Mothers and Brothers | Gargi Mehra
Things That Happened on Your Birthday
Mother gasped awake in the middle of the night. Father’s slumbering hand cupped the small of her back, as his stagger trailed her waddle to the bathroom. Her palm cradled the curve of her swollen belly. Your sister kicked a pillow off her bed.
Andre-Jacques Garnerin hooked a parachute to a hydrogen balloon and climbed three thousand feet above the earth. He pendulated wildly on his descent, but touched down intact less than a mile from where he lifted off.
In first period, your sister pried out a shard of lead lodged in the sharpener, and sliced her finger on the blade. No moans of agony escaped her lips. The school nurse dabbed mercurochrome, and hurried her back to the class.
A series of violent earthquakes rocked the island of Formosa. Dams broke, landslides severed traffic, and all forms of communication snapped. More than a hundred people died.
The doctor delivered you from Mother’s womb. Father wrapped your inert form in his arms, then buried you beside his tears. Your sister swallowed the words that lived on her tongue, as she nursed Mother back to health.
Apollo 7 scuttled back to the home planet after a journey just short of eleven days. It splashed into the choppiest ocean, safely, triggering hope for the next spaceflight.
I came into this world. Father bemoaned my flat nose, and Mother’s pillow soaked up the tear she shed, upon noting the lack of appendage between my legs.
A few hundred miles away, a galaxy of scientists fired a space probe to the moon.
Father ordered cake, Mother adorned it, your sister wrecked the name on it. The four of us lit a candle, and I blew it out, my wishes spraying on the mounds of icing.
Mother and I
You light a puff like you’ve done it before, but it’s the first time I witness it, months after turning fourteen. I ask why, but really, I should know. The radio jockey tumbles three times while spewing my dedication for your anniversary – the wrong ditty, a mangling of my name, and completely wrecking my gender. The last one flips my heart over.
Your husband poked the bridge of his eyeglass right to the back of the nose when I prodded him to call the radio station. He draped files over his arms and coffined himself in the study. When the door swung closed on his towers of binders, I dawdled back to the living room and dialed the number.
In the bathroom, I grab the razor and shave my jaws once more, hoping to coax fertile crop from barren land.
Back in your room, you’ve moved on to the fourth one, scattering ash in the tray.
In one of my dreams, I lift the cylinder of death from your lips, blow out the embers, and park the stub upon one of the many ridges that line the glass salver. Your lips curl, you gaze at the whorls that could have been, but you never fill your lungs with toxins again.
In another, I grab one from the packet and set it to my lips. Your eyes follow my fingers as I lead the flame close to the tip, but you don’t sigh when I light it correctly. You don’t smack the butt away as I imagine you will, and we stew in silence, while Father wades through an ocean of legal memos.
In none of my dreams do I throw a haversack stuffed with cash and clothes upon my back, stuff my feet into threadbare sneakers, and slink out of the house.
They sliced open a frosting-topped cake the day you shivered out from our mother’s belly – the first sonny to hoist the family name upon his shoulders. Our sister shrugged off her blanket of quietude and queened over you when the elders averted their gaze.
Father longed to break scientific ground in distant lands. Mother lingered by the corded telephone, but the call never came. The flames of fate doused their hopes.
They shook their heads when you rolled off the path of learning, and chose instead to trade fragrant erasers and spiral-bound books at the local stationery store. Across town, our sister’s research papers drew accolades.
You unearthed love in the bottles of amber. It warmed your throat even when you alone manned the sunless shop. No one witnessed you stagger out of your chair. The pencils and sharpeners lay mute when your cranial base cracked against the corner of the shelf.
Neighbours buzzed around the ambulance. Someone threw a shroud over your body, while our family watched, their eyes bereft of understanding.
But no – you had slipped out lifeless from the womb. Father mixed his tears into the earth where he buried you.
When the earth had spun once around the sun, our mother ejected me into the world. Our relatives mourned the missing muscle between my legs.
The call came for Father, and we flew across the oceans to a continent so cold and distant that Mother’s tongue froze. Father and sister toiled in labs. Together, they brought home trophies that flooded our house with silver. I learned to swirl in a centrifuge while holding in my guts. When I hurtled through the air to the miles of emptiness beyond the earth, I glimpsed the remnants of the beautiful life we had weaved together.
About the Author:
Gargi Mehra is a software professional by day, a writer by night and a mother at all times. Her work has appeared in numerous literary magazines online and in print, including Crannog, The Forge Literary Magazine, The Writer, and others. Her short stories have won prizes and placed in contests. She lives in Pune, India with her husband and two children. Check out her website or catch her on Twitter: @gargimehra