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Piecing


by Rachna K.


You're about to slip into your creased loafers.

“Wait,” I say and put the thermometer away, prop pillows.

The navy tie rubs between my breasts. The steam from the nonstick iron hisses. You forgot to turn it off.

“Fuck,” you whisper.

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I dream of all the mothers I know. They're laughing, saying something too soft for me to hear. Their children are playing on the beach, their soft bottoms covered in sand and water, too precious to touch.

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In the storeroom, there are unopened boxes with photo albums, old letters. There's a notebook of your ghazals. I run my fingers over the blue velvet cover. It's as soft as the lyrics inside.

I pull out a clock. Hands stuck at 6:30―time blooming between the instant when the clock froze and now. A move from Mumbai to Delhi because of your promotion. Doctor visits, fucking, squirrels going up and down the trees, street dogs napping in slow mornings, spiderwebs on forgotten corners, shimmering. Fucking. Waiting. Honks trilling on both sides of the roads. Both of us conscious of every passing hour, making our way back to each other at the end of every day.

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The next time you enter me, I start piecing a baby together. Cells building up on top of each other—a circus tent, taut, blistering. A few weeks later it collapses as if the stakes are pulled from the ground. For the rest of the week, I hunt jobs on the internet, create career profiles, google-search “miscarriages,” again.

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At the restaurant, you order fried fish, sip your red wine, and look around. 

“Had a good day?”

I nod and go back to the menu. From my gut, something rises to my throat. It's seven pm, and I wonder if this is what morning sickness feels like.

Outside, clouds gargle and spit a few drops. A Bollywood song frolics through the static of an old radio in a roadside shack. I take your arm and watch my feet quickly moving in front of me. 

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Over the weekend, we visit Qutub Minar, a tall, tapering tower of five stories. In Arabic, it means “pole” or “axis.” It has a spiral staircase of 379 steps. At the foot of the tower is the first mosque built in India. An inscription over its eastern gate states that it was built with material obtained from demolishing twenty-seven Hindu temples.

You shake your head in disapproval. A tour guide starts walking with us, his eyes big and brown, hair long and girlish.

“The structure leans a little due to a lot of construction and deconstruction in the past,” he says in a mix of Hindi and English. 

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The tour guide takes us to a seven-meter-high iron pillar standing in the courtyard of the mosque. It's two thousand years old and hasn't rusted. “If you can encircle it with your hands while standing with your back to it,” he claims, “your wish will be fulfilled.”

We try several times. On our way back, we don't speak, only listen to the hum of the car's engine. The humidity makes our eyes water.

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At home, I unpack the iron wok, refill the spices, knead flour for naan. You check the latest score of a cricket match on the tube. My hands, deep in the mix of flour and yeast, make a mound―a body ready to rise. I want to remind you about the doctor's appointment day after tomorrow. I want to discuss adoption. But you're thrilled to find out that the Indian skipper scored another half-century just off thirty-five balls. 

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I'm in the bathroom, on my knees, stinking wet, scrubbing the floor—trying to get the bloodstains out. I'm trying not to think of your tongue circling around my navel, reaching lower, my hips squirming. I'm trying not to cry.

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When the monsoon takes a break, we're out in the city from early afternoon until the sun drops behind the skyscrapers. India Gate and Red Fort. Jama Masjid. Sampling spices and silver jewelry in Chandni Chowk, hustling in the crowded, narrow streets. At home, we kick our shoes off and lean on the couch. Around us the walls look sickly, faded, the floor is the color of aged mulch. You say, “We need to paint these walls. Lavender, cherry blossom pink, or baby blue.”

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I dream my baby is born in pieces, head, torso, limbs—all separate. I stitch him with a black thread so I can see the seams. His teeth are sharp and too many, spilling from his mouth. My breasts are sore, engorged, filled with blood. Once while changing him, I accidentally pull the string, and he comes undone.

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My sister calls when you're out for a run. “Any news?” she asks. “Usual,” I say and chuckle nervously. She talks about different treatments, while I tiptoe down the hall and step outside. The sky is the shade of water. On the sidewalk, a toddler boy turns his torso toward me, a neon-orange bib on his chest, a string of saliva between his mouth and neck, his cheeks pink. We make eye contact. “Yes, I've heard of acupuncture,” I hear myself answer.

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I start the washer, sit in the bathtub, and think about the city. Beauty from destruction. Destruction of beauty. Nothing is safe, not even a belief. 

Before the water drains, I stand up and glance at myself in the full-length mirror. Like Qutub, I lean on one side.

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Outside, the rain falls loose like coins from a hole in the pocket. I inspect and fold all the wash clothes—no stains, only faint outlines.

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Your face is peaceful, dipped in dreams. I bring your notebook to bed. The perfect handwriting makes me weep. 

Turn my head at every sound, not so much now.
Regret takes refuge in me, not so much now.

 

Was her hair brown? Her face an autumn evening?
I remember she was me, not so much now.

 

Heart-shaped envelopes, a book of ghazal,
stuffed with songs and star-lit sleep, not so much now.

 

From the border, the bullets travel in dust—
leave your wounded memories, not so much now.

 

One night of full moon, your arm around my waist,
it's all I wanted to see, not so much now.

 

On your grave, flowers stoop like old, cold widows.
Light was taxing, rain came free, not so much now.

 

The wind beats its chest, against the door.
It awaits your scent to leave, not so much now.

 

Almost midnight. I can still smell your aftershave—it's that time of the month again. All my nerve endings are alive. Naked, I sneak over to you, ecstasy braided in my spine. Between your legs my simmering lips build you up like a rain cloud. Half-awake, you take me in your arms, splashing my insides white. I stay still with my hands on my belly, your light snores slipping into my ears, the armor of my body against yours, our little tremors sounding like far-off explosions in another century. Bloodshed, rubble. A new monument rising from the ruins. And in the darkness, I smile, thinking how much that light quaking resembles a baby's footsteps.

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