If I have enough money to eat I’m good.
Unless he’d been up late the night before or had to get up especially early, Walter’s morning ritual was to rise, grind the beans and get the coffee started and, while it brewed, go to the basement, relieve himself, wash his face and brush his teeth and tongue and then put his legs up the wall, letting his lower back relax, hugging himself tightly and then curling up until he felt his back crack, and then spread his legs wide to stretch his hamstrings and calves, and then move to cobbler’s pose to loosen his pelvis. Next, he’d bring his legs down and roll over into child’s pose, sitting back deeply on his knees before lowering his torso over them and touching his forehead to the floor, walking his fingers, hands and arms as far out in front of his body as he could, feeling his upper back and shoulder muscles roll into place from the movement. After holding that pose for a few moments, he’d roll over and do some twists, first rolling his legs to one side, arms to the other, and then reversing the process. Lastly, he’d tuck his knees to his chest, hold them there with his hands and arms, and then roll in circles, massaging his back again. Finally loosened up, he head back upstairs and fill his mug with steaming black coffee and carry it to his reading room and start up his iMac.
The drawing was on Saturday night but it wasn’t until his morning ritual on Sunday that he saw he had won the Fantasy 5 lottery the night before. The winning amount wasn’t what most people dreamed about, but the after tax remainder of $131,457 would leave him just enough money to pay off the debt he’d incurred in pursuit of his Ph.D., his younger son’s student loans, and the $6,400 he still owed his last ex-wife from their recent visit to the courts. Some part of him said to just cash out and move south without making good on his debts but he knew that decision would come back to bite him if he ever wanted to come back to the world. He pulled the folder that held the documents he’d put together in anticipation of this occasion. Since it was the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, and the Lottery Office wouldn’t be open the next day, Monday, it would give him a couple of days to think things over.
He had a feeling of satisfaction, like having taken a good shit. He felt more deeply at peace. With the balance, any money pressure he might have felt would truly be off. It was his secret and he didn’t intend to share it with anyone, not even with Mara. She had been very generous with him, letting him stay at her home pretty much rent free and loaning him money, now and then, when he got in a bind, but he knew how she could be about money, even in the middle of her suffering, and he could envision her asking for half but, for once, he was going to take care of himself. Besides, they had agreed to split the winnings only if one of them netted a million or more. Beyond those few debts, he didn’t have any unmet needs or material desires – he was clear on how he found satisfaction and it wasn’t in most of the things that money could buy. The debts were from his old life, his old self, and this money would be a convenience to help clear that slate.
Tuesday, after his bus runs, he’d head over to the state office on Plainfield just north of the interstate, sign the papers and have the money put into his account. After that he’d make some calls, get the wiring instructions or have some cashier’s checks printed and get them in the mail. The only thing he had to watch out for was going unconscious and doing something stupid before he took care of business but, then again, if he walked in front of a moving bus before cashing in and paying his debts, it would no longer matter to him.
He left his room and went to the kitchen to put a large slice of cranberry walnut bread into the toaster oven and grabbed the organic crunchy peanut butter from the refrigerator and the honey from the cupboard. He refilled his coffee mug and looked over the sink, gazing out of the kitchen window at the early morning finches feeding from the thistle sack Mara had hung from the Shepard’s Hook stuck in the dirt of her front shade garden. Above, the sky was typical for this time of year, mostly white and gray, no blue but not raining. When the toaster chimed, he pulled the bread, spread on a generous amount of peanut butter and dribbled a long and repeated S of honey, grabbed his coffee and headed back to his room to read his email, check to see if his kids or any of his few friends had new postings to Facebook, and then read the news that interested him, checked the Mixed Martial Arts page, and then the weather. No rain was forecast for the day. He was long finished with his second coffee and the toast.
He ejected his Garmin from the USB cord that was attached to the port on his computer and buckled it around his left wrist, and shut down the machine. Mara was up and he heard her coming out of her bathroom.
“Hey,” he called, “how’d you sleep?”
“Pretty good…I’m groggy,” she answered.
Walter got up and went to her, rubbed her back and gave her a kiss.
“Did you make some coffee?” she asked.
“Yah, there’s plenty out there.”
He could hear her opening the kitchen door and assumed she was going out, thru the breezeway, to her patio for a smoke. The cats came running in, each one heading to a different place: Ringo for food, Zoë just barely down the basement steps, crouching, and then running back up and outside to be with Mara, Shakti to the living room to groom and sleep after the long night of hunting, and Shiva into Walter’s room, talking, waiting to jump up to his lap and shove his head into Walter’s armpit and start purring as Walter sat back down.
“Hey, how are you doing?” Walter said to Shiva as he rubbed his neck and back. Shiva pulled his head and reversed his position, shoving his head into the right armpit now.
“Everything’s okay,” Walter said, continuing his petting.
After a few minutes, he heard Mara come back in, pour her coffee and milk, stir in some Stevia and head to her leather chair to grab her laptop and start her morning routine. He picked Shiva up off of his lap and walked him to the doorway, placing him on the floor in the hallway outside of his room, and then pulled the pocket door shut. He went to the corner and pulled a stick of Copal Resin incense from a sealed back, hooked it in the black clay burner, lit it with a wooden match and then snuffed the match out in a container of sand as the smoke drifted up towards the ceiling. Walter watched the smoke rise upward, spreading out and then dropping back down, filling the room with its rich and unique scent. He picked up his meditation timer, which was set to forty minutes, and pressed the start button. Before the three sounds, that simulated a singing bowl, chimed the start of this time he’d set aside, he was seated in his leather and wooden chair, bare feet touched together, again in Cobbler’s pose, the sarong Mara made for him wrapped around his back, shoulders, and draped over his head, his hands holding it secure, his eyes closed and breathing steady and strong enough to hear both on the breath in and the breath out.
To Walter, his mind was just beginning to understand how mystical life was but, to him, there was nothing mystical about meditation. He had listened to practitioners talk about it and he’d seen how the popular media and the culture he’d been born into portrayed it. He understood how it could bring about a relaxed state of being, lower blood pressure, and help surface repressed thoughts and feelings. His goal, though, was to cause his hippocampus to reduce the flow of information to the orientation association area of his brain and cause energy to flow from that deafferented area and pass through his limbic system until it crashed into his hypothalamus with such force that it bounced back up the path from which it came, only to be sent down again, and thus begin a continuous flowing circle of calming impulses until he experienced a total shutdown of neural input. From his studies, Walter expected that, if he were successful, he’d see God.
In what seemed like a moment, the clock marked the end of his allotted time. He took the cloth from his body before he opened his eyes and dropped his feet flat on the floor. He stood up; lovingly folded the turquoise and silver cover and placed it on top of his dresser, opened the pocket door and headed to the basement to change into his running clothes.
It was much cooler in the basement, but he stripped off the chonies and T-shirt he had slept in and dropped them in the laundry hamper. He had his running shoes laid out in a Rubbermaid wall cabinet and his shirts, shorts, socks and other gear in a chest of drawers of the same brand. He grabbed his black and yellow Saucony Mirage 2 shoes off of a shelf, some good socks out of the bin, a pair of black running shorts, and wrapped his Garmin strap around his chest before pulling on a bright yellow dry wicking running shirt.
“Nothing like being fashionable,” he thought.
He went into his bathroom, washed his hands and took off his glasses, replaced them with contact lenses, brushed his teeth for the second time that morning, took a leak, washed his hands again, and then headed up the stairs and out the door, slowing long enough to let Mara know that he was off on a run.
Outside, after locking the doors behind him and stowing the key in his shorts, he pushed the start button on his watch and waited while it located satellites. Once the watch locked-in, Walter pressed the start button and started his run, heading down-hill on the driveway to the road, turning right for a four block run through the development, and then up a steep short hill to a main road. When he looked at the computer log later, he saw that his pulse peaked, here, and then dropped back to 70-84% for the rest of the run. He ran left, along the shoulder and then across to a side street with nice homes set back on large lawns. Out of that lane, he turned right and crossed over, down another main road, keeping to the shoulder, facing the oncoming cars and running past the Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah’s Witness and the Third Reformed Christian Church. Walter always kept his eyes on the cars, knowing how asleep drivers could be, ready to jump out of the way if he needed to. Coming at him were pickup trucks, cars, and vans full of folks on their way to church or their weekly family breakfast at the local diner. When there was a lull in the traffic, he crossed the road and ran the dog bone shaped street that added another quarter-mile to his run. Coming back out, he crossed back over and headed to the corner, passing the Wealthy Park Baptist Church; he turned left for another quarter-mile, he’d be at a mile-and-a-half now, until he came to the right-hand turn into the cul-de-sac, which added another quarter-mile and a down-hill out and up-hill in, to the run. The whole route was covered in asphalt or cement but not hot on the cloudy day. Out of the cul-de-sac he turned right, for just a short distance, and then curved around left, the only way he could, to begin the long straight portion from two miles to four, passing homes and the First Protestant Reformed Church, and the Chabod House.
He was thinking how he had ran his body, as fast as he could, into middle age and had always thought that he was wise before his age because of it. When he came to middle age, where he was on that run, and met Mara, he realized that he had been committing suicide without recognizing it, killing himself with pain and depression for years, and was well on his way to his death. He knew that Mara’s lessons had given him the will to try and turn his life around. What he didn’t know, on that day, was that Mara was soon to teach him her greatest lesson.
At the fourth mile, Walter turned right, a full sweat going, and started the long, slow hill that would last another mile and take him by Congregation Ahavas Israel.
He was thinking of Jade and he knew, then, that she was Maya and he thought that she would be his last distraction. His feelings, for her, had been too strong and the relationship too one-sided. His instinct said that he knew her and loved her but it had all come from reading her letters and journals and looking at her art and watching her. She had almost never interacted with him, unless she was confined to a car with only the two of them in it. When around him, she usually behaved as if he didn’t exist, as if she couldn’t even see him. Her only appreciation, of him, seemed to be that she could get information from him on those nights when Mara wouldn’t talk.
He was feeling the effort in his butt cheeks and wondered if he would ever get beyond feeling the effort somewhere. The hill crested and his run started back down, this time trotting past the Jewish Federation of River City and Temple Emanuel. An attractive, lithe brunette came running at him, smiling and saying, “Hello,” as they passed. At the end of the fifth mile, he turned left and was forced to run on the concrete sidewalk, past the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, until he came to mile seven and turned up a newly paved road past the Marywood Center with its home for the Nuns. There, it was the same long hill from the other side. He thought how it seemed that hills were always tilted up, seldom down. He was on the shoulder, running under a lining of large Sycamore trees, his favorites, keeping as far from the road and as close to the outside edge of the gravel along the shoulder, as he could.
There was a blue-gray Toyota Corolla coming at him, well out in the road near the white dashed centerline; one of the Nuns was driving. The car got within twenty feet of Walter and the driver pounded her horn, and kept pounding, and, although he couldn’t hear what she said, he could see her mouth and face as she screamed something at him. He started to yell back but laughed to himself instead, imaging her failing eyesight and how the sight of him might have startled her. When he had been far into a run in Mexico, he had tried to nod a greeting to a young man sporting a Superman tattoo and that guy had looked startled and then turned away, as if in embarrassment. When Walter got back to his abode, he’d looked in the mirror and had seen two long red streaks where the blood from his raw nipples had stained the front of his white running shirt. His nipples no longer bled but he was sure that his image still inspired shock when he ran.
He looked down where his left foot struck the ground and amid the Queen Anne’s Lace and periwinkle Chicory, he saw a rare albino Chicory in full blossom.
Covered in a long black coat and topped with a wide-brimmed black hat, a bearded Hassidic with his cute six year old daughter walked by, headed in the direction from which Walter had just come. Walter tried to make eye contact and nod a greeting but the walker looked away.
“You dress that way so as to diminish yourself and not stand out within your tribe but, in doing so, you only make yourself stand out in the greater society,” thought Walter.
At the top of that hill, he turned right for an eighth of a mile run back to his starting point. He stopped his timer and pressed the button to record the data. He stood outside for some time, letting his sweat slow and drip to the earth, regaining his regular breath, giving thanks for his ability to run. Along the edge of the lawn he saw parked a familiar small car.
Lizzy’s friend Ingrid was there, in the kitchen, when Walter walked in. She and Mara were both there, standing with their backs to him, rinsing vegetables in the sink, talking and looking out the window. They would have seen him finish his run. Mara was on the right, looking cute in her hippy sort of way. Ingrid was on the left, taller and slim with long brunette hair. She was wearing blue jeans that were tight at her butt yet loose enough around her waist to slip a hand in, and the skin of her back was showing, as well as about an inch of the crack of her ass. He wondered if she knew. He wondered if she cared. Her skin looked warm and inviting. He thought about slipping a finger in and wondered, again, if she knew what men thought, if she cared. She had on rubber knee boots that were brightly painted with flowers. They all said hello and the girls asked about his run.
He went quickly to the basement, undressed, tossed the wet clothes into a bucket of fresh, cold water splashed with Woolite, took a shower and changed into his peasant outfit: black karate pants, thin black T-shirt, and bare feet, then went past the ladies, who were still chatting, out to the patio and lit the grill. He took a seat, as the grill heated up, and waited for the women to bring him out the cut and spiced zucchini, red bell peppers, carrots, kale, mushrooms, sweet and red onions, cherry tomatoes, and broccoli for him to cook, most of it from Mara’s raised beds. A moment later, Ingrid walked over to him with a drink to replenish him after his run. Her midriff and belly button were showing between her jeans and blouse and her hip bones stood out and angled, slightly inward and down, pointing towards her pubic triangle. She had a tight belly and smooth skin. She often wore a padded bra, maybe feeling the social or personal need to give a suggestion of larger breasts, but today her teats were hanging free beneath the cloth, pointing outward.
“You look just fine, to me,” thought Walter.
As if reading his mind, and to thank him for the thought, she reached out and rubbed the shaved hair on his nearly bald head.