by Tamuira Reid
I stopped caring about him sometime between January and May, when the weather changed and the leaves came back. He went on that big white pill and couldn't have aged cheese or avocado and I sat at the table in the kitchen, watching him watch me.
The yelling wouldn't stop until he'd had enough, when his eyes no longer felt right in his head and he'd rather lay down than stand there, fist in mouth, cat rubbing against both legs.
He once told me that depression comes in waves but that makes it sound too beautiful. There was nothing good about the bad.
Sometimes we'd try to fight it before it hit. I'd take a shower. He'd shave his face. Vacuum the hallway rug. But it never worked and the top would blow off and it would be hands to throats again, just like that.
Teacups shook in their skin, books fell over on themselves and I wanted to see how it would all play out. Does he get the girl in the end? Or does she leave during a quiet moment, smiling as she turns away. His hand pressed against her like an ear.
Jyoti has never seen the ocean. She's pushing thirty and works as a teacher and confided in The American that she never wanted this. A social worker is what she wanted to be. To help others solve their problems. To make the world around her better. She's pushing thirty and has never been in an airplane. She teaches the children about the laws of gravity. About the environment. About personal hygiene. “India is beautiful but a very dirty place,” she says.
Every Monday is spelling. Spelling words in English, some words that feel wrong on the tongue. They stare at her with blank faces. She stares back. Past their little heads and little desks and little pads of paper are little windows and little doors that lead outside. That lead into the kind of open space she will never occupy.
The American wants to hold her hand and show her what's out there. That there's more than making chapatti and dal. That there's more than the comfort she only finds when she is in her kitchen and he is gone and the music can play a little louder. That there is more than shelving her happiness for a husband who will never appreciate the chapatti and dal she makes for him.
Flying in an airplane. Floating in the clouds. Swimming in the ocean. Floating on her back. If her eyes could see from a different angle. Maybe. Then.
She's married to a man who also looks past the little heads and little desks and little pads of paper out the little windows and little doors into a space he can never occupy. He wants more than this. He never wanted to be a school principal. He never wanted to type letters and give speeches and listen to pathetic teachers with their pathetic problems.
He wanted money and fame. He wanted thick hair and good looks and a wife with juicy brown melons for breasts.
His wife is flat and scared and needy. She's a lousy cook and a lousy fuck and after he's done beating her with his words and beating the children with his hands and beating off in the darkness of his bedroom, the world stares at him with a blank face. And he stares back.
My father held two cups of coffee in his hands. One for me, the smaller one, and we awkwardly pushed the luggage cart to the parking garage. Waited until Pacifica, the horizon flat and dreamy in that Northern California way. Waited to tell me outside of the airport, in a more beautiful place.
“Emphysema. Big leaky holes. Deflated party balloons for lungs.”
I thought about voice boxes and oxygen tanks — was I being naive? I thought the months were about to pass so fast, flipping through time like television channels, hurting our eyes.
“Quit fifteen years ago. Can you believe it? What luck, huh?”
I wouldn't be able to put a finger on where it all went.
He rolled down the window to let some air in. Kept saying how radiant I looked, how
India had been good to me. I imagined myself miraculously climbing into his chest, pumping it full and wide with memories of bad haircuts and roller skating parties and camping trips in the gold country, no mother or sisters, just us and our tents.
A blur of words ensued. Some caught my attention. Others failed at being heard.
“I can still paint but have to cut back on the oils for a while. Too toxic. Just watercolors
for now. You know, I didn't want to tell you before your trip.”
I felt with only a fingertip the blue passport inside my sweatshirt pocket. The stamps from different countries made me feel powerful and alive. (What luck.)
It was warm and for the first time in a while I could feel the sun on my face, shameless and dry.