We were so pleased with the response. Congratulations to the winners, and good luck for next year!
I eased myself onto the oversized seat. My back popped and my knees locked up, but I clutched my goodies tight. A few kernels of popcorn sprinkled the floor and I nodded to my assist dog, Sally. “All yours, girl.”
The stiff chair didn’t offer as much comfort as my old recliner, but I hadn’t been to a movie in years. I was determined to enjoy it. At fifteen dollars a ticket I’d have to. I knew prices had gone up, but the concession was so high there should have been gold in the popcorn.
I got extra butter to stick it to them. Piled on the salt and took enough napkins to wipe my mouth for the next year too.
The ex would have glared at me at me. Not that she would have dared to leave her couch. Her precious Netflix shows widened her ass as fast as my injury grew my gut. I shook my head at the thought. I missed being able to walk without pain. Found myself hating the joggers I drove past on the way here.
At least the divorce is almost done. I shook my head and jammed a handful of popcorn in my mouth. The salt danced on my tongue. I gulped my drink letting the cherry coke dissolve the popcorn and fizz before swallowing.
Now I can at least enjoy some of my life again. I patted Sally on the head. She rested her face on my lap and I sat back thinking of all I’d missed out on since I got married.
“No bacon on the pizza if you want me to eat it.” The first time she said that, it was cute. After twenty years of marriage it felt like prison.
I grinned to think of how I handled her walking out on me. “You’re not the same anymore, Chuck!” she shouted.
I can’t believe I was so mad at the time. “Of course I’m not.” I slapped my leg. “I can’t do the shit I love anymore.”
“I can’t do this anymore. All we ever do is fight.”
“Only because you won’t accept me as I am. Sickness and health were just ideas to you, huh?” I’d growled.
She stormed out and I ordered and extra-large pizza with triple bacon.
At least now I can die happy, I told myself, shoved more popcorn in my mouth and belched loud enough to make the kids behind me giggle.
I turned to wave at them. “I haven’t been to a movie in years.”
A little five year old girl waved back, but her mom ignored me.
Just like Jillian.
When not arguing, she had pretended I didn’t exist. The pain in my leg stabbed all the way up my spine and she just ignored my groans. I should’ve known not to trust her. She didn’t even like dogs. I can barely trust people who don’t like dogs or at least cats, and she didn’t like any animals.
“We can’t have a dog destroying our nice home,” her fighting words came right after the wedding.
“You loved, Willis.” I gaped at her. “He was the best. Slept at the foot of the bed to keep my toes warm. And I never had to clean up spilled food. He made a perfect vacuum.”
Jillian rolled her eyes.
My loyal buddy was laid to rest in the backyard just before our wedding. He was there now, rotting under the manicured lawn I worked so hard to keep up to my wife’s standards.
“He was nice.” She had scoffed at me. “But named after a terrible actor.”
I could accept pizza without bacon and didn’t really want to replace my awesome dog, but there was no compromising with a woman who insulted Bruce Willis, no matter how type-cast he is sometimes.
Out of duty and the nature of societal pressure, I somehow got through it. Two decades I endured that…that woman. I shoved another handful of popcorn in my mouth. Kernels littered my belly. I tried to grab the ones that fell into the cracks of my seat but they escaped my clutches.
I bent forward to try and contain the mess. A fart squeezed out of me. I sat up and looked around.
No one said anything, but the couple a few seats down got up and moved further away.
More room for me, I guess. I fanned my nose.
Sally lay down and rested on my foot.
“No woman was ever as good to me as you.” I carefully leaned forward clenching my butt to keep kamikaze gas at bay. “Go ahead.” I waved at the popcorn on the floor and she munched it.
The lights went down and the screen filled with sweaty bodies. They morphed to a woman buttoning her jeans over gaunt hips, then cut forward to a car racing along a sea-side road. I squinted and scratched my head. A single line whispered at the end. The breathy voice confirmed that I had survived yet another unbearable perfume commercial.
And people wonder why no one pays attention to this junk. I laughed to myself. They’re more useless than ever. Anything that’s gonna sell doesn’t need commercials. I marveled at the shiny smiles plastered on the people onscreen.
Jillian hated commercials almost as much as I did, at least. Netflix got that right, but they’ll probably be running ads soon too. Just like cable. The whole point of buying that was originally to avoid ads in the middle of a show, but then the providers wanted more money and killed that dream.
I rubbed my pocket, glad to have a thicker wallet without Jillian. What had started out as seven or eight dollars a month became added packages, more streaming services. Hulu. HBO. All the networks wanted to suck me dry. They left little to help with the doctor bills after the accident.
I had grown so indifferent to new shows: Amazon originals, Netflix series. They lacked something, but I couldn’t describe what. My inability to articulate the emptiness of flat storylines and mass media consumption annoyed Jillian to the point that she wouldn’t watch anything with me.
I guess I had grown a little cynical. But who wouldn’t?
I happily turned to books for entertainment. The classics were still there full of intelligible ideas and characters so real they became trusted friends. This movie was it, the one I had been waiting for, for half a decade. Hollywood finally got off the remake/nostalgia-porn train and put stock into new stories again.
Based on the book of all books, it couldn’t fail me. The story felt so real I empathized with the characters more than the woman I had married.
Thinking of all the attempts I made to get her to read the book still made me shake his head. “Just try the first page and if it doesn’t hook you, I’ll leave you alone.”
A callous cloud darkened the hue of her hazel eyes. She shrugged me off. How could something that meant so much to me not even interest her a little?
I despised how easy it was to imagine her─leaning against the arm of the couch─controller in hand. Her finger hovered over the play button to resume binge-watching her favorite garbage.
I froze in my seat. For a moment, I feared I would reawaken to the nuptial nightmare. But the theater screen plastered a PG-13 rating before us all. My breathing steadied, and the previews began.
I zoned out during scenes for the next big comedy flick. It looked like something from Idiocracy. Poop jokes, and stupid faces were all the comedic world had to offer? I couldn’t accept that. I cracked my knuckles and rubbed my knee.
The other trailers were a circus of explosions, women crying, men screaming, and a one giant eyed alien. None of them impressed me. I checked my phone to see how long we’ve been waiting. Twenty-minutes. I paid to watch twenty minutes of ads trying to get me to watch or buy something else.
I forgot why I even decided to go to a movie.
A hum of hushed voices surrounded me. I scanned the shadowed heads, wondering what they would think of the film. At least this movie will be different.
Sally smacked her lips and rested her chin against my ankles.
I shoved more popcorn in my mouth and gulped some soda. I sloshed the cold liquid around my teeth like mouthwash.
Mouthwash. My old morning routine came to mind like a movie on the screen. Jillian rolling away from me before I could kiss her.
“Morning breath.” She moaned.
She never kissed me unless my teeth were perfectly polished and my mouth was minty fresh. I grew to resent peppermint. I despised fluoride.
I grabbed the mouthwash and stared at its alcohol content. I couldn’t decide if drinking the entire bottle would get me drunk or kill me but either seemed like a nice solution. Anything to stop Jillian from complaining again.
I wondered if any cases of death-by-mouthwash existed. I contemplated experimenting. If it would have gotten her to admit she was wrong, I would have died a perfect martyr.
Now glad to be a survivor, I wore the recollection like a badge of honor. I fought and endured. And now, I have won.
I scratched my receding hairline, glad to be rid of her constant suggestions for fixing that too. I didn’t want to be fixed. Nothing would stop time. Nothing could fix my age or what life had done to me.
I blinked hard. A video filled with cute disabled kids played, asking the audience to turn off their phones. I silenced mine and pushed it back in my pocket but all around, the glow of cell phones flashed like lightning bugs on steroids.
I couldn’t understand it. The theatre had been completely devoid of the damn things until the commercial mentioned them. Now everyone seemed to be checking texts and emails.
I leaned over my seat and squinted at what was so important to the lady adjacent to me. Bad idea. Bile rose in my throat. My ass twitched. My spit turned sour as the image of a veiny dick implanted itself in my brain.
God strike me blind! I rubbed his eyes. My hands shook, but I managed to grip my soda and suck more down.
“Oh, yeah. It’s finally out,” a nasal voice sounded from behind me.
Everyone sat still, busy wearing out their thumbs typing. Maybe they’ll be done when the movie starts, I hoped, but not even the up-tempo song, or the comical opening credits deterred them.
My mouth went dry. My heart beat slowed to a hard angry thump. No one said anything.
No one was going to stop them.
I grabbed my cane and forced myself up. “I’ve waited too long for this.”
The brilliant illumination of angry faces sat framed with the glow of the screen.
“If you’re not going to watch the damn movie, then go home. I paid too much to sit here while you all ruin the show.”
A couple of people clapped, some turned off their phones and slumped in their seats.
It worked. I jerked my head from side to side. I’d never felt so good. I was a hero. I had stood up for myself, my rights, and the rights of all mankind.
I stuck out my chest, stretched my chin forward, and drew an enormous breath. They were listening to me. I needed to take the opportunity and further educate them, since no one else would.
“And you know what? I wonder how many of you even read the book. You do know how to read, don’t you? Or are you too busy binge-watching your precious Netflix shows?”
Sally pawed at my leg and let out a low woof. She nipped at my elbow. I know I should have stopped and watched my movie, but I was trying to confront injustice. I couldn’t help myself.
“Excuse me sir.”
My heart froze and I turned toward the voice. A flashlight blinded my eyes and I held my hand up to deflect the glare.
“I’m going to have to ask you to sit down and be quiet, or you’ll have to leave.”
My body went cold. A couple of people clapped and I found it difficult to swallow. “Maybe I should go.” I grabbed my cane. But the little girl behind me, the very one who laughed when I burped stood and grabbed my hand.
“No Mr. Guy. You should watch this. It will be fun.”
Her mom grimaced. “Jilly baby, sit down.” She pulled her back.
“Jilly?” I asked.
The little girl nodded.
I apologized to everyone and sat back down. “You have a beautiful name,” I whispered over my shoulder.
I loved bacon. Loved my dog. I had loved my wife for a time. I contemplated that as the movie played.
The acting fell flat. All the best lines never came. My eyelids grew heavy and I nearly fell asleep in public like some kind of retirement home escapee.
I yawned and glanced around when the movie was over.
“Did you like it?” The lights went up and little Jilly smiled with curls tickling her chubby cheeks. “It was so fun.”
“It was perfect.” I waved to her and her mom forced out a smile.
“Okay honey, it’s time to go.” She ushered her away, but I stretched and scratched my knees.
Sally prompted me to rise. My stomach rumbled.
I stood and gasped at the shooting pain that hit my left arm. It burned a bit too, worse than my knee ever plagued me. “Come on girl. Let’s get some quadruple bacon pizza on the way home.”
We got the pizza on the way home. I sat in my chair and licked the grease from my fingers before the pain in my arm climbed to my chest and knocked me to the floor.
And that’s how I got laid up in this hospital. My ex didn’t deserve me or Sally, but maybe I can cut back on the bacon. Just a little.
Marie likes to let her work speak for itself.
I listen idly to the deep, resonant whoop of a solitary coucal and then to the throaty chorus of coucal calls that follow─each bird call starting when one ends. I sit on warmish grass dampened by freak autumn rains in September and try to discern their feathered presences among trees in the pale ribbon of the evening light. I look for their glossy bluish-black plumages, their chestnut wings and their black, loose, long, tails but they are so perfectly blended within the dense tree recesses that they remain hidden.
I am sitting in my rectangular garden. It that takes over the front of my cottage on the outskirts of New Delhi, with a line of heavenward-shooting trees running along each side and a copse of varied smaller shrubs on the inside. I get the feeling that it is the greenery around that is summoning me with its full tones.
As the leaves of the trees and the shrubs shimmer with the moisture of rain, I wonder what their heightened calls give notice of, what secrets they divulge. A part of the double-dealing cuckoo family, I believe ornithologists when they say, “these coucal calls are more about what they hide than what they say.”
I understand their theatrical masquerades as I understand myself. Dissembling has been among my early survival skills. The first marker of my oddness. The other being my lonely pursuit of choices that lie outside the norm.
Let me start with the smoke screen and the peculiarities of my current profession in the here-and-now of my life. In my early thirties, I work in an intimate market, in the business of buying and selling secrets. I was and still am hired by shocked, betrayed wives who find their husband straying. As a ‘mistress dispeller’, which is my official designation, I befriend the mistress, woman to woman, invade her life, uncover her weakness or her many damaging weaknesses to the wife so as to break up the liaison.
As I see it, I excel in my outlandish job, in the ‘private intel space.’ No one knows better than me of the unbridled excitement of forbidden attachments. If I know how to nurture such connections then I know as much about how to undo them with nonchalance. But more of my own earlier life of sensuality when I unwind the tale of my past from my tale of my today, the life of my yesterday from the life of my today: To a charming gossip columnist, Vidya Jain, who I gave an ’in’ to my world.
I confessed, “I, unwittingly and to my bemusement, also break up a medley of martial peculiar orders and family arrangements that have come to be in our city’s contemporaneity.”
Vidya, in her column, spoke of my innate sensibilities of a spy that aids me in my job. She said, “She has a keen sense of observation, a knack of idly engaging and finding common ground with anybody, the plusses of a natural liar (you really can’t learn to lie as you will trip up sooner than later), a clandestine, street-wise ability to press the limits of rules and regulations to test how much she can get away with, an artist’s (some would murmur a con artist) ability to talk her way out of trouble and a preparedness to be adaptive toward changing situations.”
To this, she added, “She even uses technology with élan, her spy pen being her most useful aide memoir and infected phones her best spyware, a giveaway of all secrets on her cloned screens.” She also put in what I reiterated in my talk with her. “I know with certainty that every application on the phone has a backdoor and that hacking tools are as easy to access as an Uber cab.”
I, understandably, did not give her permission to use my name. But I must admit she is as much of a deadeye as I am and as able to extract information.
Samir Kaul, a freelance entertainment journalist, was not so charitable about my work. My client foolishly gave him my details, as she was riding on the wave of petulance and peevishness about her husband’s infidelity. His piece said, “Her dishonourable undercover work is conducted using a footloose, freewheeling team─an assorted, deviant, group of hackers, fact-checkers, small-time sleuths, bush-league citizens with a kinship to the underworld, among many other such outliers─ who roam Delhi’s socio-economic borderline.”
I had the piece, which identified me by name, squashed. An editor I knew tipped me of its scheduled date of appearance. I put my rag a tag gang to work. They came up with lurid details of his life that I used to silence him and his piece. “Sweet revenge!” my team exulted.
In an odd-sort of togetherness with my team, I have managed many a coup d’état. For the past four years, I have been carrying my burden of deception lightly, and, as a few who think they know what I do, say, with animation.
Only my psychiatrist has a whiff of my uneasiness, of how, “I get divided within as I enter the troubled spaces of others and become part of the storm within their world,” and how, “the bizarre untruths and dubious acts make me unsure of the condition of my being, my inner core.”
What dragged me to her couch a month ago with this baneful job were the beginnings of small fidgets of anxiety in my mind that worked itself up into a lather of fretfulness. I now suffer from a permanent sense of inner discomfort and unease, impulses that are new to me. My old avatar being one of infinite self-assuredness. But, as I said earlier, more of that when I tell you of my past cocksureness.
Inclined, as a rule, towards guardedness, a dislike of having to share my private predicaments and given the nature of my job that calls for me not to be loose-lipped, it took me long to reveal bits of myself to her.
As I was advised full disclosure if I wanted to heal, I coerced myself to admit more than I wished. “Until now, I have had no qualms about the shape and order of my inner being,” I said, “as manipulating situations and people gets me what I want. As it is the nature of fire to burn, it is my nature to hide what I am.”
I suspect knowing who I am as opposed to who I appear to be disconcerted her. I also suspect that she, who was to render no judgement, did not have kind words for me in her copious assessment notes. As it was only her medicines, not she, who could soothe me somewhat, I discontinued my visits very soon.
Take my last assignment for Leela Sahani as a test case of what I do for a living and as a kind of explanation for my being in this lady’s lair. Leela came to my office on a cold, foggy morning, in ire, determined “to chargrill her husband’s lover into juicy smokiness”. “Stop at nothing to uncover the truth of my husband’s carousals,” she instructed me. “Spy, catfish, break security codes, procure bank records under false claims, read personal correspondences, keep tabs on gifts, install spy cameras and eavesdrop in all manner of speaking. Do what it takes,” she ordered.
In my world that is lived a lot off screens and technology, I did most of what she asked for and some more on the ground with the help of my unholy team. My most invasive technique was to intimately befriend the young, radiantly voluptuous, Ria Mathur, the ‘other’ woman, feigning similar passions and reciprocal altruism.
I went about it with the thoroughness of a method actor, by ‘accidentally’ bumping into her and starting an animated conversation that continued as banter for months on our cell phones where we glittered on thus. I, in my contrarian puckishly charismatic way, and, she, in her typical, abrasive, unrestrained, lippy, narcissistic Delhi way, coating her tongue with an unbearably coarse accent each time she spoke to me.
She believed I found her immoderately charming.
She bargained her way into my affections and onto what she called my “classy way of life” buying sweaters for our iPhone (her iPhone was gifted by Leela’s husband), Guci bags (as she could not afford the missing c in the name) and oily edibles, all of which found its way into my bin. I threw some baubles in her direction.
Our relationship almost took on the contours of an all-absorbing romance. She was hyper-verbal about everything in her life. “I love gol gappas (round, hollow, deep-fried crisp crepes filled with a mixture of flavoured water) and could eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.” (Yikes!) “My Pomeranian Pinky is my soul mate.” (A breed that is an apology for a dog, if you ask me) “My boss loves my button nose and to peek at my cleavage.” “My family is very strict and I am terrified of my brothers and father but otherwise, I never dodge fights, hold my tongue or mind the rules with anyone.”
She mistook my attentive listening for empathy.
Her candour about her boozy, seductive liaisons with Neel─Leela’s husband─was equally cloying in its details. “I was so open and mast (flamboyant) while his responses were dara hua (scared and tentative). I love the way I melt in my insides like a maum (candle) in the heat of his mohhabat (passion)and the nasha (intoxication)of his tone when he callsme his jaan (life).”
I began to dread her phone calls, their clichéd dreariness and the sheer triteness of her conversations.
It took me no time with my dark art to know her vulnerability. It was as banal as money. I turned in her details and the jigsaw of my team’s findings to Leela who instantly bartered money in lieu of her soiled husband.
Of course, my tidbits on Ria’s family life helped. Leela told me, “I fisted Ria and my husband’s romance in the stomach, once for all, by threatening to tell of the affair to her family of three giant looking brothers and I-can-give-complex-to-a-rhino kind offather. I said to her this is my one-time payment to you and I want you to never contact my husband.”
The outing of infidelity is rarely simple or dignified. The exposed are utterly unshelled which is what happened to Ria and Neel. While I, in my perfect disguise, got to keep my camouflage as armour. They never knew the leak came from me, a fact that holds for all the cases I have handled so far.
I was, however, not completely exempt from downsides. I had to continue to hear Ria’s inane chatter and despairing wails of being discovered for some more time to keep my work’s tell-tale features hidden. For ‘plausible deniability of involvement’, as we call it in our professional parlance. And, two, I had face up to the fact that my head was no longer as steady, no longer as inured to the risks and the insanity of my profession, its masterful puppetry of plying and pulling of others’ life strings. Just to be clear, I was not bothered with my subterfuges being uncovered.
My insecurity arose from my hair-trigger paranoia of my psychological stability. I was assailed by a sense of losing myself, of having gone too far down the void of a rabbit hole, of not being in control of my life and my person, something very unfamiliar and frightening for me. I would never have believed such a thing probable in my life when in my twenties and would have laughed in anyone’s face if they said I would be seeing a shrink in my life.
I have always found camouflage to be a wonderful thing as I am sure you have inferred by now. My seeming to be someone else while concealing who I really am has been a captivating game for me from childhood. I have lived in my shadows of subterfuge for so long that my disguises are now a part of me. They have never felt wrong or dysfunctional but fun like play-acting.
In my early years, my father often worried about me growing up without a mother, the lack of her influences and anchoring. He would point me to a picture of the wheel in our drawing room, say that it should remind me of living my life from the centre. “When we live our life from the rim of the wheel, we focus on externals, what you can see with your eye or hear with your ear. Externals will never make you strong in your inner core,” was something he repeated to me often.
Did he sense my secrecy and cover-ups even then? My little manipulations and the small contradictions in my stories? Was he worried that what he permitted could turn into what he promoted? A number of times, I felt in my bones that he seriously disapproved my lack of a blood bond to him and my tenuous attachments to friends. His constant urging me to “grow more affection and altruism” confirmed his dim view of my lack of filial and fraternal fidelity.
Conflicts of my amoral outlook did register in my furrowed brows at a young age. At fourteen, to the confession priest in my school’s church, I said, “Father, I worry about why moral perfection is not burrowed into my sense of the world. I do try time and again to lean towards goodness, but I fail.”
All he said was, “Mend your ways, child. Find your path towards God.”
The holy water he gave me was supposed to help. It didn’t.
Such urges simply died when I reached my twenties. The subterranean hum of my true nature became voluble by then and I began to accept the freefall of my basic tendency. One that was to maximise my utility at the expense of others, sometimes even at the risk of bringing about negative outcomes in other’s lives. At this point in my life, I came to a clear understanding that I have been involuntarily following my innate instincts all through my life and that I will continue to do so as this is the only way I know how to be.
My elite life in New Delhi, ten years past the turn of the millennium, was, hence, an indulgence, unbound by any ideological mooring, one persuasion or another. I overheard one girl say of me, “She is simply interested in getting as much as she can for herself, her personal interest acting as her sharpest spur to action. She sees inventive dissembling in the guise of simple naiveté as a good way of getting by as being strategic in choosing when to cooperate.”
She was not wrong.
While at the campus in the northern part of the city, doing a post-graduate course in economics, I never bought into the argument that my economics professor would tout, “that it is in understanding the interests of others that we are able to fulfil our own.”
My counter was, “attempting idealised perfectibility and equality in personal, political, economic and social spheres will always fail. The dark mirror of utopias, dystopias, will show up in fallen social experiments, stringent political regimes and controlling economic systems.”
These beliefs may sound Machiavellian to some but I had yet to read him at length at that point. My beliefs sprung from my own interpretations of the world around me. It surprised me then as it does now that my old professor held on to human goodness while I ingested the meaning of utopia to be ‘no place’ both literally and metaphorically. And that I have always believed that disinterest in gathering personal resources is ideologically unhealthy.
So as I was saying, life in my twenties was a time of riotous springtime joy. My diary noting for this period says, “My life now is a seemingly eternal season of silk cotton fluff fluttering in a breath of wind. A time when ‘adventure’ is the ticket. A time when it feels beautiful to be in my body when a golden heat flows skin-deep, vital and shining. A time to allow passion to take up space within my body’s clear effusive warmth, changing the balance, making ripples in the air that it passes through. A time to throw away the cultural scripts written for women.”
It was easy for me with my erotic loveliness and with my umbrella shadow of luck and privilege to flit fast from liaison to liaison within New Delhi’s gilt-edged, closed-in community. I went on thus compulsively and in secret for eight long years. As I sought transitory physical attachments and never emotional closeness that tended to feelings, my many past lovers were put one by one where they belonged, out of my life and in the past. As I saw that the simplicity and security of one partner was not for me, I cleared each of my lover’s residual impact quickly to reclaim my sexual sovereignty. For me, the idea of taking on inner pain in the name of love was needless torture.
It never happened.
I don’t think it was my attractiveness that particularly drew men to me. There were women with far more beauty and feminine mystique. I think what one of the men in my life said to me explains why men were drawn to me. “You send out subconscious scent signals that urge a sexual response.” So I will go with my all-scented wanton, womanly body as the reason for my appeal and as the reason for why I unwound men.
It was one connection in particular that held me for very long. I note in my diary that it was “pulse-pounding, ardent, dangerous and disruptive.” Dangerous and disruptive as, in our case, we were both married. It was no impediment though, despite the watched and guarded nature of personal and social lives.
My diary entries for this period are uninhibited. “Our lust is on the loose. We taste the excitement of each other’s lives and yearn for another thousand faraway possibilities. It is so exciting to carry on our furtive trysts with note messages tucked into bicycles, furtive calls through the day, midnight meetings and through the courting each other through poetry in well-modulated cadences.”
“The folds of our sheets could tell stories of just how truly bad we are,” we would often joke. Our affair was freighted with lies, secrets and ongoing deceptions that uncontained relationships like this need. We risked our delight as there was no license in my marriage or his to open up our experiences and connections to others. Or to reshape it in any way to our needs.
Thinking back, I realize I must have had holes in my conscience through all my many relationships post-marriage as it remained oddly innocent through all the illicit dangerousness. And my middle-class Indian background, that should have tethered me with moral chastity belts, not even allowing my fantasies to roam freely, failed in its reign-in.
The backlash to our lustful dare devilries arrived swiftly, once we got found out. His wife called me up. “You rubbishy creature, how could you do this to me and my child? I can’t think of another person in the whole world that I despise more than you. You have the morals of an alley cat and I will pray that you rot in hell in a sludge of substances.”
Her succession of emails were far more vitriolic and delivered a tirade of expletives. She threatened to inform my husband and ruin my life.
She did. My marriage and my double life folded.
My life’s deceptions were witnessed by all and my personal stories made public. I was made to map the extent of my misdemeanours. People, especially women, saw me as a “labyrinth of many unknown paths” and I let them live with their belief. I guess because it was true in many ways.
I had to use indifference as a defence mechanism to counter my powerlessness. It is not as if I did not hurt from the inside but the recognition of who I really am insulated me, made me understand that my adventuresome actions and decisions were in many ways ineludible.
In defence of my husband, I think he would have been able to handle “minor palterings” but he could not cope with my “many flat out deceptions’, as he termed them. Once my lover’s wife outed our deception, many other women were emboldened to whisper to him about how I “turned my affections towards him to others.”
And it is also not as if my husband did not try to understand me or my indiscretions. He did. But we were toppled over by another awkward trio that came to be─him, the counsellor and me.
We made efforts to cut through the complications and permanent barriers created but failed. The counsellor felt my reasons for straying and staying were “delusive” and noted that I “felt no guilt that most others would feel when engaging in stuff like this, something hurtful to others.”
Finally, my husband gave up, saying, “I think there is nothing left to save. Now my entire idea of what the world is, and the truth of what is and isn’t, feels like it is on a chopping board and that trust between us is a thing of the past. In fact, I am not certain we had trust to begin with.”
I begged and I pleaded. It was ignominious. “Let’s start afresh. I promise to be true to you. I will make up for the times I let you down,” I beseeched. My moment of complete abasement came when I cried, “Where will I go if you leave me? I have nothing to fall back on, what will I do?”
He remained unmoved. Our marriage came to an end when I reached the age of thirty with two court hearings and a signature. It purged me of all my relationships and friendships.
Looking back, I see that I mostly observed my husband from under closed eyelids through our eight-year connection. All I can say is the mild warmth of my marriage at twenty-two years of age and his unrelenting gravity bored me and I, “could not be demure and domestic,” as my mother-in-law curtly said in her first assessment of me when my father and she met to, “marry me off,” as they call the curious social engineering of arranged marriages.
I know all of this sounds an easy summation of the situation or of why I was not as safe or knowable as other women around. My arguments do lack introspection and show up my inability to face up to the crucial actions in my life as also my casual, cruel displacement of an individual. But that is all I have as that is how I am.
Maybe I should have taken my dead aunt Renuka’s notion of singlehood as a desired way of life seriously and fought with more intensity against being ambushed into marriage. She did, in her sickness, warn me, when my father was pushing me into marriage. “Don’t allow boldness of your aspirations to be bleached into a pastel of family expectations. I know you well and this is what will happen if you marry.”
No one knows how a thing like a divorce will strike you before it comes to you. But one thing was certain; it brought on a dreadful reckoning over which I had no control.
I reeled for months under an unfamiliar sense of insecurity and the harsh realization that I had no particular skills to make a living. The sniggers of those around who said, “She will probably allure a whole organization now,” cut to the bone. But at least I had a place to stay. My father who passed on two years ago, erasing all records of my childhood, left behind a cottage on the outlying part of the city from where I could make a new beginning.
In my thwarted life, I chose to be a mistress dispeller as it fell within my catchment area. I had never known it to be a thing until my marriage was spluttering and I heard whispers that my lover’s wife had employed one to peel away my secrets.
I don’t know if she did.
I do know a woman sought to befriend me around the time of my last affair and that I did reciprocate, meeting her for an odd coffee or drink. I am not sure how much I said or whether she was why I got found out but the idea of the job description stuck in my head. Talk of life’s ironies. It was my lover’s wife in a way who set me up in this covert career.
So I live my life now with a job in the game of seduction, one that is heart-in-the mouth, immediate and fierce in its gaze of the hidden, almost delivered from my societal shame. Or maybe not.
Today, is my new life, four years of age, with its changed balance in my role as a mistress dispeller, a liberation of sorts? A validation and affirmation of self-perceived abilities and a balm for injured self-esteem, as I see it? I earn well, act as a relief worker for many distressed women, mask my own sexuality and keep my own life and its engagements denuded to a minimum, almost solitary, to erase my past waywardness. Or it is really a doppelganger of an earlier existence, a double walk as it were, on the path of stealth and strategy? One with ethically, morally and socially questionable attitudes and behaviours, as many say?
After all, I do freely admit to the buzz I feel when codebreaking and the power I feel when I play God and wreak judgement on others’ lives. This even though I myself have indulged in such a lifestyle with abandon.
If pressed to find language about my current situation, I would say it is uncomfortable. My idea that the ground beneath me is solid, dependable, that I can build on it, that I can trust it to support me, is gone. The gaping hole in my mind, in my life, seems to mock the very idea of solid ground, of trustworthy geology.
I live off-course, in a state of doubtful uneasiness in my mind, rolling over peaks and troughs, splayed by them, and struggle to enter into a stable ground of belief about myself, my life. I look for the easygoing self-assurances of my life in my twenties but they are nowhere to be found.
Is my strife within the beginning of consciousness?
I sit vertiginously atop of a Ferris Wheel, the world beneath me, wondering if the wheel wisdom of my father will work out answers for me.
Will it help me find my way back to things I can trust? Will it help me find my own floor? Should I adopt the wisdom wheel, its love and kindness, as my compass, as a way of coming to terms with myself, as my catharsis? Should I finally now accept my hubris in thinking I can control my life from its rim?
I need to find out fast before I lose myself. Before I don’t fit in my head at all.
Chitra Gopalakrishnan is a New Delhi-based journalist by training, a social development consultant by profession and a creative writer by choice. With decades of experience in writing books on social development, she willfully exploits several creative genres to bring out the exertions of living in modern-day Delhi, caught as people are in its uneven, messy and riotous surges. She understands that finding one’s balance in the city’s whirlwinds is not easy and considers herself fortunate to be living on a farm with her family, a little away from the city, keeping company with her dog, her many feathered friends and fishes.
A few years back all the animals disappeared. We woke up one morning and they just weren’t there anymore. They didn’t even leave us a note or say good-bye. We never quite figured out where they went.
We missed them.
Some of us thought the world had ended, but it hadn’t. There just weren’t any more animals. No cats or rabbits. No dogs or whales. No fish in the seas or birds in the sky.
We were all alone.
I didn’t know what to do. Everyone wandered around, lost for a while. Then, the prime minister addressed us stating, “Our scientists are baffled. But there is no cause for alarm. Just because the animals are gone does not mean that we must abandon our way of life.”
From there we learned. There were plenty of us. We had no reason to change our diets or cease testing products that might cause us harm.
After all, there were still babies.
Babies couldn’t talk, and barely moved. They were not rational thinking creatures. Without intelligent thought they weren’t really people. Why not utilize them properly?
So we made more. The bearers were drugged so they wouldn’t feel any connection or the pain of unnecessary self-sacrifice. Once cut from the womb we took the young creatures.
Baby flesh proved to be tender and succulent. We delighted in consuming it, flayed the skin and decorated ourselves with the silky hide.
Never wasteful, I went into the baby leather industry. The soft and comfy wear made me feel rich and youthful. Sharing that joy with others became my life’s greatest accomplishment.
But not all “babies” were eaten. Some were used for testing.
Companies taped open their eyes, dripped detergents and shampoos in one drop at a time. They scarred and scalded them─burned their sensitive little bodies to protect us from harm─lest we should suffer. They clamped their tiny appendages down and stuck electrodes in their brains. They grafted, froze, and irradiated.
The infants breathed in smoke. Their veins pumped new medicines and drugs until they stopped circulating.
It was hard at first, but necessary. No one could deny that. With the animals gone, what else could we do?
Some religious people complained, but then, they always do.
Everything eventually went back to normal. After a time, the underdeveloped creatures didn’t seem like living beings anymore. That made it easier.
But yesterday, all the babies were gone.
We didn’t even see them go. We don’t know what we’re going to do, but we will think of something. Humans are smart. It’s what makes us superior…
We’ll figure something out.
Dash Crowley is a private man, artist, writer, magician. You might witness him from afar on twitter, @dashercrow, or on instagram @dackcrowley.
We would walk on the white beach of Marco Island with stale bread wrapped in a recycled red and blue polka dot bread bag. We tossed hardened crumbs while droves of seagulls descended into my mother’s hands peeling shrills of joy.
“Jennifer, get a picture of these maniacs,” My mother laughed with complete abandonment. She would be encircled by seagulls eating right from her hands, like a Hitchcock movie.
I was always afraid of the enormity of my mother’s momentum for joy. I spent most of my life on the sidelines of her social dazzle and sparkle. Her smile and warmth ignited a room like the multitude of expressions from her big blue eyes that seemed to cast an open door into her heart.
People loved her and when she stopped reaching out and retreated; no one seemed to understand why. I found it painful that so many people were annoyed with her seclusion as if at eighty-two she owed the world to remain a star ever infinitely burning. She was burning out. She was afraid to hear about who she used to be.
Sometimes when I speak of a wonderful moment in our lives and the vacant stare is returned which tells me that soon the words, ‘If you say so’, will be uttered from her lips. There is now indifference where there once was a warm, vivacious, soul.
As I stood by her bedside watching her rest, I remembered that my mother and I took such pleasure in holding a stranger’s lilac bush hostage as she clipped away branches leaving them wet with scissor scars. Her laughter peeled through me. Then she would whisper, “Move it, let’s get out of here.”
She shoved me along grabbing hold of my hands as she ran through the yards with me in hysterics. We were lilac thief cohorts filled with glee as the house was fragrant with the smell of free, stolen, flowers. What more spelled spring then the wafting lilacs meticulously placed by my mother in a vase to represent our find.
Once, I had my own Lilac bushes the thrill of the memories seemed to bring a smile to her melancholic, aging face. Yet, this isn’t a story about stealing lilacs. This is a story about stealing the breadth of beauty from a soul. It is that place in between innocence and violation where beauty is plucked thoughtlessly from the legs and sanctuary of a young girls’ hymen.
Because of the pains that my mother experienced, I suffered from night terrors. It seemed to always happen when I was wickedly tired. The dreams rushed fast and furious like a tsunami of images. Some were happy and poetic flights of romance. Strangers and strange settings.
Tonight, was filled with night terrors. Dogs, dozens of them feral, ferocious and biting me. I felt no end to the small boxer like mouths with sharpened teeth like knives ripping at my flesh. I clung tightly to my snowy white toy poodle Adonis. I protected him with my arms wrapped tightly around his little Persian lamb body as the droves of dogs devoured me.
I screamed loud. Horrified yells of “no” escaped as a dark foreign man stood still and watched in disbelief, yet, with a sneer of contempt as I found no end within my sleep. My resolution was only to wake and startled to my dog snoozing with one eye raised at my nocturnal and apparently nonsensical commotion. It was always helplessness, this fury of conflicts literally biting at my legs and consuming me.
My dreams mirrored my inner turmoil. My mother woke in the same turmoil when I would visit and sleep in her bed. “Mom, I’m here, wake up”, I held her crow-like thin fingers and then her blue eyes would peer out at me in warm recognition. We believed we were safe with one another.
We never felt safe. Never.
Only moments in beautiful homes, wonderful trips, moments when we could steal away from the memories that held us hostage like the lilacs wafting in our hands. Sometimes what seems so lovely is filled with the undercurrent of the stench of a sewer.
He ruined my mother’s life. The dreams I had so often were just another legacy of pain passed down. Dreams that haunted me just as much as my mother.
I built my house as if in a dream with a bedroom that contained all the trappings of a spa, perhaps, a hotel suite with living room, sauna, and room to retreat and rest. Yet, I clung to nights of pure terror. I always returned to one thought. I never knew that paradise would feel like such hell. My life was easy in some respects, along with the diffidence. I wasn’t quite sure how being a lawyer was easier than being a poet.
When awake I found a refuge in my books. I felt a sorrow at times that she would never live long enough to read all the books in the world. Yet, my mother and like my wise aunt Dominica before her, she would read each day of her life, each book that she could find. A multitude of words pressed with images that rolled like old Kodak slides. It all seemed so romantic and luminous while the arid stench and steam of the New York subway jostled me awake into my next stop. Such is the life of an aging, melancholic, lawyer closeting a poet in her briefcase.
I sat at counsel table staring out the window watching the cherry blossoms shiver in the chill of the raw spring air. I thought about a poem I once wrote about the cherry tree charades. The judge’s ruling for yet another motion in my cryptic years of lawyering boomed in a monotone white noise back drop to the pirouettes of poetic thoughts. I played the words in my mind the cherry tree charades, milk white bark so bare, and words like I only know today what’s growing and is gone.
I was nineteen when that poem emerged. I loved the deep union of emotions with branches, bark that seemed to tell a story. Like the cuts of wood, a hieroglyphics tale while lawyers spit arguments at one another. Lizards of legal analysis spewing venom in the corridors.
“Counselor, counselor, Ms. Sloan do you have anything to add?” The judge bellowed.
I replied with grace and decorum, “No Your Honor.”
Another morning of tension, turmoil some form of conflict resolved by dumping the arguments into the judge’s lap for decision. I suppose I somewhat liked the idea of not being responsible. I liked the idea of blending in the dark as a lawyer, never quite making any true waves. Yet, my writing, my poetry screamed truth, dreams, life.
My poetry, my writing was mine. The words were my vibrancy.
I roamed through the old courthouse hall graced with marble pillars as large as a lion’s den at the coliseum. I spotted Jimmy, a sheriff’s deputy and my dear friend. He raced toward me with twinkling Irish eyes and flaming red hair.
“Jen, I need to talk to you,” Jimmy exclaimed half out of breath.
“Can’t it wait?” I proceeded down the hallway in my usual frenetic pace.
“No, Jen.” Jimmy grabbed my arm so tight my flesh throbbed. “Listen your uncle Harry’s death is being opened up for investigation and family members will be interviewed, I wanted to warn you.”
I stopped dead in the hallway and stared half in terror as if the snarling dogs were at my feet. I felt faint as if someone had stopped the air to my lungs.
“What the hell for, Jimmy, the old coot rapist died from a heart attack?” I almost yelled in a loud hysteria of terror as my panicked squeals echoed against the marble walls. I hated the way everything echoed in a courthouse; like a bag of dozens of marbles had dropped on the floor.
Overwhelming sounds of falling glass that seemed infinite and menacing.
“Apparently, Jen, some new information has come through that your family had some real issues with him.” Jimmy stared hard. “The old man had a nasty blow to the head and then had the heart attack.”
“Issues, he was no good and everyone knew the issues Jimmy. So what.”
“Well this is just shit wonderful.” I sneered. “My mother at 65 years old is a person of interest?”
Now I wasn’t bordering on hysterics. I was inflamed. Demonic, dead Uncle Harry still haunts us.
“Just keep your eyes and ears open, Jen. I wanted to warn you.”
“There’s nothing to observe, Jimmy. He’s dead. Period. Who cares if he was murdered, serves him right!” I ran like wildfire down the hall.
I sat waiting for Dr. Julian in my favorite café on Seventh Avenue. I stared out of the elongated front window watching raindrops slowly descend down the pane like newly formed tears dripping down a sorrowful child’s salty cheek. As Julian crossed the street I felt my mood lift a little.
“Well my dear friend, how are you?” She gave me a warm motherly hug.
“So, so, Julian.” I sighed.
“I suspect you are still sleepwalking or doing your night terror wanderings?” She asked with a knowing nod.
“Yes, it is even worse now at times, and apparently my mother is just as bad.” I looked down at carved initials on the table.
“I don’t know how to deal with this alone any longer and when I mention to my mother that I am suffering from dreams like hers, she dismisses it,” I said.
“You have a sleep disorder, certainly. You belong in a sleep study and I’m sure that any hint of such a course of therapy for your mother wouldn’t fare well with her.”
“Her dreams, Dr. Julian are always the same. It’s him. Harry coming after her. His awful, drooling face tormenting her for years even though he’s dead.”
“Sometimes I wake up out of bed in a room in the house and I don’t even know how I got there. I know my mother is doing the same thing at night. We are running away in unison.”
“Let me ask you this, are you at least recording your movements with the cameras that I suggested?”
“I am when I can. Not always, but when I have, it’s saved in my laptop saved,” I said.
“At some point, my friend, this has to be dealt with if you want to move on in your life”.
The conversations always ended in the same way that I needed to get further help.
How odd, that Uncle Harry was always kind to me and yet, he ruined my mother’s life. Harry was a woodworker in his spare time. An undertaker by trade. I believe he was involved in some black-market body part scheme. At least I pegged him for that type.
I would sit on an old wooden stool with paint and cuts from years of abuse while he worked on some creation. I was never alone with him. Aunt Domenica always smiled, half in terror with a shaky voice pretending to be interested in what her husband was doing. I didn’t realize she was watching him, being protective.
It was confusing. Family dinners of amazing Italian food, a jug of cheap red wine always next to Harry’s feet. It thrilled me that the whole family, including my parents, were together eating.
Then out of nowhere my mother and Harry would start an argument.
The last argument was a grand finale. Harry said, “Why don’t you go get yourself a quart and get out of here,” in a demonic voice.
The storm ensued and that was the last time they spoke.
He deserved whatever manner that ended his life.
My brilliant, beautiful mother had more than enough brains. She wanted to be the lawyer, but the money and opportunity didn’t exist.
She made sure I received an education. The sins that scorned and torched her like a California wildfire only blackened any trust in men.
My lone wolf lifestyle wasn’t all my fault. Aunt Domenica’s husband Harry was a familial rapist. He created from the 1950’s and on a lineage and carnage of “me too” souls in our family.
Aunt Domenica turned a blind eye and poked her nose into a book rather than kill the demon. She sang and hummed as she cut lilacs in her yard and planted petunias.
The humming may as well have been a mantra to ward his evil bellowing. The fragrant flowers masked the stench of his vile abuse.
He was the man in the dream the other night.
My mother was a brilliant, beautiful teenager who took the wrath of Harry’s menace.
At his funeral I stood next to her. We glared down at the dead man in the coffin.
“I should just spit on him, so long you bastard,” she said.
I swore I heard a spitting sound as I walked away.
Harry’s death was a mystery.
I thought it was a heart attack. Now after seeing Jimmy at the courthouse, I didn’t know.
There was a buzz of new evidence. No one deserved to know how this haunting affected me and my mother. How sad that this went on for an entire life span with no justice.
When I left Dr. Julian, I retreated like a lost puppy to my home. I was on edge, worried about why Harry’s death was being raised now. I settled in for the night and decided as I always did to take the Scarlet O’Hara approach and leave it for tomorrow. My life really was a series of stress, dreams, some joy, and then the same cycle.
Harry’s investigation was playing, haunting me just as much as he did in life.
Why did Harry’s death have to come up again now, a good five years later? I thought.
Harry, this black void of nothingness. A dead old man who spent most of his life terrorizing women and carting dead bodies for rich funeral home directors. Not to mention the body parts.
I remembered being in an elevator with my aunt, Harry and a dead body on a gurney. Harry taunted me when I was seven years old. He threatened to pull the sheet down for me to see the body.
I screamed with no way out hid behind my aunt covering my eyes.
A kindness came over Harry and he said he wouldn’t show me the body.
Out of nowhere the alabaster and blue veined hand like a Halloween hand fell out from the sheet. I couldn’t decide if I felt terror, excitement or wanted to laugh in hysterics.
So did my aunt, and so I joined in the morbid joviality.
Harry had big teeth like a horse and he almost drooled at times. His black eyes shifted from kindness to cruelty with the stroke of his temper. He was like a monster man in a De Maurier novel. A towering and lanky undertaker in a cheap white shirt with yellow sweat stains and an ill-fitted dark suit. Yet, he was paternal and kind at the same time. The mixed feelings haunted me always.
I drifted off to sleep and thought that I must check my lap top in the morning.
Adonis snoozed in the comfort of his luxury bed on the floor and I drifted into a wave of sleep that felt safe and comforting. As I lulled myself into the deep oceanic state of nocturnal bliss, that man, the dark, creepy, contemptuous man appeared from a dark alley. Rain surrounded him, torrential rain bounced off the brim of his Fedora as he leered from under his hat. He opened his hand half visible in the swirling mist of fog and showed me a small carving tool. The tool was carved with hieroglyphic letters and a bleeding heart and scarab drenched in black blood.
I reached to take the tool, but he pulled it away and disappeared.
Adonis’ rapacious snoring as he snorted for more and more air woke me in the early morning.
I felt haunted. I felt watched as I awoke to the dim morning rays that creeped through half open window blinds. The daylight felt daunting as the dream became like a brain worm in my head.
I pulled myself together and greeted the morning with coffee and a walk into the crisp morning air.
The police cars pulled into the driveway lights ablaze.
I saw Jimmy emerge his face a ghastly white and my lap top in his hand.
I snipped a lilac from a bush on my property and had only one thought, Who killed Harry?
Gloria Buckley has been published by Prometheus Dreaming, Red Hyacinth Journal, Sensations Magazine, Alcoholism Magazine, Chimera Magazine, Journal of English Language and Literature, Hermann Hesse Page Journal, Virginia Woolf Blog, Focus Magazine, Chimera Magazine and many other journals of poetry and prose. A self- published collection of seventy five poems is available on Amazon.com.
She is a practicing attorney for thirty years. She holds a BA in English and JD from Seton Hall. She has a Masters with Distinction in English Literature from Mercy College. She is enrolled in the MLA and MA in writing program at Johns Hopkins University.
This couple I know: they were high school sweethearts, the Bonnie and Clyde of the northwest San Fernando Valley, undetected.
Some moron had selected the “Chancellor” as the school mascot. A chancellor was some kind of British judge—a little faggot in a long white wig, was how the kids described it. We denied the “Chancellor” and unofficially adopted the Cowboy as mascot. Cowboys were what we were all about, that and the aerospace engineers who were colonizing our living space, taking down small ranches and putting up stucco housing developments. Their kids didn’t walk the roads barefoot in summer the way we did.
The town was changing. Excess warehouses were being taken over as studios for the porn industry. Eventually the town became the PORN CAPITAL OF THE WORLD. The high school cheerleaders made up slutty whore routines, and performed them at halftime, and the Vice-Principal, “Chrome-Dome,” McNellis, supported them. He would not allow a posse of evangelists to deny them their freedom of speech.
Enter this couple, Bonnie and Clyde: he was half man/ half dog, more wolf really, she half reptile/half bird, a plumed serpent in the big-breasted, leather-clad flesh. At least that’s the way they thought of themselves and we, their friends, came to think of them.
On prom night Clyde put his hairy head into the punch bowl. Bonnie slithered across the dessert table like an iguana, her tail flicking aside tortes and meringue. The fat kids grieved the lost pastries. They got on the floor and, under cover of dimness, shoved them into their drooling mouths.
After promming off, B & C smoked dope in the House of Dwarfs. Every one of them had lost their virginity by the age of fourteen. Their garage breathed in and out like a cartoon garage, their soundtrack crazy clarinet riffs.
I stood out in the road, waiting to be invited in. I was desperate for their acceptance, but the dwarfs had taken a dislike to me, I don’t know why. Everyone in school knew that I suffered from mental illness, but I didn’t think so. I couldn’t act any more sane than I did.
Then Dog Boy and Reptile Girl left the dwarfs to do what dwarfs do after events that are allegedly life-changing, and rode rusted-out dirt bikes into the Mojave to celebrate their Mayan heritage. When the sun came up, they set the bikes down in the cool, exhausted sand, knelt and worshipped the Rabbit in the Moon, then flaaagellaaated themselves like Spanish priests. They pounded their foreheads with chunks of jade with 400-million-year half-lives, royal jade, orange flecked with green. There were blood spots on their foreheads. The sheriff’s squad car roiled up dust in the distance. He wasn’t looking for them.
“I’ll be your Huckleberry,” said Dog Boy.
“I’ll be yours,” said Reptile Girl.
They were ready to move on. They did. They traveled far and wide, but returned for our fiftieth reunion. The rest of us had changed. Even the dwarfs had changed. But they hadn’t.
Adelaide of Burgundy became the patron saint of second marriages.
Her first husband, Lothair II, King of Italy, was poisoned. Her second husband called himself great, called himself holy.
Adelaide knew the truth but would not share it. She had taken a vow of silence.
Her husband blessed her for it. He was vexed with loudmouthed women. If it were up to him, he would have all female voice boxes removed at birth. What a different world it would be, he fantasized as he drifted off to sleep.
His silent and good wife, Adelaide was a woman to be emulated, he told his friends at table as their wives looked on with sour expressions.
At age seventeen, I was a good deal younger than Adelaide, whom I’d heard was the saint of second marriages. I was a Paul Simon song: a rock, an island. I was Dostoyevsky’s underground man. I was Camus’s Stranger, who only needed his neighbors’ howls of execration to complete him.
All of this was nonsense to Adelaide.
I was a zombie, undone by a woman I’d met in New Orleans. I was a diamond with a flaw, as described by an Okie girlfriend who, until I told her otherwise, thought The Diary of Anne Frank was fiction.
None of this was relevant to Adelaide. She was a good deal older than me, the saint of second marriages.
I would be her third husband.
My Daughter’s Hair
Tens of thousands of data centers feed a spiraling multitude of web sites. Rows of servers spread over millions of square feet in warehouses which were once fields with pumpkins shining orange against black soil. Me and my brothers roamed the fields, and had pumpkin fights with the failed ones, trying to be careful not to smash any good ones, most of the time succeeding.
I still live in the old farmhouse, though there is no land around it, not even enough for a garden. The data centers run at max ‘round the clock. I hear the data buzz like bee hives, growl like packs of animals. I smell it burning. I get up in the middle of the night and drink orange juice, but I can’t get the taste of data out of my throat. Nobody thinks of people like me when they turn on their computers.
My daughter’s hair is brown kelp. It streams southward in the current. She stands on the ocean floor eighty feet down. She’s no scuba diver, no mermaid, but she’s invulnerable to drowning, one of the skills she developed growing up with a schizophrenic mother in the midst of data centers. She learned to adapt to being submerged, a massive weight on her shoulders.
Water is heavy. A mere gallon of water weighs over eight pounds, and there are millions of gallons of water pressing on her, yet she wears a serene expression. Her wisdom flows out, flows around her, drifts with the current and blesses people downstream. She is wiser than I will ever be, even if I live a century.
Work by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois appears in magazines worldwide. Nominated for numerous prizes, he was awarded the 2017 Booranga Centre (Australia) Fiction Prize. His novel, Two-Headed Dog, based on his work in a state hospital, is available for Kindle and as a print edition. His poetry collection, THE ARREST OF MR. KISSY FACE, published in March 2019 by Pski’s Porch Publications, is available here. Visit his website to read more of his poetry and flash fiction.