down.”

“Maybe I should try yoga.”

“That outfit is tougher than you think.”

Breakfast from the vending machines. Glance through dog-eared magazines. Start to notice habits and patterns. A pink stripe of sunrise on the climbing wall. By noon, a bright rectangle of light on the basketball court. One hunched gentleman, in street clothes, with a carved cane plods diligently around the track from 11:30 to 12:15. A giggly group of new mothers pushing strollers on Monday afternoons. Mood improves after a swim and shower. Racquet-ball players gather in the whirlpool of an evening. Men and women. All varieties. Inside this place, and only inside, the universe reclaims a level playing field.

Fresh towels daily. Regular intercom announcements, early and late, about kids and car headlights. And the reminder about no overnight parking. Move the beater to the back lot. All that was left after the divorce. Sleep through anything. Curled in a ‘duck and cover’ pose. Dream about missing persons and gym class humiliations and latent criminal tendencies.

Footfalls squeak and echo on the wooden track. Shouts from the basketball court. Wait in line for the Level II class to file out. “Namaste.” Whatever the heck that means. Dim room smells of incense.

“Do you live here or what?”

“It just seems that way.”

“I saw you running early, and now again this afternoon.”

“Home away from home.”

“Can I get you a bolster and a strap?”

“Thanks, ma’am. I’ve never done this before. Didn’t know I needed that stuff.”

“Just watch me and follow along. You’ll be fine.”

A red headscarf holds up her gray mane. She sips from her water bottle and smiles, with a weird glint of recognition. Lights lower. Knees creak. Frigging flute music. Somebody groans. One other male in sweats on his stomach in the far corner. Barbed-wire guy!

Ease down onto the mat, cross-legged, like a school kid. A wall chart of the skeletal system looms behind her head. The lady dings a chime. Whoa, she’s the teacher. Welcome to our new member. Jeeeezus. Roll left and cramp up. Feel it in the funny bone. Slowly extend a leg. Roll right and almost fart. Sudden jab at the base of the spine. Puzzle-piece body shadows comingling. Distant yells from the basketball court. Legs dangling in the air. Reach for the heels. Like that’s going to happen. She gently adjusts the pose. This little world within a world. Every Tuesday and Thursday from 4 p.m. to 5:30.

“I warned you, pal.”

“Not so bad. I dig her line: ‘hang there like an old coat on the back of a chair’.”

“You’ve lost some weight past few weeks.”

“Don’t even recognize myself.”

“We need one more for three-on-three, if you’re healed up from that tweak.”

“Okay, but haven’t played hoops since – ”

“As long as you don’t mind being skins.”

“Anymore, I got nothing to hide.”

The Saturday morning pick-up game. Full court. Survive and thrive. See me chugging the length of the floor. See me hitting the boards. Alley-oop. Behind the back. See me laughing. Part of the team. The red headscarf appears courtside.

She fills her water bottle at the fountain. Fresh from her own work-out. Heave one up from behind the arc. Swish. And, by the dumb luck of God, she sees it. Right there on the sideline. Pulls the scarf from her hair. Shakes it out. Pumps a fist.

*

Just as two bluebirds appear in the lobby. The game stops. Everything stops. Apparently, nobody has ever witnessed a bust in the YMCA before.

“Who would have ever expected to find the duffer here?”

“Hello, officers.”

“Got a call about someone living out of their car in the parking lot.”

“And, of course, you recognized my tank.”

“Right. But it took a moment to recognize you. Finally turning it around? Finally getting your act together?”

“Yes, but I’m not coming back.”

“Nobody is asking you to come back, Sergeant. The point is, unless you want an arrest on a vagrancy charge, you need to find somewhere else to stay.”

The lady steps right in. Arms akimbo. In-Your-Face-Pose.

“Excuse me, gentlemen.”

“Sorry, ma’am. Move aside, please.”

“I will make sure that he has a place to stay.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m his yoga teacher.”

“That’s a joke, right?”

“I will take full responsibility.”

“Do you take in stray animals too?”

“Ma’am, look, you probably watch all the shows on TV. And think you understand cops. But, really, cops are very strange people, especially ex-cops.”

“I know. My brother was on the force. Until burn-out got him too.”

The two patrolmen eye each other, and the basketball players and ten joggers, frozen in place, waiting for a decision.

“Okay, have it your way. Good luck with him.”

*

Adjust the overheads and the ceiling fan. Dial up the flute music. Blood pressure: 122 over 84. Her brother, a decorated detective, now a missing-person, was last heard from in a floating casino down on the river. A different world within a world. She can’t mention him without tearing up.

Lay out blocks and straps and blankets in a circle. Trying to help.

Today, she starts simple. Mountain Pose. Asks the class to share one positive from the week. Bought a vegan cookbook and made a casserole. Yum. She rubs her belly and smiles. Everyone knows the gossip. Screw ‘em. Thumbs up to barbed-wire guy. Swing both arms and loosen the shoulders and the hips. Notice any tension that might be getting in the way. Jeeeezus. She circles and demonstrates the correct angle of the spine. Find the silver mine in the mountain. Follow each long, slow breath deeper into the silver mine. Continue at your own pace.

*

About Ian Woollen

Ian Woollen lives, works, plays in Bloomington, Indiana. Not far from the YMCA. His short fiction has surfaced at The Massachusetts Review, Bartleby Snopes, The Smokelong Quarterly, and The Mid-American Review. A new novel, MUIR WOODS or BUST, will be out next year from Coffeetown Press.