Published in Living in America
An anthology of fiction and poetry by South Asian American writers.
BY SARITA SARVATE
Meena cannot remember a time when she did not dread babies. They creep up on her out of nowhere. As she walks out of the glass double doors of her office, she fishes inside her handbag for a pair of opaque sunglasses, her protection against the children from the daycare center walking around the courtyard in a crocodile. Even in the morning, riding the BART train, secure in the company of other adults, she sometimes hears the cry of a baby deep inside the car and quickly dons her dark glasses to hide the tears streaming down her cheeks.
Now, walking towards the train station in the middle of the afternoon, she feels lightheaded. She has felt this way ever since she woke up this morning and realized her resolve. She has decided to kill herself. The thought has been niggling at her for some time, since the miscarriage.
Last night, Milind came to her in a dream. He was five years old and had long black hair. His body was slim, and wiry, the dimples in his face were all gone. He stood in a lush green field dotted with Manzanita bushes, carrying an oversized beach ball. “Mama, I need you,” he said. Then he tossed the ball and ran away. She ran after him, through the maze of Camellia bushes, but she could only hear a voice saying, “I am hiding, can you find me?” When she woke up with a start, she knew she had to go to her boy.
This morning, she looked in the yellow pages wondering only half in jest if suicides were listed under “s”. She has little knowledge of the methods one can employ to kill oneself. Her sole source of information on the subject is Agatha Christie, in whose novels people die from poisons like the leaves of the yew tree or the seeds of the hemlock. The only poisonous plant in her garden is the foxglove, but she is not sure just how poisonous it is. She planted it a few months back, knowing it was harmful, just in case.
In Agatha Christie books, people engage in elaborate procedures to die or kill, but Meena is realizing how hard it is to do it in real life. Even if she used the foxglove, she would have to stew it or grind it and prepare some sort of a witches’ brew, and how is she supposed to do that with two stepdaughters and a husband lurking around the house all day?
Her husband David is unemployed and sits at his computer day and night, writing business proposals. Sometimes she wonders why he doesn’t just put his Reeboks on and pound the streets looking for a job.
This morning, she looked for a physician with a name like Chung or Wong or Yap in the phone book. When a secretary with a heavy Chinese accent answered the call, Meena told her she had a gynecologist but no general practitioner, which is true enough. During the last few years, she has been so busy going to one gynecologist after another for infertility treatments, she has had no time to go to a regular doctor for minor ailments like the flu or migraine. She believes a little old doctor in Chinatown will be desperate enough to give her the drugs she needs. After all, six months ago, the therapist in Berkeley had practically pushed the sleeping pills on Meena, and when Meena had fended them off, the therapist had said “Meena did not want to be helped.”
She recalls the face of the psychiatrist, a young woman in early thirties named Zenobia with a mousy face and long blond hair. For their first session, Zenobia wore heavy make-up, a linen suit, and an Indian beaded scarf. Meena thought Zenobia was trying to look older than her age.
“I met David in Hawaii,” Meena told her, “Hawaii was such a magical place, it touched my heart. It was so easy to fall in love there. Afterwards, David moved to California to live with me. And would you believe it? I was such a schmuck, I actually felt proud I was earning a living, and he was content to be the house-husband.” Meena broke into violent sobs. Zenobia looked bored and irritated. Meena wiped her nose with the back of her hand and looked at the clock. They were only fifteen minutes into the session. Zenobia sat in her chair with an impassive face. Meena thought Zenobia was trying to hide her exasperation behind a layer of rouge and mascara.
For weeks, Meena recounted to Zenobia the events of the last seven years. When she met David, she had been in America only a couple of years. She had not known the American rituals of dating and courtship. When David had offered her his love, she had accepted it blindly.
Then, soon after their wedding, David’s ex-wife had died and his two daughters aged five and eleven had flown to California to live with their Dad.
Then, after years of tending to David’s children, when she had finally thrown the pills away and decided to get pregnant so she could tend to her own children, she had discovered that getting pregnant was not something she could do at will, like finding a job or immigrating to the U.S. Eons later, she had gotten pregnant. Those twelve weeks of sleeplessness and eating crackers in the middle of the night would later seem unreal, like something she had seen in a movie. She had imagined the baby, blond haired and blue eyed, like David. In another version, the baby had been dark haired and brown-eyed, like her. With a half-breed baby, you could not tell.
“Bad luck, such bad luck,” Zenobia muttered after hearing each episode of Meena’s life. At the end of her story, Zenobia said, “you’ve had so much bad luck it must be your turn to have some good luck now. You ought to buy lottery tickets; you’ll probably win it.”
Americans thought the law of averages applied to individual life, Meena thought. They thought that if you just tried hard enough, everything evened out in your lifetime. If you broke an arm, you sued someone and got a million dollars, if you contacted AIDs, you went on TV with the president, if you were killed in an air crash, your children became wealthy. Basically, Americans thought everything was fair in life.
“Why don’t you leave him?” Zenobia said abruptly one day in the middle of a session. “I mean, you’re attractive, independent, you have a good job. Why do you need him?”
Meena burst into a new wave of sobs. “You don’t understand. I don’t have anyone here. Do you know how it feels to immigrate to another country and to be completely alone?” Meena knew Zenobia didn’t know this even though she pretended she did. Americans always acted as if they were all alone, until they got pregnant, were run over by a car, or had a heart attack, Meena thought. Relatives popped out of the woodwork then, with baby clothes, strollers, and thermoses full of soup.
Zenobia said then what Meena expected her to say, “You can always find someone else!”
Americans believed in bumper stickers, Meena thought. They believed that today was the first day of the rest of your life. What nonsense! Today could not be the first day unless you could erase all memories, all scars, all knowledge. “But I don’t want someone else now. What happens now doesn’t matter, can’t you see? I have lost the baby. I will never have another baby now. I am too old. What do I need a man for?” Meena pleaded. Zenobia gave her a look of pure and cold logic. The day Zenobia told Meena that she could find someone else, Meena decided never to see Zenobia again.
Dr. Lee’s office is a tiny room on top of the Hong Kong market on the main street in Chinatown in Oakland. The fragrance of mangoes, jackfruit, and fresh fish wafts in through the windows. She thinks of happier times when she used to walk here with David on a Sunday afternoon after dim sum, picking bitter melons here, and peanut oil there. She realizes now that her past happiness was a creation of her own mind too. Even back then, David did not have a job.
Now, filling out the medical form, under the headings “number of pregnancies” and “number of children” she puts two each.
She always knew she would not have the baby. She told no one about the pregnancy because she knew it would turn out to be a hoax. She sabotaged her own baby by not welcoming its arrival. She never celebrated the baby’s life. Maybe subconsciously she wished the baby dead. Now, she thinks of the baby as a blip on her basal body temperature chart. She has locked the charts up in her filing cabinet; she cannot make herself throw them away.
She knows the BBT chart was another way to jinx the baby. Soon after she had thrown the pills away, she had gone to the library and borrowed a book entitled “Your Infertility Workbook”. She had Xeroxed the temperature charts, bought herself a thermometer, and started to keep track of her ovulation. Every morning, she compulsively studied the graphs, as if, without the chart, the egg and the sperm would not know what to do.
Her chart and the blue stick from the pregnancy test are the only souvenirs left of the baby now. There was nothing left of the baby itself by the time they had driven to the hospital. It had been ejected into the toilet when Meena had doubled over with pain and decided to go to the bathroom hoping it was just an attack of indigestion and not a miscarriage.
At the hospital, Dr. Hodge had arrived, looking perky in a blue surgical gown and cap. He gave her a shot. “You’re going to feel very good now. I’ve just given you a drug that has a street-value of five hundred dollars,” he said. The drug made her feel as if she was swimming, and her body was very very light. She was floating away among the clouds. She remembers hearing some heavenly music. Later, she was not sure if Dr. Hodge had actually played music in the surgery that evening or if the drug had played it inside her head. David was rubbing her hand as Dr. Hodge had vacuumed her insides out. She wishes she could go back to that moment when pain was suspended, cordoned off at the door of the operating theater. She wishes to float to the accompaniment of that ethereal music, feel David’s hand on her hand, and listen to Dr. Hodge’s soothing voice saying it was nobody’s fault. Even with her dizzy, drugged head, she marveled then at how Dr. Hodge knew the street value of the drug. She wondered if he was on drugs himself. That would explain why he never seemed to focus on her infertility problems.
Later, she lay floating in a blissful unconsciousness, fighting off the efforts of her body to wake up until she heard one nurse say to another in a hushed voice, “This one is sleeping too long. I can’t wake her up.”
And the other nurse said, “We ought to tell the doctor. She is taking far too long. I wonder if she has a death-wish.”
Afterwards, as David pulled into the driveway of their home-or rather, her home, since she was the one paying the mortgage-she had the sensation of complete emptiness unlike any she had ever known before and any she would ever know again. Two healthy and beautiful children of David’s slept inside her house while her baby lay dead in the toilet. She actually went to the bathroom to see if it was still there. Dr. Hodge had said he would like to have the “pregnancy tissue” and send it to the laboratory, but Meena wanted to take the baby and put it in a jar so she could watch it every day.
That night, while still under the influence of the drugs, her boy came to her in a dream. He had large blue eyes, a skinny oblong face and dark wavy hair. He was three years old. “You didn’t really want me, did you?” he said. She knelt on the floor and spread her arms out. He turned sideways, picked up a chubby arm and lifted the thumb to his mouth. “No. I am not your friend,” he said. She leaned forward. “Milind, Milind,” she called. The boy ran away into a fog.
She woke up, went to the bathroom, and squatting on the still damp tiles, she touched her finger to the inside of the toilet bowl where a few spots of blood had escaped the flush. “Milind, Milind,” she whispered.
At work, she had told no one about the baby and later, she told no one about its loss. That way, she could pretend it did not happen. She walked around the office the next day, her breasts full with milk. She had to remind herself continually that even though her body felt full, her womb was empty.
The Chinese doctor is a small, ageless man with tiny eyes that blink behind enormous spectacles. “I just need some sleeping pills,” she tells him. When he raises his eyebrows, she continues, “Well, I have been working too hard,” she hears herself lie glibly. “I need a bit of rest but I am too wound up. I can’t sleep!” She looks at him with a winning smile. She is wearing her deep blue dress with dots of red and green and yellow. She knows she looks smashing and she knows the doctor likes her.
The Chinese man stares at her for two long minutes. She can hear him breathe deeply, in and out, in and out. He looks much like a yogi sitting under a banyan tree. “We have too much stress in this society,” he says at last, shaking his head sadly, “far too much stress.” His eyes are oozing with pain.
“Yes.” The corners of her eyes begin to moisten.
“Have you tried the health-food shops?” he says softly.
He knows. He knows everything, she realizes. She hasn’t been able to fool him even one bit. She should have known better than to go to a Chinese doctor. The Chinese, like Indians, are probably suspicious of Western medication. A Chinese doctor would be more likely to believe in the Ayurvedic herbal medicines from India. White doctors never have time to talk to patients. Before you can finish explaining your problem, they start writing prescriptions. But the Chinese doctor has plenty of time, and he wants to actually talk to her.
“You have two children?” he asks. She nods. After all, this is not a total lie.
She nods. “One of them.”
“They’re difficult sometimes, I know. I had two.” He says gently. “But you can’t get too stressed over it. They outgrow it, after all.” He is talking about what he perceives to be her problem. And it is her problem except it is not a problem she worries much about. She has no desire to solve David’s children’s teenage angst. She has no desire to see them ever again if she can help it. She knows death will bring her comfort because nothing else has. She cannot leave David alive. She would feel guilty if he couldn’t find a job and ended up on the streets homeless. But if she died, it would be another thing altogether. People might feel sympathy for him. The publicity around the death might bring him a couple of job offers, who knows? Her life is dispensable. She has no children, nobody that will miss her. Her parents in India have their son.
He writes the name of an over-the-counter sleep medication on a piece of paper, then gets up and touches her on her shoulder. “It’s a beautiful day. Go lie down in the park,” he says. “Don’t worry so much, life is hard sometimes.”
Outside, sunlight soaks into the pores of her body. She stands on the sidewalk thinking where to go. She decides to take the BART back and pick her car up at the station. After that, her plans are uncertain. In her purse, she finds forty dollars and numerous credit cards. If she drove down to Monterey, she could stay in a motel on the beach, then walk into the waves, late at night, when no one was looking. She remembers being pulled by a current under the waves in Hawaii once. She remembers David and his daughters waving to her frantically from the shore. “Come back, come back,” the voices fading. Then David wading through the water and pulling her out. How happy she was then to have been rescued. How happy the girls were to see her alive.
Now, she wishes the waves had pulled her under. Until that day in Hawaii, Meena had never realized how easy it was to drown on a beach. One moment you were riding the surf, feeling euphoria. The next moment, you were being eaten alive by the ocean. And this time, David and the girls would not be there to rescue her.
She gets off the train at San Leandro and starts to walk toward her car. Out of the corner of her eye, she notices a familiar, tall, masculine figure. It’s David. He starts walking beside her. She assumes he has been to San Francisco for a job interview except he is wearing jeans and a checked green shirt. Maybe it was a business visit. He does try to follow up on business ideas every now and then, except nothing ever seems to work.
She is glad to be driven home. Her head is very heavy, fatigued. He drives on to the freeway. “Where are we going?” she asks.
“The Chinaman called me. He said you were going to kill yourself. I called the suicide hot-line. They have a psychiatrist at Eden Hospital waiting for you.”
“I am not going to a psychiatrist. He is probably some creep. All doctors are creeps.” An uncontrollable anger is rising within her. She looks at David’s face and notes his expressionless profile. She wants him to grieve for the baby but he always says what’s the point and shows no emotion.
“I hate you, I hate you.” She screams. She pounds her fists on the window. In the next lane, three people in an Audi watch her contorted face with fascination. She wants to fling open the door and fall into the traffic. “I wish you had died a long time ago. I wish you were dead instead of my baby.” She is convulsing with sobs. “I hate your children. I don’t want to ever look at them again. Do you hear? Get them out of my house! Now! Before I kill them. Do you realize how it is for me to see my baby die and then to have to look at the faces of your children every day?”
The woman at the hospital reception has no curiosity about Meena; instead she is enchanted by a computer screen.
Dr. Whitfield is an obese white man with grey hair and a large tummy. Oh God! What can he do for her? After watching umpteen TV programs, she has assumed a male therapist would be a Jewish man with a dark beard. Dr. Whitfield looks like a gourmet chef or a man behind the counter at a bakery. His face is expression-less as she tells him her story.
“It’s hopeless, can’t you see?” she asks. “Are you going to charge me a hundred dollars a week for the next ten years to tell me I chose David because I am a masochistic loser?”
“Why do you think I can’t help you?” he asks calmly.
She doesn’t think anyone can help her. They can’t give her the baby back, or all the years she has lost looking after David and his children. No one can give her time back. If someone could give her her childbearing years back, she would give them her career, her romances, her travels. But no one can give her what she has lost. People who get divorced after a couple of kids seem such happy people to her now. Once upon a time, she used to pity such people. She used to think she would never bring a child into an unhappy marriage. Once upon a time, she used to pity Indians who went in for “mail order marriages” and landed back in America with a spouse they had not even kissed. Now she wishes she had had an arranged marriage at age twenty two and given birth to two healthy boys.
Now she wishes she had been reckless. She wishes she had had a child out of wedlock and given it up for adoption. Now, she could be looking for that child, her biological child. It would be in existence somewhere in the world instead of being dead in a toilet.
“Maybe you can go to another doctor. I know a good one.”
She shakes her head. Her body has a mysterious way of communicating with her brain. Her body has told her brain that she cannot have a baby. The brain knows, just like it knew she was not to have the baby that she had conceived.
“Why don’t I see you in a few days?” He asks.
She thinks of where she could go. Her Indian friends are long gone; they abandoned her when they realized she was going to marry a “foreigner”. And her American friends are only good for sharing frivolous activities like picnics, movies, and parties. Friendships in America are calculated. One cannot call someone and say “By the way, I am thinking of committing suicide.” And if one did, people don’t respond by saying “Come on over, I’ll talk you out of it.” Instead, they say, “Have you seen a therapist?” No one wants to listen to anyone here unless it’s talk of trivial matters, in which case, why bother listening at all? In America, friends are people you exchange favors with. You swap you cabin in the mountains for a concert-ticket. You trade an introduction to an important person in return for skiing lessons. But Meena has nothing to swap. What is she supposed to trade, her loneliness, her confusion, her grief? “But I don’t want to go home to David’s children. I want you to take care of me.”
“Well, you can stay here if you like,” he says shrugging his shoulders.
At the psych ward, a tall, thin nurse with prematurely grey hair shakes her head and enters Meena’s name into a chart. Another nurse shows her into a spacious room with an attached bathroom, a plush armchair, a coffee-table, and a large picture-window overlooking the valley. The nurse makes her sign for her jewelry. Meena stands at the window and looks at tiny houses with lush tropical gardens. She spots a plastic swimming pool beside a bed of Calalilies and two blond heads bobbing atop little bicycles further down a street. The sheet of glass separates her from life as ordinary people know it. She can sense her dreams and fantasies on the other side of that glass, dead, vanquished. She feels she will never know what it is like to have a normal life. She will never again know how to dream about ordinary things like a husband, children, travel, career, money.
A blond nurse in jeans and a white t-shirt comes in. She sits down on the bed beside Meena. “So what’s the problem?” she asks. Her young pale face is streaked with freckles. Her eyes are ageless, as if somewhere, in another life, she has lived a century. “I lost my baby,” Meena says. The woman’s raises her eyebrows. Meena realizes she is uttering these words for the first time and is surprised at the ease with which she can say them. “Sounds like you ought to leave him,” the woman says at the end of Meena’s story.
When Meena asks directions to the Recreation Hall, the grey haired nurse nods at her with a deep understanding. “Men!” She mumbles, “Men! I could kill them all.” Meena looks at her inquiringly. “I ought to know. I got married when I was twenty and had six kids before that jerk of a husband crossed the state-line and disappeared. I never got a penny in child support. I could kill that bastard if I ever set my eyes on him. Men are all bad news. Look at you.” It seems all the nurses know Meena’s story now.
In the Recreation Hall, a “group session” is in progress. Meena sits on the edge of the circle with her face at an angle. A pudgy, overweight man is talking energetically. “I am going to get a pass to go out this Saturday. I know I can make it.” He looks and acts like a used-car salesman. His face has confidence oozing out of it. If you didn’t know where he was, you would think he was talking about a week-end game of golf with his business partners. Everyone in the circle nods. The nurse in-charge looks perky in a flowery chintz dress. The man keeps talking. “I’ve got to get out this week-end. I’d give anything to get out of this place.” As he talks his face becomes redder and redder. The veins in his forehead stand out. He clenches his fists and his mouth seems to froth. The nurse gets up and puts her arm around him. He subsides. The muscles of his face relax. He no longer looks like a used-car salesman. Everyone is silent for a minute. An ancient woman with a million wrinkles in her face sits with her back to the circle, staring at the wall across the room. “Yolanda, are we going to say anything today?” The nurse asks her. The woman continues to stare at the wall. Meena gets up and leaves the room.
At night, a nurse brings Meena a couple of sleeping pills. When Meena shakes her head, the nurse turns abruptly and walks out of the room. Meena follows her. Getting behind the counter, the nurse raises her eyebrows at Meena and speaks into the telephone. If you didn’t want to take the medications, why did you bother to come into the hospital, her expression says. “Dr. Whitfield says you don’t have to take it,” the nurse says shrugging her shoulders and putting the phone down.
Later, Meena discovers why people have to be drugged into zombies here. It is midnight and she is wide awake. Her room is stuffy and the windows do not open. When the door creaks she feels nervous. Someone stands near the bed. She pretends to be asleep in case it is a patient. A light flashes into her eyes. She sits up in bed with a start and utters a muffled scream. It’s a female orderly in a blue uniform. “Sh! We’re supposed to check up on the patients to make sure they’re Ok.”
“But why? I am not going to be able to rest this way.”
“We have to make sure you’re breathing. Those are our orders.”
After that, every hour, someone shines a beam of light in Meena’s face, and even though Meena is wide awake, she pretends to be asleep. To be found awake would be humiliating; like a kid caught playing instead of napping.
Towards morning, as the dawn is breaking, after the orderly has finally gone off duty, she sees Milind in a dream again. At breakfast, she notices the fat man from the group session eagerly facing a plate piled high with food. A huge tray appears in front of her as soon as she sits down. She watches the plate of scrambled eggs, toast, bacon, sausages, ham, potatoes, tomatoes, and some unidentifiable mush with fascination. She takes a bite. The taste of grease makes her stomach turn.
Dr. Whitfield comes in wearing a velvety sweat-shirt and slacks. He looks fatter in the morning light. He sits down opposite the used car salesman. “Oh, it looks very good,” he says perkily. The used car salesman smiles and delves into his plate. She pushes her tray away and beckons Dr. Whitfield to the door.
“I can’t eat this food,” she whispers to him in the hallway.
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Instead of curing people you’re trying to make them sick with junk food. If they recover mentally they’re bound to get heart disease.” Dr. Whitfield shakes his head. “And how can anyone rest with that flashing routine at night huh? This is a hospital, people come here to rest. I am not surprised mental patients stay sick.”
“Well, we want to protect them from rape or other crimes. We’ve had a few cases already. We don’t want to take any chances.”
In the afternoon, Dr. Nelson gives her a check-up. He is a fortiesh, balding man with a friendly smile. He knocks her knees with a wand, then takes her shoes and socks off. She notices his long fingers and the warm touch of his palms against the soles of her feet. He looks deeply into her eyes and smiles. She has not noticed a man this way in years. “So what’s wrong with you? Why are you here?” he asks. When she tells him her story, he says, “but you can have a baby now. Women can get pregnant right at forty.” She shakes her head. How is she to explain to him what her brain knows? “Anyway, I am surprised Dr. Whitfield made you stay here. I’d have advised strongly against it. You are not a candidate for a psychiatric ward. I would send you home.”
Back in her room, the grey-haired nurse brings her a book. It’s titled Co-dependent No More. “If you read this, you’ll realize you’ve got to dump that bastard. He is dependent on you and you are his slave because you feel guilty,” she says. Suddenly, tears run down Meena’s cheeks. She imagines the divorce, the bitterness of David and his children directed at her. She sits on the bed and makes a list of all the money David owes her, then tears it up realizing he’d never be able to pay her back.
She stands at the picture window again. She feels like a prisoner in a jail. She cannot understand why anyone would want to commit a crime and be put behind bars. She sought a sanctuary, but here, there is no life at all. Here, people float in an emptiness; they do not exist. All she wants to do now is be outside. Everything on the other side of the sheet of glass acquires a magical quality. She starts to feel nostalgic about people at work. She remembers Paul, with his nerdy eyeglasses and a pimply face saying, “Meena, I’m twenty six years old today and I’ll never be a major league baseball player.” She remembers touring PG&E’s underground natural gas storage fields in the delta in a hard hat and listening to the deafening whir of huge compressors pushing gas into the ground. These memories acquire a supernatural quality now; they signify the very ebb and flow of life, sweet and innocent in its mundane, natural rhythm.
Days pass into nights. She looses track of time. On Thursday, Dr. Nelson comes into the room and stands beside her at the window watching the sky turn orange and purple over the green hills. “You are one of the healthiest people I have ever examined,” he says, “your heart is like a twenty five year old, your blood pressure is very low, and I don’t know anyone who has a blood cholesterol level as low as yours. You are going to live to be a hundred years old.” Yes, but I can’t produce a baby. There are hidden ailments inside my body that no one can see or know. I had always thought I was invincible too, but now I know that my body is not perfect. I know that something can go wrong inside me and I can know nothing about it. But she says nothing of this.
“Do you jog?” he asks. She nods. “After I go home from here, I change into my running gear and go jogging up at Lake Chabot. Have you ever been there? You ought to see it. It’s really pretty,” he says.
She envisions him as a peace-corpse volunteer, even a hippie. His face has that sixties quality. She realizes he is about to say something intimate. She has not noticed if he is wearing a wedding ring. Before she has a chance to find out, she hears footsteps at the door. It’s David. He is carrying a stainless tiffin carrier. “I brought you dinner,” he says. She wants to ask him to wait so she can finish her conversation with Dr. Nelson but the doctor is already leaving.
On Friday, she is given a pass to go to Lake Chabot. She is excited, like a child going to the playground. While she is putting her Nikes on, a tall, slim, woman walks in with a large doll under one arm. She is young and beautiful. “Say hello to Polly,” she says. “Guess where I am going tomorrow?” The woman asks after a pause.
“To Walnut Creek Hospital. Isn’t that exciting? I can hardly wait. I wish you could come to Walnut Creek Hospital, it is the most fun place in the world.”
She runs out the door and down the street past ticky-tacky houses, up the hill, through the parking lot, and does not stop until she is walking on a path alongside the lake. On a grassy knoll, an old man is attaching bait to a rickety fishing rod. She walks down to the wooden pier and lies on the planks, watching the geese fly a deep blue sky. The motion of the water rocks her like a boat. She smells the fragrance of jasmine from the bank. Occasionally, a fish raises his head in the water and watches her motionless body. A blackbird sits on her toe for a minute, then flies away as it realizes she is alive. The lake water sparkles with the sun over their heads. This place has a tranquility she has not known in a long time.
The water reminds her of Milford Sound, New Zealand, where David had taken her on a camping trip on their honeymoon. On the first night, they had camped by the side of a roaring river. The man at the booth had said, “Sandflies? Never heard of sandflies in this part of the world.” Later, in their igloo of an REI tent, they had laughed their heads off while being eaten alive by the largest sandflies known to man. It had rained incessantly on the West coast of the South Island and when they had woken up the next morning, they had discovered the river had engulfed them
All through that trip, they had camped in one wet field after another, cooking meals on a little Gaz stove in the tent, and later, reading Gail Sheehy’s ‘Passages’ in the fading light of a day that did not end until ten or eleven O’ clock at the tip of the world. One evening, they had arrived at a small West Coast town as sheets of rain had merged with a wild, murky ocean, discovered that life ceased in the town at four O’clock in the afternoon, and had sneaked into the kitchen of an overflowing campground to cook a meal of scrambled eggs and toast, when the manager had asked them to leave because they were not registered guests. That night, they had driven down a country road until houses were replaced by fields, pulled the car up by the side of the road, and slept in the back. In the middle of the night, they had woken up with the sound of animals, and lain in each other’s arms, listening to the wild. She had not particularly wanted children then because her life had been so complete, so full of adventure and possibility.
She sits up and starts to chew the blue wand with a registration number around her wrist. When it is in shreds, she gets up and walks, slowly at first but briskly soon, until her pace becomes frantic. Then she starts to run towards home.
At home, ten year old Marsha is sitting on the sofa in pig tails and shorts. “Hi Meena,” she says, her brow in a deep frown. An antique wooden box engraved with crystals is open in front of her and a few strands of pearls are flowing out.
“What are you doing?” Meena asks.
“I am playing with Mom’s jewelry. Jenny and I divided it.” Marsha holds up a long string of amber. “Here, you can have this.”
“Where is everybody?” Meena asks.
“Remember Jenny turned sixteen yesterday? Dad took her to buy a car.” You mean while I have been in a loony bin, they have been busy spending some more of my money? But Meena does not say this. Instead, she lets Marsha put the string of amber around her neck and begins to put the jewelry back in the box. As she puts her arm around Marsha’s shoulders, she realizes the law of averages does apply after all.