Posted in Fiction, ShortStory

Chocolate

There was cake in the fridge. I knew there was one piece left over from dinner. I slid around the assortment of containers and stainless steel ware, guided by the jaundiced luminescence of the fridge, in graveyard stillness of the sleeping kitchen. I couldn’t see it. A few minutes later, my fingers ached from having prised open every container in the fridge, but the closest I’d come to scratching that itch under my sweet tooth was finding a mouldy, half-eaten doughnut at the back of the bottom-most shelf. Shubham’s stash. Obviously hidden away for later consumption, before promptly being forgotten about.

There was only one explanation for the absent cake. Shubham. I stormed to his room, in as silent a fury as a sneaking teen could manage. Don’t wanna wake up the house. His bedroom light was still on. Gotcha, boy. There were only two things my brother could be doing up at 3 AM. One- eating stolen dessert. Two- this was a rather indelicate affair that involved the incognito tab of his laptop and lots of tissue paper. I half-hoped it was number one.

I didn’t bother knocking before entering; I wanted to catch the bugger red-handed. There was no one in the room- his bed was messy, and papers lay strewn across the floor. I felt like Alibaba in the secret cave; finding access to Shubham’s room in such a fashion was rather rare. He usually lived with the paranoia of an absconding felon; his room either had him it it, or was locked. I snooped about, looking for nothing in particular, simply reveling in the glory implicit in forbidden behaviour. My gaze fell upon something caught between his sheets. I wrested free a stained handkerchief from a tangle of bed clothes. It was crumpled as old papyrus, and stained brown… a familiar brown… Aha! I’d got him. He’d obviously enjoyed the cake- my cake, a piece I’d called dibs on- in bed and wiped clean his filthy hands of the crime on the tell-tale white cloth. I stuffed the evidence of his treachery into my pocket and trotted back to my room, just as I heard the flush sound in the common toilet, outside. Judging by the amount of time my little brother had spent in the bathroom, I was guessing the commode was clogged with a wad of tissue paper.

The next morning, I awoke to the sound of screaming.

A flurry of blankets and hastily donned specs later, I was tumbling out of my room towards the source of the commotion. Mom stood in the common bathroom doorway, hyperventilating into her hands.

“Mom! Mom, what is-”

My mother, Mrs. Sinha, lady of the household, for the first time in her disciplined life, did not admonish me for the profanity that then burst from my lips. My brother lay sprawled beside the commode, limp and white as sodden wool. The bathroom tiles were smeared with blood, and I noticed, through swimming eyes, that a trail of dried blood led all the way from Shubham’s body into the hallway. Later, on further inspection by professionals I didn’t care to acquaint myself with, little spatters of blood were found to lead out of our ground-floor apartment and into the building compound.

Two hysterical women have a way of attracting the attention of prying neighbours without any conscious effort. Soon- or maybe eventually, for I had lost all sense of time- our spacious apartment was cramped with policemen, paramedics, concerned neighbours and friends. Different pairs of strong hands guided me around the house, settling me into chairs and forcing water to my lips. Unheard consolations were whispered into my ears, and unanswered questions posed at a face that looked like mine, but belonged to an unselved being floating in a limbo. My mother’s ceaseless wailing was probably the only thing that kept me partially rooted to reality.

They took him away on a stretcher with the white sheet pulled over his head. I did not say goodbye. Later, we were told that they had found a single stab wound right above his abdominal aorta. It had taken him hours to bleed out. Hours spent lying on the bathroom floor. Hours after I had heard that flush sound in the dead of the night. Hours I had spent sleeping, dreaming of chocolate cake. Hours

No one knew what had happened. The teenage son of the Sinha household in Delhi had been vagabonding out one April night, and had been stabbed mysteriously, only to have limped home and been found dead near the toilet the next morning. It was labeled one of those freak incidents that shook the urban middle class every few years, and had paranoid parents warning their children not to wander the streets after dark. We had to have our names changed for the press.

I spent the days after that particular morning locked away in my room, weeping between bouts of catatonia, into the stained handkerchief I had found on Shubham’s bed the night of his murder. I don’t quite remember when it was that I figured the brown stains on his handkerchief weren’t chocolate, but coagulated blood. Mother disappeared into her job, staying back late in an office that she hated, but nonetheless hated lesser than the growing lacuna at home.

We never brought chocolate cake home again.

 

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

 

Two summers later, when my brother was fading into memory and photographs, I sat talking to the single mother of the little girl I babysat over the weekends.

“I have never told anyone else this, Sanaya. I hope I can trust you…” I could see unspoken words burrow into her flesh from the inside out. A feeling I was all too familiar with. I encouraged her to speak. Maybe… Maybe I’ll tell her my story, too…

“I almost lost my little girl that day, Sanaya,” she rasped. I hugged her, feeling my own eyes well up with tell-tale water.

“I don’t regret stabbing that bastard, son-of-a-bitch. I did what I had to do when I saw my baby unconscious in his arms,” she continued. I froze.

“Wha- What?”

“Yes. He then jumped over our garden fence, the way he came in, and got away. Never saw his face in the dark, but he was a young chap.” I felt insects crawling up my throat.

“B-But what was he doing to her? What happened?”

“Two years, and we have never told anyone the truth… When we had her checked at the hospital later, they found a saturation of tranquilizer in her bloodstream. The bastard. He fed it to her in a piece of chocolate cake-”

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Posted in Fiction

THE RUNAWAY BRIDE

Since I’m trying new stuff, I thought about giving short stories a hand, and this time, I’ve gone for humor. Please do provide comments and feedback!

Being a prompter is a rather dull job. Especially if the play is unfolding well. I remember hoping something interesting would happen, even if it entailed Alberto saying Hanna’s dialogue instead of his own (that had been a hoot and a half during the rehearsal). Little did I know that I was about to have the refrain “be careful what you wish for” drilled into my skull rather brutally over the next couple of hours.

Just a minute after I’d finished stifling my thirty-third yawn, Mrs. Alexa, the teacher in charge of the school play, came huffing up to me in the aisle and whispered to me to follow. The look of panic on her face had me immediately abjure any qualms about leaving my position backstage.

Mrs. Alexa led me to the powder room from whence the sound of retching was rather too loud for comfort. She answered my flummoxed expression with, “That’s Rachael. She’s been vomiting with the vigor of an El Salvador bull, this past half hour.” I waited for subsequent instructions, my brain having eschewed all sleepiness. “Maddie, YOU have to play the part of the runaway bride.”

I became aware of having uttered a faint, non-committal sound, akin to that of a broken wind-up toy. “Good then. It’s settled. I’ll have the costume sent to you. You’re on in ten!” she cried flying out the room. Everyone knew I’d tried for and just lost out on the part of the runaway bride, but this was a rather ironical twist of fate. In the minutes that ensued, the powder room was thronging with harried looking stage hands and makeup artists who bustled around importantly as if they had a world to save. And they probably did. They stripped, clad, brushed and patted me with the desperation of a cathartic release. Just as a round of applause signaled the end of the first act, I found myself dressed in a flowing white gown, squinting through a gossamer veil and stumbling in heels tall enough to ride the scary roller coaster in six flags all on their own.  The dress was tighter than a corset with a vengeance, owing to the fact that Rachel was two sizes tinier than me, but it would have to do.

Being the prompter, I could have recited the entire play in my sleep (a phenomenon my kid sister alleged I had been doing the last couple of nights), which is to say the dialogues weren’t a problem. I spewed my lines onstage and had my hand kissed by fellow actors of varying attractiveness before being rescued by a prince charming of unsurpassed suavity. The runaway bride received all the squeals and sighs she was supposed to beget and as the curtains dropped, I hobbled backstage, aching to get my stilettos off. Alfredo, who’d also finished playing his part, came barreling into me and waved my cellular phone in my face. “Maddie! SOMEONE’S been trying to reach you desperately,” he said wryly. “Haven’t you had enough suitors for the day?”

The number was unlisted. Back in the powder room, I returned the missed calls on my phone, and was met with an unfamiliar voice. Feminine, might I add. “Am I speaking to Ms. Maddie? I’m calling from St Augustine’s Medical Centre. Your grandmother had a nasty fall on the pavement outside Wal-Mart. Come immedi–GET THE CRASH CART STAT!” and the line went dead. After yelling enough ‘hellos’ in vain to rival a Call-Centre worker, I ran for my backpack. It was just like grandma to wander off to Wal-Mart alone on a lazy Saturday afternoon to shop for crackers or cookies (yes, I owe my voluptuous figure to her). And of course, Mr. Murphy saw to it that presently, my clothes and shoes were nowhere to be seen. I half wished my heart, which was as jittery as a turkey on thanksgiving, would tear through my gown and let me breathe again. But there was no time to go treasure hunting for clothes just then, no matter how appealing the thought of my baggy denims and tee seemed to me. Grandma needed me.

I abandoned the killer heels and grabbed a pair of sneakers that was lying unclaimed by the dresser. On my way out the local theater the school had rent for the annual day, I rattled off my deplorable predicament to Ms. Alexa, whose sympathetic words were quite wasted on me, seeing as how I didn’t stand around long enough to hear them.

Throwing my dignity to the wind, clad in an ill-fitting wedding gown and sneakers, I waved for a taxi. Alas, the suburbs don’t see very many of those when it’s not rush hour, and all I managed to have coming my way were incredulous stares from passersby. St. Augustine was almost on the other side of our little town (obviously; Murphy’s influence was all-pervading) and getting there on foot was impossible. Unless….

And so I found myself sprinting through the shortcut through the woods- yes, like all sleepy towns, ours has one too- my dress, now fifty shades of grey, seemed to develop an obsessive attachment to every bramble and nettle along the path and cling to it in petulant obstinacy. I had never been on the track team and my lungs were unknown to the trials of running for any reason other than to catch the school bus I so often missed. Hyperventilating a few minutes into my marathon, I slowed down to a reasonable pace, which is to say I’d just about provide good competition to a sloth. The fates deemed my lassitude a significant show of disrespect to my ailing grandmother, and decided to smite me with all three pairs of hands, for just then, I fell flat on my chest as I felt my left foot slide into a depression in the ground. I groveled clownishly, begging some invisible entity for mercy, as I tried to wrench my foot out of a very convenient-sized hole in the ground. I jerked backward suddenly – and I finally understood Newton’s second law of motion–as my foot came sliding out of the sneaker that insisted on staying inside the hole. Quite predictably, when I tried to force the shoe out of the hole, I only managed to push it further inside, probably to the dismay of some ill-fated animal. No amount of stabbing and skewering with fallen sticks did the trick, either. Finally, I just limped onward with one sneaker on and tried not to cuss every time I stepped on a particularly pointy rock (which was every second step of the way).

After what seemed like eternity running through the fields of punishment, I emerged, bedraggled, in the south west part of town. The condition of my hair exemplified the predicament of someone who’d had to use their tresses as a mop, and my makeup was smeared all over my face on account of my sweat gland having worked overtime. I turned the corner and trudged forth into the tiny nursing home.

A paramedic jogged up to me pushing a wheelchair. “Have you sustained any significant injuries ma’am?” he inquired, his eyes skirting the grazes on my arms. Internally reassuring myself that I couldn’t have been looking THAT bad, I said, “No, I’m here for a Mrs. Landry? May I know which room she’s been taken to?”

I was guided to the reception, where I was gently informed there was no one by the name of Landry in the cottage hospital. I explained, indignantly, that I had received a call about an hour ago from the hospital, telling me my grandma had had a fall outside Wal-Mart. “Oh, yes, we did have an elderly lady brought in this afternoon with multiple fractures in her tibia, but she didn’t go by the name of Landry. She’s in room thirteen if you must know,” said the receptionist, probably pitying the panicked underage bride.

There was a woman waiting outside the room. On inquiry, I learned that she was Maddie and her mother had broken her leg jaywalking unaccompanied. “A Good Samaritan brought her in, but it took ages for the hospital to contact me,” she related, wearily. “See, they said they dialed the incorrect number the first time and spoke to the wrong Maddie. I just hope those nincompoops have informed the other Maddie that she needn’t come rushing to the hospital.”