MANDIRA PATTNAIK: Never A Slip Between Cup And Lip

Flash Fiction by Mandira Pattnaik   

Coupling                                                                                                    

Scalar fears propelled Ena up the flight of stairs. Her heightened senses, marked by spatial frigidity. Feet, cautious on the passage leading to the bedroom door upstairs, left slightly ajar.  

Dan, still asleep?  

All these years, twenty and more, he’d be up early, joining the young boys at tennis on the courts adjacent to Martha’s. Not a day missed in practice, rain or sun. Same like his playing days — a spinning blob of energy.  

Nine, is it?  

She did not push the door immediately.  

Threads of routine weaved into tapestry of loving togetherness seemed to unravel before her eyes. Coffee in the garden, dew-bejeweled grass, a cuckoo singing. Ten minutes or so of quiet, before Dan would swing his arms, lively like a bee, busy like ants up the tree.  

Ena wished to trade-off some of his vitality, so she could teach the kids at school all day, without having to take breaks.  

Was it yesterday?  

Of late, she was like a spectator in a rain-washed match. Her favorite star wasn’t the same. Dan was beginning to slow down; been tired, disoriented, spent. She joked, “Just hang up your boots!”  

Dan had smiled, dimples flashing the effervescence of his long-retired youth. He’d ignored her and left for the courts.  

Dan?  

The door rotated on its hinges, banged against the wall behind.

 Dan?  

The curtains were all still drawn, and in the semi-darkness, she saw Dan curled-up between pillows, like their son Vivian, when he was two. Like little Dora visiting them now, sleeping downstairs.  

Ena tried to rush to him, but her legs felt heavy.  

Softly, she sat at the corner of his bed.  

Now she listened to his heavy breathing, soaked in the sounds oscillating between her numb mind and her present moment, for what seemed an eternity.  Who was knocking, tapping at her fears?  

Why this moment to think of Jo and her husband Dave? Why excavate that morning two summers ago, when their lives had been turned upside down, Dave discovered just minutes too late?  

To calm herself, Ena began to release her breaths timing them perfectly to her husband’s. Then, stroking her husband’s head, she gently arranged the pillows.  

Minutes coiled into a void in spite of the pull of the great timekeeper beaming from the skies.  

When Dan woke up, Ena kissed him long, letting all remnants of herself flow to him.                                                     

Square Brackets  

Shoulder blades, like square brackets, insert explanatory material where the original user omitted it. Yours are stiff, like a mannequin’s.  

Light throws up variations on the color of surf, as stamps of ownership, while the shuttle ferry returns to the city we’ve lived all our lives, from Dandora Island, same as routine, like hands on lover’s back, or sip of coffee — there’s never a slip between cup and lip. Not like us. We slipped through the cracks. Stole seventeen days.  

Miela would’ve called the cops. Seventeen is an eternity in a conjugal relationship. She’d have told them, “He was right here, on this spot, I had wandered to the flower shop to admire the gladiolas, thinking how he scoffed at everything ornamental, and then, he was gone!”  

My hair’s cropped. Make-up absent. Hardly an ornamental bunch on a mantelpiece, but make good conversations at random bookshops. When you asked me when I last had a good laugh, and then made me laugh so much, we began talking like long-lost friends meeting at a reunion.  

Afterwards, you made me feel like a knit woolen sweater, snug and warm. If I doubted, you only called it camaraderie.  

Months later, this whimsical escapade.  

The engine’s been switched off. You’re awkward, face distraught. Guilt is catching up. You’ve grayed a lot.  

Passengers, wailing babies in tow, are tired, irritated. No one really returns happy from a holiday.  

Except, maybe my boy, who returned from Cuba, a monarch after conquest! Never discovered why. Dan wouldn’t even notice me missing, until he’d need money.  

The ferry hits the concrete jetty, halts with a thud. We keep sitting, legs too weary to let this end.   Later, you say, “I think she’ll forgive me,” extend a hand.  

Walking between stalls selling exotic fruit salads, sprinkled with rock salt, we enter one just to gather ourselves.  

You pull me a chair. Eyes graze the vista.  

‘Tara!’  

I look where you’re pointing. A local daily spread out in the next table.  Your smiling headshot, underneath, ‘Passed away happily to other worlds. In pain — Miela’.  

Shared lifetime consigned to phrases in an obituary; the cornerstones of a solemn vow, fractured.  

You and I, stare at each other, linguistically-paralyzed.  

You hurry me back to the shuttle ferry; tell me you don’t want to prove them wrong.  

This time it’s overloaded with joyous holidayers, rogue youngsters tasting freedom. Engine begins to thrum again.  

When we return to the apartment we’d vacated just hours ago, you’ve recovered enough to turn the radio on. It plays in the background — score of Verdi’s ‘Requiem’.  

Mandira Pattnaik‘s work has appeared in Citron Review, Watershed Review, Passages North, Amsterdam Quarterly, Splonk and Gasher Journal, among others. Forthcoming are publications in Prime Number Magazine, VariantLit, International Short-Short Story Magazine, FlashBack Fiction and New Flash Fiction Review. She has received nominations for Pushcart Prize, Best Microfiction and Best of the Net this year. She lives in India.  

Flash Boulevard is edited by Francine Witte. Banner photograph Wes Candela.  

Published by poetrybay

Flash Boulevard is a product of Poetrybay.com, since 2000 a flagship online poetry publication.

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