6/24/2005
 
Between the Lines

Amy had to read things twice. If it was something clever in the New Yorker, or one of the Sunday supplements her husband brought back from London, she might give it a spin a third time just to be safe. She was a fast reader - that wasn’t the problem – but Amy had never latched onto words like everyone else, and although she’d been tested, not one of the learning specialists could find anything wrong with her. Still, each day, Amy was unable to get the squiggles and fractured lines running across the page to matter to her.

‘You’re lazy,’ said her husband, ‘you skim read. You don’t take it all in.’ Amy put down the cooking book and thought about banging it shut to scare him. ‘You’re unfocused and that’s why you can’t keep your eyes on the task.’ He picked up his tan briefcase and gave her a kiss. There were crumbs on his lips, ‘Focus,’ he said again.

Amy began to meditate with a room full of strangers. The class was held in an abandoned warehouse, and some weeks there was glass on the floor, which the teacher swept away before they unrolled their mats. ‘Block out all thoughts. See with your third eye,’ droned the sensei between oms, but the next time Amy opened a newspaper the letters mocked her, dancing together in groups of four or five, I’s escaping bravely, t and o hand in hand, skipping, singing, caught in the revelry. Her head was throbbing by the time she reached the sports section.

Her husband came home early as a surprise. ‘Are you still worried about that? Forget it!’ he put his arms around Amy’s waist, crumpling the paper against her breast. ‘You’re living in the past!’

Following dinner she washed her face and found herself reading the label on the hand wash bottle. It was the pretentious sort containing “aqua” and “essential oil of grapefruit”. She put down the bottle, frowning. ‘I’m leaving for Tokyo tomorrow,’ he called from the bedroom, ‘a week, maybe eight days. We should get a cleaner to help you while I’m gone.’

The Yellow Pages were demanding, but finally Amy found the name of a reputable cleaning service and she interviewed a very nice girl from Poland who would come once a week, and twice at the end of every month. The girl’s English was perfect and she was very happy to be in work, even though her boyfriend had a job at an internet company and made more money in an hour than she did all day. Amy politely took down the boyfriend’s URL, but now, this was impossible; the words were so diffident behind their screen, or so haughty that she clicked randomly just to make them go away.

Weeks passed and when the final meditation lesson came to an end, Amy lagged behind to talk to the sensei, the other students noiselessly padding out into the street. The sensei smiled as she approached, as if he already knew the answer to her question.
‘Perhaps English is just not your thing? You could try another form; mandarin maybe, or Urdu?’
Amy nodded, but only because he was a wise man and not because his advice was new to her. As he turned to leave, she caught the smell of him; sweat, cigarette smoke and just the hint of tiger balm.

When she arrived home the house was spotless. It felt like a stranger had moved in, until she remembered the girl came twice at the end of the month. She placed her yoga mat by the stairs and let her legs carry her through the rooms, running her fingertips across the well polished table. One of her husband’s books was askew on the shelf and she noticed it had been turned upside down. She removed it, a thick volume about business metrics and outclassing your competitor, a slip of yellow paper used as a book mark. She traced down the page and words pinged out at her - tricky jargon only the top sellers would know - but her eyes darted across to the slip of paper. The words here were settled, calm, poised, even though the handwriting was hurriedly scrawled.

Meet here at six. She’ll be at her class. I long for you.

Amy cleared her throat and closed the book with the paper still inside, returning it to the shelf. She didn’t need to read it twice.
 

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