The smell of roasting coffee wafted across the street and mixed with the aroma of patchouli incense in the yoga studio. Having stretched and contorted themselves into a state of enlightenment, the women in the Gaia Yoga and Women’s Holistic Wellness Center sat in the cool-down phase of their morning meditation. The return to the temporal plane of existence followed a similar script every day.
“You are surrounded by white light,” the instructor said. “You are a goddess. Release your inner goddess.”
Daphne Tremayne sat among the women and smiled at the suggestion. I am a goddess, she thought.
“You are a bodhisattva,” the instructor intoned. “You are the daughter of Gaia.”
Through squinted eyes Daphne glimpsed at the women surrounding her. A floor to ceiling mirror ran the entire length of the wall behind the instructor and Daphne peeked at her own reflection. I am a goddess, she thought.
“You are a priestess of Sophia, the mother of wisdom,” the instructor chanted.
As a final mantra, the women intoned “Gaia!” in unison, elongating the vowel sounds.
“I’m a goddess,” Daphne whispered.
“People, just a couple of things before you go,” the yoga instructor announced. “The juice bar and aroma therapy spa will be closing at two o’clock today because of the protest in front of Village Hall. Also, I’m told that the sacrament of menstruation began this morning with our sister Zoë. If anyone needs a special blessing, please approach her afterwards for a hug.”
Daphne made her way to the juice bar, ordered a carrot and pomegranate frappe, and took a seat next to Lauren Wasserman. She preferred the company of sister goddesses like Lauren rather than the frumpy soccer moms who frequented the wellness center. Lauren was the very image of finishing-school perfection, yet her beauty and grace were overshadowed by melancholy and guilt. Daphne enjoyed being seen with her and half-listened as she began her daily lamentation.
“My husband simply refuses to visit,” she said plaintively. “He says he has too much work in the city.”
“He must be very busy,” Daphne said with absent-minded detachment.
“He said that he might come for the Fourth of July, but I don’t believe him,” Lauren added.
“He’s very successful,” Daphne said vapidly. “You must be so proud of him.”
Lauren rolled her eyes. “Are you serious?” she said. “I don’t even know him anymore.”
“You have such a beautiful home,” Daphne said mindlessly as she admired her reflection in a mirror hanging behind the juice bar.
Lauren wasn’t sure Daphne really understood the depth of her angst. She looked down at her melting cantaloupe smoothie. “I’m so depressed,” she said and began to cry.
Daphne looked away from her reflection and realized that the other women in the juice bar were looking at Lauren with concern. Immediately, Daphne took Lauren’s hands in her own.
“Don’t cry, Lauren,” Daphne said soothingly. “I won’t let you go through this alone. You know you can lean on me.”
“Really?” Lauren said, encouraged by Daphne’s warmth.
“Of course!” Daphne replied. She shot a quick glance around the juice bar before looking empathetically into Lauren’s eyes. “There’s no need to suffer alone. I’m here for you.”
For the next half hour Lauren repeated the litany of anxieties that plagued her. In addition to her loveless marriage, Lauren lamented over the plight of starving children in Africa and of the unjust conditions in Tibet. She fretted about the dwindling dolphin population and the shrinking rainforests. She daubed tears from her eyes as she spoke of hurricanes, earthquakes, and tsunamis. To Daphne, the conversation seemed to last an eternity. She wondered how long she would have to pretend she really cared.
“So you see, Daphne,” Lauren finally said, “I feel so guilty about it all. I can’t help but feel that it’s all my fault.”
Daphne sensed it was time to say something reassuring. “But you’re a goddess!” she said. “It’s not your fault.”
“Oh, Daphne! Don’t you realize the planet is dying around us?” Lauren cried. “What have I done to save Mother Earth from such an agonizing death? I’m so ashamed!”
“But you do your part,” Daphne replied. “You recycle, right?”
“It’s not enough!” Lauren sobbed.
“Well, you compost, don’t you?” Daphne offered encouragingly. “That’s very important for the environment.”
“But there is so much more I should do,” Lauren moaned. “What about the ice caps, Daphne? The polar bears are drowning!”
“You need to think globally and act locally,” Daphne said inanely.
Lauren looked up and noticed that Penny and LuluBelle, two persistently coercive community organizers, had entered the juice bar. Their activist organization had been trying of late to force the Village government to switch to environmentally friendly sources of energy and they were currently making the rounds hoping to drum up more support for the cause. Daphne fell silent as the two approached.
“Are either of you going to the protest today?” Penny barked. She unnervingly glowered at them with steely grey eyes. It was hard to tell her age on account of her close cropped crew-cut and taut, leathery skin. Her frame was lean, almost skeletal. Daphne noticed a rainbow button pinned to her shirt.
“I can’t,” Lauren said. “I have a workman coming to the house. I’m having electrical work done.”
“You’re having e-lec-tri-cal work done!” LuluBelle repeated in menacing staccato. She seemed younger and much heavier than Penny and wore a black tank top over black paratrooper pants bloused into high-top leather combat boots. Her hair was quaffed into a large afro and her lips were pulled into a perpetual snarl. To top things off, her eyes were hidden behind a pair of aviator sunglasses.
“Uh…, yes,” Lauren affirmed. “In fact, the workman is coming very soon,” she said, checking her watch. “I have to go.”
“Won’t you sign the petition, at least?” Penny asked, proffering a clipboard.
“Sure,” Lauren replied. “Anything I can do to help the cause.” She signed the petition without reading it. As she did, LuluBelle looked at her signature and gave a derisive snort.
Penny pressed a leaflet into Lauren’s hand. “We’re taking donations,” she said.
“Fantastic!” Lauren exclaimed. “I’ll write you a check tomorrow.”
“Don’t think you can buy your way out of your social responsibilities, sister!” LuluBelle bellowed. “You need to take po-li-ti-cal action!”
Every eye in the juice bar now fell on Lauren and Daphne, and a number of women began to murmur in agreement with Penny and LuluBelle. Lauren wanted to leave, but LuluBelle blocked her way.
“What about you?” Penny demanded, turning to Daphne. “Are you going to the protest?”
“I can’t,” Daphne declared. “I have to work.”
“Is your personal life so important that you can’t spare a few hours to save the planet?” Penny demanded.
Daphne sensed that Penny and LuluBelle were not the kind of people who respected goddesses, and she resented being put on the spot in front of so many people.
“You don’t know anything about me!” Daphne challenged. “I’m very environmentally conscious!”
“I know damn well that you’re married to Vincent Tremayne, the oil man!” Penny fired back.
“Oil man!” LuluBelle snarled with disgust.
A few women in the growing crowd started muttering the word ‘oil’ under their breath.
Daphne looked around and saw the angry faces of women who, up until a few moments before, looked upon her as a bodhisattva. She began to tremble as she tried to think of some quick rejoinder. In a rising voice, Daphne blurted out, “Tremayne Fuels is environmentally friendly!”
A hush fell over the crowd. Penny and LuluBelle looked at one another in wide-eyed disbelief and burst out laughing. Red-faced, Daphne glared at them in exasperation.
As the laughter subsided, Penny said for all to hear, “Oil is evil!”
“Evil!” LuluBelle repeated.
Penny redoubled her harangue. “Your husband sells oil to the Village at a premium,” she said. “The library… Village Hall… the court house…, all heated with oil. Tremayne oil! Your husband is destroying the environment at the people’s expense!”
Daphne was dumbstruck.
“Tell me,” Penny challenged. “If Tremayne Fuels is so environmentally friendly, what exactly has your husband done to reduce the Village’s carbon footprint?”
Lauren pushed passed LuluBelle and made for the door. Daphne stood alone and seemed to hear every woman in the juice bar uttering ‘carbon footprint’ under their breath. In a quaking rage, she turned and followed Lauren towards the exit. On her way out, she passed the aroma therapy spa where women shot her angry glances and whispered ‘carbon footprint’ just loud enough for her to hear. She pushed the front door open with an angry shove and stepped onto the sidewalk. Lauren was nowhere in sight. Her mind swirled as the words carbon footprint echoed in her head.