Exercising the craft—May 4, 2015

Prompt: An ocean of possibilities: [Use] the ocean-themed quote below to serve as a diving-off point for a 1,000 word short story.

“Because there’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it’s sent away.” -Sarah Kay

http://www.writermag.com/writing-prompts/ocean-possibilities-writing-contest/

***

Esha closed the door behind the last guest and stood there with her hand on the knob for a moment.

She didn’t know how these Americans did it, chatting nonchalantly as if no one had just died. She saw a few people laughing, even. What had happened to the days when people came to the family home dressed in white and sat on the floor for hours honoring the deceased? When mourners spoke in quiet murmurs as they looked upon the large framed photo garlanded with flowers to indicate the person had died? What was with all this telling stories and a perfunctory “So sorry for your loss” followed by a peck on the cheek and then asking for the bathroom?

Ah, well. Who would listen to an old woman’s ramblings? They would just tell her she believed in a tradition not of this century. But did that mean they were no longer relevant?

As she turned her back on the door, she let it support her for a minute. Hard to believe Prakash had brought her to this home nearly fifty years ago now. That they’d lived every major event of life, from birth to death, right here.

The doorbell rang, and irritation made her whirl—well, what whirling a woman could manage at the age of sixty-nine, anyway. For her it amounted to a slow-motion glance over her shoulder. Why couldn’t these people left her alone? In India friends and neighbors would visit the mourning family for days after the death, but Esha had only had visitors for about four hours and she didn’t want to share this with anyone anymore.

She pulled the door open and opened her mouth at the same time to refuse entry when the person on her doorstep.

“Daniel?” she said, uttering the name she hadn’t spoken in five decades.

He smiled, and his blue eyes twinkled. Most of the brown hair she’d run her fingers through had thinned, but the dimples still indented his cheeks. Despite the depth of her loss, Esha’s heart fluttered.

“Hi, Esha,” he said, his voice wavering. “Long time, huh?”

“I’ll say.”

She stood there, not sure what to do. The last time Daniel stood on her doorstep she’d been a slip of a girl, just twenty years old. His dimples hadn’t appeared then, and his eyes had flashed with anger. How could they not, when she informed him with false coolness that she would marry the man her parents had chosen?

Did he really believe that she could marry someone else and not feel a single ounce of regret? Never mind that her parents believed Prakash would take care of her, that he did take care of her. Never mind that she knew, as she’d shut the door on the last living hope of self-chosen love, that she would eventually learn to love Prakash too. Never mind that in the days and weeks that followed that rejection of Daniel that aunts and cousins on both sides had had to remind her more than once to smile, look happy, all attention was on her, the new bride.

How could she smile and look happy when the one man she’d loved, the one who she’d chosen in defiance of her parents’ wishes, believed her love for him had died?

“How are you?” Daniel asked. He shifted his weight, and she saw the cane for the first time.

“Good,” she said. “I’m sorry, I’m being rude. Do you want to come in?”

He nodded, and even that gesture seemed familiar. At one time she had known what every head tilt, every raised eyebrow, every crinkle of his eyes meant. Did they still mean the same things?

“I’m sorry about your husband,” Daniel said in a quiet voice as he crossed her threshold.

She’d started to follow him through the foyer into the family room but then stopped.

“How did you know about him?” she asked, still not able to call Prakash by name. The older generations of Indian wives never referred to their husbands by name in their own languages and squirmed in English when the context of the conversation forced them to do so. Pronouns usually helped.

“Ruth,” Daniel said. “Is it okay if I sit with you for a little while?”

Of course. In an odd turn of fate, Esha had remained friends with Daniel’s sister after marriage. Esha had never asked Ruth about her brother, and Ruth had never volunteered information. His presence in their lives usually occupied too much space in the room to say much about it.

“Yes, please, I’m sorry,” Esha said, flustered now. She gestured to the cobalt leather sofa still exuding the aroma of the furniture store. Prakash had gotten so excited three weeks earlier about the built-in recliners at the end of the semi-circle. The grandkids would love it, he said.

The grandkids had come and gone for the funeral, and Esha had forgotten to tell them about the recliners.

Daniel leaned on the cane for support as he settled into the sofa in the middle, and Esha let go of a breath. He hadn’t chosen Prakash’s place.

“How are you doing?” Daniel asked.

She chose a dining room chair and tried not to grimace at its weight as she hefted it to the living room and sat.

“Oh, fine,” Esha said, the typical American response now a natural part of her vocabulary. “How are you?”

“Esha,” he said. His voice still caressed her name as if it were made of rose petals. “You can save the chit chat for the mailman. How are you doing?”

Her lower lip started to tremble. No; how was this possible? When a person experienced grief, she thought it reached a limit. That at some point the body, having wrung itself of all the tears in the world, would finally have space to let in relief. But no. No matter how many tissues she used, grief kept her wrung out.

“I miss him,” she said, her sob twisting her words. “I didn’t know this was possible, Daniel, but I just don’t want to believe he’s gone. I want him back.”

He nodded, and suddenly Esha remembered: Ruth had finally broken their unspoken covenant in a roundabout sort of way when she mentioned that her sister-in-law—Daniel’s wife—had succumbed to cancer the previous year.

After fifty years of her life with another man—three children, their graduations and weddings, grandchildren, sharing a home, a life, love, honoring the traditions and culture of a country hers and not so much hers anymore—Esha knew why Daniel had come.

He held out a hand, and she saw the wrinkled skin. She saw a life with the woman who had borne his children, who had stood by his side through job changes and retirement, through the death of his parents and the difficulties of losing a child with disabilities. She understood that that life had seeped into his skin and that now he had come to offer whatever life had left to her.

As she used the back of one hand to wipe the tears that had started slipping down her cheeks, she reached for his offering with her other hand and clenched it with all the life and love she had left.

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