Stories

Whoever Suffers in the Body – Ann Manov

        Before Thalia left and then he left he had an accountant named Jesus is Victory who went by Jiv. Whoever suffers in the body, Jiv said, is done with sin. He drove three hours to Santa Barbara each day to swim because the people there, he said, had a vibrational frequency of grief. He worked in Culver City, in an office with a neon pizza on the sign. He didn’t have time to change the sign, he said. The important thing was to get in the water. 
        Before Thalia left and then he left he had a masseuse named Song that he never saw the face of. He only knew that every time he went to Herbal Day and lay with his eyes against the deli paper he saw himself in the dark, as a thirteen year old getting onto the school bus or as a five year old touching a cactus as his mother walked away, and would cry well after the masseuse had left the room. The first time he paid he asked, who was that, and for those three years he asked for Song but Song was always gone by the time he could stand up. And then one day he lay there and was massaged but he didn’t feel like a child at all, just felt like a greasy, naked fat man listening to another man moan from across a bamboo barrier. And at the desk the women said Song was gone, and when he asked what had happened, they started yelling in what he assumed was Chinese. He never learned if Song was a man or a woman. 
        Before Thalia left and then he left they decided to start playing tennis. It seemed like the right thing to do, though the moment they’d decided on it they looked at each other with the recognition that something was closing, some sense of porousness, and now “being together” was becoming, well, work, something unimaginable the first time he’d slept at her house and woken up to a rare rain sticking palm fronds to the window glass and she’d quietly asked him to stay for lunch, and he had, for the first time since getting on that school bus, felt like he was an innocent child of God. 
        They got a tennis coach named Norman. He was a black man who’d put up a sign at the courts that said Tennis For You Cheap above a grinning yellow ball. You just have to let the ball go, he said, and he’d serve and make them wait and watch the yellow balls go by, and then they’d serve and he’d just stand there, staring like a scientist at a new bird. You have to let the ball go, he said, before you can touch it, and even then, only touch it when the feeling overcomes you. They’d look at each other and smile and a wiry feeling would come, those Saturday mornings, with the Thermos of coffee they shared, leaning their spines against the chainlink fence though they’d hardly moved, pinned with awareness of the blank blue sky. 
        And then there was the day they went and Norman told them it was time to play, and they ran swiftly and perfectly except Thalia threw up on the clay and Norman looked at them and said that to bring life into the world was the only task higher than taking it, and she cried and they drove to take the test, and another rain came, another rare rain, like something in a story, and the stick had only one horizontal line and they looked at each other and knew they’d wanted to let the ball go, wanted it more than anything, and couldn’t say it, couldn’t be the ones to say it.
        And then Thalia left and then he left, and Norman was indicted for dealing diamonds, and he saw it on the news, saw the FBI seize a box of diamonds located at his old address, at the pink house on a hill he’d left three weeks after Thalia left, almost nauseous with loss, a box Norman had given him, the first lesson, and said contained a secret message that he couldn’t learn until he had learned his lessons, a locked box he’d left at that little house with a banana tree by the door and crayon drawings on the baseboards and a popcorn ceiling he had counted every ding in, every little emptiness, every one.