If Only in Burning

   I saw the sign in the window: Lessons Learned/Karma Burned. I went inside.

The studio smelled like frankincence. And cotton candy. Greeting me at the door, as if she had been waiting for me, was a tall, well-toned woman in a black body suit. Her features were sharp and her blonde hair was tied back in a whip of a ponytail. Before I could speak, she commanded—Give me twenty jumping jacks now!

   I was about to protest, when she repeated—Now—in a blistering, take-no-prisoners tone. I did twenty jumping jacks. When I was done I was exhausted. I couldn’t remember the last time I had done any jumping jacks, much less twenty. As I tried to catch my breath, the woman produced photographs from the fanny-pack clasped around her waist. Had the fanny-pack been there the whole time? How had I missed it?

   Here, she said, and thrust a stack of photographs into my hand. Then she walked away, taking a seat at her desk in the far corner.

   I looked through the photographs. They were photos of when I was a baby, and as a young child. In one, I was maybe two or three, my hair wildly curly, with a yellow pacifier plugged in my mouth. My mother is holding my hand, though you can only see her from the shoulders down. Her head and neck are cut off. So how do you know it’s your mother, I heard myself questioning.

   In another photo, I am five or six, and sitting in the bathtub. I am looking back at whoever is taking the photo.

   How did you get these, I shout at the woman, who is shuffling papers at her desk.

   She doesn’t respond. I walk over to the desk and repeat—How did you get these?

   Burn them, the woman says, and hands me a book of matches. There is malicious glee in the smile that crosses her lips.

   I set the matches and the photos down on the desk.

   No. I’m not going to burn these photos. And I don’t want them. They’re fakes.

   The woman laughs like I’ve hit her hard with a funny stick.

   With her head thrown back, I realize how long her neck is. Almost unnaturally so.

   They’re fakes, are they?

   Yes, I say. They’re not originals. And I want my money back.

   You never paid.

   The woman’s response throws me for a loop. I was sure I had paid.

   I didn’t pay anything?

   Nothing at all. Now, I want you to balance in tree pose.

   This time I did what I was told straightaway. I got into tree pose. I felt shaky, as my arms branched upward. I wobbled—left-right, left-right—and then lost my balance. I was immensely frustrated. As if I had failed a major test.

   Relax, the woman spoke in a soft voice. Then she laid her hand on my shoulder. The feel of her fingers pressing into my shoulder made me want to cry. And try again. So I did. And quickly lost my balance.

  Remember, the woman said, staying perfectly balanced is not the key. Restoring oneself to balance after you’ve faltered . . . that’s the deal.

   I stayed in the studio all night. Doing lots of things that the woman suggested. I entrusted myself to her care and guidance. There were various asanas, running in place, push-ups, breathing exercises, board games, finger-painting, crossword puzzles. And the burning of photos. A lot of childhood photos were burned that night.

   When morning came, I didn’t want to leave the studio and re-enter the real world. And I didn’t have to. There was no studio. I found myself standing on a wooden bridge, the cool wind nipping at my cheeks. I had no idea where I was, how had I gotten there, and where I was going. I was on my way.

About John Biscello

Originally from Brooklyn, NY, writer, poet, spoken word performer, and playwright, John Biscello now lives in Taos, New Mexico. He is the author of three novels: Broken Land, a Brooklyn Tale, Raking the Dust, and Nocturne Variations, and a collection of stories, Freeze Tag. His fiction and poetry has appeared in: Art Times, nthposition, The Wanderlust Review, Ophelia Street, Caper, Polyphony, Dilate, Militant Roger, Chokecherries, Farmhouse, BENT, The 555 Collective, Instigator, Brass Sopaipilla, The Iconoclast, Adobe Walls, Kansas City Voices, and the Tishman Review. His blog--Notes of an Urban Stray--can be read at johnbiscello.blogspot.com. Broken Land, a Brooklyn Tale was named Underground Book Reviews 2014 Book of the Year.
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