by: Susanna Baird
A moment of unadulterated peacefulness, punctured thoroughly by horror and chaos…
Styrofoam cups filled with rancid coffee, gum wrappers, fingernail shards, and a computer screen with a blinking cursor – were all trying to catch Amy’s attention.
Ignoring what’s already being neglected, Amy pops her head over the top of her cubicle to see what Mary is doing.
Mary is attending to her computer screen. Her reusable coffee mug is tucked neatly into her canvas lunch satchel, which in turn is tucked smart under her neatly tidied desk. Mary chews neither gum nor fingernails.
Amy likes Mary, and she envies her order. She longs to possess Mary’s abiding focus.
“How’s Jeff?” Amy asks. She thinks Mary’s boyfriend Jeff is boring, but not as boring as whatever it is her cursor wants her to do.
“Good! We’re going to the antiques show tomorrow afternoon.”
“Sounds like fun!” Amy says, though it doesn’t.
“No big weekend plans?” Mary asks.
“I don’t know. I need to clean the apartment, probably go for a run, and I grabbed a flier for this documentary film thing at the college.”
Mary does not think Amy will go for a run, or go to the documentary film festival, or even clean half a closet.
She thinks Amy will stack her dishwasher, have too many drinks with her neighbor Fran, and binge-watch Orange is the New Black or that zombie show.
Mary likes Amy, but she does not care for her chaos. She longs to tether Amy’s rambling mind.
She has an idea. “Come to yoga at the gym with me tomorrow morning!”
“I’ll go!” Amy exclaims.
Mary is surprised and pleased.
Amy is annoyed with herself for a moment, but then leaves work early to buy yoga pants and a mat.
The next morning Mary arrives at the gym to find Amy sitting with her legs crisscrossed on a brand-new, purple yoga mat. Amy jumps up and hugs her.
Mary’s reserved reaction lets Amy know she needs to take it down a notch. She excuses herself to the bathroom, where she spends ten minutes with her iPhone composing a tweet about the yoga mat hashtag on her ass.
Finally it begins. Lord of the dance, dog of the down, butterflies, half frogs and full pigeons later, Amy feels longer. Looser. Like she’s arrived at the middle of herself.
The yoga teacher chants, “Lower your lids. Fill your lungs. Clear your minds.” Lids lowered, Amy breathes in and out and empties her mind.
Mary’s lids are not lowered. She already knows how to clear her mind. She’s never seen Amy sit still, and she wants to. And so her eyes are open when the man walks into the studio.
Before she can find her voice, the man is shooting at everyone, though later the police will say he was shooting at no one in particular.
Mary falls to the floor and folds her body tight and tucks her head into Amy’s side like a sleeping child tucks into its mother.
This is where she is two minutes later when the man flees, startled by the fire alarm set off by a woman in the weight room who heard the shots.
This is where she is, nestled against Amy, still, when a policeman named Al comes running into the studio seven minutes later, announcing in a barking sort of voice that it’s all over, that the shooter has been killed.
Al stops barking when he realizes that Mary is the only person in the room who can hear him. Al can’t think about that, and so he walks to where she is curled and he crouches down. Gently, he pulls her away from Amy and up to sitting position.
Mary shakes, then cries, then sits cold in Al’s arms thinking nothing and feeling a sick knot growing somewhere between her gut and her chest. The knot is made of ice and copper and bone. It will never be teased apart, no matter what Mary does next and next and next.
Susanna Baird is a writer living in Salem, Massachusetts. Her work has appeared in Punchnel’s and Boston Magazine, at AOL News, Dribbble and Spine.