I thought I had her in my grasp. Then she swept through the desert of my broken imagination and left me scattered all over like sand.
Mom never forgets to call me each night. Mostly she talks and I listen. I like her voice, soft yet clear, a touch of melody in the way she emphasizes her verbs: what she cooked today, whom she met, what she discovered on the telly or in the attic where all my childhood memories now rest in packed boxes and trunks.
Sometimes I complain about work, or a friend, or a guy I thought I liked, and she hums, and I can hear her nod over the line. Like she understands why writing a “delightful” jingle for a horrible-tasting protein bar — that too for kids — is no easy work. Or why a friend who dubs you “Ugly Betty” behind your back is no friend at all. Or why the fellow in the art department, who you thought was cute, finds that said nickname funny, and chuckles every time you walk into a room. She may not understand, but she listens. And hums.
And sometimes, we just say goodnight and I hang up. Because I am too tired, or busy, or just not in the mood to explain my epic failed choices for that day — yet again.
We don’t talk about dad, but he is always there … at the back of our minds. But no matter what, she always calls.
But today she hasn’t. It’s well past 9:30, her standard calling time. And I find myself staring at the clock.
10:30. 10:31. 10:32.
I call her up on her cell. Once. Twice.
I try the landline.
The phone rings. Its trill deafening in the quiet. But she doesn’t pick up.
I try the neighbors, but either they are out or hard of hearing, because no one answers the phone.
I call the cops. I call the ambulance service. But they’re all 45 minutes out.
So I grab the keys and head over to her home, our home, expecting the worst.
The night’s clear but chilly, the stars are out, and the road’s near empty. Thirty minutes is plenty of time to imagine all the worst case scenarios.
Maybe she fell in the bathroom. Maybe she fell from the stairs. Maybe she tripped and hit her head on something flat, or something sharp. In all the scenarios, she is out cold, completely helpless, and cannot call for help. She’s all alone in that big, old, windy house and I need to get to her fast.
I make a hard turn into the driveway, and come to a bumpy stop, knocking down a planter or two. There’s a knot in my chest, and tears at the corner of my eyes.
I rush up the steps and knock at the door. Panic stricken.
All the lights are on in the house. Which never happens. Mom seldom uses all rooms at once.
The swing creaks to my right and I jump, startled. And then sigh with relief.
There she is. On the porch swing. Happy, smiling, in a new black dress, I think. She gets up, comes closer, and touches my face, concerned. She can’t believe I drove all the way home in the middle of a workweek. Is that makeup around her eyes?
I am just about to ask her what she’s doing out here in the cold, when a man with salt and pepper hair steps out from behind her. He’s dressed casually, in a khaki shirt and cargo pants. He has drinks in both hands. And a pleasant glow that matches mom’s. And I realize that she has company.
She’s on a date with an old guy who looks nothing like dad.
The world’s falling apart. My world, the world around me; going up in ravenous flames like the Californian woods, with the roar of Greenland’s glaciers crashing into widening oceans, with the rage of tornadoes ripping through the Midwest like angry gods settling their differences with crazy arm sweeps.
Towns are dying. Worlds unknown, cultures unheard of are fast turning into dust. Like Atlantis and Avalon and others before them — great giants brought to their knees by temperamental gods.
The earth’s cracking up, like my heart, releasing the spirits long trapped in its bosom. The rivers are no longer flowing, but are mere stagnant, withering pools.
The bogs are burning, the woods are burning, the air, the seas, our homes are burning. It’s only a matter of time when we will all go up flames. And the wars we rage within and with each other, over land, oil, food, water, over love even, would cease to matter. Or matter more, more intensely than before … For what else would be there but now?
The seasons have already lost their color. One long, dry spell of white hot blaze. Blades brown and crisp like crackling crunch under trees naked with shame. Time, it seems, has given up on healing us as well.
Our atmosphere is a paradox. Thinning and bloating up at the same time, with foreign molecules worse that CFC fattening up on heat and the sun shredding away the ozone layer.
The preacher says there’s nothing like global warming. That climate change is God’s realm. Like life, like death. The scientists and leading thinkers disagree: how can you be so blind when it’s staring right in your face?
And I wonder if God has a kill switch, a restart button to reboot the whole damn world, my heart, and let them start all over again.
It is in the bottom drawer, hidden behind her sweaters and shawls. A simple gold locket, sparkly new and heart shaped, hung on a simple gold chain.
What am I doing here, looking through her things, you ask?
Well, it’s not in my habit to go snooping around in my wife’s dresser, if that’s what you’re thinking. Not that this would be considered snooping. The house belongs to the both of us. And by extension, this dresser and its contents. And if you must know, I am looking for a shawl. A light one that looks stylish, but is warm enough to counter the unseasonable chill downstairs. It’s for the mother-in-law. You may say she is the source of this sudden chill. Her lipstick smudging the wife’s pristine glassware is frosting everything. What can I say, Meghna likes things a certain way — her way.
How should I start this story? For to tell it, there has to be an ending. And that is the most vexing part. All stories have one. To tie all plots, answer all questions, tell us who ends up with whom. People are lost without them. They consult fortune cookies, i-ching, the stars to jump to the end of the day, their life, just so they know that it all ends well. People were not meant to cope with the great mystery that life is. To most, it is as cruel as the friend who thinks wrapping gifts like a Russian nested doll is the funniest thing ever. To such friends one should say, you’re no Hitchcock. And besides, his “thrill’s in the anticipation” principle only holds true till the coin flips your way.