"Uncle Raoul taught me how to do this when I was young," Raymond said to the woman. "Said he was a genius from keeping blood on his brain. Poor Raoul. He was talented, but he definitely wasn't smart. Got his hand stuck behind a dryer at our apartment once. Who knows what he was doing. He could cook a mean casserole, though."
Raymond felt his face turning red. He watched the woman's face. Her mouth was shaped like an upside-down pear. It hadn't looked like a pear before.
"When I was eight, Raoul sat me on the sofa. He sat cross-legged on the floor and asked me if I believed in Jesus. I said, 'No.' He said, 'Good.' He asked me if I believed in Mohammed. I said, 'No.' He said, 'Better.' He asked me if I believed in Karma and by that time I was daydreaming, so I had to ask him, 'What?' And he said, 'Karma do you believe in it?' I asked him if that meant sex, and he said, 'Kind of.' I said that I believed in it with my whole heart. Raoul said I was dumb for having a heart. I couldn't bring up the dryer thing because it hadn't happened yet, but I would've brought it up. Who would've felt like a champ then, huh?" The woman grimaced then smiled, but to Raymond, it looked like a frown.
"Raoul told me Karma was animal love at its finest, love that gave back to the giver. And he said all animals had it. Took me a while to figure out what Raoul meant when he said, 'Love.' I mean like years. He meant it the way Shakespeare meant 'tiny death'. Are you a fan of Shakespeare?"
"Definitely," the woman said. "The Taming of the Shrew
is one of my faves." She smiled again. This time Raymond knew it was a smile.
"So Raoul was talking about sex?" she asked.
"Exactly. But he didn't call it sex."
"You were eight."
"That doesn't matter. If you're going to talk about it, talk about it. He was my uncle, not my mom."
"I don't see what that has to do with talking about sex."
"Anyway, Raoul asked me if I knew anything from anything. I told him that I knew what I liked. He uncrossed his legs and told me he wanted to show me what Karma felt like. We had this lime green carpet, so he didn't have to get a pillow or use a cushion or any of the kind." Raymond moved his eyes toward the pillow that was underneath his head. The woman's apartment had hard wood floors. He looked back at the woman's face. "Raoul pulled his headband around his neck, fumbled with the waist of his gym shorts, and did his tabletop. Then he moved into a headstand. His shirt fell around his face. Raoul was a hairy guy. And he was big. He liked beer. He came out of his headstand and tucked his shirt in and let his hand sit there. He took his hand out and did another headstand. Just like that." Raymond blinked his eyes. He blinked again. "He smelled like sweat even if he wasn't sweating."
"What's a tabletop?" the woman asked.
"You know that move I did with my knees on my elbows?"
"Uh huh," she nodded.
"That's a tabletop. We use it for balance before our feet go up." Raymond frowned hoping it would look like a smile.
"Oh. Why's it called a tabletop?"
"No idea." Raymond rolled his ankles and felt his pants against his knees. He thought about his uncle's dark legs.
"So Raoul talked about Karma and animal love, and how it was beautiful, and how it would be more beautiful if all animals loved each other, whales loving cranes, that kind of thing, and how life would be better if people became more like animals and animals became perfect. He used that exact word, 'perfect'. Then talked about his marriage and how it was falling apart. 'When was the last time you saw your aunt over here?' he asked. I couldn't remember. 'When was the last time she acted like an animal?' He went on and on. Then he might've been angry, but I couldn't tell, because he was standing on his head, and his whole face was purple. Is my face purple?"
"No," said the woman, "It's more of a maroon right now."
"Thanks. Raoul talked more about animals and Karma and relaxed I guess. Or maybe he hadn't been angry. He wasn't the type to get worked up. Maybe that's why he wanted to teach me something, getting pissed about my aunt like that. He showed me every step of his process, detailed and slowly. The man had great control for being so big. He pulled off my socks. 'To let my feet breathe,' he said. He didn't have to hold my legs but he did anyway. I took right to it."
"Bear to a panther."
"Chimp to a dog."
"Crab to a seal."
"Horse to a rabbit. Then my mom came in and told Raoul dinner was ready. We were headstanding together. Raoul wiggled a toe and winked. Not sure who he winked at." Raymond's ankles bumped one another. "There's no way of telling what you're getting yourself into. What's your name again?"
Franklin Winslow lives in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in
Art Asia Pacific, The New Criterion and The L Magazine