A journal of narrative writing.
Little Deaths
Page 2

"I think I've finally learned the trick to these. I'm not so sure about the papads, though. I think they got a little over-cooked. They look burnt in spots."

"It's alright, they are very difficult to fry. Even the most experienced cook often burns them a bit." It wasn't true; his mother and Amita had both been perfect cooks, everything exactly right each time, but Hannah tried so hard and the smallest criticism of her cooking hurt her so badly that he wanted to reassure her.

"Here, try the eggplant. It's a new recipe from the woman who runs the international grocery. Her directions weren't very precise - all pinches and somes - so I'm afraid it may not be right. Try it and tell me."

Of course Ananda knew she did not want to be told if it was wrong, so he took a bite and then said it was perfect even though there was far too much turmeric and not enough red pepper. Hannah ate slowly, eyeing his plate and constantly refilling it. She was like a voyeur, getting her enjoyment not from the meal itself but from watching his pleasure. To please her, he ate with gusto even when the dishes had turned out badly.

"This is all very good. You have mastered the art of Indian cooking in a very short time." Platitudes. Gratitude expressed in half-truths. Ananda did not like being dishonest, but he liked the idea of hurting her feelings even less. Still, the meal was good if not perfect, and he had to concede that it was better than he could do on his own.

As they ate, they talked of small things; childhood misadventures and other bits of juvenilia intended more to charm than enlighten. Hannah told of being thrown out of nursery school for refusing to help pick up at the end of the day. "My father didn't pay for me to come here and clean," small hands planted firmly on fat three year old hips. Ananda talked of leaving home for the first time, close to penniless but proud, and sleeping in a train station in Calcutta for seven days before he found a small room for rent. They savored the hot, rich taste of the food and grew full and lethargic.

"Do not do the dishes right away," Ananda asked Hannah, although he knew there wasn't much danger of that happening. He suspected they would sit in the sink until Friday night when she cleaned for his weekly visit. "I have to go soon, and I would like to spend a little time with you."

"Why don't we go upstairs?" The role of seductress belonged to Hannah, the role of demi-verge to Ananda. Always she suggested this; always he refused.

"Alright," he said and turned the entire arrangement upside down. "Let us go upstairs then if that is what you wish."

Hannah felt deflated, as though her bluff had been called. And yet, she wasn't bluffing. All these months and what she had wanted, what she was waiting for, was this acquiescence. But she had imagined it so differently; had imagined him surrendering in a moment of passion and weakness, had expected to feel as though a great wall had been scaled, a great ocean crossed. This "alright", this casual acceptance after so much gnashing of teeth and talking of honor, caught her off guard. She took his hand and led him upstairs, feeling not at all stirred but rather as if she was going to perform some commonplace household duty.

Ananda stood by the bed and looked around. He had no clear reason now for why he had changed his mind, given up the idea of achieving perfect union with her and decided instead to settle for a more carnal pleasure, except that he was getting tired of saying no. He was bored with the struggle and had no more energy with which to subvert her will. And so, if this is what she would have, then let her have it. He did not understand her casual attitude toward sex any more than he understood her intentional poverty, but he was tired of feeling alien. He noticed with disgust that the mother cat lay on the bed and realized that he had made a mistake, but could think of no way now to turn back. He tossed her roughly out into the hall and then undressed and slipped into the tangle of sheets and blankets on the bed, throwing the one on which the cat had lain onto the floor.

Hannah stood for a moment, confused and disquieted by his unkindness toward her cat, and then quickly stepped out of her own dress and into bed. It seemed to her that it was the only polite thing to do, although in that moment she wanted nothing so much as for him to leave. She leaned in to kiss him lightly on the cheek but he turned and forced her mouth open with his tongue. He reached down under the blanket and made a token attempt to remove her underpants. She pushed them down herself and then kicked them away. Within a moment he was on her, in her, shoving himself painfully into her dryness. Ananda shut his eyes, but a vision of Amita's face rose out of the darkness unbidden and so he opened them again and stared over Hannah at the headboard. She reached up to pull him closer for a kiss, but he shuddered once, twice, and then was gone. He lay on his back staring at the ceiling.

"Please, could you go and get me a washrag with which to clean myself?" Ananda asked, no hint of emotion in his voice. Hannah rose, stunned, and headed for the bathroom. Everything was so sudden, so unexpected she had not even had time to ask him to use a condom. She turned on the water in the sink so that it would get hot and then squatted on the bathroom floor, shoving a finger into her vagina and swirling it around until Ananda's semen clotted and fell out onto the floor. She wiped it up with a bit of toilet paper and then wetted the washcloth to take to him.

"Here you go," she said dispassionately, uncertain how to react. He cleaned himself under the covers then handed her back the soiled washcloth, got up, and quickly dressed.

"I will meet you downstairs," he said with no particular inflection, "once you have gotten dressed. I think I must be going soon. I have another appointment this afternoon." He turned and walked out the door.

Hannah sat for a moment on the edge of the bed, trying to collect her thoughts. Her crotch ached from the sudden brutality of his entrance. Surely this could not be what she had waited for so patiently? Perfect union? Hardly. She felt lost, unsure of herself. Where could things possibly go from here? Finally, she put on her dress and headed downstairs, half hoping Ananda would be gone by the time she got there.

Ananda went down to the basement and pulled the warm jeans from the dryer. The rough denim rubbed against the skin chafed by Hannah's dryness. He did not know what had made him acquiesce, finally, to her wantonness nor what had made him take her so artlessly, so suddenly. It had left him feeling emptied, sullied, and he was not so naïve as to imagine there had been any pleasure in it for her, either. He wanted to leave before she came down, but that would be too great an insult, so he sat on the couch and waited. Somehow things had to be made right again, for his sake as well as for Hannah's. He tried to think of a way to undo what had been done.

Hannah came down the stairs slowly. Not until she was almost to the bottom could he see her face and the look of detachment that hovered around her set lips and dry eyes. It frightened him. He felt as though he had driven her underground somehow, buried her beneath the dirt of his callousness and her own lust.

"I love you," he said quietly, unexpectedly, as she entered the living room.

Hannah stopped dead and stared at him, mouth open, unable for a second to speak. In the short walk from bedroom to living room, she had prepared herself for a final parting. Her farewell lines were already well rehearsed, an exact mixture of cynicism and benevolence, a masala carefully prepared to be bitter at first but with a lingering taste of sweetness. He had caught her off guard for the second time that day.

Unable to think of another reply, she looked at the ground and muttered "I love you, too". She glanced up to meet his eyes. Silently, they agreed not to mention the emptiness each saw reflected back by the other. She went and sat next to him on the couch, taking his face in her hands, kissing his forehead gently. They sat like that for a long time, not saying a word, until finally Ananda got up to go home. He did not disrupt the perfect silence between them to say goodbye.