Warm Lemons

7th September 2017

The refrigerator is a tempest. There’s cut fruits on the top shelf, cold water bottles lined in a rack, milk cartons with closer expiration dates beckoning ahead of the ones a few days more resilient, and eggs occupying the entire tray emulating a Ford assembly line. The refrigerator is in perfect order. Dodo can’t find the lemons. Dodo hates cut fruits. Dodo has lost their shit. Slams the door so hard that the next time someone opens it; the door light eerily creaks and flickers.

The summer is in retrograde; it leaves in Herculean wrath so the air is heavy with gaunt depression, flu, malaria, and cheap daytime television. Summer is a man who spreads his legs wider than women in gynaecologists’ chambers, till the point his trousers, leaves discreetly eschewing an embarrassing exit. Autumn meekly takes the seat, a skinny replacement intern for the one who just stopped showing up and left a pile of untouched files. The deserter – an unremarkable ghost immemorable save the rotten stench from the second drawer in his cubicle. A stale lunchbox is discovered on the third day. They say the July intern never washed his hands before eating and had rotten armpits.

Dodo cringes at the memory, almost nauseous. The absconding intern had left chewed chicken bones crunched into fine chalk dust. Dodo remembers staring at the crime scene in wide-eyed disbelief. This was the work of a serial carnivore who left his trails without the mildest perturbation. It looked like an American air strike rubble in Baghdad from a Discovery channel documentary, reeked of a German eugenicist’s practical plans, the charred bones. Dodo’s 8th grade history teacher was an expert on the World Wars, she told the kids that Germans regarded Jews the way their mothers thought of house lizards. The previous autumn vacation, Dodo was visiting their grandparents in Calcutta. The store-room next to the kitchen had a flickering tube light, nobody entered it for days; they passed in a whirland of pandal hopping and phuchka-grazing. The evening prior to Dodo’s departure, Dodo’s grandmother screamed in despair. A lizard’s corpse was found entangled to the filament, its wrinkled hard brown skin melting away and dropping on the table like hot wax. Its eyes had dried out. The eyes were gone. An old vicious relative lamented that this was a bad omen. Dodo called it a suicide.

But it didn’t teach Dodo the warning signs, the nuances of creeping depression, Dodo trusted plastic smiles, and let people be when they had a bad day. Instead Dodo turned their attention to trigonometry, Khaled Hosseni and prayed every night that they grow up to look like Kai Hiwatari. Dodo didn’t notice their elder sister missing out her college classes, Dodo never thought it odd that none of her friends visited her anymore, Dodo believed she was crying from period cramps, it had always knocked the wind out of her.

Three years after the lizard, Dodo was startled to hear their mother screaming on a July Sunday. Dodo had slept early the previous night procrastinating on the group assignment and expected to be woken up to the aroma of French toast. Trigonometry could wait, Monday could wait. They turned over towards their elder sister, Jojo, and tossed the pillow over their head. The maid would’ve dropped a cup, the gardener might’ve skipped plucking weeds, or she’d probably be arguing with Dodo’s father about never double-checking the door knob before sleeping. The possibilities were endless, none pressing enough to stir Dodo out of the stupor. The next thing Dodo remembers is the sound of slippers slapping the floor in anguish and a hard blow across their face, they came tumbling down the bed like a collapsing curtain rod heavy with humidity. Jojo remained in her spot, unflinching, one of her arms crossing her chest as usual, one knee jutting out and the two ankles tethered in a triangle.

The neighbours would start to gather outside the house in another ten minutes. Dodo was piss mad at Jojo envying her ability to shut the world out. It was only a few minutes later that Dodo noticed her chest was no longer a wave but a dented plateau. A tributary had formed around the corners of her mouth, a trickle of no larger volume than Dodo’s adenoid spray dosages. Some neighbour in the dining area started calling for a cremation, she needs to be turned to the earth.

Dodo hopped on the bed and shook her, said nothing, rocked her till their mother complained the neck would snap. She’d been pacing about the corridor just like her husband had when she birthed the kids. She’d been pacing faster with one of them gone. In case she ran into a wall, time quantum leap would transport her to the previous date, a few months ago, a whole lifetime. She escaped narrowly from tripping over the floor rug. Dodo had clambered onto the body like stone. The twins living two blocks away had already begun their Carnatic music class, the waste vendor’s beedi-infused lungs didn’t deter him from announcing his arrival. Dodo’s head was now spinning from the obtuse concoction of the most incongruent sounds one could think of, or the fact that the world has a way of moving on its own. Even after the worst of hurricanes, the wind picks on, gently tousles a survivor’s hair in the tender ways a lover never could. Dodo felt their throat on the verge of collapsing into their spine, all mangled guts, haemorrhaging tendons, a torn apart spirit, and an eerie gust shivering under their ribs, a little calm before the storm. The air turns cyanide.

“She overdosed on sleeping pills! You have been in the room all evening! How could you not?”

“I was watching Beyblade.”

For an hour everyone was gone. Dodo held their breath for eternity. The wind was knocked out of the siblings. One would be rendered weightless because of it, the other would slowly grow heavy. But after a while, Dodo couldn’t pair these two distinct consequences in neat incisions to either of them. The hollow and inertia stuck Dodo in equal parts like a hammer beating a drum. Except there was no tempo, no breath, no pulse. There hadn’t been for a while. The tributary’s evaporating, Dodo’s been scooped from a tsunami. Her legs are ossifying to cement, Dodo’s arms have no nerves, no tempo, no breath, a meek pulse. Dodo is empty, Dodo grows heavy.

Upon her return, mother asked Dodo to get off the bed. Dodo let out a soft gasp, refused. She needs to be cremated, she won’t go to heaven otherwise. Dodo doesn’t believe in non-material consequences. She’ll stink, she’ll rot, she’ll melt, she’ll dissipate. Leave her alone Dodo.

All corpses are routed to back to nature, they say, the universe. Dodo only understands geography. Dodo wondered for months after how bad it’d stink. Dodo knows now. It’d smell like the hot wax lizard, like rotten armpits, a gas chamber. The ashes are fine chalk dust, ground chicken bones, American air strikes. Dodo still doesn’t fathom anything about death save the body is a pathetic apology. Instead, Dodo looks out for ominous signs, a cough, a whimper, so much so Dodo almost called an ambulance when their best friend had a little bit of gas in his intestine. Dodo only knows to fix things, everything that can’t be healed must at least be held together.

Presently, Dodo calls up the electrician to check the refrigerator lights. Someone had mistakenly placed the lemons in the freezer. A permanently grieving household is forgiven for being forgetful in manners that would otherwise be deemed dimwitted. Dodo chops the lemon finely and squeezes it into hot water, the smell dissipates with each gulp. Some mornings Dodo’s heart is numb the way someone’s feet are on a twelve-hour cross-continental flight. Some summer mornings Dodo can smell the lizard and retches like a pregnant woman battling morning sickness. On Sundays, Dodo is best avoided. On Mondays now, Dodo smokes Marlboro lights and whines about German social theorists. Sometimes Dodo goes for a run. And the other days, Dodo waits for autumn. Dodo always waits for fall.

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Angana Sinha Ray Written by:

Angana Sinha Ray currently works for a children’s education NGO and will give you the death stare if you ask her whether likes children. She will smoke your bones if you tamper her books and criticise your character based on your underlining skills. Mildly morbid but not overall unpleasant, will pet you if you let her pet your dog, can be bribed with Marlboro and Toni Morrison; bites with affirmative consent.

2 Comments

  1. Gitasree Das
    March 4, 2018
    Reply

    Can’t remember if I have read her before. Morbid? Yes and no. Can relate to every character. Look forward to more such narratives.

    • Angana Sinha Ray
      March 5, 2018
      Reply

      You’ve probably read snippets on my Facebook. And thank you. Will hopefully continue the story further 🙂

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