fiction, politics, short stories

A Thanksgiving Guest

Paul sat on the kerb, staring out at nothing, shuddering despite the blanket wrapped around him.The African medallion hung from his neck. There was a single drop of blood splattered across it. Detective Harris stood across from him as she kept an eye on the CSUs processing the scene. He glanced up, brown eyes watering and bulging in their sockets before he ran his tongue over his lips.

 

‘You got a cigarette?’he said.

 

She handed him a soft pack of Marlboro Lights. He took one but his hands shook too much to light it. Harris lit it for him and he inhaled with a junkie enthusiasm. When he thanked her, his voice was soft and mannered.

 

He told her what happened.

 

He put it as a joke tweet. A list of priced services to provoke reactions. Running up on your creepy uncle cost twenty dollars. Mentioning Black Lives Matter and giving hard stares at anyone who challenged him was ten dollars. He said he would bring a plate and microwave it. He referenced Ving Rhames in ‘Baby Boy’ over Sidney Poitier in ‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner’.

 

Erin Mayhew sent him a direct message and a few messages later, dropped a chunk of change in his bank account. A photo of her made the prospect appealing. Paul thought she was pretty with curled blonde hair and a full, soft build running to fat although her social media feeds were a little confrontational, even for him.

 

Harris noted how he paused afterwards before she asked him to continue.

 

He picked her up from her dorm, driving an SUV and she kept touching his knee on the drive down. Paul looked away and Harris asked him what happened.

They had fucked in the back seat, and Paul felt a little objectified even as she came three times. It was, he admitted, the only time she stopped talking about how awful her family were.

He took the sealed plate of ribs, chitlins, collared greens and cornbread in and adopted a rolling, beligierent swagger as Erin giggled and whispered how he should go all in on Trump. The money was good and it would be a good story to share online later, he told himself.

 

The table was heaving with food and a centrepiece which was a clamshell draped with twigs and dried flowers sprayed silver and gold. Erin’s parents, David and Maria were soft, polite people who struggled to make eye contact and when Paul passed his plate, his stomach soured with distaste as he stared out David without speaking.

Erin grinned with an awful mania as they sat down. Paul told the detective how her uncle wore a MAGA hat at the table, and spoke to Paul about the last Kendrick Lamar album. They were polite to him and every cent he earned came up to haunt him. It was awkward and his nerves made his performance halting and inconstant but he believed things would pan out for the best.

 

Which was when the jar of vicodin came out. Erin’s aunt Laura had a back injury and good insurance, dished out the pills from her purse and Paul shook his head when she offered. Erin took two and frowned at Paul before she said something to her uncle Eddie about Roy Moore.

 

Paul cringed at Erin’s zeal before he noted how much it was reflected in her uncle and father’s arguments. They repeated talking points gleaned from the internet, their voices rising and falling as they scored points off one another. Paul saw sympathetic glances thrown his way from Laura and mother but he kept moving his stale cornbread around the plate and kept silent.

 

The hairs went up on the nape of his neck when he heard three words which haunted him.

 

Black lives matter.

 

All lives matter.

 

He studied his plate like a midterm and wished he had been anywhere else than at the Mayhew Thanksgiving dinner.

He asked Harris for another cigarette before he carried on. His hands shook harder and tears ran down his cheeks as he continued.

What broke the moment was Erin mentioning the Trump admission recorded by Billy Bush, which was cue for Laura to defend Kevin Spacey and her sister turned, indignant and spraying flecks of turkey and sweet potato as she stated how her sister always resented her theatrical talent.

Paul said he was relieved when the argument became personal rather than political but the observation lasted as long as it took for Laura to reach into her purse and take out something other than pain medicine.

Just pain, he said.

The Walther had a lady grip and it looked small in her hands as she lowered the barrel at her sister’s chest and pulled the trigger.

Mrs Mayhew’s mouth formed into a perfect oh as she fell backwards, clutching her chest. Paul flew back from the table as Laura turned and fired at her husband, his red MAGA hat popped off his head with the force of the bullet.

Erin smiled as her aunt shot her in the forehead.

Mr Mayhew wrestled with her, his thick hands dwarfed hers before she fired into the rounded bulk of his midsection and he slumped forwards, making choking sounds as he bled over the table.

‘Did you like the centrepiece?’ Laura said.

Her voice was a rasping screech as she pointed the gun at him. He nodded with as much enthusiasm as his terror allowed him. She had borrowed it from a picture Ivanka posted before she turned the gun on herself.

 

He butted the cigarette out and looked up at the detective. The best ideas start as jokes, and so do some of the worst.

Harris sat down on the kerb and asked about his family. He said they argued and loved with the same volume and his father had voted for Trump but he had his reasons.

‘Families are fucking weird.’ he said.

 

Harris smiled and nodded. She’d left her house after her husband had let their daughter pull down a tray of brownies from the kitchen table whilst he was playing with his phone and she had read him the riot act. She gave him the rest of the pack of cigarettes and gestured for the paramedics to come back to him.

‘Happy Thanksgiving.’ she said.

Paul wept as she walked away.

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love, politics, women

a good soldier

John had put the no phones rule in place from the start. It was odd at first, like a missing limb and feeling a strange obligation to be present with people. The drinking helped and when he passed a thick joint, his staff smiled and they relaxed.

 

It was useful to talk off the record. He listened more than he spoke, but all the staff enjoyed the warm purity of his attention. When he spoke, his voice was low and cultured. Cassie, the speech writer enjoyed how he spoke like that all the time. She told him too, and he chuckled as he lifted the tumbler of scotch to his lips.

 

‘I curse like a sailor, Cassie, just not in public.’

 

She giggled and leaned forward, squeezing her thighs together beneath her pencil skirt as she blushed, aware of the blood rising in her throat.

 

‘What’s your favourite swear word?’ she said.

 

Harry glanced around the room, nervous. There was always the fear of someone recording.

 

He raised his hand and nodded.

 

‘Cunt.’

 

The room fell silent before Cassie giggled and put her hand over her mouth. The laughter was like crystal being rung. She giggled so hard it became difficult to breathe. It wasn’t made any easier when he leaned forward and put his hand on her forearm. He had big, strong hands and she stared at them before another ripple of giggles bubbled up in her.

 

‘Cassie, are you okay?’

 

She nodded, took deep breaths and took the bottle of water, turning her head.

 

He sat back, but she held onto the contact for a second. He gazed into her eyes and smiled at her before returning to a conversation about Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, and the room thrived like a fire being lit.

 

Harry came over to her as she stood by the window, a tumbler of scotch in his hands.

 

‘This is where I remind you you work for him.’ he said.

 

Cassie curled her upper lip and pulled away from him, shaking her head.

 

‘I’m not stupid.’

 

Harry, with perpetual shadows underneath his eyes and a permanent scrub of beard smiled and shook his head.

 

‘It’s why I’m saying it. You’re not stupid, he is.’

 

Cassie sneered and raised an eyebrow

 

‘That’s disgusting Harry, on so many fucking levels. I wouldn’t put myself in that situation at all.’

 

Harry passed her the scotch.

 

‘We’ve got a tough six months left out here. We’re fighting against a lunatic fringe pumped up by internet tough guys and actual fucking nazis being listened to. He’s not the one, but he’s a one, do you agree?’

 

She nodded. Despite everything she’d felt the swell of admiration when he spoke. His policies were solid, innovative in ways endorsed by smart and popular people.

 

‘Harry, I will not fuck my boss.’

 

He chuckled and shook his head.

 

‘I’m your boss but no, that’s not good for anyone. We need to be going in hungry for the next round and I can’t have attachments to bring us into question.’

 

She took a good gulp of the scotch. It stung, but she liked the sharp sting of it in her sinuses and the warm bubble of intoxication as it blew up in her like a slow explosion. Her eyes watered as she handed back the glass.

 

‘I’m a good soldier Harry.’ she said.

 

He smiled and walked off. She looked after him, reaching in her jacket for her cigarettes before she felt his hand on the upper part of her arm. The shiver passed, brief and sharp like a sweet cramp.

 

Harry was two weeks too late. She had gone to him. They had been working on a speech about their economic policy. She put out her terms. He sat back, furrowed his forehead and laid his palms on the arms of the couch. He smiled.

 

‘Come here.’ he said.

 

Cassie was 5’7″, threw weights around and punched out her neuroses into other people who were doing the same thing in return. She launched herself at him and snarling with a want as bright as flame.

 

They took great pains to be stupid in controlled doses, the hunger building between them until he pinned her to the wall of his suite, fingers on her throat and hand in her panties. Cassie had seen the king in him, but behind closed doors, she knew the lover and the warrior.

 

She wanted him to succeed. If it took him away, she would decide what she wanted. This was not a job to her, and it had not been for sometime.

 

It was a mission. Cassie was not in this for the prestige of being seen with him. What she possessed was unique to her, a quiet surrender stroked and cajoled in moments of prolonged ecstasy.

 

‘Thirty minutes.’ she said.

 

He liked her to sleep over. They had exquisite slices of time before she would wake up, go back to her room and shower the musk of his sweat away. Cassie carried the delicious ache with her in her hips through the long days which followed. It waned, replaced by the anticipation of when they would be alone again.

 

Harry was a good general but Cassie could not explain it to him. It was a state of feeling, a primacy she could not contain. If he had turned her away, she would have continued to work for him. She had articulated it to him, willing to risk rejection but offering an arrangement which would suit them both.

 

She counted the time down, her heart racing in anticipation as she waited.

 

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beauty, love, politics, women, work

Watching The Circus

Toni stood in line at the supermarket, jostling Henry on her hip as she watched the cashier check her coupons with the precision of a corrupt jeweller. The cashier glanced up at her with dull eyes and Toni steeled herself for  recognition which came too often to dismiss. She passed a faded coupon back to her between thumb and forefinger.

‘This one’s expired.’ The cashier said.

Toni grimaced and checked the small print, crumpled it up in her hand and shoved it into her back pocket. She considered dropping it but there were people behind her. Toni fought to ignore the impatient sighs and mumbled comments which arose with each second.

‘The others work, right?’ Toni said.

The cashier nodded, her eyes twinkled with pity which made Toni’s stomach churn. She handled indifference with aplomb but pity? Toni felt it like a slap across her face before she handed over her card and paid for the groceries.  She turned to one side, grabbed her bags in one hand and went outside. Henry wailed at a volume which felt like nails being hammered into her temples so she hustled across the car park, opened the trunk and put her bags inside. She entertained the exhausted impulse to put him in the trunk and enjoy the silent company of the groceries, but she turned and kissed him on a soft, wet cheek and smelled his hair instead.

Dad was in the yard, in his underwear when she pulled up, staring at her in frightened confusion as he scratched the white hairs on his melted wax abdomen and his yellowing shorts hung low on his hips, ragged and threadbare from too many laundry cycles. Toni swore under her breath as she got out and told him to go back inside. He stared at her, bottom lip flapping like an adulterer’s shirt tails and turned around.

‘Where’s Maria?’ Toni said.

Dad looked at her with the same expression a dog gave if you showed it a card trick before he shrugged his shoulders.

‘I’m hungry.’ He said.

Toni grimaced and got Henry from the child seat. Her dad walked inside, and she averted her gaze from his sallow, sagging buttocks, shocked by how he had degraded since Mom died.  She would call the agency and give them a piece of her mind, they cost enough and still hired incompetent carers for her dad. By the time she had soothed them both, the impulse passed and she had dinner to cook. Afterwards, Dad insisted on watching the news even though he wouldn’t remember what he watched. Toni stayed in the kitchen, did the dishes and tried to drown out the bray of her old boss at a press conference before it made her break something.

Her phone bleated and she picked it up.

‘Toni Keating.’ She said.

A sigh came through the phone and the hairs went up on the back of her neck.

‘Hi, Toni.’

David on the phone. The sound of his voice raised the hairs on her forearms, sent a low pleasurable trickle of lava down from her stomach into her pelvis. It lasted for a second before she looked at the sink full of dishes and her dad turned the volume up on the television. Reality tapped her on the shoulder and reminded her of how things were.

‘Fuck off, David.’ She said.

He sighed and told her to calm down which made her disconnect the call and put the phone back in her pocket.  She glanced at the television, saw him in a medium close up and giving the killer smile which had done so much harm to her so she called him back. It went to voicemail, and the smooth burr of his voice set her aflame.

‘When I see a fucking dime out of you, then you get the privilege of ringing me up to reminisce. Until then, don’t fucking call me. Ever. I wish you were dead.’ She said.

She disconnected the call, humming with self-righteousness until she heard Henry squall from his cot and she burst into hot, frustrated tears. She dashed through to get him and hustled him into her arms. She pressed her nose to the top of his head, inhaled him like good cocaine and squeezed her eyes shut against the tears.

Henry nestled against her chest and touched her cheek with a soft, sticky hand. It wasn’t much, but it was enough.  She walked through to the living room, asked her dad to turn the volume down and saw David on the television stood with the President.

Her lover and her boss, talking like old friends.

She still had a few of the suits in the wardrobe. The shoes had gone in a yard sale, for far less than she had paid. The black housekeeper walked off with a pair of Manholos, grinning like she had won the lottery. It had gone on diapers which was appropriate. No one recognised her anymore, the years had worn away the polish and make up was pointless, even for herself. She had gone from prime time television during the most controversial election in decades to just another aimless, crumpled mother in the streets. Mandy, her neighbour who lent her the occasional menthol cigarette in return for watching her son asked her once why she didn’t sell her story. Toni raised a finger to interrupt her, went through to her bedroom and came back with a thick document in her hands. She let it slide onto the table with a thump which made Mandy cry out.

‘That’s why.’ She said.

Non Disclosure Agreement. She had signed it as the price of the ticket to get aboard and she couldn’t imagine breaching it. Toni came to the campaign wreathed in a belief which resisted the logic and rhetoric of political commentators and journalists. She would have given up an arm for him if he had asked.

She lost more than that.

Henry cried and Dad had fallen into a light doze on the lounger as she stood there, watched the circus go on without her.  Toni wept. She threw a blanket over her dad’s legs and smiled at him. Toni remembered how he would babble to his friends about his little girl on the tv, representing the next President until his voice gave out. His mind had beaten his voice now, but in moments of clarity, he gazed at her with bemusement and she had to turn away. She cuddled Henry and kept kissing the top of his head.

‘It’s okay, baby.’ She said.

She kept saying it, over and over.

Over and over.

Over and over.

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beauty, love, lust, politics, sex, women

Suckle

Kisses like your skin

Feeds something inside me

My hands over your forearms

Not hard but firm

Let me focus like a prayer

Upon you

Handle you

Knowing you with animal instinct

Gentle and wet kisses to

Open you with sweet nuzzling

Shudder strokes of my tongue

Here, closest

The wonder of you, pulsing with welcome

Calling me down

To suckle

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ambition, beauty, fiction, politics, short fiction, women

Let It Burn

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(http://charmander831.deviantart.com/art/let-it-burn-638659914)

Pam watched the dorm burn. She stood with the crowd of onlookers, phones and tablets held up to capture how the flames licked at the windows, vomiting black smoke, thick from the feast of plastic it had found in every room.

Theresa came over, weeping in a way which Pam found unsightly. The histrionics of someone who saw the world through a filter of utter solipsism. She reached out her thin arms and threw herself into Pam’s arms.

Pam patted Theresa between her shoulder blades, perfunctory gestures interpreted as awkwardness but were about her distaste for physical contact. Pam had built herself an ideology which avoided the messy business of sex through a seething bolus of gender variations. The likes of Theresa challenged her but tonight her drama would prove useful.

‘Who’s done this?’ Theresa said.

She devolved into a series of wet, rough brays before Pam shushed her and kept on patting her back as though it meant anything.

Pam watched the crowd. A news van had parked at the end of the row and she turned Theresa around without speaking. Theresa sniffed and wiped her face.

The Dean of Students, bleary-eyed and grimacing made his way through the crowds. His silver hair stuck up from his head in soft tufts like dandelions, which offset the melancholy raptor features of his face, furrows from a perpetual frown and thin, pale lips. He taught American Literature before accepting the Dean’s position and Pam imagined he would press lots of old white authors upon them. He had changed into a white shirt and sweater, smelled of cologne as he saw her.

‘An absolute tragedy, Pam. I’m so sorry.’

Pam collected apologies from authority figures. This one was not up to the standards of the soft drink manufacturer or the best-selling author of the young adult trilogy but it was a good start.

‘Thank you, Dean. I have prepared a statement.’ Pam said.

He frowned and looked around him.

‘The fire’s not even out, Pam. Give yourself time to process this.’ he said.

Pam’s lips drew back over her teeth before she caught herself. She pushed Theresa aside.

‘Acts like this demand an immediate response.’ she said.

She had practiced it in the mirror, perfected the lift of the chin and the slight turn of profile.

The dean sighed and gave a short, terse nod.

‘But I would argue the use of the word act. It has connotations.’ he said.

Pam pointed to the blazing dorm, fighting the urge to give into her emotions, not from fearing their impact but because it was too early.

No one was watching.

‘The only connotations I see is an old white man playing down an act of ethno-gender terrorism.’

Pam enjoyed how he shuddered.

‘Now I think you should -‘

Pam’s heart leapt in her chest, higher than the flames in the dorm room.

‘You think, Dean. What should I think?’ she said

She raised her voice. People turned, their phones already ahead of them.

The news camera pointed at her. Its lens was a shining white disc, a medal for her sacrifice.

She started into her monologue. The firemen in the background added just the right note of disaster to proceedings. Her face was lit from within, eyes aflame with self-righteousness and the joy of wounded victimhood. In the weeks afterwards, she watched it a hundred times.

Protest footage with clusters of students marching and holding placards.

Aggressive scenes in the library, earphones snatched from ears and snarling challenges into the pinched faces of other students.

An investigation. The arrest.

Her trial.

Pam in orange prison clothes, her face slack with acceptance.

When the dean collapsed with a heart attack, Pam would have celebrated but she was too busy fighting off a bull who wanted to get romantic without having to memorise Pam’s preferred pronouns during pillow talk.

Before sleep, she remembered the orange glow of the flames and the desire to stay and watch it burn away her privilege..

The memory kept her warm. Whether there was enough to see her through ten years remained unknown.

.

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ambition, beauty, fiction, politics, women

Cycles of Ambition

Louise slid the envelope into the mailbox outside the town hall, surging with triumph before walking inside. Her appearance was no accident, the smart, glamorous appearance offering a great deal but promising nothing. Her makeup was war paint and she thought of herself as someone determined to advance her position by any means necessary.

The paperwork was the last feint in the duel. A hasty gathering of signatures to support her candidacy and even that was not without its difficulties. David had taken his time in deciding, putting up a litany of excuses but Louise had circumvented that by studying the gestalt of his signature and signing his name. She trusted in the ambition that had taken her from intern to candidate and used that velocity to power her upwards.

It was better to ask forgiveness than permission.

She caught her reflection, pleased with her appearance. Pretty but not soft, which meant that the right people wanted her but were afraid to cross that boundary by virtue of a single hard stare. She could take or leave sex, but power or the chance to grasp it, made her shudder with a deep and profound want.

She walked up the stairs to the town hall, hoping to catch Nigel or Paul around to share her good news. The clip of her heels on the stairs was pleasing to her, a warning that real power was entering the premises. The future held the warmth of sunlight on bare skin, and she was pleased to accept its burdens.

‘You’ve done it already, haven’t you?’

The voice was a broken, mechanical wheeze, too many cigarettes and screams for too long. Louise blinked in shock as the woman came towards her. Her hair was a fallen angel’s halo of white roots and poorly applied dye. Her face was disfigured with a thick, gelid scar along her jawline and a left eyelid that drooped like it had fallen asleep on duty. She carried the thick, condensed odour of unwashed flesh and sour milk. She wore a faded grey t-shirt and jeans that hung too low, revealing a fringe of wrinkled, off white stomach.

Louise grimaced and looked around for assistance.

‘Please Lou, have you sent it in?’

Louise looked at the other woman and realised she was not another at all.

Older yes, but beaten with the club of hard years and missed opportunities until what stood in front of her was an insult made tangible.

‘Oh fuck off, you can’t be me.’ Louise said.

Louise held no truck with weakness and here, was its avatar wearing some of her features like hunter’s trophies.

The elder version cackled with bitterness and put her hands in front of her. Louise noted the yellowed nails, packed with dirt.

‘No, it’s me. I mean you. Just tell me you’ve not sent the paperwork in. Or at least that you didn’t forge the signatures. Please?’

Louise’s skin rose in gooseflesh, she darted her expression around to make sure no one was in earshot. Voices travelled in the town hall, and someone was always listening. She sneered and swallowed the knob of nausea that was stuck at the back of her throat.

This could not possibly be her. She would never have let herself look that bad.

The older woman smiled and revealed an abandoned graveyard of teeth.

‘You stupid bitch. You have, haven’t you?.’

Louise started to back away, holding onto the polished oak banister for support as her world collapsed in on itself.

‘David had no idea. They won’t check.’ she said.

Louise heard the pleading in her voice and hated herself for it. She wanted to ask who this version of her was, where she had come from, what she could pass back to her.

‘They will when David and the others tell them you faked their signatures, you stupid cunt.’

The girl from the Barracks was never that far from the surface and she pushed forward, steeling herself against the barrage of foul, bacteria-strewn breath that peeled a layer of skin from her face.

‘No, this is bollocks. I don’t know you are but -‘

The woman’s arms shot up, clamped onto Louise’s shoulders and she smiled in a way that suggested pity and beneath that, a terrible and complete madness.

‘No, and unless I fix it, you will know me. Every time you look in the mirror.’

She shoved Louise hard and she toppled backwards. The back of her head hit the lip of the stairs with a wet crack that was loud in the solemn air of the town hall. A final riot of her broken brain revealed the woman standing over her, already beginning to fade into translucence.

‘It’s better this way, love. We can always try again.’

The world went away and Louise, thwarted and confused, went along with it.

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creative writing, fiction, mother, politics, short fiction, women

A Return To The Fold

Haraathi knelt at the altar and lit a stick of incense before placing it in the holder and clasped her hands together. Jaganath was at the reception desk, checking in a road-weary family but he assured her that he would join her soon enough. She still practiced her faith with a zeal that he was faintly embarrassed by, but accepted as part of the everyday material of their marriage.

The motel had been sold to them back in the 60’s, Haraathi had agonised over the offer but Jaganath’s ambitions had allied with her deference and so they found themselves taking part in the American dream. Her agonies had started, after the fact when she was told that they were sold the place in preference to the worst case scenario, of a black family owning it. Haraathi had learned a blunt, ugly truth about life in the South. A black man could work the land, but there were vested interests who worked really hard to make sure they would never own it. Still, it was a chance to own something, and she gave into him, especially when he sold her on the idea of their unborn son being able to achieve things that were the province of the wealthy, and all for swallowing their pride and rolling their sleeves up to make the place a going concern.

The motel was a peeling, squat building, raised like a boil against the black soil. The pair of them worked endless hours, drunk with exhaustion until the ratio of insects to paying guests turned in their favour. Jaganath had agreed to swear off chewing betel and made good on every promise he made to her.

Elango was born in an American hospital on bleached white sheets whilst Jaganath was held in the blissful embrace of powerful anaesthetics and soft-spoken, focused doctors. She held him in her arms and vowed that he would never have to suffer the indignities that they had.

Like so many promises, it came too true.

He had taken from both of them. His father’s ambition and his mother’s intelligence had been apparent in him in the start. What tested her unconditional love of him laid in wait until adolescence when he embraced the politics of his country. Jaganath had been proud to vote Republican. Haraathi agonised over her small act of deception when she would cast her ballot in favour of humanist or liberal candidates. Such defeats were both comforting and upsetting to her, especially when Elango and his father would become boorish and ungracious at the results. By then, the motel was doing great business and Elango was headed for college, with grades that reflected their investment and his potential. She worried about whether he would get into drugs or reckless, casual sex, drop out and reinvent himself as a beatnik of some description.

He became the chair of the Young Republicans on campus, and his heritage was sold as a shining example of the ideals that the country, she observed, spoke to but seldom practiced. His letters carried the density of political speeches, seldom sharing the things that she wished to know. She worried whether he was eating enough or getting the required amount of sleep, his concern was the tide of liberal ideas that would undermine the fabric of the nation.

Jaganath’s pride stopped her from making her worries public. He threw himself into the business, taking over a second motel and a concern in a soul food restaurant that he passed management of, onto his second cousin Pav. She noted that her son’s ambitions had paternal precedent and threw herself into community work when time allowed. That, and devotion held her upright.

What finally did it, was not when Elango announced his candidacy. Jaganath had wept with joy. It was when he introduced Jacqueline, his fiancée and then dropped in casually that he was now going by the name Eric, that his tears of joy simply became joys. Haraathi did not react as she imagined she would. She once heard a quote when she attended (tolerated, really) her monthly book club where she had weathered naïve, vaguely insulting questions about life in India that stayed with her.

I think being a mother is the cruelest thing in the world

That night, she slept well for the first time in years. That her suspicions had been correct. She loved Elango, but she was not sure that she liked him. Now that he was Eric, she was free to admit that to herself.

He announced that he was going to resolve ‘the Hindu problem’ by converting to Christianity and that he hoped they wouldn’t say anything to any journalists, well that sent Jaganath into a deep, fitful depression. He went back on the betel for a while but Haraathi prayed and with a love that had seen them through back-breaking decades, got him on his feet again. With the muted, blank expressions of torture victims, they agreed to their son’s demands.

They watched the inauguration on television. Eric sacked an aide for not sending the invitation, but the three of them knew the truth.

Haraathi took in a deep breath and chanted to Hanuman for his guidance and deliverance. She felt a rush of certainty and a mischievous amusement that made her smile in a way that life in America had not delivered to her aside from brief, manic bursts, mostly when she was alone. By the time, Jaganath joined her to pray, she had concluded her business with Hanuman and they both observed devotions to milder, kinder gods.

2.

No one knows who managed to hack into Eric’s phone and find the salacious sext messages, sent to the buxom intern. Nor was the matter of how it ended up in the email account of the journalist who had dated Jacqueline around the same time and still held the combination grudge cum candle for her but what did make the front page was enough. Haraathi understood politics and American politics in particular, enough to know that with the left wing, it was always money and with the right wing, it was sex.

Elango came home, and in the end, took over the second motel’s management. He would join his parents in devotions but it was always with a grim reluctance which Haraathi accepted as the price of his return to the fold.

After all, she loved her son from the first. Liking him, she accepted, might take a little while longer.

 

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