At the end of each class, regardless of level, she’d settle onto her mat, cross-legged, watching as her students followed. She’d guide them through deep breaths, pooling within their core at a steady flow, like river water coursing through a pond, carrying with it fears and frustrations as it flowed out the other side. For ten minutes they’d remain like that, focused on nothing but their breathing and the mats underneath them, the soft sound of flutes pouring from the speakers. Occasionally during meditation, her mind would wander. It was never really a common occurrence, but to sit still and focus on nothing but the presence of her own mind and body as frequently as she did made the rare slip in concentration more of an inevitability rather than an impossibility, even the most seasoned, mindful veterans of the practice knew that. Thoughts of unpaid bills and upcoming plans crept in unannounced, and she’d allow herself to follow them for only a short while before laying them to rest once more, turning to her steady inhales or the snoring of whichever student hadn’t quite grasped the point of the exercise.
Regardless, she had viewed meditation as an important part of the routine. It kept her calm, steady, in tune with herself. It wasn’t something she needed to do, per se, so much as it was something she just enjoyed doing.
Amelia couldn’t focus during meditation anymore. Every time she closed her eyes, the mat would slip from beneath her legs, and a crackling noise like distant fire would creep its way into her ears, arms burning under the heat of the endless, unmoving sun. A flat voice would drone, somewhere overhead,
And she’d snap her eyes open before it could continue, right back in the yoga studio where she’d started, where she’d never left. Sometimes a few students stared back, sometimes nobody noticed, and the process would repeat until the flutes faded and she waved them out for the week, wishing everybody well.
It wasn’t until the day Backpack’s voice rose in her senses, weaving a story about old work-related dramas, soft and low as Soda Bottle dreamed beside him, that she began ending classes ten minutes earlier.
She spent much of her newfound spare time staring down at her phone, with its lovely violet case and a small crack in the top right corner of the screen. The contact list illuminated her, bright white, a single listing always dead center. Out of everyone, she’d only swapped numbers with Soda Bottle, and every day she’d turn to his listing and wait. For what, exactly, she didn’t know, but her index finger would hover for several minutes, unmoving. She’d read his name over and over:
Soda Bottle, Soda Bottle, Soda Bottle.
He lived halfway across the country, working somewhere he despised, just getting by. He was snippish, easily bothered. His hands were gentle, and she recalled how he ran his thumb over Backpack’s knuckles slowly at the edge of her vision.
What did he like to do? What made him happy? Amelia knew so little about him, outside the constraints of The Plain. He’d never even told her his real name, though, to be fair, she never shared her own.
Instead, she turned her phone off, never answering her own question.
Over a month after she returned home, she watched the last of her students stroll out of the studio, sipping what little was left in her water bottle. Nearby shop lights shown through the windows, twinkling against the dim evening sky.
What time was it on the east coast, she wondered. What time was it out west?
“Letting out class early again?”
Two objects entered: a bamboo incense holder and a yellow lily. Mia and Hazel, coworkers and close friends of hers, who’d needled her into working at the studio when they first opened it years ago. They were the first ones she saw after returning from The Plane, waiting between classes just as she reappeared. Their warm hugs and tears of joy had felt strange to her still reeling mind but were welcome nonetheless.
“It’s only 6:50.” Mia continued as the final student stepped out the door. She began rolling up her mat.
“I changed the routine a little, takes a little less time now.”
“You haven’t done that in a while”
“I just felt like I should.”
She approached them, smiling, and leaned her mat in its place against the wall.
“So, what’s up? Any plans tonight?”
“We’re heading to that new sandwich shop downtown,” Hazel chimed, “do you wanna come?”
“On the corner of Ales and Brimfield, with the big yellow sign?”
“Oh, that place?” its gaudy sign was impossible to forget. She figured it was their main advertising strategy, given how few ads she’d seen for the place yet how much chatter she’d heard about it, “Sure, sounds good.”
They stepped out, Hazel in the lead, leaving them in the studio’s small waiting area. A little red couch was squished in the back left corner, and the desk that divided the room from the office space was littered with pens and paperclips and post-its stuck all along its sides. Amelia flicked off the lights and shut the door behind them. Hazel nudged Mia,
“See, Amelia thinks it’ll be good.”
The name sounded odd in her ears, somewhat detached from her, even still. Perks of being forced to change it, she supposed.
“I’m just saying, might be better to let someone else get poisoned by bad turkey before rushing to try it ourselves.”
“Oh, don’t be such a drama queen.”
Mia rolled her eyes, grabbing their coats from the rack near the door.
“I’m not ridiculous,” Hazel replied, snatching her coat, “I’m just fun.”
She scoffed, chuckling a bit, and handed Amelia her jacket as she passed her. As they bantered, Amelia reached across the desk for the keys, skimming the notes as she went. She stopped at one that piqued her interest, marked up with bold letters and question marks, ‘Ask Amelia!’ scrawled at the bottom.
“‘Guided meditation class?’” She read aloud.
“Oh yeah, we wanna add one to the roster.” Mia said, “Which reminds me: would you mind if Hazel took over your Monday vinyasa classes?”
“The 6 pm ones? Not really, but why?” She put two and two together before they could reply.
“What, do you think I should lead them?”
“If you don’t mind,” Hazel piped up, “You’re just so good at it already, you’d be perfect!”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course! Can’t think of anybody better for the job.”
Something twisted in her gut as she finally took the keys in hand.
“You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” Mia said after a moment, “I can always take it if you—”
“No! no, it isn’t—” she hesitated, moving to choose her phrasing carefully. She looked them over as they waited, curious and seemingly just a bit worried. Hazel’s small smile nearly made her sick with guilt. She hadn’t meditated in weeks.
“I…” she stood up straighter, “yeah, I can do that.”
A few hours later Amelia returned home, fuzzy-minded and tired. She tossed her half-eaten sandwich in the fridge, making a mental note to go shopping soon that she knew she’d soon forget. She didn’t even bother turning on the lights before shuffling into her room and flopping onto her bed, turning towards the ceiling and the tall orange lights cast by the streetlamps outside, cutting through the shadows and painting the room in a warm din. She spent several long moments watching them as though they would move. They never did.
She pulled out her phone, scanning over the last few messages Mia had sent her. The dates and times of the new classes burned her eyes. The first one was in two weeks. She wished it was further off.
It hadn’t been her wisest move, perhaps, to take them up on the offer. Mia was more than willing to take the job, on the one hand, but on the other, was that really an option? She had no good explanation for them, at least not a sensible one. She’d yet to really explain to them—or anyone she knew, for that matter—what happened during the several months she’d been missing. As far as anyone knew, she just vanished into thin air and came back like a magician’s rabbit tucked into the hat, ears soon poking back out the top. She’d lacked the coherency to tell them the truth when she first appeared back in the studio, the same exact place that she’d left, but even still she held back. There wasn’t really anywhere to begin.
She flicked back to her home screen, drifting towards her contacts once again. A car passed outside, cutting through the quiet.
“Are you doing ok?” she asked him, settling down in the grass by his side, “You’ve been lying there for a while.”
Soda Bottle looked at her, brows drawn over tired eyes, ready to bite. His expression softened somewhat before he turned his back to her.
They stayed like this for a short while before he said anything.
She flinched out of her doze as her phone clattered to the floor. She paused to shake off the dream before reaching for it blindly, the screen the same as she’d left it, the battery fairly low. Yawning, she plugged it in and set it on her nightstand. She slipped under the covers without a second thought, bypassing her nightly routine in favor of immediate sleep. The duvet was thick and warm, crinkling slightly when she moved, while the pillow had begun to grow flat with time. It’d been quite a while since she’d replaced it. She filed that away alongside her grocery list, quickly lost to time as she slept.