Pattern Recognition

Jimmy Newborg



Big whirls have little whirls that feed on their velocity

            and little whirls have lesser whirls and so on to viscosity.

 – Lewis Fry Richardson


            The first time Shelly encountered the concept of fractals as an explanation for nature’s patterns was in an advanced textbook she’d checked out from her high school library. Pine trees were used as an example: trees composed of branches composed of branches and so on. Fractals, in their nature, are simple – patterns that repeat themselves on larger and larger scales. It is the structures they create that are complex, mystifying. Such is the case for clouds, which became Shelly’s specialty.

 Clouds are distinctly multi-particular. Conglomerations of water vapor only millimeters across affect the physical pattern and behavior of an entire weather system. More importantly, each particle is a larger iteration of the smaller ones it was made of. Every tiny piece mimics the cloud as a whole.

            A folder lay open on the dorm-room bed in front of Shelly, its pockets brimming with details regarding the fellowship she would be part of during the summer between her first and second year of graduate school. One paper listed the instruments that would be available to her during field research – cloud chambers for the study of microphysical processes, pyranometers to determine cloud coverage and atmospheric conditions.  At 4 PM every day, she and the other fellows would attach radiosondes to the strings of weather balloons and release them all together. 

            Hours earlier, she had arrived at the small, remote college campus which hosted the Richardson Institute for Climate Studies. She hadn't lived in a room so painfully small since her freshman year of college. Like her room then, she had to share it. Each side was positioned and furnished identically. It was a windowless cube; no reason to be glad when she got there first.

            She'd also been given a disc containing imaging software, along with a written tutorial. If Shelly could master the program, it would allow her to replicate a cloud’s labyrinthine inner structure. This was her work – nephology. A photograph on the front page of the tutorial depicted a patch of Lenticular clouds wreathed around a mountaintop in the Chilean Andes. These thick, layered clouds formed when high speed gusts waved over the peaks of mountains.  Shelly remembered stories of people who'd mistaken faraway Lenticulars for UFOs. To her, their shape was like clay, like a vase as it’s formed on a potter's wheel.

            She opened her laptop and slid the disc into it. As it loaded, she unpacked her things. Her roommate would get there soon. Shelly hated the thought of having to hoist herself onto her lofted bed when her roommate was there, of the states of undress her roommate might see her in. Anxiously, she folded size 20 jeans and XL t-shirts into a uniform wooden dresser.

            Julia stood in the doorway of their room, a small girl flanked by suitcases. No more than 5'5, probably less than 120 pounds. Her face was freckled and crowned by blonde dreadlocks.  Julia brought her things to the empty side of their room.

            “I'd expected something bigger,” Shelly said.

            “Oh, I've been in much worse than this,” Julia said. She heaped a pile of folded sheets onto her bare mattress.

            A welcome dinner with the other six fellows and their research supervisors was held that night. Shelly and Julia were the only two women in the program. These numbers were reflected among the supervisors as well.  Shelly spoke little and restrained herself when dessert came, making sure her slice of cheesecake lasted longer than anyone else's. Her peers discussed past courses and internships and drank the free wine. Julia was animated as she told stories of storm chasing, her dreads bounced as she spoke.

            Afterwards, Shelly felt enervated. The other fellows, still giddy from the first day, wanted to go into town.

            “There's this ice cream shop in town where you get it by the ounce. It's supposed to be amazing,” one of the boys said.

            Shelly knew her pace would be slower than the other fellows. She'd lag, and the absence of her weight would be noticeable. Once there, she'd have to carefully choose her order – portions and toppings that weren't extravagant or limited enough to call attention to what she ate. There was the eating of the ice cream itself. People would see.

            “I think I'll stay. Get settled,” she said.

            “But we're all going,” the boy said.

            “Next time,” Shelly said.

            Later, there was a flurry of voices at the front door and then silence. Shelly went to the vending machines in the hallway and examined their offerings. Chips of differing flavors, candy bars, snack mixes, cheese puffs; every item held by pleading metal coils. She slid a bill into the snack machine and selected E5. Another bill. G3. In her room, Shelly opened the imaging software on her laptop. The first welcome dose of salt from the potato chips stroked her tongue as she read through the tutorial.     

            After an hour of data entry and formula configuration, the software drafted an image of the Lenticular clouds' interior composition. Vapor masses were blue, starkly contrasted against white patches of air, like lily pads in a pond. Shelly used the software's highlighting tool to trace the edges of these masses. The same dips and curls traced on the first were visible in the second. Shelly knew that if she were to examine a radiometric photograph of the clouds taken from a satellite, she would find the same patterning around its outer edges.

            Shelly changed into her pajamas in front of the room's full-length mirror. Stretch marks traveled over the pale skin on her midsection – they looked like retinal veins in an eye, like spindly pink rivers and tributaries, like trees arching against the wind. Shelly knew this was no mistake, that this was how nature created herself.

            A few minutes later, the others came in from town. Shelly and Julia's room was at the top of the stairs, just above the common area. Voices from downstairs were hushed but jovial. Something was said about wine, music. Shelly tossed her trash, closed her laptop and got quickly under her covers. One of the boys walked up the stairs and called down that he'd be back in a minute. He returned to the group, the sound of a guitar playing followed shortly after. After two hours there were again footsteps on the stairway.

            “Shh. I think Shelly's asleep,” Julia said, halfway into the room. “See you guys tomorrow.”

            Shelly lay on her side, facing the wall until she was sure Julia was asleep. She then turned, felt the expanse of her stomach spread flat against the mattress.

            Unlike Shelly, Julia had taken a year off after college before continuing her studies. Most of that time was spent chasing tornadoes across the Southwest.

            “I was the only girl, which got a little frustrating sometimes, fighting just not be babied,” she told Shelly on their second day together. “They put us on a Discovery Channel special. I can show you a clip online later if you want.”

            Julia practiced Buddhism. Mornings, Shelly woke to her roommate cross-legged and stiffly postured in the middle of the floor, her breaths deep. Wearing only a sports bra and exercise pants, the outline of her ribs grinned beneath her skin.

            Lunch was a struggle for Shelly. Set up buffet style, all of her favorite foods were near the end of the line. When she walked into the dining hall, she resolved to avoid the food bathed under the orange glow of heat lamps. Regularly she disappointed herself, unable to avoid the fries that begged for salt and ranch dressing, the chicken wrapped in salty batter. She both eagerly waited for and feared the days when they put out cheese sticks.

             During one lunch early in the program, Julia sat at the table with nothing but a glass of water. She squeezed the juice from a lemon wedge into the glass and explained that she was fasting.

            “Every time I fast, I feel like I gain some spiritual power,” she said.  “A little character building when I think I need it.”

            Shelly could not imagine her little roommate ever feeling powerless. She who chased tornadoes, who fought just not to be babied. Shelly's chicken fingers were twisted and plump next to Julia's glass of water, opaque with lemon.

            Wednesdays and Fridays, the fellows were picked up at dawn in all-terrain vehicles and driven an hour from campus into federally protected land. Field research was done primarily in solitude, each student assigned an individual sector for data collection. Shelly's sector was a small, flowery meadow surrounded by woods.

             Mornings were dewy and cool, Shelly could wear a t-shirt with jeans. No tank tops that hugged or shorts that bared cellulite. Shelly was always the first on the porch, before six A.M., listening for the chug of the jeeps.

             Obtaining information from clouds, specific details of their complex physical makeup, their chaotic behavior, was only possible by observing them from all angles. Above the troposphere, satellites weightlessly culled data. Planes strapped with thermal infrared detectors flew through the clouds themselves. Terrestrial exploration was performed with an array of equally innovative devices. Of the most advanced were the Richardson Institute's mobile pyranometers. 

            After proving herself with other machinery during the first three weeks of her time there, Shelly was given use of one of the pyranometers. Before their existence, she would have been constrained to the lab each day of the week, reading data produced by a pyranometer incapable of functioning beyond an electronic base. This machine, sleek and conical, contained two pitch black thermal sensors through which infrared beams were shot simultaneously to the sky and ground. This was how you measured the lightness of the Earth.

             She took her equipment to a tall stalk of grass that waved a plastic pink flag from its tip. She set up the tripod and placed the pyranometer gently into the circular base. She pressed the appropriate button. Green lights on either side of a small, rectangular screen on the face of the device flashed alternately. A frequency sounded.

            The screen should have displayed a measurement between 0 and 1 after sixty seconds, a number that would represent the amount of radiation from the sun that breached the ozone layer. The lower the number, the cooler the Earth. Over twenty years of data collected by previous fellows showed the area had brightened, warmed. For climate change to be considered a pattern, conclusive data must show it developing over thirty years. Shelly watched the machine. In digital text, the screen read NODATA.

            The day before had brought a storm. Cumulus humilis, fair weather clouds, gapped by pristine blue, moved swiftly across the sky in its wake. The fluctuation of air pressure causing the clouds to move so turbidly sullied the device's internal logic.  Mobile pyranometers were advanced but highly sensitive. She adjusted the position of the tripod. The rustling she made flushed a small flock of thrushes from the grass several feet away.

            Shelly understood what the previous data meant. Clouds were drifting higher from Earth. For years, experts on global warming had been uncertain what role the clouds might play in the planet's changing. Humanity destroyed forests, built factories, altered the balance of gasses in the atmosphere that clouds had once been solely responsible for moving. For some years there had been question as to whether environmental changes would bring the clouds closer to the Earth, shading it from the dangers of a ruptured atmosphere, or if they’d rise, broadening that danger. Many scientists referred to this question as “the greatest uncertainty.”

 Spreadsheets of numbers from past researchers told Shelly that, like the thrushes that ribboned beneath the cumulus humilis, the clouds were rising out of fear; out of confusion of the activity below them. She thought of the laughter from the common room on the first night.

            The pyranometer produced a number. Dutifully, Shelly struggled to gather her measurements at other flagged points in the field. After several miscalculations in a row, she took a break and ate her lunch. Cumulus still moved quickly across the sky, probably hundreds of feet higher than they would have been fifteen years before. Uncertainty faded. Meadows warmed.

            An hour later Shelly was measuring at a blue flag near the eastern edge of the field. She heard movement from the thick of the woods and hoped it was a deer, some chance encounter with nature.  It was Julia, a billow of orange peasant skirt among the trees.

            “So this is Shelly's meadow,” she said.

            She reached out, grazed the tips of grasses and wildflowers with her fingers. Sweat shimmered on Julia's forehead. Shelly remembered something she'd said about fasting, how it aided the body in releasing toxins through sweat. 

            “It's beautiful here,” Julia said, as if it was Shelly who had cultivated the meadow's growth.

            Julia bent down and plucked a buttercup from the ground. She held it beneath her face. Petals cast their yellow light onto her chin.

            “Did you do this when you were a kid?”

            Shelly had. When she was a little girl, she went on a family trip to colonial Williamsburg. She and a cousin had played in a field near a stone farmhouse while their parents toured the inside. Her cousin showed her the trick of the buttercups by taking one and running its spotlight along Shelly's forearm.

            “They are made of the sun,” her cousin told her. “They make you look pretty.”

            Shelly asked Julia if she knew why buttercups glowed.  

            “It's the different surfaces in their epidermis,” Shelly said. “They're reflective, and there's a layer of starch underneath that makes the light the same yellow as the flower. So they stand out for the bees.”

            Julia spun the flower's shine under her chin.  “I wish you would hang out with us more,” she said.

            Julia stayed in the field with Shelly. She held the tripod in place and helped Shelly determine the correct angle based on the position of the sun. They finished at 4:30, with only fifteen minutes to collect their things and meet the vehicles. Shelly was upset when they arrived late, and the only seat left for her was in the back of one of the jeeps.

            “You  missed out on shotgun this time,” one of the boys said as she joined him in the vehicle. “Welcome to the back.”

            She squeezed herself in, conscious of how soft her thighs were, how they

            Exhausted from the day, her body insisted on comfort, insisted she relax and allow herself to almost doze. Half-conscious, she imagined her meadow. The buttercups; the fair weather clouds.  Twenty-seven years of data showed what patterns had developed. If the presence of the sun increased from the distancing clouds, the light reflected by the flowers must also be brighter. If the damage were to accelerate, if the world's end were to come quickly, she wondered, would the flowers turn to orbs of light on their stems?

            That night, Shelly was up late. She worked with the software, trying to create a graphic that would illustrate the configuration of the fair weather clouds from the day with Julia in the meadow. Because the measurements were much smaller, taken at various points in a small space, using the data collected from the mobile pyranometer was far more difficult than the data from the tutorial she'd completed the first night. These images were to be the backbone of her final presentation.

            Julia slept across the room. Curled up, fastened under the covers, she took up little space on the bed. Shelly imagined that life, the security that must come from being able to wrap yourself up so easily.

            Shelly closed the program and opened a search engine on the internet. She entered: Fasting +Buddhism, she entered.  No references to a specific practice came up in any of the articles she first read. There were descriptions of suffering, of silence, of the monastic life. Suffering she knew. Silence she knew. What she ached to find was its reward. She thought of Julia's lemon-water. I gain some spiritual power. Before Julia, Shelly had never thought of her overeating as a weakness. It was just something at the peripheries of her life, the hand that went back and forth from the bag while she studied.

            Among the links on the second page of search results, there was a site devoted to an ascetic practice called dhutanga. Dhutanga involved many rituals designed to inspire reflection but Shelly skimmed the text for its instructions on eating.  The practitioner's only meal occurred before noon each day for three weeks, with the meal getting smaller each time. If done properly, one emerges from their fast reminded that food's only purpose is to nourish the body. A sliding-scale, the article said. A cascade.

Decades of research had proven that Earth's atmosphere was governed by a series of cascade-like processes. Weather systems the span of continents fed their structure to all they encompassed: from a lone cumulus humilis above a meadow to the littlest zephyr of air that whirred at its heart. Should the little zephyr shift in some way, the effect would permeate.

            One hundred years before Shelly began her time at the Institute, Lewis Fry Richardson stood over a lake in his native England and watched its eddies whirl the tiny leaves of a torn up parsnip he'd dropped onto the surface. It was then that the origins of this knowledge about the atmosphere were developed. Richardson saw in the arcs and circles of every leaf a similar rhythm; a pattern.

            When studying alone or walking the meadow, Shelly often thought gravely of the conditions of the atmosphere. If scientists had understood it better back then, during Richardson's time or even decades later at the time the Institute started, her data might not read so grimly. But as Shelly read of dhutanga, as Julia slept in peace across the room, it was a different sliding-scale process that struck her.

            Her first night at the Institute, while the other fellows laughed with each other below her, Shelly had read online about the body's hormonal structure. Like the great weather system, the human pituitary gland contained within it a physical and behavioral architecture passed down to the first hormone it released, and again to the hormone set forth by that one. And so on. Similar to how harmful emissions from a factory might alter the makeup of a cloud and therefore the larger structure it belonged to, the tiniest aberration in the hormones' cascade from the pituitary gland could change the body that enclosed it. It could accelerate or stunt growth. Make your body susceptible to weight retention until people are calling you an ingredient, fat.


            Every other week the fellows had Thursdays off. On the first free day the other students had taken a day trip to a nearby lake, one offer of many that Shelly declined. But nearly two months into the program, the fellows were retreating. Spreadsheets needed processing, reports were due. The final presentation loomed. Conversation and laughter from the common room grew rarer. Comfortable in the newly brooding atmosphere, Shelly was happy not to have to say no anymore. It surprised her when Julia told her they were going to the lake again.

            “Does anyone even have time for that?” Shelly asked.

            “We're making the time,” Julia said. “We might not have another chance. You have to come. A swim sounds so good right now.”

            Shelly thought of when she was fifteen and her mother had forced her to go on a beach trip with her class. She kept a pair of denim shorts over her blue one-piece and sat on her towel as far away from everyone as possible but eventually the other kids got bored and started passing her, one by one. Shelly the whale, they would mutter then run off for the next person's turn. Shelly the whale, Shelly the whale.

            Julia stood in the doorway,  a slender arm braced against the frame. The shirt she wore was a sheer enough white that her purple bikini top was visible beneath it. Shelly remembered how that afternoon in her sophomore year of high school it was the other kids in her class who had looked so big, blocking the sunlight as they passed.

“I didn't bring a swimsuit,” Shelly said. “And I have to work on my project. I've been having trouble with the software.”

            “Just come,” Julia said. “We'll all be glued to our work for the next three weeks.”

            Shelly knew that if she excluded herself it would bring her more attention. Julia would tell everyone about how she'd pressed, how Shelly still refused to spend any time with them. 

             “Let me change,” Shelly said.

            Before leaving the room to wait for her, Julia paused and said, “You should be free with your body, Shelly. You're beautiful.”

            Shelly's face reddened. Until then, the best thing about growing up had been that people learned to think things, not say them; not force them into the open spaces. The van was already waiting outside by the time she changed into shorts and a t-shirt and wrapped a towel at her waist. The fellows left the front seat of the van empty for her.

            The lake's seclusion was worth the small hike it took to get there, worth even the large sweat marks that bloomed under her arms for everyone to see. Everyone else had sweat stains too. Nobody really talked on the hike, Shelly didn't need to keep up too close or look at anything but the trees. Like when she'd dozed in the back seat after using the pyranometer, it was easy to relax when they got to the beach. The sand was cool and its landscape sparse with shrubs,  nothing like the sun-drenched beach she'd visited with her school many years before.

            The other fellows undressed. Like when she meditated in the mornings, Julia's ribs were visible beneath her skin as she arched her back to lift her shirt. Shelly reached a hand around her side and felt for her own ribs. It took a small force to brush against their hard surface with her fingertips. It hurt.

            “Come skip stones,” one of the boys said to her.

            This was Teddy, shirtless and scrawny. Physics was his specialty. Without noticing it, she'd spread  her towel far from the others. She joined them at the lake's edge. Young scientists, they knew what qualities to look for in a rock. Something flat and light enough for solid ballistic motion; that could create a large enough plain of water for it to bounce.

            “Too fat,” one of the boys said, chucking a heavy rock into the lake.

            Shelly blushed but no one was looking at her. The other fellows were bent down, inspecting the shore. She engrossed herself in her own search and soon they all had little piles of rocks at their feet. They raced their stones against each other, learned from one another's techniques.

            “Here, it's all about the flick of the wrist,” Teddy showed her.

            He put his hand on her wrist, adjusted its position. The rock she tossed afterwards skipped across the water five times before sinking. Shelly almost wished she had brought a bathing suit with her; she was hot under her t-shirt's sun-warmed fabric.

            When the stone skipping ended, the other fellows started getting into the water. Shelly stopped when the water was at her ankles.

            “Aren't you going to swim?” one of the boys asked.

            “I didn't bring a suit, I'll just keep my feet wet,” Shelly said.

            “How can you feel this water and not want to dive into it?” Julia said.  “Keep your shirt on if you have to.”

            All of the fellows were treading water in a half circle, facing her like an aquatic tribunal. Julia gave Shelly a look that asked her to remember what she'd said about being free with her body, as if it was an encouragement Shelly had asked for. Julia dipped into the water and came back up. Shelly started to back out of the water.

            “It's just us, Shelly,” Teddy said.

            “I'll stay here,” Shelly said.

            But she didn't. She left the water to sit on her towel. As usual she had a candy bar and a bag of chips in her backpack. The other fellows swam, the boys vied for Julia's scantily clad attention.

            Scientists like Lewis Richardson and those after him had the perception to look at the sky and see something different, something less random than its appearance suggested. Before his discovery, it was believed that a cloud existed in the realm of Euclidean geometry, that it could be measured the same way as a manmade pool or a glass of water. A cloud's true shape, like most organic structures, is elusive, nearly indefinable. 

            It was easier for people to measure by what they saw. Not the hidden zephyrs of air or the embryonic pituitary gland. People said “be free with your body.” They said “It's just us.” Shelly knew what they meant. Why try to hide what everybody could see?

            Shelly closed her laptop. Feeling the calm of the late hour she got slowly from her bed and walked to the vending machine.  She took two candy bars to the bathroom and sat in one of the stalls.  For the second night in a row, she carried out her new ritual. 

            One, two, three, four, she counted the chews of her first bite up to thirty. The next, twenty-five. She counted to ten between the second and third bite, to twenty between the third and fourth. Several minutes later, when the first bar was gone, she left the stall. She held the other one over the trash and crushed it in her hand until the chocolate oozed from the wrapper, then she threw it away.

             While Julia took her post-meditation shower the next morning, Shelly returned to the vending machines and bought a bag of nacho-cheese flavored chips. She ate five of them in her room and then tucked the bag into a dresser drawer. After morning lab-work was over she went back to her room and ate four. At lunch she started with the healthiest options, counting out tongfuls of spinach and spoons of cantaloupe. By the time she reached the heat lamp section the pattern allowed for only one item.

            One of the first papers Shelly wrote on cloud activity was about cloud-seeding experiments performed by the British Royal Air Force following World War II. Pilots calling themselves rainmakers dropped loads of dry ice, salt and silver iodide into clouds over rural England, not far from where Richardson had performed his research thirty years earlier. Hopes were that they could learn how to cause thunderstorms that would impede their enemies in future conflicts. The clouds couldn't handle it. On August 15, 1952, 90-million tons of water flooded the town of Lynmouth. Buildings were destroyed; thirty-five British citizens were killed.

            For years, Shelly had allowed fat from chips and candy bars to cling to her every particle like dangerous silver iodide in a cloud. The last bag of chips Shelly purchased from the vending machine during her time as a Richardson Fellow took three days to finish. At the final lunch she ended her battle with the heat lamp section when she passed it up entirely.

            Her final presentation contained half the images and charts of the other fellows. She informed her audience of things they already knew about the rising of the Earth's temperature. When she finished and took her seat her face held the same placid expression as those around her.

             The night before her departure, while the other fellows had been out at the Italian restaurant in town, Shelly had stuffed the majority of her clothing into a garbage bag and thrown it into the dumpster. She had already dropped one pant size. With her arms wrapped around the plushy bag, she thought of her own body, of what she was ready to cast off.

            She took a shower. For three months she'd stepped in an out of these tiled stalls each night. Just like when she'd watched Julia sleep and imagined her tiny body on the bed, she thought of Julia in the shower, how much more space she would have. Water puddled near her feet. She wanted to be part of it, to be a droplet that would later evaporate into a cloud. A thread in a quilt. Shelly felt no one deserved to take up as much space as she had throughout her life.

             When she got back home from the fellowship, she would buy expensive creams to erase her stretch marks, to flood their banks and smooth them over.

            After a two hour ride to the closest airport, the fellows diverged but not before Julia pulled Shelly aside and said, “I hope you had a least a little fun this summer.”

             Nimbostratus.  Altocumulus. Cumulus humilis. Stratocirrus. From the plane's window Shelly witnessed the glide of each cloud type as she flew across the country, unable to feel like it wasn't a goodbye.

*                      *                      *

            Hunger echoes through Shelly's stomach and she sighs. It always feels like a setback, like she's expected to have beaten it forever each time. She drinks twelve ounces of water and eats one fourth of a granola bar.  An hour and a half before her shift at the mall starts, she walks an extra mile to the farthest bus stop she knows how to get to from her apartment.

            Shelly works at a calendar store. Directly across from the register the calendar on display is called  Our Nation's Great Trees. This month, October, features the white pine, pinus strobus.  She's reminded that if she wants her tuition money back she needs to have a withdrawal form to her school's registrar's office by the fifteenth. As of that morning her email inbox contained two messages sent  over the last few weeks with the subject: ATTENDANCE NOTICE.

            She'd had a job before the program. Part-time secretarial work at a small insurance company. But she was starting new. Applying for jobs at the mall, she ignored her class schedule when filling out her availability. 7 AM to 11 PM, seven days a week.

            It's payday at the calendar store so Shelly spends her lunch hour shopping. At a small, trendy chain store Shelly examines a rack of dresses. She ignores anything with too bold a pattern or that reveals too much skin.

            The dresses she brings into the changing room are all a size six.  She strips to her underwear. She takes time in the mirror to zone in on places of displeasure – her dwindling but still present love-handles, her thighs still baggy with cellulite. She frowns at her upper arms, sagging, as if  they were protesting the increasing leanness that surrounded them. She spends nearly all of her paycheck on three identical knit dresses in blue, green and a pale yellow. 

            Shelly remembers the day in the field with Julia, the buttercup. She remembers the pleasant weather and scenery. On the bus ride from the mall she daydreams, imagines herself as a pool of  water.  She evaporates from the ground into the sky, becomes a thread in the quilting of a cloud. This is the closest thing she's had to a thought about her previous work in days.

            At home, she's surprised to see a new email in her inbox. From Julia. Fellowship Pictures, its subject reads. To the right of the message is a little graphic of a paperclip. She clicks the email open.  I finally found my memory card from this summer. Sorry it took four months! P.S. Shelly, how have you been? Haven't heard from you since the program.

            The pictures are in thumbnails at the bottom of the email. The first is a group shot: all six Fellows crowded in front of the dorm house. Even in this miniature version of the photo Shelly stands out in the middle, splitting the small group like a boulder. There are a few pictures from the lake, including one of she and Julia smiling together. Shelly closes her laptop.

            Shelly tried meditation once, a few days after returning home from the Institute. Directed by a video online, Shelly sat cross-legged with her back straight, palms on her knees. She breathed deeply, focused on the different parts of her face so that she might clear her mind. Your nose, your cheeks, your forehead, a monk's voice hummed from her computer. There was a quick moment of surprise that it was working and then a leaden semi-consciousness.

            Something went awry. A manic feeling spread from beneath her solar plexus, as if something very important had dislodged and was now leaking heat throughout her body. She felt herself cave downward. Her forehead was sweaty against her ankles. Over her knees, her hands shook. She fought to recapture the use of her mind. When she broke free, she rushed to the bathroom and dry heaved. She understood meditation was not the path for her.

            Every  night, Shelly sleeps in one of her old t-shirts. It billows over her body. Under the covers, she curls her knees to her chest, reminding herself that her body is diminishing, her shape is elusive.

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Jimmy Newborg 's short stories have previously appeared online at Art Faccia and Little Fiction. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.