All posts by sofiacapel

Poetry by Lel Sebastian


You wanted wildness from me,
your idea of it.

You forgot that the doe is as wild as the stallion;
you got annoyed.

Your photos weren’t any good.


from Poems from a long time ago


Attend me, voice, be rubies, sable, mint,
and I, although of a perturbed physique –
severely lame, among my kin the runt,
although a miller’s son, will eat the yolk
of palace hens and soap my palms and knock
to enter, Sire having summoned me
to sing for him, his lords, his coterie.


Attiring ourselves after we had lain
together, hoops and corsages and pins
in place, our succour got, returning soon
to men, to tournaments, we saw the cranes –
the sunset come – dipped in mauve. My loins
were sore. The air around us eddied still.
When I emerged, I said that I’d been ill.


My queen serenely tours this putrid isle
of mine, immaculate and fair of face
while crossing glacial ice and deserts, foul
and turgid rivers with their odious
menagerie of carcasses from mouse
to horse, and hollows full of nettles where
she claims she’s seen lucern here and there.


Let me sow love

You’re a noisy
gong. Yes, go on,
do your smut, do
your brouhaha.

It’s a very
still day out there.
The grass is an
immodest green.

If I could I’d
put you through an
ordeal. Lord God
let me sow love.

Let the darnel,
the spurious
wheat, be choked by
the love I sow.

Lel Sebastian lives in Australia. Her poems have been published in various online and print Australian poetry journals, and broadcast on Radio National.

Poetry by Carl Phillips

Art: Farewell My Concubine

The Dark No Softer Than It Was Before

Now that neglect only half excuses the field’s contagion,
it’s not enough to look back at the past as at a thing
to shy from, this is not
nostalgia, you must look at it,
try to, just as steadily as, for entire days, you watched
bees ferry water up from the moss-conquered
birdbath to their hive, presumably, in the chestnut’s
branches, that moment-at-last in summer when
the release that fall will be
again seems possible, the way
within aggression you still want to believe
always something more tender, given a chance, will show
too, eventually, as if “flowers
first, then the fruit” were what you’d meant
all along by a clean arrangement, the door this time
closing not so slowly, your hand turning the lights down
democratically upon the heat, the night, its night-song…


What I See is the Light Falling All Around Us

To have understood some small piece of the world
more deeply doesn’t have to mean we’re not as lost
as before, or so it seems this morning, random bees
stirring among the dogwood blossoms, a few here
and there stirring differently, somehow, more like
resisting stillness…Should it come to winnowing
my addictions, I’d hold on hardest, I’m pretty sure,
to mystery, though just yesterday, a perfect stranger
was so insistent that I looked familiar, it seemed
easier in the end to agree we must know each other.
To his body, a muscularity both at odds and at one
with how fragile everything else about him, I thought,
would be, if I could see inside. What’s the word
for the kind of loneliness that can feel like swimming
unassisted in a foreign language, for the very first time?

Carl Phillips is the author of more than a dozen books of poetry,
including Reconnaissance, winner of the PEN Poetry Award and the
Lambda Literary Award, and Double Shadow, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. He teaches at Washington University in St. Louis. His latest collection, Wild Is the Wind, is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

She was the Universe, fiction by Helen de Búrca


At first, the summer seemed promising. From the moment the clocks changed, it was sunny and warm. We had endured a spate of wet cool summers in the previous years, so everyone made the most of it. From April onwards, people were sporting tan-lines.

Nobody took it seriously at first when we started hearing media reports saying that the days were getting longer twice as quickly as usual. Before long, however, we could see the unusual length of the days for ourselves. Nobody could explain it; almost every morning that summer, I listened to interviews on our national radio station with environmental experts and climatologists and academics, and it was clear that, despite all the long words they used, they were as flummoxed as anyone.

Of course there were dire predictions of droughts and warnings that the planet was overheating even more quickly than usual, but despite all that, the first few weeks of constant sun felt like a holiday, and the long days initially gave us the illusion that we had more leisure time than usual. In between the apocalyptic newsflashes showing fires spreading across forests and crops drying to a crisp were videos of large-scale parties breaking out spontaneously in various parts of the northern hemisphere. Flash festivals became a feature of that summer, with artists both famous and unknown turning to launch unplanned gigs that continued as long as the daylight, which, by mid-May, was practically the full twenty-four hours. We were all showing up for work in increasingly weird buzzing states after spending sleepless nights sunbathing and dancing in parks or by the lake. The divisions between one day and the next became increasingly tenuous.

By June everything was parched. Anything that should have been green was a withered yellowy-brown and there were warnings not to use water needlessly. And everyone had run out of energy. The thing was, even if you didn’t go dancing during the long bright nights – and there was still a hard core of people that did, although increasingly they stood out for their twitchy, erratic behaviour – it was hard to sleep because it just didn’t get dark anymore. The shops quickly ran out not only of electric fans, but also of shutters and dark curtains. I had been lucky enough to get my hands on a set of thick black curtains fairly early on, but the problem was that they tended to hold in the heat even as they held out the light, and that was almost bad as trying to sleep through constant blinding daylight.

By July, most people had started to look like zombies. The news was full of stories of people cracking up, running amok in supermarkets swinging carving knives they had ripped from the packaging with their teeth, or accelerating at zebra crossings and mowing down pedestrians. Even the radio and TV presenters had started to get snippy with each other. It wasn’t hard to believe even the most extreme stories, because everywhere I saw violent arguments flaring up for trivial reasons, and cars being abandoned haphazardly on roadsides instead of being carefully parked in driveways, and people staggering about with red eyes and what we had started to call midnight sunburns, looking as if they would either tear out your throat or fall asleep on their feet – or both – given half a chance.

I’ve never been someone who slept a lot, so all of this didn’t bother me quite as much as a lot of the people I knew. By July, I did find that I was becoming more irritable and distracted than usual, but then I met Anna.

It was on a Saturday afternoon in July. I’ve always liked observing people, and that summer was particularly fascinating. The park near my flat was a great place for it, because it was hilly and offered numerous viewpoints. Although a lot of people had started to hide indoors from the constant sun, others still came out in droves to soak it up even as they complained that they couldn’t wait for the autumn and short, cool days, although beneath the blaze of that endless summer day, autumn seemed increasingly like a fantasy.

There was spot on a rise which I usually had to myself when I came out to people-watch, simply because it was at the top of a rather steep hill and most park-goers could not generally be bothered with it. On that particular July day, however, when I got there, I discovered that someone else was already installed there. I sat down and looked over.

She was about my age, with very pale skin and big round sunglasses with very dark lenses. She was lying on a pashmina that she had spread out on the parched grass, and as I observed her, it began to seem, unbelievably, that she was asleep, although because of the sunglasses I couldn’t be sure. Her skin was like milk, almost bluish, and so transparent that I could see the underlying veins. She looked as if her skin had absorbed the sunlight and, instead of tanning or burning, was simply radiating it back out in a soft glow.

Even so, as the minutes passed, I found myself worrying that she would end up burning or with sunstroke. Eventually, I leaned over and touched her shoulder. She gave a little start and said, “Mmmh?” and leaned up on her elbow, pushing the glasses up onto her head and squinting around at me, blinking.

“Sorry,” I said. “I was worried you’d get sunburned.”

She smiled at me, and suddenly I thought her the most luminous girl I had ever seen.

“That’s really nice of you,” she said. “You’re right, I’m not careful enough.”

I looked closer and realised that she seemed unusually fresh. The whites of her eyes were clear, without the deep shadows under them that had become so commonplace. She actually looked rested.

“Sorry to be nosy,” I said, “but… you looked like you were asleep. Is that possible?” It may seem like a strange question now, but it’s important to understand that sleep had become the most common topic of conversation in those nightless days. She smiled again.

“Don’t tell anyone, because someone will probably stab me, but… I have no problems sleeping when it’s bright. Actually, I prefer it. It’s babyish, but I’m totally terrified of the dark, and even though it’s weird that it hasn’t been dark for so long, I’m kind of enjoying it. I know that’s really selfish…”

I said, “I understand – I find darkness depressing. Even if these days are unusual and worrying, they’re also amazing.”

We smiled at each other, and then I asked her if she wanted to get an ice cream at the bar in the middle of the park. She said yes, and down we went, and there we stayed, drinking warmish beer once we had finished our ice creams, until the bar closed. It was hard to be sure, given that it was still bright and hot by the time we were told, rather irritably, to leave, but it was probably around one o’clock in the morning. At such an ungodly hour, as Anna laughingly called it, there was nothing else for her to do but come home with me.

After that, I didn’t care about other people’s bad moods, and I was grateful for the endless days, for the longer they lasted, the more time I felt I had with her.

But then the nights started to return.

One morning in September, I was drying off after my shower and Anna was making coffee in the kitchen – by then, she had basically moved in, and only went back to her own flat when she needed to pick up some fresh clothes. We had even been talking about finding a place together. I switched on the radio to catch the morning news, as usual. The presenter, usually a very sober woman, sounded as if she had been inhaling helium, and it took me a moment to take in what she was saying.

“Last night, for the first time since last May, the world experienced two minutes of darkness, between three and three-oh-two a.m. Analysts are considering the phenomenon, and hopes are widespread that we may soon be able to look forward to a return of normal ratios of day and night!”

I called out to Anna, “Did you notice that there were two minutes of darkness last night?” and she called back, “No, thank goodness!”

Maybe there was something in her voice when she said that; perhaps it was too vehement, too relieved. Maybe I should have paid more attention, but I didn’t. We simply got ready as usual, kissed each other goodbye and went our separate ways to work.

Of course, I thought about it all day, that rumour of darkness. It was impossible not to, since it was all anybody could talk about, and by then I was as sick as anyone of the constant heat and blaze. I was tempted to stay up until 3 a.m. that night, just to see if it happened again, but by 1.30 a.m. my eyes were scratchy with tiredness and I had to go and seek refuge in my stifling darkened room.

Usually we went to bed together initially, but Anna always became edgy and restless as soon as I closed the black curtains. She claimed that the curtains made the room so stuffy that she could not sleep, and that the curtains made her feel claustrophobic. At some stage every night – I suppose she waited until I fell asleep, for I never saw her leaving – she went out to the sitting room to sleep on the couch under the wide-open window, in full sunlight, just as I had seen her the first time.

As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. After that news report, the darkness returned even faster than it had departed. Night after night, it swallowed up the light, like a wolf caged up and starved for months and then released into a flock of sheep.

At first everyone was euphoric with the relief of being able to sleep again for the duration of a proper night, but only a few weeks later, the days had already become far shorter than was usual for the season. As before, all sorts of specialists tried to find causes for the lengthening darkness, throwing around words like trajectories and meteor showers and sunspots, but they were obviously all just trying to cover up the fact that they were clueless, and their inability to explain the increasingly interminable nights made people even more nervous about what was happening.

Even so, the transition from all light to all dark was not so bad at first. We all enjoyed being able to sleep again without suffocating behind our dark curtains. It was nice to curl up for a cosy evening on the couch instead of feeling that frantic obligation to be outside trying to enjoy the bright evenings. As the nights closed in further, there was a boom in the number of restaurant-goers, especially to places with comfort food like fondue or pizza.

It wasn’t just the dark, though; it was the cold, too. As each day grew shorter than the last, the cold began to grind into us. It was probably less easy to bear simply because for six months we had been obliged to accustom ourselves to extreme heat – and the transition was so abrupt. Also, after the first full nights of voluptuous slumber, a lot of people began to be affected by a sort of sleep blight, apparently brought on by the constant darkness. It was as if they not just needed to catch up on the rest they had lost during the interminable summer, but as if they could not wake up properly. As with the long days, because I’m not really a big sleeper, it didn’t affect me as intensely nor as quickly as other people, but I did notice increasingly how friends had begun to nod off in between courses in restaurants, and colleagues who were invariably punctual would arrive not simply minutes but hours late, looking bleary and confused due to having slept late, and even then would doze off during the day, in meetings or even in the middle of face-to-face conversations.

Very soon, there were official calls to ration power, simply because everyone was using far more light and heat than usual – not only out of necessity, but for comfort too, because the constant darkness had begun to feel insidious and malevolent, as if it was something that would creep into our homes and workplaces if we were not attentive. Once the rationing started, other things began to disintegrate.

People had gone a little crazy during the long days, but the long nights turned out to be even worse. I came across a poem around then that seemed strangely prescient. I had been looking for a love poem to send Anna, as I did every day to prove to her that I was thinking of her, and I had been checking out various Romantic poets to see what might be suitable, and had come across Lord Byron. Of course I didn’t send “Darkness” to her, as even then I was aware that she would probably find it creepy, but I kept rereading it and being astonished all over again each time by how close to our reality were lines like, “Morn came and went – and came, and brought no day”.

Bit by bit, as the night lasted non-stop through November and December, people began to take their children out of the unheated schools. Once the streetlights were switched off, windows were broken and buildings and cars were vandalised. We began to be vulnerable to increasingly vicious attacks, even in streets that had never been dangerous before, during rush hour and in crowded places. Gangs calling themselves – with great originality – “Vamps” took over patches of the cities, and not just the traditionally tough areas, either. The more evident the Vamps became, the less people went out, and of course the fewer “normal” people were around, the worse things got for the victims of attacks. It became a common topic of conversation to exchange fears of things breaking down in our homes; we all hoped against hope that our toilets and fridges would just keep on working properly, because if we had problems, either nobody would dare to come and fix them, or if someone did come, you couldn’t be sure who they were and what their real intentions were likely to be. Stories of horrific crimes abounded, and each one felt closer to home than the last.

From the moment the darkness began to return, Anna started to become increasingly withdrawn and inert. As the nights grew longer – even at the beginning, when the darkness only lasted a couple of hours – she began to invent excuses not to leave my flat. Her skin grew even paler and began to look greyish and sickly, like a root that has never seen the light. As time passed and the hours of darkness lengthened, she spent more and more time just sitting about, virtually immobile, her skin dull and her eyes sunken back into her skull.

I discovered that she had stopped even bothering to go to work when I returned home from work myself and came across a letter from her employer, crumpled and discarded on the kitchen table, in which they said they had no choice but to fire her for her continued absenteeism. That was confusing – I had had no idea – but above all I was furious at what I saw as her thoughtlessness and laziness. After all, none of us wanted to go out, but there was no choice, because the price of electricity was rising like fireworks. I didn’t have any spare cash to help her out while she looked for another job, and in any case I didn’t see why I should help. Above all, I felt that she owed me a very good explanation.

I found her huddled in bed under a blaze of light: she had taken every portable lamp she could find around the apartment and had plugged them all in, every single one. By then, because of the rationing, it had become illegal even to use that much electricity at one time. Although she basically never left the flat anymore, it was still in my name, and if there were to be any problems, they would fall squarely on my shoulders.

I can’t even begin to describe how furious I was by that stage. I started going around the room, switching off the lights, but I had only extinguished two or three of them when she gave a terrified yowl, like an animal. I threw an enraged glance in her direction and then just stopped and stared at her.

There was no trace of the luminous girl I had met only months before. What stared back at me from within the crumple of the duvet resembled nothing so much as the pinched face of a cadaver. In that instant, all of my former ardour was transformed into revulsion.

It wasn’t hard to tell her to leave, because I didn’t feel that I knew her anymore. What was hard was actually making her do it. Even though – of course – I didn’t ask her to leave until the couple of hours when the streetlamps were switched on, she was so terrified to leave the paltry light of the apartment that I literally had to push her out the door and slam the door on her scrabbling fingers. It was like some nightmarish video game, with her clinging to my arm in an approximation of her former affection – that had dwindled along with the sunlight – and begging me to let her stay. She seemed sticky as a cobweb and macabre as a spider. As I finally closed the door on her, I was not in the least tempted to change my mind.

I kept waking up for a long time after that, thinking that I could hear her mewling and scratching at the door to my flat. I only dreamed of her once, though. In my dream, she was as she had been on the first day I saw her, a beautiful girl who radiated light, but when I woke from that vision, all I could remember was what she had become by the last day, a thing hardly human, like some sort of greyish grub.

I woke from that particular dream at 3 p.m. on a Saturday. I didn’t know what had wakened me until I saw a faint but growing light coming through my uncurtained window. I sat up and, for the first time in months, I saw the sun. For about a minute, it continued to rise above the horizon. Then, slowly, it fell inexorably back into the sea of darkness.

Helen de Búrca was born in Ireland and lives in Geneva, Switzerland. Her prize-winning stories have been published in the Sunday Business Post, the Nivalis 2016 Anthology, the Aesthetica Creative Writing Anthology 2017, the Lakeview International Journal of Literature and the Arts, Bare Fiction Magazine, Occulum, Wasafiri, Number Eleven Magazine, the Highlands and Islands Short Story Association (HISSAC), the Hysteria 6 Anthology and The Ham Free Press. She tweets @helenlechat

[Reference: “Darkness” by Lord Byron ]

Approaching Motherhood – SRL foreword 24 by Sofia Capel

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.
/ Sylvia Plath

Sex is a curious thing.One moment you’re having the time of your life, the next, you’re pregnant. But of course, you don’t know it yet. So you reach for your wine glass, take a sip, lean back on his arm and slowly doze off to his sweet nothings. You wake up at 1pm with nothing on your mind. Because it’s Sunday. You’ve got nothing to do and nothing holds you back.

But that nothing is something. It is a space where you exist on your own terms, for your own needs. That nothing is a flatshare above a shop in the cocktail quarter of north London. It is a job that pays the rent but gives you enough time to edit a little lit mag in the evenings. And it is spending your whole salary on makeup and a trip to Japan because you heard Kyoto is beautiful in the spring.

A week goes by and you take the morning train down to Brighton where you spend the whole day drinking in a park. A camera crew from MTV catches you doing the dutty wine and you think ‘I’m too old for this shit but I don’t care’. And in the hiphop tent you twerk so badly you half break your back. When the sun goes down your favourite band from your childhood comes on the big stage and you and the baby’s father dance to ‘Pop Kids’ until it’s time to find your way home.

The weekend after, you get a hunch that something is up. You’re on a camping trip in the Midlands when you decide to show off in front of your new boyfriend and run all the way up a steep hill. When you get to the top you have less than a minute to admire the view, before you throw up for the whole of Shropshire to see. But it’s going to take you another week before you finally pee on that stick. And when those two pink lines appear you know that everything is about to change.


I left London two weeks ago. After 12 years, eight homes and too many mornings spent reading alone in small cafes, we are finally done with each other. Unless you’re rich, it is no place to raise a child, in my opinion. So we have relocated to the seaside. I have left all my friends, my job and my dirty London flat in Kentish Town, along with my 20s. And of course, it has crossed my mind that I have also left my identity in said cocktail quarter. Because having a child changes everything, and if we are what we do, then I have no idea of what I will be.

Among many things, I used to think that I was a writer. But writers write, don’t they? So what then, when they no longer can find the time or energy to write because someone else’s needs will have to come first? And if the time and will to write is there, but no life interesting enough to write about, is there a point in writing at all?

Zadie Smith slaps me out of my existential crisis and crippling self-doubt. According to the British author and mother of two, the idea of motherhood being a threat to creativity is ‘absurd’. In a Lenny interview she states: “{Motherhood} forced me, at least partially, into a secondary position in my own life. Even the simple biological recognition that my daughter is on the way in and I am unavoidably on the way out. And time-wise, it made me very impatient of wasting any. ”

Perhaps dragging myself out of the London smut and the temptations of nothingness was the best thing that could happen to my creativity. We still live in a world where women are the ones expected to sacrifice their careers and life styles when they become mothers, and it is only natural to have doubts and fears about it. But in hindsight, I can see how too much independence and freedom often lead to decadence instead of productivity. This sudden change gives me the opportunity to reinvent myself, and maybe come out a better writer at the end of it.

While I have no intention of wasting time, I will not race against it either. I’m going to take the next year or so to focus on my family and my new life on the South Coast. And that also means taking a break from my role as editor of the Stockholm Review. These three years have been an absolute delight and I look forward to reading the future issues in between breast feedings and nappy changing. Cian will take over from issue 25. I wish him the best of luck!

As I write this, I can see the contours of Dylan’s limbs move under the thin fabric of my dress. He pats the inside of my belly as if to say: “It’s gonna be OK, mamma!” Next month we finally get to meet him. My partner chose his name. It means “from the sea”. I think it has a ring to it!

Cian, Sarvat, Saba and I wish you a happy reading!

Issue 24 features fiction by:

Ashley Goldberg
Helen de Búrca
Rachel Abbott
Kruti Brahmbhatt

and poetry by

Carl Phillips
Debora Vogel in translation by Anastasiya Lyubas
Lel Sebastian
Rosie Gailor

Poetry by Debora Vogel in translation by Anastasiya Lyubas

Still Life in Glass

Between two white gray bulging scales of the world

Hangs glass fruit of space

with white creased paper kernel

of a stiff angular sun.


Every day the white kernel sits in the flesh of glass,

bodies revolve, with faces like cool flat panes

and glass birds come and go, like lumps of identical days.

First dusk. Second gloaming.


Until a colorless flat rectangle of sound falls

out of the glass containers of bodies:

like a long sigh of glazen shards.


Now all encounters sound monotonous:

like spheres of colorless glass,

like flat panes of liquid glass.


Like a long sigh of cool glass.


Still Life in Cold

Half a year

days are in green twilight

as in Flemish paintings of green cold.


Half a year

nights drag on for twelve hours.

Long like bodiless days.


The day is glass-colored length

divided into two halves

by a flat red circle.


Between four gray walls of the world-rectangle

Board-like bodies rise

flat wooden logs on two feet.

Every twelve hours


nothing more happens

in the glass rectangle

with yellow stars, white stars.


Faces become flat panes-

colorless glass quadrangles like days.


And dull-wooden watery-yellow four sides:

pieces of flat boards, like wooden-yellow nights.


Still Life with Seagulls

Out of the fragrant lead of sea, which ebbs and flows

countless times

Between two suns—


round grayness сomes over seven days.

Seven days: seven gray pearl beads.

Falling one by one: the first bead and the seventh.


Gray paper shells of seagulls

Ebb. Flow. Ten times in a row.

Twenty times.


With the dawning of the dawn

until the dusk.


With a cry, so round

and monochrome-gray like a bead of a day.


How can yellow star roll every day

How can blue waves and shells of seagulls flow

and people lift their legs

when every day is a single bead

floating on the surface seven times a week.

Debora Vogel was a Polish-Jewish writer, philosopher, art critic, and translator. She was a “wandering star” of Polish and Yiddish Modernisms in Eastern Europe and North America, her writing being comparable to Gertrude Stein’s in its striking originality. Born in Lviv, she was educated in Vienna and Kraków, and travelled extensively in Paris, Berlin and Stockholm, which is reflected in her work.

Anastasiya Lyubas is a PhD student in the Department of Comparative Literature in Binghamton University where she is currently at work on her dissertation “Language and Plasticity in Debora Vogel’s Poetics.” She got her MA in Translation Studies in Binghamton in 2014 with the help of the Fulbright grant. Lyubas is a 2017-2018 translation fellow at the Yiddish Book Center, and a Max Weinreich research fellow in YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York.

Honeysuckle and Jasmine, fiction by Rachel Abbott

Art: Comms

In the summers of our little years, we had endless play dates while our mothers drank mimosas on the patio. Sometimes all the neighborhood kids from our mothers’ office would gather together. We would storm the backyards for afternoons of loud, Kool-Aid fueled fun. Sometimes it was just you and me, K.K. and Lindy, best friends forever.

I liked those days the most. We didn’t have to run in circles or fight the boys for a vantage point at the top of the play set. Together we climbed the branches of the leaning oak tree in your back yard, which provided a far better view, and we crawled under the shed, a place far more earthen and mysterious than the slide that the others preferred. We ranged through the creek bed behind your house, where we once dug a hole half way to China. We took frequent breaks in our hole-digging to lie on the piles of dirt we created. I delighted in the way your hair was the same color as the freshly turned dirt; I thought it made you look like a wood spirit. You called me a sap for saying that, and you made fun of the way my hair looked when it got leaves and twigs stuck in it. When digging to China didn’t work out, we took your Beanie Babies to the hole and staged an elaborate Old West rescue mission. My favorite game was when we traveled back in time to feed the dinosaurs ground beef and look for the Loch Ness Monster. I knew we would find him one day if we just worked hard enough. Your house was my favorite of any in the neighborhood. The end of your street dipped down into the piney woods nestling our town. Inside the dark green walls, you had a whole room full of toys.

We did not notice at first that we were aging out of our games. The restlessness of early adolescence settled over us one summer like an itchy blanket. The Beanie Babies became lifeless, fuzzy sacks. It wasn’t that we realized we couldn’t time travel or dig all the way to China; we just didn’t want to try anymore.

It was the last weekend of summer in September, fourth grade. We had a Saturday play date, just us, though by then we had stopped calling them play dates. We were older now; we were hanging out. Sunlight poured down onto our neighborhood, catching on the atmosphere and turning the air golden. Around three in the afternoon, a train of puffy white clouds began to roll in. We’d been digging through your sandbox, uncovering all relics of our old games of pirates—a whittle stick turned sword, your mother’s red scarf. You giggled at me and reminded me of the time that you made me walk the plank five times in a row for failing to keep your little brother from invading our ship. I blushed and looked out at the pine trees, too shy to remind you that I hadn’t walked the plank, but you had pushed me off the playset in anger. Above our heads, the clouds advanced like an enemy fleet. Though we’d battened down our hatches for the brewing tempest and sworn to drown with our ship if we had to, our mothers made us come inside at the first rumble of thunder. We grumbled the whole way in. My mother smoothed down my hair as I walked past her through the sliding glass door. Her eyes smiled at me, though she continued talking to your mom about how to request a raise at their office.

We trudged upstairs, but our grief at the weather was soon forgotten in the airy playroom at the top of the stairs. You had tubs full of Barbies and Polly Pockets and a wallpapered dollhouse with Lego furniture. We made straight for the dollhouse, but after ten minutes, the dolls were dull. You flung your favorite Barbie across the room where it landed with a thump that made me fidgety.

“This is boring,” you moaned as you threw yourself onto the floor. Your bangs fell into your eyes, and you blew them away with a huff.

“We could do something else?”

“Like what?”

“I could teach you something from my gymnastics class.” I bounced to my feet, eager to show you the round off I’d been practicing every night.

“I quit gymnastics, Lindy.” You wrinkled your nose, and my arms dropped down to my sides. “Gymnastics is stupid.”

“You could teach me something from soccer?”

“It’s raining. We can’t play soccer insider. You’re so dumb.”

If I didn’t figure out something soon, I was sure you’d make me go home. I didn’t want to spend all day with my mother and stepdad.

“Whatever you wanna play, K.K. It’s your house.”

You paused for a moment, chewing on your pink bottom lip.

“We could make believe something.”

I nodded.

“What about Prince and Princess? I’ll let you be the princess today.”

I grinned big. I almost never got the roles I wanted in our games, and even as we were outgrowing it, Princess was highly coveted. Plus, when you were happy like right now, cheeks tinted and eyes shining above a splatter of freckles, I was happy, too.

“Okay,” I said, “You can start the story.”

And you did. The story we wove was trite but deeply important to us. We had enacted this story with our dolls time and time again, and once we even attempted to write the plot down. We knew it would make a wonderful book if we could just get past the first three pages. The notebook still waited somewhere in your nightstand.

My kingly stepfather, you said, had locked me away in a castle in the middle of the forest, because I had hidden magical powers that I had yet to learn to control, which caused a lot of problems for pedestrians in the kingdom. Locking me away was supposed to keep everyone safe from the danger that I had become. But I was desperate and sad, I interjected, because I was all alone in the tower. Only my kingly stepfather would come to visit me, and he was boring and wanted to talk about wars and train me as a weapon of mass destruction, when I longed only to be free. Which was especially bad, you continued, because I’d been in love. It had been a secret love, but it was true. I’d been in love with a prince from a distant land. We communicated via pigeons. When he stopped receiving my letters, he knew something was wrong.

With that, you became the prince. The plastic lid to one of your toy bins acted as a shield; a pile of boxes on a chair acted as my tower. I crouched behind the tower while you staged an elaborate battle between yourself and the Beanie Baby dragon guarding me. I wanted to look forlorn in my damsel position, but I couldn’t keep myself from snorting as you and the dragon growled each other down. There was something silly and free about watching you make believe, even though we were getting old. For a moment, we slipped into the mindset of unlimited play and imagination, a world where the make believe danced on the edges of reality. With a flourish, you kicked the boxes off the chair and rescued me from the pits of abandonment. You gave me a piggyback ride to a new kingdom, your room.

I was taller than you, so after a few more staggering steps, you collapsed on the floor in a fit of giggles.

“You’re crushing my ribs,” you said, wheezing as you struggled to push me off. We squirmed and rolled on the floor, alternatively squishing each other and pretending to be squished, until we settled, ruddy cheeked, side by side on the floor. It was hard to catch our breaths between the bubbling giggles.

“What now?” I asked.

You sat up and I faced you, sitting cross-legged on the carpet. “Prince and Princess get married,” you said.

“Yeah, alright.”

Then you kissed me.

I was too shocked to close my eyes for a few seconds. That close, your face blended together and looked almost funny, but I couldn’t possibly laugh. You pulled away before I could process what you’d done, eyebrows knit together at my nonresponse. I mumbled out an excuse and moved in to kiss you again. Eyes closed this time, we kissed in our closest approximation of the movies—lips evenly matched, bodies two feet apart, completely still the whole time. My brain couldn’t form a single thought while we kissed, but I felt lights blinking on in my mind. So this was kissing.

We pulled apart at the sound of your mom coming upstairs. Your cheeks burned red, but you had a little smile. Something moved behind your big hazel eyes.

“Karen, are you girls okay up here? You’re so quiet.” Your mother glanced across the room, searching for something out of place.

“Yeah, we’re fine mom.” I was surprised by how cool your voice was. “Actually, Lindy was just saying she’s about ready to go home—the rain and all.”

“Alright, Lindy, come on down. Your mommy’s about ready to leave, too.”

As my mother and I ran through the rain to her car, I inhaled the scent of honeysuckles and jasmine mixed with the smell of wet pavement. The fragrance did little to clear my mind, which swam with thoughts of you. Though we didn’t say goodbye, I saw you looking out at my mom’s car from between the curtains of your bedroom window. When I caught your eyes, you let the curtain fall back into place. My lips burned the whole ride home. That night, I dreamt of a tower of boxes that never ended with you at the very top, waiting for another kiss.

Sunday passed slow and amber as syrup. I woke up feeling fresh and strange. The morning cartoons didn’t hold my attention; I didn’t want to eat cereal at the kitchen table. Instead, I spent the morning playing Prince and Princess with my small collection of dolls. Before, I had resented the fact that my parents made me choose between gymnastics lessons and new toys. I’d cut all the hair off my least favorite Barbie to make her into a substitute Ken doll, since I knew I couldn’t buy a real one. Now, it didn’t bother me. Everything felt better. I spent hours imagining how I would greet you in school the next morning, planning times when I might run into you in the hallway.

Monday, I saw you again. Your mom was right in front of mine in the car riders’ line. The car patrol opened the door for you, and you hopped out. Normally, you waited for me when you saw me in the line behind you. Today you skipped straight up the walkway into the building. My heart stuttered at the sight of you leaving—so close and just out of reach—but I knew I’d see you at recess.

Throughout the morning classes, I doodled hearts in the margins of my worksheets. When Ms. Ashraf called my name in class to answer a math problem, I had to stammer that I hadn’t been paying attention. She made a note on my report folder. All through lunch, I tried to catch your eye from across the cafeteria, but I couldn’t see you past my classmates. The assigned seating meant you sat at the farthest table in the cafeteria with the regular class. I sat with the gifted-and-talented class, a fact you made fun of constantly. GT was for geeks. As soon as we were at recess, I darted away from my GT friends so you wouldn’t think I was lame.

The playground outside our elementary school was enveloped by the pine trees, and in the middle stood brightly painted jungle gyms. There was a red swing set, a silver slide that burned in the afternoon sun, and a blacktop area with a tetherball pole and two spaces for Four Square. In the field behind the equipment where the grass tickled our shins, young boys poked at anthills and chased around a kickball. Just like in your yard, the scent of flowers wafted through the late summer air, still heavy from the weekend’s rain. I closed my eyes and breathed in for a moment, eyes closed to the Technicolor playground before me.

I found you at the top of the massive play set and jungle gym. You were waiting for your turn to slide down. Sneaking up behind you, I covered your eyes with my hands and shouted ‘guess who’ into your ear.

“Hi, Lindy.” You stepped out of my hands; it was your turn to slide.

“K.K.!” You turned to look at me, sulking out of line. “Do you wanna go play soccer together? You can show me how to be goalie.”

“Probably not. I think I’m busy today.”

“Do you wanna play something else? Four Square? Or we could make a hopscotch on the sidewalk. I think Ellen snuck some chalk out to recess.”

“I already told you I’m busy.”

I didn’t see it, then. How could I have? All I could think about was Saturday afternoon, and the tiny smile that had tilted your lips in your room. I felt new and bold. I didn’t see the look that’d been on your face the whole time.

“What about Prince and Princess?”

And I kissed you again, right there on the playground.

You did not kiss me back.

“Get off of me!” You pushed me into the railing on the top of the play set. The painted metal bars banged into my ribs, and for the first time, I understood what it meant to have the breath knocked out of you. I gaped and tried to blink back the shocked tears that had sprung into my eyes. “What are you, a lesbian?”

In an instant, I wanted to swallow the kiss back into my body. Desperately I wished for a rewind button, or for the jolt of waking up from a nightmare. But time pressed forward, and I was awake. This, my reality, was nothing but an aching back and your livid hazel eyes. A few kids heard you yelling and clambered down from the monkey bars. You watched them run off, with a splotchy red flush on your cheeks.

I pushed against the railing and got to my feet. You were still looking around at the other kids, something furtive in your eyes, though they didn’t notice us. A boy and girl were playing house in the space beneath the play set. A game of tag ran by the slide. Everyone else was swinging or chasing a kickball across the field or gathered on the sidewalks. I wanted to tell you that you didn’t have anything to worry about, but you were making for the slide again.

“K.K., wait!” I ran after you and grabbed your arm. Our eyes locked for a moment, and I searched for whatever had moved in you on Saturday in your room. There was nothing there. You jerked away from me and dug your sandals into my shin to keep me away. When I fell back against the bars this time, I stayed there.

“Don’t touch me!” You lowered your voice and looked me right in the eyes. “Freak.”

You kicked me one more time before you slid away. Within a minute, you were playing foursquare on the sidewalk past the field.

I sat on top of the play set, tucked into the corner. With my forehead pressing into my knees, I willed myself to slip through the slats of the platform and sink into the woodchips below. Fat tears and snot dripped onto my legs, but I believed that if I never left that hidden corner, no one would be able to see that I’d been crying. I would have to stay there forever.

The recess monitors blew their whistles, and my classmates’ din condensed and disappeared. Fourth grade had the last recess of the day. Soon it was quiet and still across the playground, but I kept my forehead on my knees just in case.

I can still remember that moment. I can remember the precise angle of your eyebrows when you kicked me. I can feel the plastic walls of the play set and the way that my spine curved into the space between the wall and the support beam. This memory, I am confident, will never fully dissolve into time as so many other moments have. Oh, how often I thought of you. With clammy palms behind the band hall seven years later, when I gathered the courage to kiss someone again; or in the arms of a stranger the first time I went to a gay bar. Yes, and at the queer women’s meetings in college, where we drank burnt coffee and fidgeted and over shared. And at my first Pride. And when 49 people died in Orlando. And every summer when the honeysuckles and jasmine bloomed, with their heady fragrance blanketing the city. All the time; I think of you, and this exact moment, all the time.

The teachers found me after a while. I heard them call for me over the P.A. system, and then the principal and Ms. Ashraf came looking for me. I didn’t answer when they shouted my name from across the playground, but they found me anyway. My mother took me home from school early that day, angry at me for skipping class but worried enough not to asking questions just yet. I watched cartoons in the darkening living room until it was late enough for me to pretend to go to sleep. I laid in bed for an hour, arms wrapped around my aching ribs.

Around 10:00 pm, I crawled out of bed and slipped into my parents’ office. I climbed onto the padded swivel chair while I waited for the computer to warm up. My bare feet swung to the sounds of the dial-up connection.

When I’d pulled up the Internet browser, I typed in the word ‘lesbian.’

My stomach growled; I’d skipped dinner that night. While I waited for the dialup to load, I tiptoed to the kitchen and grabbed a slice of bread. When I returned to the office, my mother was standing over the computer monitor. She hovered over the computer with both hands on the desk. A frown carved down the sides of her mouth. When she heard me reenter the room, her eyes shot up to mine.


I tried to bolt to my bed, but she called me back.

“Lindy, could I speak with you, please?”

I inched back and stared straight down at my toes, which were curling into the carpet. I traced the lines of my chipped purple nail polish with my eyes to avoid looking into her face.

“What are you looking at on the computer?”

“I don’t know.”

“What made you look this up, Lindy? Do you need to talk about something?”

“No!” Panic welled up in my ribs, and I felt a rapid anxiety bloom in my chest, stinging against my bruised ribs. “I heard some kids say that word about a girl on the bus home. It was about a girl you don’t know. I didn’t know what it meant.”

My mother crossed the room to where I stood. She placed one thin hand on my shoulder and knelt to my level. Her other hand fiddled with the delicate cross necklace on her chest. I searched her eyes, a mirror of my own, to see if she believed me.

“That’s okay, sweetie, but next time you don’t understand, ask your me first. Looking up something that like on the computer might pull up something… something not for kids to see, okay?”

“What do you mean? What kind of stuff can’t I look at?”

“This isn’t up for debate, Linda Grace.”


“Excuse me?”

“Yes ma’am. Sorry, mom.”

She patted my arm a few times and sent me back to my room.

I didn’t go to school on Tuesday. It was my stepdad’s turn to get me ready in the morning. When he knocked on my door fifteen minutes before we were supposed to leave, I moaned about a stomachache. Rick was still timid around me, not inclined to get close enough to press a palm to my forehead. He didn’t know any better.

Back in Ms. Ashraf’s class on Wednesday, I looked at my desk as much as possible. My papers lied askew, unread; I focused on fitting the edge of my fingernail into the carved doodles of former students. I could only imagine what you had said about me when I’d been gone, though the my classmates treated me normally. Although no one teased me, I awaited the moment when I would make a mistake and someone would call me a lesbian in ridicule. For the whole week, I sat on my hands in class, so I couldn’t answer any of the Ms. Ashraf’s questions. From a place on the sidewalk barely outside the door to the playground, I read Harry Potter during every excruciating recess. Whenever I glanced up, I could see you leading the chase for the kickball or winning a game of foursquare. You never even looked at me.

Of course, our mothers didn’t notice the difference. Mine just thought I wasn’t feeling well; yours had no cause to worry. Our scheduled Saturday play date stayed penciled onto my mother’s calendar on the fridge. The rain could’ve canceled it, but a new episode of The Sopranos had just aired and our mothers couldn’t wait to talk. At eleven in the morning, we drove across the neighborhood to your house. The humidity pressed down on me as we exited the car. I brought Harry Potter with me, and three other books just in case, so I’d have plenty to stare at until we could leave.

When you didn’t meet me at the door like usual, my mother walked me up to your room. Half way up the stairs, I gripped her hand. I did not look at her but rather felt her surprise in the way she hesitated to clasp onto me, but soon she intertwined our fingers, giving me one last gesture of comfort before she knocked on the door to your bedroom. You gave her an extra big smile when you saw her, and she closed the door on her way out. I made my way directly to your tiny, child sized armchair. Curling myself into the seat, I opened my book and stared at the page where I had left off at recess on Friday. I read the same sentence over and over, unable to make the words carry meaning, unable to understand what I read, always unable to understand.

I didn’t see you turn around to watch me sit, but I heard you when you asked if I wanted to play Prince and Princess again.

Rachel Abbott lives in Austin, Texas with her partner and their two dogs. By day she works in a used book store; by night she writes fiction, essays, and poetry. Her work has previously appeared in Skylark Review and Prairie Margins. You can find her on Twitter at @atrachelabbott and WordPress at

Black Radio with Screeching Sound, fiction by Kruti Brahmbhatt


I woke to the sound of the main house door closing at six in the morning. I had been aware of my husband’s movements from early morning. His jumping-jack exercise on the blue mat, walking up and down the wooden stairs, sun salutations, and at the end, the exercise he did to ease his bowel movement. He had chronic constipation, his digestive system as rigid as his habits, if not more.

I made ginger tea fretting about the mess he must have created in the bathroom.

The newspaper vendor had yet to arrive. I finally caught a glimpse of his silver-grey bicycle and white shirt from the end of the street when I was dialing his boss’s number to complain about him.

“You don’t value others’ time. Do you? In an hour, I’d be up making lunch for my family. Next time, you’re late, I will ask your boss to get rid of you.”

“Sorry, Auntie,” he said holding his bicycle from one hand and throwing newspaper in our neighbor’s garden from the other.

“Wait. You forgot to add the supplementary addition of the English newspaper?”

“Sorry, sorry, sorry Auntie. I was in hurry this morning. It won’t happen the next time.” He begged.

I remembered to soak green gram in water. I called out my son from the kitchen to check if he was up, then went back to the garden and resumed reading the newspaper by the side of aloe vera, basil and chilli pepper plants. We had decided to grow a few herbal plants two years back to use in the kitchen. Only recently, my daughter started applying aloe vera gel on her face and hair. She had been even drinking aloe vera juice first thing in the morning. An hour later, my husband walked back from Upanishad class and sat on his carved wooden chair with the picture of a blooming plant and withering plant showcasing vicissitudes of life, the line underneath reads: You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. He had liked the chair at once and we had brought it from all the way from Madurai on a train, ensuring it didn’t break in the hands of the porters.

He started reading a newspaper as he read the scriptures, with all his attention. He had been attending these lectures on Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita for over a decade. With more time on his hands now, he had recently helped the Ashram organizers to evaluate some twelve thousand essays written on Learnings from Bhagawad Gita just as he reviewed manuscripts of his friends from literary circle. The white cat jumped on the dark-purple money plants from our wooden gate as soon as it saw my husband. These money plants created an oval boundary for the garden. The cat as always sat by my husband’s side.

He went inside the kitchen and brought milk in a bowl. The cat guzzled  it in less than a minute and basked in the sunlight as it awaited a glance of approval from my husband.

“Finished. Good. Go now,” my husband said as if he was talking to a child.

The cat was never overwhelming and exhibited just the right amount of emotion – the way my husband preferred.

“I haven’t seen the black one for a while. These two have been irregular these days. They didn’t come yesterday. Did they?” my husband asked.

“They must have gobbled up a pigeon or two. Did you read that there was a theft in our neighborhood in the middle of the day? You can’t trust anyone these days.” I waited for him to say something but he was engrossed in the Gujarati newspaper.

I went to the kitchen and started preparing breakfast. My daughter came in, wrapped her hands around me, and took a cup of ginger tea. She headed back to her room as soon as she gave a cursory glance to the English newspapers. I had never seen her wasting her time. To the only girl who came to play with her in her childhood, I used to throw a barrage of questions, ranging from her score in the recent examination to about how long she intended to play with my daughter. My daughter was a homebody from the start, preferred books to friends.

Just then my son came back from his soccer match sweating heavily. Tanned, exhausted and bruised. I saw him putting on some ointment on his foot.

“What happened?,” I asked.

“It’s a minor injury. It will be fine.”

“How do you get hurt every other day? What kind of barbaric friends do you play with? You could go for cycling and jogging instead. Or at least take care of yourself, if you must play”, I said giving him a fresh towel to wipe off his sweat.

“Okay Mom,” he said, drinking his glass of milk and staring at the newspapers. “Did you do yoga today? Don’t complain about your knee and back if you don’t take care of yourself”, my son said chiding me.

“I don’t have time for Yoga in the morning, don’t you see? Who will make lunch for you?”

“Do it later.”

He left for the office and I started pacing the house, thought about the extra work I should get done from the maids to make up for not cleaning the first floor today. One of them didn’t mop the area around the garage yesterday. I should get the kitchen ceiling clean too. It was already ten in the morning.

The housekeepers came fifteen minutes late.

“Just work on the ground floor today. We don’t have to go upstairs. Didi is taking some tests and won’t open the door. Please clean the kitchen ceiling and all the glass windows and mop the garage area. They look like they haven’t been touched for the last six months.”

In between managing the maids and preparing lunch in the kitchen, I got calls from my sisters.  They lived in the same city, within a radius of seven kilometers. The middle one always called around eleven, the younger one around noon, and the elder one in the evenings. We talked, we fought and we made up regularly. We vied against each other to prove our superiority. That’s how we made sense of our lives, in relation to those of others.

“What are you cooking today? I am inviting my daughter’s mother-in-law and father-in-law for dinner. I have to get the house cleaned as well.” The middle sister said in an anxious voice.

“Why do you need to call them for dinner?”

“You wouldn’t understand. When your kids will get married, you’ll know. You have to maintain a good impression throughout. I am thinking of making samosas, paneer chili and grilled veg. sandwiches. They eat at ten at night, can’t serve heavy food. Have so much to do today. My mother-in-law fell down again from her bed at night. We saw her head bleeding early in the morning and took her to the hospital. The whole day she keeps pressing the bell her son has handed her. I am the one who ends up running around. I have no life until she passes away. The nurse is fed up too I guess. She was telling me that while she was scrubbing her back, she asked her to wash her buttocks. That’s not her job. And it’s not like she can’t wash on her own. This is the third nurse her son has found from some online source in the last six months,” she said without stopping to catch her breath.

I didn’t tell her that it was because of her mother-in-law that they could live comfortably. She had given all of her gold and properties to them, to the son who had incurred significant amount of debt in his business.

“Anyway, I have to go out with my daughter for shopping, She is buying new clothes for her Europe honeymoon,” the middle one declared.

“Good, she’ll have a good time. How much did they pay for the trip?”

“It was nine lakh rupees for a one-month trip. It included all the expenses they would incur in five countries in Europe.”

“I need to answer the door,” I said, putting down the phone. I opened the door to collect posts and couriers from the postman and called up another sister before she called me.

“The middle one was bragging about her daughter’s Europe trip. What amount did she tell you of the Europe package?”

“She told me eight lakh rupees,” said the younger one.

“She told me nine. They live in debt but don’t mend their ways. They won’t cease to be pretentious. Anyways, we are happy her daughter has been married in a well settled family. But at the end of the day, she would be a housewife. My kids are different. Education is the priority at our place, you know. My daughter is dogged on pursuing a PhD next year and my son doesn’t have time from setting up his company. Let others do what they want to do, I haven’t raised my kids to do ordinary things,” I said to relieve my deep-seated anxieties.

The pressure cooker summoned me and I had to put the phone down. The black radio was no longer playing the mellifluous sound it always played. As I tried turning it up, it screeched louder and I had to turn it down. It must have run out of batteries. I like playing the radio when I try to sleep in the afternoon. If I don’t, I worry about my children’s marriages and husband’s pension. After his retirement, my husband has continued to work as a Professor Emeritus in the same University. Had he not been absent minded and known how to get his work done from his colleagues and subordinates before retirement, we would have received all the pension money by now. I could have had another air conditioning for the kitchen and a bigger car. These days people see all these trappings before they marry their daughters. We should even get the house painted soon.

My husband has been absentminded all these years, even at home. Only writing got all of his attention and got him a national award for Gujarati translation of Tagore’s Geetanjali.

I called up my husband to inquire if he had spoken to the University authorities and had the files cleared. He told me that he was still waiting to meet the Vice Chancellor. I told him to stay there until the matter is resolved. At least ask them firmly the reasons for the delay in pension. We can then think about ways of getting things done faster. We shouldn’t hesitate in hiring lawyers to expedite things. I asked him to bring batteries for the radio. In the afternoon, my sister in law called.

“There is an exhibition at Kashmir emporium. They have a range of Kashmiri products including beautiful Pashmina shawls”, my sister-in-law said.

“Who is going to wear a pashmina in forty five degree Celsius?” I asked. “And besides, I don’t have money to squander on things I don’t need. My husband and son have given me credit cards, my daughter writes me checks but I don’t splurge on such things. They work so hard and have saved up from a young age. Both of my children have invested a good chunk in stock market and gold. You can’t get such kids these days. Look at the middle sister’s son and daughters. She was complaining on how much money he spends. It’s natural. They have never worked in their lives. How could they understand value of money? We can’t tolerate this at my place. It’s a parent’s responsibility to discipline a child from young age. She was asking me to interfere and speak to her son. First you gave them everything they demand and then suddenly you want them to realize value of money and be all mature.”

“That’s true”. Sister-in-law said.

“And besides, mother is sick. She wouldn’t like to be alone.”, I said politely suggesting her to stay back home for my ailing mother.

“She wants someone to attend to her all the time. That’s not possible. We can’t pause our life and continue to sit by her bedside all day long. You won’t believe what she did yesterday. She managed to get on the elevator, went to the ground floor  and walked all the way to the main entrance of our apartment. Luckily the watchman saw her and called us.”

I didn’t believe in her story but refrained from saying anything because whenever one of us retorted she harassed our mother that same day by taunting her or by giving her spicy food she could not eat. How is it possible for my mother to walk so much when she can barely reach the washroom?

I couldn’t sleep. Instead I thought about my daughter turning thirty in a year.  She had worked in various corporate roles in past four years and was doing well in her career. But now she wanted something different. I had a hard time understanding the need for change at this age when ideally she should get married. My thoughts wandered from one concern to another and suddenly I heard my daughter’ steps. She came downstairs for lunch. I went out of my room, searched my glasses and sat across her.

“The chhole in the white bowl is for you. Have made it somewhat spicy with the least amount of oil, the way you like it. How are your GRE mock tests going”?

“Good,” she said quickly eating rice and chhole.

“Don’t you get tired of studying? Are you sure you want to get into a PhD program? You know about Mr. Verma’s daughter, Anjali. Her brother met me yesterday while I was shopping in the mall and we had a long chat. Her PhD advisor at Urbana Champaign is an old guy. He even forgets what he told her in the last meeting. She is stuck in this PhD program for six years now. Her husband is back in Bangalore for a new job. Are you ready to commit for five-six years? What about enjoying life and getting married?”

“I love learning. That’s how I enjoy.” She  flipped the channels on the TV.

“Looks like you have spoken to your sisters,” she said observantly. “Please don’t let them perturb your state of mind. Can’t you learn to live on your own and for your own self? Take up some hobby. You always loved singing. You remember, how you used to tell us about you winning some silver glass in a music competition in your high school. Why don’t you start singing again? I could get you a list of classical music classes around our place.” My daughter went in the kitchen and poured herself a glass of water. The glass is dirty. Ask the maid tomorrow to clean up properly. I am putting away all the dirty ones in the corner.”

“She was late fifteen minutes today and refused to do any extra work. I should fire this maid.”

“She was late fifteen minutes? That’s bad. You must be running late to present a budget in the parliament”, My daughter said giggling. “And about getting more work done from less money, I don’t know how you fed us for free so long. If you can be selfless with us, why do you have to be shrewd with the outsiders?”


The middle one called early in the morning. “It’s a one year death anniversary of our mother. We should do something.”

“Let’s go to the temple and feed the cows.”

After feeding the cows, we sat on the bench outside the temple under the shade of a banyan tree.

“Remember, how our mother used to forget our names at the end? She thought I was her elder sister.” I said turning on the little electric fan my son got me from his China trip.

“Who knows what will happen to us in our old age?” The younger one said shaking her head. “The old age is too bad.Doesn’t spare anyone.”

“Our mother is happier where she is. And our sister-in-law must be happy to get rid of her. She was the worst with her in her last days. It’s not just that she shouted at her when she forgot to flush the toilet or ate an ice-cream but she constantly criticized her. I was even afraid to bring her favorite delicacies after she taunted me that feeding her is not a problem but getting a bathroom cleaned after she goes to the toilet is.  She was never affectionate with her. Mark my words, she will pay for it.” I said pointing my finger at the clear blue sky and wiping my tears with the same hand. We sat there praying for our mother.

“It’s your turn to treat us.” I said to the middle one.

“Okay, let’s go for a movie. The recent one in which Amitabh Bachchan falls in love with Tabbu who is half his age in the movie. It released a month back. What’s the name? Yes, Cheenikam.

“Get the details on your phone and let’s go to the nearest multiplex. We reached the multiplex and ate burgers and fries in lunch.

“I think I have only Rs.1000 note.” The middle one said.

“Give it to the waiter, he’ll get you the change.” I said laughing with the younger sister. The middle one was notorious for bringing Rs. 1000 notes to avoid paying. Both of us had learnt not to fall for this anymore. We let go too many times in past.

We settled in screen number three. The movie had already started as we were five minutes late. We waited for the entry of Amitabh Bachchan. It was already fifteen minutes in the theater. Still no Amitabh Bachchan. I whispered in my younger sister’s ears, “There is something wrong. This doesn’t look like Cheenikam.”

“Sshhh. Wait and watch. Amitabh Bachchan will pop out of the ocean in a bit”, the younger one said in her usual confidence.

“This is some Hollywood movie.” The younger one said seeing Johnny Depp emerge from the ocean. “Let’s go ask the in-charge outside.”

“Madam, it’s a hindi version of Pirates of Caribbean.”

We looked at each other and laughed and vowed not to tell our husbands and children about the gaffe. It happens.

I came back home with fresh spinach, tomatoes, lettuce, broccoli and lots of ginger and mint. The neighbor saw me coming out of the auto and came towards me.

How are you? She said kneeling on our white-Maruti Swift parked outside.

“It’s our mother’s one-year death anniversary so my sisters and I went to the temple.” I did not say that we also ate junk food and went to the movie.

“Are you going to do any ritual for her?”

“We fed the cows.”

“We haven’t met for a long time so I thought I should ask if everything is okay.” The neighbor said.

“I thought you must be busy with the house renovation.” I did not tell her that I find her too self-absorbed. Once when I went to her home, she continued to talk to someone on the phone for ten minutes while I was there. That was insulting. Since then I decided to keep some distance from her.

As I walked inside the home, my daughter came to the family room and inquired about my day. I told her about watching Pirates of Caribbean movie, the incident we were not supposed to tell anyone. She laughed hard and made fun of us. I told her not to tell this incident to anyone.

“You’ll tell everybody yourself”. She said giggling. “It’s not in your blood to keep a secret.”

“How is George?”

“He must be fine, haven’t talked to him in a long time.”

“George was good. He could have tolerated you. You’re difficult like your father. You need someone mild.”

“Someone as mild and manipulative like you. No, thanks I love you but I can’t take another one in my life.”

“You want us to be married so you can talk about it in your social circles. If our happiness means anything to you, please let us make our own decision.”


“What’s up buddy?” I can hear my children talking in the next room.

“Nothing much. Just been struggling to get the funding  for my start-up. Nobody wants to take risk. I think I’ll have to get the pilot project up by my own money.”

“You’re quite patient that ways. You’re working in the same place for five years. You can take the risk now. I can’t imagine myself doing it. I have changed five jobs in past four years. And now going the PhD way.”

“It’s easier for women I think. Men just have a lot of pressure to prove themselves in our traditional society.”

“Don’t give me that crap. You know you’re wrong.”

“It’s not about society. I am just more comfortable being disobedient than you are. It takes courage to stand on your feet and to do what makes sense. You care a lot more for our parents’ approval. I don’t need that. Although at times, getting validation feels good. But I am not going to build my life around that.”

“Our mother is a woman who makes highs, higher and lows lower. But she has blind love for her sisters.” I hear my son speaking these words.

“And for us.” My daughter said. They don’t know I am in the next room half the time to clean the bookshelves and talk to my sisters in private.

“No matter what I say about our mother, the problem is I love her too much. And she drives me crazy with her ideas about the ideal life.” my daughter said.

“Maintain limited contact with mom. I am not clingy like you. I say hello, eat on time and I am off to my room. You are the one who needs to go chat with her, cuddle with her. Why do you need that?” My son is almost chiding.

“She uses her devotion to emotionally blackmail us. It’s as if she will not waste a single tear if it cannot get her what she wants. She  is so goal oriented. She manipulates me because, I absorb her negative emotions. You don’t. You’re so good at snapping her and just shutting the door. I can’t do that. I almost cried the day before yesterday. She tells me first thing in the morning that she can’t sleep because we are not getting married. That’s a pure torture.

“People who for some reason find it impossible to think about themselves, and so really be themselves, try to make up for not thinking with doing and that doing could be worrying. They try to pretend that doing is thinking. Mom falls in this category.”

This is what my children talk about me behind my back. Is it wrong to expect them to get married when I can still enjoy their weddings?


“It’s Sunday? The office isn’t opened yet.” My daughter said pinpointing why I am not on the phone with my sisters. I do not respond.

“What happened? Why ain’t you talking? Did you hear our conversation last night?”

“You poison his ears, I don’t like that.” I told my daughter firmly.

“You shouldn’t be angry.  You should feel good about it. Your children have spine and are not afraid of talking their minds. The truth is, because all that you do and perhaps despite of everything that you do and say, we love you the most.” My daughter said kissing me on my cheek.

“Mom, I never thought I’d ever say this. But it’s nice to have a sibling. It’s fun to gang-up on parents together.” My daughter said going off to the garage.


“It’s been two years since the retirement. Maybe we should find a lawyer and seek help.” I said as soon as I see my husband enter the living room.

“I am meeting other colleagues to discuss about it.”

“Discussion won’t do anything. Let them move at their own pace. We should get this done on our own. Look at Kajal Joshi. She had the same problem but her pension started the next day she retired. She bribed every officer she came across and got her papers sorted before her retirement. We need to get this issue resolved at least before this Vice Chancellor retires. You don’t want to start the procedure again with the new one.”

“We are doing what we can. What can you do, if they don’t release the funds? This is the bureaucracy of this country.”

“Why is there a delay?” I ask offering a glass of lemonade.

“Because I did not let them pursue corruption while I was in charge. Because they have done enough laundering of funds and they want me to sign the papers so that they can get out of trouble. I won’t sign. I did not sign earlier. I will not sign now.”

Your kids are on you, I thought. They want to be true to their own selves and pursue their dreams. They won’t budge. They won’t get married when I still have all my teeth intact. We won’t get the pension. This is my life. I retreated to my room, put down the curtains, reached out to the black radio and let it play old Hindi songs with a screeching sound, for they were better than the noise in my head.

Kruti Brahmbhatt is a Young India Fellow and a World Economic Forum – Global Shaper. She has been educated in the US and India and currently lives in Ahmedabad. In former lives a development professional in India and an entrepreneur in the US, she divides her time now between teaching and writing. Her writing is published in the Forge Literary Magazine, Canyon Voices and others. She has also received an honorable mention in Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers.