Beloved (part 1 of 7)

She scrubs a paper towel against the skin of her throat over the rough sketch of her collarbone until the paper begins to unravel– the soap smells of old bandages– and she dresses that way, with the skin still wet. The only way to survive until darkness. The old woman said that heat is like love; you have no choice but to embrace it before it smothers you.

She has wondered how many women in this country die this way every year. Heatstroke. A burning of blood.

The light bulb over the sink gasps for life and with each shudder, the light flickers, flickers, flickers. Her reflection trembles with that wavering glow. She closes her eyes and imagines the jaw of a certain man spilled open to the floor when he sees the strange thin girl who has to hold her skirt up with one hand to keep it from falling to her ankles. Imagines the inevitable accusation that once again, she is using herself as a weapon against him. Imagines the inexplicable descent into another argument. The broken tables and shattered flatware as mute witnesses against them, although as usual no one would know how it started.

No, she does not imagine this. She remembers instead the girl who once lay on a white cotton sheet in a field of drowning grass as lightning flowers blossomed across the sky; the girl who transcribed her love onto their skins because she wanted a memoir of them. Because even then she was afraid to forget. In her mind, the girl clenches the blue ink pen, tracing fingers up the inside of his forearm. A spidery script: beloved. (I am my beloved’s as my beloved is mine. A vow they say at weddings.) The band of wedding metal around the base of her finger glows white in between the fall of petals from the lightning flowers. She looks down on it and knows she is meant to carry it as a piece of him on her hands, always. Always.

She sold it for twenty-eight rupees and a bowl of rice.

But that was years after they draped each other in electric blue. Her words glowed when she spoke them, like fireflies or like something else. A sparkler struggling to stay lit in the rain. (I knew you would become my husband. I have foreseen all of this in a dream; only in the dream we never went back to the room. Beethoven brought us breakfast on the grass. He wore a yellow silk waistcoat and served us the hearts of plums and the skin of tangerines. Food of lovers.)

Lover. The word ran from his fingers down the side of her wrist in dark block letters like water running off the edge of their saturated faces. Also, like tears.

This is the end of the remembering.

In the back shops of streets devoid of rain, she purchases a postcard from the man with teeth of rotted ivory. A black and white taxicab on a street of white petals, leftover from the celebration of a god. Steam on the windows, and behind the steam, a single hand pressed against the glass. Fingers splayed. Ignoring the epileptic convulsions of the metal fan, she scribbles onto the back of the postcard. Six words, one number.

Signed, E

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