Sharp Sudden Corners
I knew something was wrong when the little girl fell out of the tree house. My hands were soaked in the kitchen sink’s grimy water, with my forefingers poking the drain holes, trying to melt globules of gravy by creating a whirlpool. I was upset by the parsley leaves stuck to the sides of the sink, by how green they looked in the oily grey water, nearly fluorescent. I should have washed the dishes the night before, the day before even, but I allowed them to pile up; just like the clothes in the closet that sat wrinkling in a damp tangled ball.
I was looking at her through the windows while my fingers worked. She was pretending to be a pirate, with a patch over one eye, holding a papier mâché kaleidoscope to the other. She was talking to herself. I could see her lips moving quickly as she rattled out orders to an imaginary crew. Then she leaned forward, over the wooden planks that formed a wall which reached her waist. My fingers stopped digging and my eyes focused on where the rolls of her protruding belly rested on the ledge. Five seconds more, she leaned further and then she fell. My fingers started digging again and I looked away just as I heard the thud.
Ajoy came home that evening, with news that our neighbour’s daughter fell out of the tree house and broke her left leg and her right arm. The parents were distraught, the girl was still hospitalised. I should have told him I saw it happen, it would have given us something to talk about. Instead, I sat at the kitchen table and played a game of Solitaire, while he silently smoked two cigarettes by the open window.
That was the first time. Five days later it happened again, another sign that I was angry. I remember I was still in my uniform, the others usually changed into regular clothes on their way home. I decided to walk because it stopped raining and I didn’t mind the puddles.
I saw the cane in her hand as soon as she walked out of the shop I was walking towards. She was wearing dark glasses and her neck was craned unnaturally upwards as she took small guarded steps in front of me. Her metal cane hit the concrete in quick bursts. I had to deaden my pace, the footpath was too narrow for me to squeeze past. Beside us, cars whizzed by and I shut my eyes to imagine what it would be like to only hear and not see. The music from the open doors of a restaurant poured out for a few seconds, was then muffled by the laughter of people clinking bottles of beer, the scraping of chairs against the road, the sudden fluttering of the awning above where they were sitting, the crunch of pebbles under the weight of tyres and then the loud beeping of the traffic signal. I opened my eyes.
The woman had drifted away from in front of me, on to the street. Her paisley patterned dress was long and loose and it flapped behind her in the breeze. The thick black sandals she wore squeaked a little as she took her steps. Her cane continued to tap the concrete as she crossed the road. She had misjudged the beeping of the traffic signal at the intersection, which was, in fact, several feet away from us. I saw the double-decker make the turn and charge towards her, bright red and swinging from side to side. Trying to read the electronic destination displayed on its board, I blinked. It sounded unfamiliar as I mouthed the words, I reckoned I hadn’t been to that part of the city before. I clutched the strap of my bag with my hand tightly and stood with my hip jutting outwards. My mouth began to hang slightly open when I remembered why I was there, my eyes darting from the woman to the approaching bus.
There were loud voices behind me and someone pushed me sharply aside. But, the bus had stopped before the man could reach her. She now stood stock still, only a few inches away from the bulbous side headlights of the bus. She seemed to be crying, and the stranger who had rushed to her aid held her to his chest, stroking her head back.
I took in a deep breath, bit down on my lip and just as I was looking away the man who was now helping the woman back on to the footpath stared at me. I saw it in his eyes, he thought something was wrong with me.
Yes, something was wrong. I could feel the realisation mounting in my chest, and now in my throat.
At the house, I took down the curtains, all of them from all the windows. Their bottoms had started to turn brown from grazing the floor. When we bought them three years ago, along with everything else in the house, Ajoy gave the wrong measurements to the shop, so they were too long. I spent an entire day folding the ends and stitching them together. Eventually, I let them hang just a little bit lower than I’d planned to, I let them graze the floor only slightly so he would always remember his inadequacy in measuring the length of windows.
Now, I tried to scrub them under the tap and some of the lace wore off in my hands. I heaped the curtains together in the corner of the kitchen out of my view. In the bedroom, I stripped sheets off the bed. I had to run my fingers over the fabric only once for a scattering of lint to stick on. It had started to rain again, so there was no point in washing them now, they would never dry. I tucked the sheets back on the bed, smoothened out the wrinkles with both my hands and flung the pillows on top.
In the kitchen again, I rummaged under the sink for the dustpan. A piece of gum was stuck to its bottom and on it, a mound of hair, scraps of old bills and cigarette ash formed a colony. I threw it against the wall and hoped it would crack. But it didn’t, it was made of plastic. It did leave a mark on the eggshell paint on the wall. The hair in the dustpan reminded me of Lolly, our cat. We hadn’t seen her in a while, maybe weeks. Her litter box was empty, her bowl under the oven lay untouched and brimming with dry food. I emptied it into the garbage can and made myself some tea.
‘What happened to the curtains?’ he asked when he found me sitting at the kitchen table, playing solitaire.
‘I took them down.’ I didn't look at him anymore.
‘Will you put them back up?’ He was washing a plate under the cold water from the tap.
‘What happened to Lolly?’ I was three cards away from winning.
‘How should I know? Will you put the curtains back up?’ His voice was fading now, he was walking back into the living room. In a second he was going to turn the television on and the sofa was going to creak under his weight.
The girl looked fine, I thought, sitting in the garden in a wheelchair. She was facing their house, reaching with her free hand to touch the beds of Calendula her mother had spent the whole summer trying to grow. I stood at their gate watching her, wearing my uniform, already twenty minutes late for work. She was pretending again, talking to herself and the flowers, she was a fairy today.
I arrived at the store nearly an hour late and my manager asked me to leave. So I walked back home in the rain this time and when my sneakers squeaked I remembered the woman with her squeaky leather sandals who almost got run over by a bus.
‘Again?’ Ajoy was smoking a cigarette by the open window. I wasn’t playing solitaire because I couldn’t find the deck of cards anywhere, he might have thrown them away when I wasn’t looking. The dishes had piled up, and the draining board was covered in coffee granules from the bottom of the French press that Ajoy had washed.
‘What happened this time?’ He asked and I shrugged. My eyes were focussed on the damp patch on the yellowing tiles where he was standing, condensation from the glass of water he’d placed on the ledge was dripping on the floor.
‘Did you miss your shifts again?’ His questions were incessant.
I hadn’t seen Lolly for days, but her fur balls had collected in all the corners of the room. Grey and black strands of cat hair. I looked up towards the ceiling and noticed cobwebs for the first time, in the corners, hanging low. Where were the spiders?
‘I can’t ask my brother again. We’re running out of jobs for you. We’ll have to go back to India at this rate.’ His voice interrupted my thoughts, but now I could feel it rising in my throat. I couldn’t hear what he was saying anymore, I was going to be sick.
Disharee Bose was born in Calcutta, is now twenty-six years old and lives in Dublin. She worked for a tech company for a few years before quitting her job to work full-time on her novel in progress. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in The Incubator Journal, The Galway Review, Cultured Vultures and Headstuff.