A Crowded Life

It wasn’t the first time Juniper had imagined living full time in her walk-in closet. It boasted a mauve velvet daybed, a shag rug and wall-to-wall cupboards filled with silk, linen and fine cotton. On days when the world felt too close, sidling up and poking her in the ribs, she would open the doors and run her fingertips over scarves, the straw weave of hats, and the buttery leather of gloves. Yet most of it had to disappear.

When Bodhi first visited, his nose twitched and he scratched the side of his head where the hair was scraped back into a high pony.

‘What would you like to drink?’ she asked, twisting the lid of a gin bottle and peeling off her shearling jacket.

‘Warm water with lemon juice,’ he muttered, narrowing his eyes at the arrangement of rope and glass balls. ‘Please.’

Juniper followed his look as he absorbed the confident gaze of her naked portrait with bold neon acrylic brushstrokes, painted when her breasts still had an internal compass pointing north.

‘All of this,’ he said, sweeping an arm around, ‘is samsara.’ He perched himself on a floor cushion and sipped his water with ponderous focus.

In her closet, Juniper sat on the daybed and remembered the meditation session that followed, her nether regions prickling and aching and her mind throwing up lurid images of Bodhi without his lycra.

He had said it didn’t have to be straight away – she could pare down her samsaric life in increments. That her home would be a clean mirror, reflecting back the truth and wisdom of her mind, rather than a space that jangled and confused. ‘How can you find your essence when you’re living in an issue of Vogue?’ His face was so close she could see the smooth radiance of his cheeks as if dusted with gold, the slightly infantile moue of his lips as they neared hers.

A pile of clothing and accessories grew with rapid abandon – she would achieve Bodhi’s calm reserve and indifference to emotional excess. He was like the strong enveloping beam of a lighthouse strobe, protecting the good and allowing the bad to capsize.

After two weeks, Juniper’s house resembled the corporate headquarters of a wellness brand, with the odd Egg chair and lonely kilim. Her bright portrait the only artwork gracing the walls.

Bodhi glided in on a Saturday morning, dewy from his Ashtanga class. His blinding beam saw all. ‘The energy is lighter, it’s incredible. How do you feel?’

Juniper hesitated. She had been so busy arranging, clearing and sorting – there hadn’t been time to feel. Sensory experiences had been the dominant force in her life. Scents, visions, tastes and sounds had filled her until her neural pathways were numb. ‘I don’t know. Would you like a green tea?’

When he had left, she sat on the floor of her walk-in closet, feet cold on the exposed boards, the doors open to stacks of hangers and a film of dust. She wore her one remaining jumper.

Closing her eyes, she saw sapphire ocean, heard the susurration of waves. Cradled by warm water she floated adrift, a wash of coral light merging sky and sea. There is no self, Bodhi had whispered. There is only oneness.

At the yoga studio, Juniper took two stairs at a time. She was bursting with new knowing ­– her senses and the objects crowding her life had blocked her sight. Where is he? She stood at the threshold of the yoga room, where several people sat on mats stretching and talking. A diffuser misted lemongrass scent and the instructor, Illa, waved at her. ‘You’ll need a strap today,’ she said. ‘There are some in the storeroom. May as well get your bolster too.’

Juniper nodded and retreated down the hallway where the storeroom door was ajar, emitting a burble of breathless laughter and low shushing. She gave the door a light shove and it swung open. For a moment she stood as if cast in bronze. Bodhi’s hand cupped a woman’s behind, his mouth open to hers. His ponytail had come loose and his hair snaked wetly over his cheek. A small grunt came from the back of his throat.

With great care, Juniper closed the door. She took the stairs, counting each one. In the car, she felt god-like, observing the flow of traffic as if its rhythms contained the secrets of the world, like the inscriptions on Mayan temples.

A thick wad of cash dropped with a thud on the counter at the charity shop as the volunteer eyed her, confused. ‘Sorry for the inconvenience,’ Juniper said, waiting while the woman gathered her things.

Juniper reclined on her daybed, silk scarves draped around her neck, glittering rings on her fingers as a plume of fig fragrance curled from a scented candle. She took a sip of gin. There were less objects in her house, she had let some go, along with Bodhi. He had shown her how to let tides carry her to a lighter place. People and things could drown you if you weren’t careful. The trick was finding a counterweight, a point along the spectrum that brought balance. A measured enjoyment, observing with the bright beam of detachment.


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