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Artwork by Joanna Chen, staff artist

Waiting is the easiest thing. My grandmother

says I remind her of the ocean, of an unbroken

wave. But my sisters are like

phoenixes – you never know when they will

burst into flames. Our aunts tell them that stillness

is a virtue, and I know they’re talking to

me, too.

Before you exercise, you must wait

for your muscles to loosen. We’re going to

stretch. You must be able to move

like water– smooth and controlled.

I am twelve years old, wearing my favorite shirt,

a string of purple daisies embroidered across my chest. I stretch

as far as I can, but I have always been stiff. My fingers do not

reach my toes. I am not flexible

enough. When he comes behind me, I am grateful

for his help. He has eyes like beer bottles, glassy

and breakable. I do not know his name.

He is not twelve years old.

His hands begin at my shoulders and move

down my back. Soon, he finds my string of daisies.

His fingers travel, slowly, from one side to the other,

and this is an ineffective way to stretch–

my body has never been stiffer in my entire life.

There is a throbbing in my legs as they stretch and stretch

and stretch, and then the pain is in

my chest instead. I imagine stretching, then breaking

in half.

He presses down, but I am somewhere else. And I wait.

The five-minute exercise stretches to an hour, to ten, to twenty,

to a day, to a century. When the eternity ends, I stand

with the others. There is a girl with eyes like the ocean. She leans

closer to me and whispers, I love this class. I want to agree

with the smile that stretches all the way to her brilliant eyes, so I say,

Me, too.

I wait

for broken beer bottles to smooth

from emerald green to unthreatening shades of

sea glass. I wait for the waves to swallow

me, too.

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