Cynthia Mac Pherson

Shoulder stand                                                     

The traffic is noisy but beyond the heavy wooden door, the Zen garden is peaceful. A fountain trickles, lavender scents the air and Indian cloths cover the windows of the studio, tucked away in the corner.   Sue lifts the green sari over the entrance into the quiet room and joins the class of six lying on their mats on the wooden floor.  On a ledge of  a high sash window overlooking False Bay, a black cat basks in the morning sun. Sue lies with her legs vertical up the wall, as the others are doing. Her  body is stiff, with lack of practice over the months of moving into the village, carrying heavy boxes and adjusting to living alone.

 The teacher’s soothing voice leads her through the breathing routine and her strong hands lift Sue’s head slightly to re-position her cushion, increasing the stretch in the back of her neck. ‘Be still,’ murmurs the teacher, ‘I’ll move you’ and she adjusts Sue’s shoulders and arms. Her smiling hazel eyes are flecked with gold and her thick silvering dark hair is knotted at the nape of her neck. The lines on her face are peaceful.

 Then Sue recognizes her. 

It’s Samantha!  It was the year after we left school – 1967.  She was new to town and she longed to dance in our ‘Boots’ routine but we wouldn’t let her.

Wintertime. The smell of  stroganoff drifted across the dance floor, as Jean and I sauntered  into the art-deco cloakroom to puff on our cigarettes. 

‘Let’s cut now!’ said Jean. ‘ I hear the bikes.’

‘Yea! Let’s ditch our boring partners.  What drips! Rich boys can’t dance!’

‘Can I come?’ asked 16 year-old Samantha, in her matric dance dress, blue nylon, embroidered with pink flowers. At the table, I’d seen her awkward with the strain of making talk with Jimmy.

‘Can I join you?’ she asked again, pulling close her mother’s pink mohair shawl.

Jean turned on her, stubbing her cigarette on the  tiles.

‘You! You’re not one of us!’ She tossed her mane of red hair and put orange lipstick on her wide mouth.

 ‘It’s ok for you.’ I said,’ I’m sure your rich daddy would bankroll you to dance in Hollywood. Why do you want to be part of our plan?’

‘Leave us alone!’ said Jean, tall in her high white boots. ‘And don’t you split on us. You creep!’

As we sneaked across the frosty lawn, I saw Samantha by the fire in the club lounge, where a cat lay stretched out. She was hiding her tears in its sleek black fur.

Sue does the standing postures, the twists and the forward bends.

‘I see that you’ve done yoga before,’ says Samantha. ‘ So you’ll  manage a shoulder stand, using a chair?’

Sue nods.

Now Sue’s upside down, her hands clutching the metal chair-legs, her knuckles white.  Her face is strained, her eyes bulging and anxious. ‘I need to come down,’ she whispers, her voice strangled.

The teacher moves around the class, adjusting and guiding.  Finally, she stands above Sue, ”Remember me?’ she asks. ‘ I’m Samantha? We danced together long ago’

‘Please get me out,’ gasps Sue.

‘You were the one who made Hollywood,’ Samantha says. ‘ I once saw you dance in a Sinatra movie. You were good – the snake in the garden.’

Sue’s face is scarlet, her toes and fingers bloodless.

‘Are you ok Sue? ‘

‘Samantha! Please, help me!’

Samantha releases Sue’s belt and leads her out of the posture. She lies panting on her mat. Samantha covers her with a rug and puts little bean-bags on her closed eyes. 

‘Time for relaxation,’ she tells the class.


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