I was tired. It had been a long day—a good day, but long. I sat at my desk and listened to the disembodied murmur of the instructor’s voice coming through the wall from the yoga studio next door. I couldn’t hear the words but I recognized the tone: a slow, loose chant to ease a roomful of pupils through the intricacies of Shavasana, their final position. Corpse pose. My lethargy deepened. Chin in palm, I gazed out the window at dimming dusklight between buildings.
Corpse pose. I stood up behind my desk, grimacing with the pleasure of stretching my legs and straightening my back. I slid the empty client’s chair into the far corner, noting, for the hundredth time, that its turquoise upholstery was wearing thin and needed to be replaced. I returned to the center of the room, slid off my clogs, and knelt down on the carpet, slowly capsizing onto my back. I lay there, arms and legs at 45-degree angles, looking up at the texture of the ceiling.
I closed my eyes, letting the sounds of burgeoning night-life recede until only the instructor’s voice remained, audible but indiscernible. I knew the words were irrelevant, merely a vessel for her hushed, lulling cadence—and even that didn’t matter. All that mattered was sinking into myself, settling into the floor below, feeling the fullness of the moment that would never end. Inhaling quiet, exhaling quietude. The muffled murmur droned on, quieter now, as I drifted loose: adrift and drifting, drifty; floating slow, unruffled and calm in a sea of thought; not asleep, not awake, dusk of mind . . .
Above me, behind me, back in the world I heard I heard three quick, staccato knocks followed by silence, then the slow creak of the door. Even with eyes closed I knew who it was. There were two steps, then a pause. I could hear his wry smile as he said: “Hey, little sister. Asleep on the job again?”
I squinted my lips into a smile and stayed as I was.
“Hello,” I said, “was I expecting you . . .?”
“Not for me to say, really. But yes: this is an impromptu visit. Bad time?”
“Not at all . . .”
“Is this corpse pose or are you just being weird?”
“A little of both . . .” I was in a place where everything I said seemed to end in ellipses.
I heard shifting, two thuds, a rustle, a creak that I could feel through the floorboards beneath my head and shoulders, then a faint brushing against my hair as he settled on the floor, the top of his head touching mine.
We lay there for awhile, joined at the head like two stray figures cut from a paper doll chain. The voice stopped. There was a moment of silence, a whispered chorus of Namastes, then the resumption of routine as the pupils rolled up their mats and filtered into the hall, their entangled words becoming briefly distinct, then fading down the stairwell.
Then my brother and I savored the shared silence.
” . . .”
” . . .”
” . . .”
” . . .”
” . . .”
” . . .”
I said, “So, what brings you here?”
“Oh, nothing in particular. Been running errands and thought I’d drop in.”
I rubbed my closed eyes and enjoyed the slow motion fireworks of bursting color it created behind my eyelids.
“I hear you’re working on a case for dad,” he said.
“I am. A suicide motive case.”
“No note?” He asked.
“There was a note. It said ‘This is easier’ and nothing else.”
“Sounds like an open-and-shut-case to me. Who can argue with that?”
“You know clients—it’s always about the details; the specifics. Easier than what?”
He sighed. Or exhaled. Or maybe grunted. It could be difficult to tell with him sometimes.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure,” I said, “You can even ask me another one.”
An old family joke. He let it pass.
“Do you ever wish you had bigger cases; investigations like the ones detectives get in books and movies?”
It wasn’t his usual sort of question. It was more like a question my father would ask, only without my father’s judgmental tone.
“Why do you ask?”
“I’m teaching my course on detective fiction again this semester and I was struck by how different the cases are in the novels we read: adultery, blackmail, kidnapping, murder . . .”
“I handle adultery cases.”
“Sort of,” he said.
Even with closed eyes and wedges of color pulsing through my personal darkness I could see the expression on his face. It said: You handle adultery cases the way someone building a sandcastle handles the sea.
“I’m not judging, Nadie. Not at all.”
“I’m genuinely curious. Do you ever wish your cases were bigger or more dramatic or do you prefer the minutiae?”
Part of the answer was obvious—and I knew he already knew what my answer would be—but the question was still worth considering. So I considered it until he answered for me:
“I suppose the answer is written on the wall behind your desk. All your cases, no matter how small they may seem, are just clues in the biggest case of all. And I see the truth in that—I always have. Life is a crime—for lack of a better word—that is perpetually in progress. The clues are infinite and forever compounding. There is no way to truly solve the mystery you have set for yourself because it keeps growing to encompass everything that happens everywhere and all the time—including your own efforts. Your investigation is always part of the mystery, just another clue.”
I laughed and felt the hair at the tops of our heads mingle.
“You missed your calling,” I said.
“I always do. Missing callings is my calling.”
I chuckled knowingly. He’d never summed himself up quite so well before.
“Still,” I said, “I’m impressed. I’ve been trying to explain this to dad for years.”
“I struggle with the same issue as a teacher of literature,” he said. “Percy Shelley makes this argument that all of literature is one long text that is forever in progress. That text, it seems to me, is the closest thing we have to an instruction manual for life—and it’s impossible to read it all. I’ve studied and taught the subject for years and have only become more acutely aware of how little I’ve read; how much I’ve forgotten of what I have read. And every day there are new books. But you’ve set yourself the even larger task of trying to solve the mystery that all of those books are struggling to address . . .”
I laughed again.
“You make it sound a little pointless.”
“I make it sound a lot pointless. Because it is. Utterly. Still worth trying, though. ‘A man’s reach should exceed his grasp’ and all that.”
One of his favorite quotations. Browning. Or what’s a heaven for?
“I think I might have a mystery for you,” he said.
“Really?” I was so surprised I almost opened my eyes.
“It’s been with me for many years; I’ve tried to live with it, tried to figure it out but I can’t seem to make any progress. Maybe you’ll have more luck.”
“I’ll do my best . . .”
“I guess it’s really two mysteries. Possibly more.”
“Mysteries do have a tendency to multiply.”
“They do, don’t they?”
He didn’t speak for a second, so I prompted him:
“And the first mystery?”
“I don’t know what the first mystery is,” he said, “I know it’s there, unsolved, unanswered, generating clues . . . But I have no idea what it is.”
I made a mental note on an imaginary pad: ?
Then I said: “The first mystery is to figure out what your mystery is.”
“Yes,” he said. His voice had grown tight and raspy.
A clock ticked. Traffic whirred. Night fell.
“Well,” I said, still not moving, still not opening my eyes, “What are the clues?”