Axl Rosemary
by Cassidy McCants

Martha rarely comes in for a massage lately. She used to come in with Philip, Flip, her husband. Today Martha’s here for the first time in months—she’s alone, and she doesn’t know I know about the separation. But this world, our world, isn’t big. And I can feel it in her muscles; I can feel that she’s letting him go. She bought a short session today, so I get right to it.

Martha is one of those clients who make sure to tell me at the beginning something like, “Just so you know, I don’t like to talk during my massages,”—as if I don’t operate on that assumption anyway—and then go on to yap, yap, ask questions about my life. I’m not the one in therapy here. No, usually Martha would gab with Flip, at Flip. She wouldn’t ask much of me, really—just to touch her, heal her, offer therapy, do my job. Typically I’d work on Martha and Tyffani would work on Flip. Couple’s therapy.

I use Kapha oil on Martha. Because she’s water, no doubt. She almost slips right through my earthy, female hands, my Prithvi hands. I never got to know Flip and his body, but I always assumed he was Vata, air. Air and water are a good match, but I suppose he could’ve been slowly blowing away all their years together.

I’m the only therapist here who uses Ayurvedic oils. I love the Kapha because it has rosemary—rosemary is for remembering. I consider, for a moment, that now is not the time for Martha to remember. Maybe it’s time for her to forget.

I realize that’s work she must do on her own.

I hate to forget. The earth remembers everything.

Martha’s muscles aren’t in better shape, necessarily, than they were a few months ago. But, god, they’ve changed. She’s feeling Flip in her neck now. She probably sleeps differently now, in a bed alone. I have neck problems, too. I sleep alone, too. Martha’s angriest muscles used to live in her wings, her shoulders and upper back—she’d given in to a life on her phone and computer, I’d guessed, when her marriage started to fail. Maybe her marriage failed because of her distance. How could I know? I just know what her body tells me: She’s enduring a change—her life will get better, better than ever, and it’s my job to help.

More oil. “Are you able to play different music?” Martha asks, just as I start digging into the knot on her neck. Of course—I should have known. She needs something stimulating right now, something revitalizing. The music my boss chooses at the spa here, the station set up using a faraway formula, isn’t suited to everyone. My drum CD, I realize, is in my car. Martha would do well with the Congos, the dholak and tabla.

What else, then? I search for “energize” in the station-maker. Play. The end of “Don’t Stop Me Now”—okay, this might work. Very low volume. I see that to come are “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Hungry Like the Wolf,” and “Barracuda.” Animal life is energizing, I suppose. We’ll see how her muscles respond.

Now, the spot on her neck. The nestling knot—one way or another, I’ll set it free. “God, that’s where it all stews these days. All in that tiny little roost.”

“I see that,” I say, pushing, tapping, knuckling. I close my eyes for just a moment, worn out by the day. Martha is my last, and I have a feeling I’ll go a bit late tonight. And then—a break between “Don’t Stop Me Now” and “Welcome to the Jungle”—I feel her knot flutter below my fingertips. An aggressive one. I’ve not felt the start of a release like that ever in my life. More oil and an elbow.

Martha seems to be soothed by Guns N’ Roses. The volume is low, of course. I swear she’s asleep. I thought this might happen. She’s young, in her thirties. She probably slept in her crib to music wilder than this.

My elbow glides over the fresh oil. Martha’s out, fast asleep, no doubt. I reconsider my typical music choices, the drum CD, the clarinets, the ambient strings, for the massage room. Maybe I need to provide pop, classic rock, red dirt music, whatever’s on the radio these days, to make my clients feel more settled. I take a moment to dive into my gratitude, my appreciation for learning something new in each session—and then I hear a chirp. A pained chitter. Was that Axl Rose? “I wanna hear you scream,” he’s just wailed. What a creepy song. I’d not choose it myself. No thank you. I’m doing this for my client.

Another peep. A peep and a flitter below my fingers. Is that—is it her neck? Is her neck chirping? I grow closer, keeping my fingers there, still working out the kink, and making good progress. I will heal my client; I will set free this stubborn neck-nester. I don’t hear anything but her muscles creaking.

I’ve almost trapped it. I’m almost there. Just my thumbs are working now, pushing away the pest. But there—there it is again. The chitter grows into a warble. I keep working. The knot keeps trilling. I push, push, push. It’s almost time to set it free. My thumbs and the trouble spot hit the space where Martha’s neck meets her left shoulder. I’ve got it. It’s all in my hands, which have become a cradle against her skin. They’re scooping out the spot now—a beautiful baby bird. A nestling. “I wanna hear you scream,” Axl carries on. The fledgling flies on, away. I can’t hold onto it—I’m earth. I’m not a suitable sanctuary.

It flies back, I just know, to Flip, the airy one.

Martha is awake, free. “Drink plenty of water this evening,” I tell her. I go home alone.

© Cassidy McCants, 2018

Cassidy McCants is a writer and editor from Tulsa, Oklahoma. She received her B.A. in creative writing from University of Arkansas and her M.F.A. in fiction writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has worked as associate editor of Nimrod International Journal since 2013. Her work has appeared in The Lascaux Review, The Rabbit Is In, The Junction, and other publications, and her stories have received honorable mentions from Glimmer Train Press.

Axl Rosemary was read by Alexandra Gray with music by Kevin Orton on 11th September 2018 for The Liars’ League Songbook at the Brooklyn Book Festival.