Halfway through the massage, the woman with rolling pins for elbows says Eastern European women hold a lot of trauma in their hips. I am from Chicago. I made this appointment because I have a climbing injury that won’t go away. You're breathing deeply, she says. The climber’s knot, a figure eight traced upon itself, only ever fails by squeezing so tightly it tears in two; it can never loosen on its own. My hips have swallowed two of these knots. Her hands press deeper. Think about why, she says. Think about what you're holding onto.
I stare at the hardwood floor. I am wearing a thong on a padded table, peering through a hole, holding nothing.
The woman tells me to flip over and rest my head in her hands. Relax your neck, she says. Let go. I picture my neck as a stick of butter and try to melt it. The woman’s hands knead like the overworked knuckles of my grandma, a woman who could turn a half-empty pantry into a feast of goodness. There was no end to what she could transform, dough into delicacy, soup into solace. But my neck is neck and my body body. They refuse to be anything but.
The woman draws infinity with my head, loop and lift. Let go, she whispers. I uncurl my hands, release the table. She is asking me to remember, to excavate the geopolitical conflicts deep inside my joints, the ones I don’t know, didn’t endure, and still feel. Let go. She wants me to untangle history. My grandma, born in a country that no longer exists, was raised in one that still does, considered part of a third, then persecuted by a fourth on the lands of a fifth. Borders moved like ropes there—thread through quickly, pulled out quicker. She stood still and the names around her changed; she fled and her shadow froze. Whiplash, shock, loss. I rock climb on Mondays and Thursdays.
Melt, I tell my neck. Become butter. The woman slides her hands underneath my shoulders and plucks at my traps. More knots, tight with loyalty. I breathe like I have somewhere else I need to be, a wall to climb. She breathes like she doesn’t.
When she’s done and I’m dressed, the woman hands me a chocolate. Try to savor it, she says. Try not to bite. I place it on my tongue and feel its weight. Is this how my grandma’s dishes tasted to her? Like heaviness? Like memory? I make it a full second then crack into the chocolate, my teeth gnashing, moving with a hunger that may not be my own.
Brooke Randel is a writer and associate creative director in Chicago. Her writing has been published in Hippocampus, Hypertext Magazine, Jewish Fiction, and elsewhere. Find more of her work at brookerandel.com.