I pull down the blanket, then the sheet, and tuck it around the hips. It's love, pure and simple; the same love you feel when you zip up your child's jacket against the cold of winter.
Here, in the complicated space between the scapulae and spine, are rage and disappointment. I lay my thumbs in the precise center of the lower triangles of the scapulae; and there is the agony of pride. I move my fingers to the striations of the deltoids. This is a gentler woe, the long soft lamentation of vanity.
I read, with my fingers, how tightly the skin adheres. That tells me at once: how afraid is this person? An anxious skin clutches tight to what's underneath.
And then here, in the bunched muscles that rise from shoulder to neck, is the love of God: I hold there, and I can feel it coursing, weak or strong, under my fingertips.
A perfect body is not a perfect person. We live in a time too prone to conflate health and goodness. As a therapist I may want those muscles to let go. But don't mistake a lolling head for virtue.
Gently the head relaxes into my hands. Here, in two thimble spaces under the skull, is the whole story of grief. This is where the shadow of everything lost lingers on, like snow in the northward hollow at the foot of a tree. Listen, there, with one finger in each space, and they will tell you about lovers lost, children quarreled with, a favorite watch gone missing after a harrowing weekend. It's all there.
Follow the narrative, written in a turning scrawl between the ribs. The coda of the diaphragm. Cover the back, visit the glutes, and move on.
There are hidden clauses, reservations, and footnotes in the flesh of the inner thigh, just above the knees: the residue of old, poisonous stories, never believed but never forgotten.
And so to the feet, where it is all recapitulated, written small. At last the thumbs go of their own accord to the space under the balls of the feet, and there it is again, the grief met in the hollows under the skull. Just hold. It needn't always be stroking and kneading and pushing. In my end is my beginning.
Never mind: they won't see it if my eyes fill with tears. Cover the feet. Like tucking a child into bed.
"Thank you," I murmur. And then, "take your time." And I leave the room, careful not to look back as I close the door.