Fia dropped her mouth in mock shock, her reaction to most things. "Uh, she bought it for me, okay?"
"Well, I don't think your dad would approve. I want you to keep your jacket on, even when you're skating. And Dory, you tell me if she doesn't."
"I'm not telling on nobody!"
Fia turned and walked away.
"Fia? Fia! Come back here. You promise me now, or I'm going to take you home to change clothes."
Fia stopped but didn't turn around. "All right," she grumbled. As she yanked up the jacket zipper, she said to Dory, loud enough for Ruth to hear: "Dad's right. She loves to make everything sooo difficult."
The remark both humiliated and rankled her. Why had Art said that, and especially in front of the girls? He knew how much that would hurt her. A former boyfriend had once told her she made life more complicated than it was, and after they broke up, she was so horrified that his accusations might be true that she made it a point to be reasonable, to present facts, not complaints. Art knew that and had even assured her the boyfriend was a jerk. Yet he still sometimes teased that she was like a dog that circles and bites its own tail, not recognizing she was only making herself miserable.
Ruth thought of a book she had helped write a few years before, The Physics of Human Nature. The author had recast the principles of physics into basic homilies to remind people of self-defeating behavioral patterns. "The Law of Relative Gravity": Lighten up. A problem is only as heavy as you let it be. "The Doppler Effect of Communication": There is always distortion between what a speaker says and what a listener wants it to mean. "The Centrifugal Force of Arguments": The farther you move from the core of the problem, the faster the situation spins out of control.
At the time, Ruth thought the analogies and advice were simplistic. You couldn't reduce real life into one-liners. People were more complex than that. She certainly was, wasn't she? Or was she too complicated? Complex, complicated, what was the difference? Art, on the other hand, was the soul of understanding. Her friends often said as much: "You are so lucky." She had been proud when she first heard that, believing she had chosen well in love. Lately she had considered whether they might have meant he was to be admired for putting up with her. But then Wendy reminded her, "You were the one who called Art a fucking saint." Ruth wouldn't have put it that way, but she knew the sentiment must have been true. She remembered that before she ever loved Art, she had admired him-his calm, the stability of his emotions. Did she still? Had he changed, or was it she? She drove toward the dry cleaner's, mulling over these questions.
She had met Art nearly ten years before, at an evening yoga class she had attended with Wendy. The class was her first attempt in years to exercise. Ruth was naturally thin and didn't have an incentive at first to join a health club. "A thousand bucks a year," she had marveled, "to jump on a machine that makes you run like a hamster in a wheel?" Her preferred form of exercise, she told Wendy, was stress. "Clench muscles, hold for twelve hours, release for a count of five, then clench again." Wendy, on the other hand, had put on thirty-five pounds since her days as a high school gymnast and was eager to get back into shape. "Let's at least take the free fitness test," she said. "No obligation to join."
Ruth secretly gloated when she scored better than Wendy in sit-ups. Wendy cheered aloud at besting Ruth in push-ups. Ruth's body-fat ratio was a healthy twenty-four percent. Wendy's was thirty-seven. "It's the enduring genetics of my Chinese peasant stock," Ruth kindly offered. But then Ruth scored in the "very poor" range for flexibility. "Wow," Wendy remarked. "According to this chart, that's about one point above rigor mortis."
Reprinted from The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2001 by Amy Tan. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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