White Lies

He grinned. The toothy thing trapezed across his face and took vindictive delight in making him look like a complete idiot. But he didn’t care. Today, he was grinning because she was smiling. He had made her happy.

I love you too.

Relief spread like a hot blush across her cheeks as she heard the words. He loved her too. She unlocked her hands that had been doing some desperate twiddling over the last few minutes and reached towards him. Her fingers found the side of his face. He watched her, still grinning like an idiot.

*****************************************

He stared at the incriminating evidence of murder before him. The two goldfish floated belly up in the murky water, their ghoulish eyes screaming for revenge. He quickly disposed off the corpses, and destroyed all remaining evidence. A pair of well disguised substitutes now took the place of the deceased. It was a cunning plan.

Her face split into a bright smile when she saw the tank.

“You’ve taken such good care of them!” she said, bending over to watch the bloated orange fish that were swimming around in disinterested circles.

“How did the conference go?” he asked.

“Conference was good. Got to wear the press tag an’ all”

She fished out the orange blobs and transfered them to a bucket.”I was worried about these two.” A warm twinkle played in her eyes. “Thank you.”

He kissed her in reply.

*****************************************

“You should vote,” she said, peering over the top of the newspaper. A steaming hot cup of chai was balanced precariously on the edge of the couch.

“Don’t want to,” he mumbled, trying to shake away the strands of sleep that still stuck in his hair.

“Don’t vote, don’t get to gripe about the nation.” Her voice was annoyingly perky.

“Don’t care,” he said, despondently sipping at his coffee.

His eyes wandered over the pile of bills left neatly on the table. Next to it was a neat balance sheet of their accounts for the month.

“Is that it?” he asked.

“Yep. Split it according to how we decided.”

He did a double take seeing the neat total highlighted in black ink. The recent lay off had left him in a bad place and their living expenses in Bombay seemed to be expanding from month to month.

“Looks like your stocks fell a couple of points,” she said, hidden behind the headlines. “I can cover you for the next month if you want me too.” Her voice reeked of smugness.

“I can take care of it,” he snapped.

Sometimes he wished that she would slip on her own moral superiority and break her neck; in a tragic accident of course.

*****************************************

It was the morning of their wedding. He glanced out of the window, and onto the skyline of his hometown. It shone, like a patchwork quilt made from the childhood of his grandparents and the dreams of a generation that had wandered all over the world, only to come back home. Palm trees like small hypocrisies waved from in between freshly scrubbed red faced terraces.

The groom’s room was a modern tower of babel with family members yelling contradictory instructions at the top of their voices.

His cellphone beeped. “Are you ready?”

He could almost hear her voice through the din – businesslike, pushing him towards the next dead line. As he texted back, he noticed that he had very little nail left. He had chewed off most of it during the previous night.

“Yes.”

He looked out of the window again. He hoped she knew what she was doing, because he sure didn’t.

*****************************************

He stared hard at the black and white scan before him, trying to spot some anomaly.

“Do you see it?”

He laughed nervously. “Yes, yes. That little thing over there-” He pointed vaguely.

“Really?” She was clearly enjoying his discomfiture.

“Yes, That spot over there, I’m sure -”

She giggled. He glared at her.

“Idiot. It’s over here,” she said taking hold of his finger, and placing it over the dark shape in the scan.

He stared at the lump in the image.

“That?” he asked incredulously.

She smiled. “That.”

*****************************************

He opened the door softly and crept into the hospital room. Her grief slapped him across the face.

“The doctors want to know whether you want to carry him.”

She didn’t answer.

He drew up a chair, and sat by her bed.

“You made the right choice.” His voice cracked.

“I killed my baby.”

“You did the right thing,” he repeated.

She turned to face him. Those were not her eyes – they were a stranger’s – and abyss in which guilt, anger and sadness churned in a vicious circle.

The words struggled and died in his throat. His tired body tried to pump out more tears to heal their wound, but he didn’t have any more. He buried his head in the white sheets of her bed. “Its going to be alright.” He repeated it over and over again, hoping that if he said it enough, he would believe it.

He reached for her hand and squeezed as hard as he could. It’s going to be alright.

*****************************************

She deposited a handful of salt and a dried chili in his hand.

“Take dhristhi for me,” she commanded.

He kindly obliged. He stuck the salt under her nose. “Spit.” He carefully carried away the destroyed remains of evil eyes.

On the way to the back door to throw away the salt, he asked her about her sudden obsession for superstition.

“I’m not doing anything wrong this time.”

The salt dropped to the floor. “You didn’t do anything wrong the last time.”

“I must’ve done something wrong.” She said, scooping up the salt with her hands.

“It was not your fault.”

She picked up the salt and pushed past him.

He grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. Her bones jangled. He wanted to scream it into her ears over and over again until she turned deaf. He wanted to shake her until time stopped. Until it all went back, until it was all different.

He shook her until the anger slowly faded out from her eyes.

“You really mean it?”

“Yes.”

*****************************************

She wrestled the howling baby down with one arm and was trying to push food into its mouth with the other.

“Swearing in your baby’s presence is not appropriate behavior,” he smirked, dropping down beside her.

“A little help would be nice,” she said through gritted teeth.

He wagged smug forefinger before her. “Uh-uh-uh. We made a deal. You’re the one who said I looked ridiculous.”

“Please?” Her hair waved about like the tentacles of some wispy sea creature. He felt sorry of her.

“You know the strategy right? I’ll do the song, and you shove in the food when her jaw drops.” He stood up, dusted his clothes and cleared his throat professionally.

“I believe I can fly… I believe I can touch the sky…”

The shrieky voice reverberated through the room. His wife winced. His daughter giggled.

She looked at him with relief, hastily shoveling food into the baby’s mouth. “It’s working! It’s working!”

“Of course its working,” he said, straightening his shirt. “I am a professional.”

He scooped up his food splattered dribbling daughter and held her close. “You are beautiful,” he whispered into her ear.

*****************************************

The Principal looked down her bespectacled nose at the three of them.

“So…you want to join your daughter in this school…”

They nodded vigorously.

She hummed and hawed over the application form in front of her. She fixed a beady eye on the little girl seated between them.

“Will you make this school proud?”

She stared back at the beady eye. But before she could start saying anything, her dad hastily interrupted, “She’s a very good girl. Studies hard, will listen to her teachers. All the teachers in her last school loved her. She was the ideal student.” His daughter bobbed her head helpfully and batted her eyelids.

The Principal seemed satisfied with this polite fiction and signed on the dotted line. “You can pay your fees at the counter.”

He looked down at her as they trotted out the room. “What were you about to say?”

She grinned at him. “The truth.”

“Just like your mother,” he sighed.

*****************************************

On weekend nights, they would order out, linger in the dining room and catch up on each other’s lives. They had been increasingly ordering pizza after their daughter proved its nutritional superiority. She was perched on the table, and this night she demanded a re-run of their Story.

Her brows were knitted; she was working her way through a plot twist she had not heard before.

“So why did you say you loved her in the first place?”

“Dunno. Thought it would make her happy.”

She considered him with serious eyes.

“So you lied to make her happy?”

He grinned sheepishly. “Yes, yes, I did.”

*****************************************

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8 thoughts on “White Lies

  1. Great ending. Some great descriptions, like that of the skyline in the beginning. “It shone, like a patchwork quilt made from the childhood of his grandparents and the dreams of a generation that had wandered all over the world, only to come back home. Palm trees like small hypocrisies waved from in between freshly scrubbed red faced terraces.”

    Splendid. Kudos.

    The problem is, such tremendous imagery raises the bar insanely high. Which is why lines like “As he texted back, he noticed that he had very little nail left. He had chewed off most of it during the previous night” don’t work. It reads oh-so-mundane, almost by another writer.

    Also, the fishbowl scene didn’t work for me. There wasn’t enough guilty tension for it to hold me, though the whole episode was I suppose hinged on some sort of guilt and subsequent relief. I guess it wasn’t comic or dark enough for me.

    Also, the little girl grinning and saying “The truth” appeared a bit contrived for me, unless you were trying to project a precocious kid.

    Overall – I am sure you can retrofit a few elements to do justice to the very promising ending.

    Thanks for writing, and may the word be with you.

    Toymango

    Chittz: Ah. Generic innit? Strangely, the day after I wrote this, I watched ‘happenstance’ and realized what this character could be. I seem to have issues with writing not-so-morally-correct characters. This one needs to be overhauled.

  2. Well, after reading the insightful review above, I have decided to say a few things. You don’t write too many stories, so I can’t compare this with anything else, but would say that it was a great effort. Though I am a bit slow in decoding all these ‘Guilt-Struggle-Relief’ and other patterns in a story, I appreciated the detail level of emotions. Perhaps justice has not been done with the word limit – such a strong setting needed more description and would become more enjoyable.

    Once again, you score with writing emotional conflicts! Well done.

    May you write more prose,

    Ankush.

    Chittz: Ankush,

    I’m glad you like this one. I was trying to create a feeling of snapshots of different incidents in the course of one relationship… hence the somewhat sparse style. But this one does need more thought thrown into it. Happy that you liked it.

    1. Now that I re-read it, I feel it is far more fragmented for my taste.

      Is it a common style in modern literature, to say “I Love you too” and not put the quotation marks? If so, I have a long way to go towards getting used to it, and even longer to write something like this.

      I like it flowing smoothly and well-connected. Maybe it’s the classical fiction in me.
      But in any case, it was well written and value for money…err…time. 🙂

      Chittz: Well, a lot of people are experimenting with punctuation is different ways. And unquoted dialog has been around for a pretty long time.

      I’m always open to donations! Though I’ll also take a kind word as a substitute. keep writing.

  3. Chittz this was utterly brilliant!!! Especially the ending, also the rest, oh my god, i love it!!! its been such a long time since i felt so much promise in someone’s writing, don’t you dare stop!!!

    Chittz: MM, I love it that you love it! Thank you for the kind words!

  4. So I’ve read this twice now, and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it. The style works; the fact that you give us mere glimpses into their lives, while still giving us enough to piece together what happened in between is great. But occasionally, it just all seems far too random – like the fish and the school scenes. I mean they are pretty solid, and random is almost always good, but here…I don’t think I would have understood or appreciated this any more or less if those hadn’t been there. That makes no sense. 😐

    By the way, the whole thing seems surprisingly…happy for something written by you. And I totally approve, because happy is my thing. Hehe. The end seemed a little abrupt to me, almost as if you’d just left it at that to resume another day. Even so, the glimpse you chose to leave us with was rather clever. 🙂

    I’m going to agree with Tanmoy with regards to the fantastic imagery and the other odd lines that don’t cut it. On the whole, I quite liked reading this, and if you do ever decide to work on this again, I’d love to read it.

    Chittz: Actually that does make sense. If it doesn’t add to the story, then it doesn’t add to the story.

    I am turning suddenly chirpy! Lovely world ain’t it? And thanks for dropping by, good to see you again 🙂

  5. that is a fairly thorough dissection of your writing above…interesting 🙂 i loved this piece because it is sparse, like moments in time, like zipping through photo albums whee a whole lifetime passes by quickly, with missing events and missing people. but that is what a photo album is…a revisit to all that your soul held back for you to go through on days and nights when you let it wander. keep up the good work and i shall revisit. thanks for hopping into my blog too 🙂

    Chittz: Yes! It’s like trying to take specific moments and stick ’em onto a page forever. But of course, things always seem better or worse every time you revisit those memories in your head.

    Thanks for dropping by! 🙂

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