Norman Coles in sweatshirt and jeans sat at the kitchen table slumped over a copy of Men’s Health. Gale Varnell in a tailored skirt and jacket, banged through the door and dumped a briefcase and a bag of groceries on the counter.
“I nearly ran over a squirrel on my way to the office, had back-to-back meetings all morning, wrote the weekly report due last Friday during lunch, and just before five realized the numbers due in the main office tomorrow make absolutely no sense. So, how was your day?”
“Terrible. I flunked the test.”
“The annual physical now required of all active-duty cops. Captain Ryder called me into his office. According to the new department guidelines, I’m overweight.”
“Was he joking?” Gale paused from unpacking groceries.
“Has anyone in the department seen you without a shirt? What kind of nonsense is this?”
“I’m musclebound. The doctor called it hypertrophy of the exoskeletal tissue, with inelastic mobility. I can’t touch my toes or clasp my hands behind my back.” He stood and demonstrated. “My B. M. I. is in the obese range.”
“Your B. M. I.? What is that?”
“Body Mass Index. It’s basically your weight divided by your height.”
“How can you be obese? You don’t have any body fat.”
“They asked about artificial enhancements, steroids, injections . . .”
“A man who chokes on pills and faints at the sight of a needle.”
“Go ahead, rub it in. I told him I was one hundred percent natural.”
“That’s my Norm.”
“You should have been there, Gale.”
“Patch me in the next time by cell phone. So, now what?”
“Captain Ryder says I have eight weeks to get in shape. After that, if I flunk again, he has to suspend me.”
“You’re the most in-shape man I know. Not that I stand on street corners gawking at men’s bodies, but a girl has eyes.”
“Five years on the force, and now this. According to the guidelines, my exemplary record of community service isn’t worth squat.”
“What are you supposed to do?”
“I need flexibility. The doctor suggested yoga or dance. Can you see me in tights?”
“Dance is a non-starter. Come with me to yoga class.”
“Isn’t it all girls?”
“Not all. There are some guys, though maybe none you would consider hanging with. It’s a hatha yoga class.”
“Yoga comes in flavors?”
“Branches. Hatha is for poses, harmony, centering. It’s the branch most Americans know. Asana is for breathing, raja is for self-control, bhakti is religious, and so on.”
“What about yoga for good old Southern boys? Is there a bubba yoga?”
“Not that I’ve heard. Try my hatha class, and if you don’t like it, try something else. It’s a lot of stretching, balancing, strengthening the core. Oh, and inner peace.”
“I was afraid of that.”
“So yoga is outside your comfort zone. You’re a cop. You can deal with any situation. Isn’t that what you told me on our first date?”
“That was my pick-up line.”
“Well, it worked.”
“We danced to that awful string band at the Hickory Pit.”
“On the patio that smelled like stale beer.”
“It’s been a while since we danced, Gale. Or even went on a date.”
“You put in such long hours at the bank.”
“And you spend so much time at the gym, working out. You’re a lot bigger than when we met.”
“Am I?” Norm was pleased. Then he remembered the test. “Well, as of today, that has to change. Lose the bulk or I’m busted. Eight weeks . . . Yoga for cops . . .”
The next day, Norm went with Gale to her evening yoga class. He wore sweatpants and a sweatshirt, and he carried a brand new mat.
“I feel like a rookie,” he said, “the new kid in school. Everyone will stare at me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. They’ve seen it all.” Gale unrolled her mat and Norm copied her.
Holly, the instructor, was a limber twenty-something with long brown hair and a calm, low-pitched voice, gender-neutral.
“Class, we have a new student, a friend of Gale. Gale, can you introduce your friend?”
“Hello, everyone. This is Norm.”
Everyone faced Norm and bowed, palms pressed together. Norm bowed western style.
“Welcome!” Holly said. “We use first names only here, and we respect each other’s privacy. I am Holly. This class is about stretching, bending, keeping your balance, and holding still. Remember to keep your eyes on your own mat or on me to lean the pose. Let’s begin.”
A few minutes into the class, Norm was gasping.
“What’s the matter?” Gale said.
“I can’t bend like everyone else.”
“Take it easy. Only go as far as you feel comfortable.”
“That’s right, Gale.” Holly overheard and approached. “Never strain to reach a pose. Let the energy flow naturally down your spine and out through your arms and legs. Don’t force it.”
“What about no pain, no gain?”
“Totally bogus. Focus on your body and what it tells you.”
She used her hands to guide his hips and shoulders. No nonsense, just direction, but Norm was ticklish.
“Like this?” he said, squirming.
“You’re doing fine,” Holly said, though he clearly was not. “Remember to breathe.” She returned to the front of the class.
“Take a long, deep breath,” Gale said, “like a sigh.”
“You’re so good at this.”
“Would you relax?”
“No talking, please,” Holly said.
When class was over, Gale and Norm rolled up their mats and walked to the car.
“How do you feel?” she asked.
“I thought the stretching might help your back.”
“You don’t sound convinced.”
“I hardly broke a sweat. I didn’t get to point of exhaustion. Only when you reach P. O. E. do you know that you really worked out.”
“Hatha yoga isn’t that kind of workout. Maybe you’d like Bikram. It’s the extreme exercise option, like yoga boot camp.”
“Now you’re talking.”
“At Bikram, you get hot and sweaty and wrung out. It’s mucho macho.”
“Just the thing for Yogacop.”
Norm found a Bikram class at yoga studio. It was all Gale promised. The instructor was a lean, mean, former pro boxer named Otis. He barked orders like a drill sergeant, minus the profanity and personal insults. Yoga had cleaned up his act. Bikram reminded Norm of a high school gym class, complete with overheated gym.
“Listen up, ladies and gents,” Otis said. “We’re starting another fifty-day challenge. Anyone who chooses to participate will attend every day for seven straight weeks plus one day. That adds up to fifty, trust me. Miss a class and you have to make it up the next day, and take your regular class, or drop out of the challenge. That’s two classes in one day. Beside this one, the center has a Predawn Patrol and a Lose Your Lunch class. See me after if you want to sign up.”
Immediately after class, Norm trotted up to Otis. He stood at attention.
“Sign me up, sir. Norm.”
Otis looked him over. Norm’s sweatshirt was drenched and clung to his bulging chest.
“Are you sure about this, Norm? It looks like you’re into pumping iron.”
“I’m ditching my old workout at the gym. I need to gain flexibility.”
“The police department. I’m a cop. The new physical fitness guidelines say I’m overweight.”
“Bikram can help achieve your goal. You also need to look at your eating habits.”
“Fifty days is what I’ve got. The challenge is a perfect fit.”
“Remember, the challenge is every day. No excuses.”
“My duty shift is regular, no weird hours. I’m motivated.”
“Okay, Norm, you’re in.”
“Thank you, sir!” He saluted.
“Norm, this is yoga. We do discipline, but you can drop the military routine.”
“Yes, sir.” He made an effort to relax.
“See you tomorrow.”
* * *
Norm dove into yoga with enthusiasm. He entertained Gale with a daily account of Otis and the gang. Meanwhile, the branch manager of the bank where she worked announced he was moving to Fairfax. Gale applied for the job. The bank sent her to a week-long leadership training seminar in Richmond. Monday she went back to work. She came home that evening to find Norm seated upright at the kitchen table with a copy of Integral Yoga.
“Whew! Home again. The Monday staff meeting was actually productive, the new teller is getting the hang of things, and I cleared my email inbox. Can you imagine? I passed one stalled car on the highway, or maybe a driver on a cell phone. No crash debris, no delay. Hooray! How are you?”
“Fantastic!” Norm jumped up. “Instead of pumping iron and getting ripped, I’m all about balance and spine. I drink gallons of water and eat tons of vegetables.”
“I’m burning up the muscle mass. Can you see the difference?”
“So far, I dropped twenty-five pounds, and I’m bending farther every day. I can almost do a full Cobra.”
“That’s more than I can do.”
“The guys at the police station asked what’s up. I didn’t tell them about yoga. I just said it was a new workout. Otis says I made progress.”
“What about Fritz?”
“Male Caucasian, approximately fifty-five years old, bald with a fringe of white hair, your height but thinner. Drawstring pants, sleeveless top. Possibly ex-Marine. Known only as Fritz.”
“Oh, that guy. What about him?”
“You talked about him so much I wondered if you had a man-crush.”
“No way! I positioned my mat so I could watch how he does the poses. He’s my target, the one I have to reach or surpass.”
“Honest. Anyway, I’m watching Gary now.”
“Younger, more in shape, a nurse-orderly at the regional hospital. He’s the one to beat.”
“What happened to eyes on your own mat?”
“Doesn’t work for me.”
“You look more like when we first met, Norm. The original model.”
“Without all the add-ons?” He moved close.
“Streamlined.” She placed her hands on his hips.
“Does it handle better?”
“Gotta get to the studio.” Norm broke away.
“Much as I like the redesign, I do have one objection.”
“You’re hardly ever home. When you are, you’re asleep or cleaning your gun or eating organic. And if I hear another word about the twenty-six asanas, I’ll scream.”
“But, Gale, Bikram was your idea.”
“Don’t make me regret it.”
“You said it would be just the thing for Yogacop.”
“Norm, aren’t you a little obsessed with this fifty-day challenge?”
“The Bikram class takes an hour. Then there’s driving and shower time. Sometimes I hang in the lobby. Otis talks about his days in the ring, how he used to train, legends of the fight world.”
“So, now you and Otis are buddies?”
“Gale, this is what guys do. We talk about the past, get pumped on sports, and waste time in public places.”
“That takes most of the evening. What’s left for me?”
“I have to get through this weight loss and pass the physical. Then it’s back to business with my dear, sweet thing. I promise.
“And what’s with sneaking out so early in the morning?”
“It’s another yoga class.” Norm looked sheepish.
“You’re going twice a day?”
“The morning class has a different focus. It’s more into form.”
“This has to stop!”
“I’m almost at the end of the challenge. Look, I can touch my toes for the first time in years.” He did so. “My blood pressure is down, and I can rotate. I feel great!”
“I feel like a yoga widow!”
“Maybe I got a little carried away.”
“A little? Two classes a day, a complete change of diet, and that moaning.”
“Whatever! Bikram isn’t even true yoga. It’s a cult! It was invented by an ex-weightlifter named Bikram Choudhury. He named it for himself!”
“Now who’s getting carried away? Sure, they talk about flushing toxins and rebuilding organs from the inside. For me, it’s exercise. And my ticket to stay employed.”
“If that’s what it means, then after you pass the physical, I want you back.”
“You want me to quit yoga?”
“I want you to ease up, get some balance in your priorities.”
“Meaning my lovely sugar babe?”
“Among other things, yes.”
“The challenge goes to Wednesday, that’s day fifty. The physical is scheduled for Thursday. If I drop thirty pounds, that still puts my B. M. I. in the overweight range, as stupid as that sounds. But not obese.”
“It’s over, done, mission accomplished.”
“I’ll be here waiting.” Gale turned away, began to work at the sink.
“I missed you last week.”
“I missed you, too.”
“How was the leadership training?”
“Oh, you know. The usual team-building exercises. Role-playing. The scripted situation where the frightened teller has an asthma attack while the hopped-up bank robber waves his gun in the air. It was like an improv class for actors.”
“The fact that they sent you to Richmond is good, right?”
“I’m in line for the branch manager job.”
“When do you find out?”
“In a week . . . maybe. The business world is less businesslike than you might think.”
“I’m rooting for you. Although I know nothing about banking. Or business.”
“I’m a cop. I break up fights, write traffic tickets, and chase bad guys. You’re smart, Gale. Success in the business world is there for you. So am I.”
“Later this evening, we’ll do some one-on-one, okay?” Norm picked up his yoga mat.
“Later,” Gale sighed.
Thursday came. Norm went through the physical exam—again—then dangled his legs on the table and waited. The doctor entered to give him the result.
“Yes, sir.” They shook hands.
“Sorry to keep you waiting. With the weight loss, your B. M. I. is out of the obese numbers, though still high. Technically, anything between 25 and 30 is overweight. But as visual examination confirms, you’re not fat, just . . . big. We put you through your paces, and your mobility is in the acceptable range. We ran the blood and urine tests, and did the breathalyzer just for fun. Passing scores all around.”
“What a relief!”
“Remarkable change in such a short time. How did you do it?”
“Diet and exercise. No big secret.”
“Remember, maintenance is key. No wild swings, bulking up, binging and purging. It wreaks havoc with your metabolism. How do you feel?”
“Alert, centered. Less back pain.”
“Captain Ryder will be pleased. Aside from the fact that he can’t afford to lose a veteran officer, he says your performance ticked up during the past few weeks.”
“Better personal interactions, more steady under pressure. You handled that altercation with the drunken bagpipe player standing in the middle of the street.”
“The one-man parade. It was a bid for attention, which he certainly got from the traffic that piled up. No one could hear over the car horns and bagpipes, so I did a marching step alongside. His feet started moving with mine, and away we marched.”
“Keep on track, and I’ll see you next year.”
Gale was pleased with the news that evening. Then Norm picked up his mat and yoga bag and headed to the door.
“Where are you going?”
“My regular yoga class.”
“You said it was over.”
“The fifty-day challenge is. Now we’re back to basic Bikram.”
“Norm, I’ve had enough. You made a commitment, and now you’re weaseling. Are you an exercise freak, or do you love me?”
“Can’t I do both?”
“No! I waited patiently, and minded my own business, and kept relatively quiet. For me, anyway.”
“And I just achieved an important goal. I passed a frigging test and kept my job. You should be glad your man is employed, healthy and physically fit, not some flabby, TV-watching, beer-guzzling oaf!”
“I am glad! But what good is it when you’re not even here?”
“You’re exaggerating. I’ll be back in an hour . . . and a half.”
“I want you here now!”
“You want me to go cold turkey?”
“Norm, you glommed onto yoga the same way you overdid the bodybuilding.”
“So? . . . I’m being consistent.”
“You’re being stubborn. Pig-headed.”
“Name calling is never a good option. It leads to fists.”
“Are we having a domestic dispute? Because if we are, I’m calling the police.”
“Gale, I am the police.”
“Then I’m calling for back-up.”
“Go ahead. The dispatcher is waiting to receive your call. Her name is Beth.”
“This is ridiculous. If you think yoga class is more important than I am, then go.”
“That is not what I think, and you know it. But I’m going anyway, because you are setting up a false dichotomy in order to force a power play, which I will show how hollow it is by doing the very thing you accuse me of.”
One hand was on the doorknob, and his car keys were in the other. Norm felt foolish, running off to get sweaty with the guys, but he couldn’t back down. He stormed out and drove to the studio.
He unrolled his mat and took a deep breath. Fritz and Gary were absent, and so were several others. He tried to get into the right frame of mind. Instead of listening to Otis, he kept hearing Gale. After a minute of this, he stood, rolled up the mat, and drove home.
The house was dark and quiet. There was a light in the bedroom. Gale was in her yoga outfit, holding a Downward Dog. He flopped his mat next to hers, kneeled on it, and copied the pose.
“Why aren’t you at class?” she said.
“Didn’t feel right.”
They breathed together in silence.
“I’m sorry I yelled,” she said.
“You mean you’re sorry you yelled or because I did?”
Again they breathed in unison.
“Yogacop is on the case,” Gale said.
“Stay in the moment and nobody gets hurt.”
# # #
Robert Boucheron is an architect in Charlottesville, Virginia. His short stories and essays appear in Fiction International, Hot Metal Bridge, Lowestoft Chronicle, New Haven Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Origami Journal, Poydras Review, Short Fiction. http://robertboucheron.com
Photo credit: Terri Malone