Nakul Pandey sat staring at the frail corpse that had been his father. A group of mourners in various shades of white sat in vigil. Suffocating floral bouquet notes arose from the garland-draped cover of the coffin cooler in which the corpse had been kept as the mourners waited for Nakul’s older brother, Vipul, to come from the UK and perform the last rites. Through the huddled fog in his head, Nakul observed the cable snaking from the cooler to the switchboard and anticipated that someone might trip over it. He tripped over it when he got up to take a call. A few hands were raised in alarm, “oh-oh” and “watch it” and “careful” were exclaimed, all garbed in the tone and pitch appropriate to mourning. You wouldn’t want to wake the dead especially if the dead was his father, Jeetendra Pandey.
Mother is sitting on her sofa peeling a satsuma or clementine, or some other small, orange citrus fruit. She has removed the skin in small, finger nail-sized pieces, and is now carefully removing quivering strands of pith, and placing them with precision next to the teetering pile of skin on the arm of the sofa. I will be clearing them off later.
The Year You Were Born:
Your mother leaned forward in an aluminum lawn chair, scrunched her toes into the grass as the hot wind blew waves through her summer dress. She took another fleshy bite of watermelon and let her eyes slide closed as she savored the cool sweetness that filled her mouth. Your dad sat at the picnic table drinking a can of beer. He cupped a match from the breeze and lit a cigarette, and when your mother leaned forward, he stole a glimpse of her swollen breasts through his exhale.
We stared at the gravestone.
A bad wife, but an adequate mother and grandmother
Nineteen is the number of times I stabbed my father. One in each forearm, shoulder, thigh, calves. Neck back stomach balls. Between two ribs the knife plunged and pierced one lung, two, and caught on a shard of bone, a tendon shred. Wrench tug free. I’d pictured each puncture in detail one by one. Not over and over on loop like some freak but while waiting for the bus or falling asleep I thought about the order of it, in and out and back in, the quiet shrill of it. Muscle rip against blade, bone scrape against metal.
For once, Audrey was glad Mason had worn that maroon knit cap his dad had given him. The wind swept low around them as they sat on the park bench, chilling Audrey while the bare tree tops remained still.
Her son did not look up from doodling on his hand as he asked, “What did the people at the garage tell you?”
“They think they know what’s wrong, but they can’t fix it until tomorrow.”
“How much?” Now he started on the other side, turning his hand before she could look at the ink splotches covering his palm.
“Enough to cut into our hotel money. No continental breakfast for us, kiddo.” One transmission leak leaves us scrambling, she thought.
My son and I meet in the City, dinner and talk. And drink. More and more drink as time goes by. He is quite the drinker, my son is, Old Overholt Rye on the rocks–a drinkers drink. None of those blends that people call Rye. Who am I to talk? When I was his age, twenty-seven, I was out drinking every night and my poison of choice was Tequila.
But it’s not the same. Sometimes I think he needs his golden anesthesia to tolerate our time together. We hug hello and goodbye and he never acts embarrassed to kiss me when he sees me. We never have a bad time, not like the old days, which were rocky as all Hell. That’s okay. Fathers and sons should have a little conflict to make them stronger and bond as more than just parent and child when they get older. By now we should be bonded at the hip, but I worry that he’s getting the Irish disease which is even worse for a Jew than for a Mick. I should know.