On the Brink
On the Brink12 mins 797 12 mins 797
Now that Matthew has a new sweetheart, he wants to divorce Sandra at once, by pushing the legal proceedings. The breakup was a given for a long while, finding his ultimate girl was the only delight he awaited. Right from day two of the marriage, his every utterance carried the imminence of the doom, yet Sandra could ward off the peril for four of the five wedded years despite his endless flirting and, at times, even when she was around. The only saving grace was that he was too blue-blooded to dump her too unceremoniously.
Unbearable were the five years, yet the marriage meant a world to Sandra, her mother, and her granny. And the fact that years of untiring resolve was coming unstuck was eating her up. Stricken from within, unmistakable were the effects: she turned gaunt to the point of emaciation.
That cold morning, Mathew was wry, “To be completely frank and honest, as uncommitted as I am, our marriage must have meant a lot less of a world to you. Isn’t mutuality the bedrock of matrimony? Am I at fault to have come through on something I was so unequivocal about all along? Frankly, not seeing so, sooo forewarned a thing coming is sheer lunacy.”
That was that; she couldn’t take any more of his oft-repeated candour. Unwilling to know a thing more about the state of their affair, Sandra chose to leave his palatial bungalow right away.
“Take your own sweet time, darling. No tearing hurry, take as much as you need,” Matthew said and vroomed past the tall pilastered portico.
Tears blurred her view of the road he sped on, despite remaining unnerved by his pan-chewing nonchalance. Such a miserable woman behind such well-kept lawns of such a ritzy building was quite unimaginable. Built-in French chateau-style, with walls of Italian red marble embellished with crystal and precious stones, the pan-European Renaissance mansion was the cynosure of contemporary architects. Burdened with much misery, the building wished to be porous to let off its steam; Dr. Fixit, standing tall on a billboard right outside, laughs at their outlandish hopes.
At the wheel, at full throttle, Mathew harked back to their heady times and, unusually, tears trickled haltingly. He then deliberately thought of his new sweetie, to keep the trickle from turning into a stream. He always had additional arrangements up his sleeve to deal with crises, seen or unforeseen.
He had met Sandra five years ago at an art gallery where her exhibits, all portraits of celebrities, were on show. Instantly charmed by her, despite being a connoisseur of arts, he was more interested in her than her work.
Her dimpled smile fevered him, her elegance fired his nerves and her unassuming allure reminded him of nymphs of legend. Her eyes were too ethereal to mean only for ocular perception and the bridge of her nose took his breath away. Quick of the tongue, yet words failed him and the noun ‘striking’ seemed a half-truth, unimaginative and even impolite. She blew his mind with her flowing silken dress, diamonded necklet, pearl-studded clutch, Cuban heel shoes and, above all, her southern twang. Seldom are artists all decked out, for they come unadorned to let their work shine. He was too aristocratic to know all that she wore was borrowed plumage.
She wasn’t aware that he was looking for a partner after his girlfriend’s death a month ago. A month of celibacy was as excruciating as a light-year of it, for he swore by marital relationship. Matthew, this time, sought a chaste young girl and, as serendipitous as she was, her single mother had raised her on the diet of chastity that found celibacy an utterly unlosable virtue until marriage.
Enchanted by her charms, he wanted something more than talk, a closeted conversation enabling quicker intimacy. However, she managed to slip and greet the art dealer who regularly patronized her art. Treading on her heels, Mathew was oblivious of dignitaries, tycoons, artists, barons, and folks of unrefined and no tastes. Matthew looked, leered and continued to eye her up. The overkill was beyond the pale, but that much mesmeric was her allure. An hour into the trail, he pressed her to the sitting-dinner at the open-air courtyard.
“A gorgeous woman is nature’s greatest work of art. Juxtaposed, everything else is a parody, unless the depth is Leonardesque or Picassian,” Matthew often said.
“You are too handsome,” Sandra whispered, raising her eyes; he was a head taller.
“I know I am. I don’t usually reciprocate such things...isn’t it absurd to tell someone how great he or she looks?” Matthew said.
“Is his question logical, unreasonable or blunt? Or the blend of all the three that most educated men make: nonsense? Sandra wondered.
“Just kidding...you are a femme fatale ...,” he said,
A super shy back-bencher all her childhood, Sandra always believed that piety and dogma shape character, and felt closer to God than anyone else. On the other hand, Matthew’s stock answer was, “The shortest way to enmity is friendship; the fiercest adversaries are estranged bosom friends. Less intimacy is less treacherous, while zero intimacy is a preventive measure.”
At the table, much of his curiosity was met with her nods, one-word answers and the only reaction that reveals the most: silence. Both ate less in order to consume more of each other’s tastes; the leftovers consisted of most of the meal, yet they felt full enough to let their new-found thing run its course. He was no spring chicken, yet, up close, Sandra’s sublimity left him breathless, again.
She then turned to the high priest of a cult known for his Christian love. Sensing that the priest was too engrossed, all of a sudden, nudging him aside, Mathew flew into a rage spewing cuss-words; the priest scurried out of the hall in a hurry.
“Unlike anything, profanity is the most potent weapon to keep the unwanted at bay, it’s the greatest utterable deterrent available to mankind,” Mathew said.
Acquainted with well-heeled art lovers versed in aesthetics, she knew that the aristocracy isn’t always polite, yet a high-born of such refined tastes turning so crude was inconceivable. “Mathew’s ball-and-stick chemistry must be differently wired,” Sandra thought.
Back at the table, Mathew said, “And don’t worry, I can’t see my ex again…she is no more. And the only estranged one I am yet to divorce is incurably ill in Europe on endless dialysis, saying prayers to machines she is hooked to.”
“What about the other women? Matt,” Sandra asked.
“They are no more in the picture,” Matthew said, “Done and dusted…legally.”
Until she heard the obscene, semantic projectiles, the charming, polo-playing Mathew seemed a father-figure, a proper father-figure that is. With his warmth, poise and wit, he evaporated every ounce of insecurity in her. The mere odds of being a partner of a debonair scion made her feel like an uncaged skylark soaring high on a song-flight.
The parameters of wherewithal apart, Sandra looked for a story in a guy. It made a world of difference because devoid of a story or stories, a man was too unequipped, unready for the marital labyrinth.
A week later, stopping by her studio, he was deeply touched by the ingenious magnitude of her artwork. What he saw at the gallery was a tiny cross-section in terms of class, profundity and scope.
“The aesthetic influences palpable in these pictures are seldom inspired; such flair is often innate...a celestial gift. A great deal of your more imaginative work is languishing in your ramshackle study,” Matthew said.
“Artists die to see their pieces change hands, go places…. Of course, these days, the cyber marketplace is sort of enabling,” Sandra said.
“No worries, I’ll get them out into the wider world,” Mathew said.
Within days, Sandra learnt that he was incredibly addicted to jazz—all three, country, soul and blues—more so to the softer genre, while his rants gave away other addictions: aerobics, dapperly attires and hard-core stuff. The only genre she knew was gospel and the greatest gamble she ever staked was getting a Tombola ticket in a country fair, the numbers never matching.
On the eve of their aristocratic wedding, pyrotechnics illuminated the night sky, overawed the neighbourhood and shook the ground.
The aftermath was no less earth-shattering. Within days, instead of the peace of wedded conversation, like after-shocks, his eccentricities tumbled out one after another, forcing her to acclimatise to a new normal after a new normal. He sought carte blanches, called the shots, demanded laser-focussed attention, brooked no hints of slip-ups and flared-up like a yahoo.
Pretty soon, his wit, warmth and exuberance vanished and his baritone sounded deeply guttural.
That their wavelengths will never connect wasn’t that slow to dawn. Bitterness permeated his blood, spewing fits of anger. Even the one, two or three words he uttered were laced with spite. On prickly things, Matthew spat out his randy repertoire and couldn’t calm down until the cumulative effect of expletives reached the highest height of indecency.
Yet, the very next moment, he could dwell on the extinction of songbirds, on the folly of Facebook seeking to be a publisher to overthrow Newsweek and, almost in the same breath, on why shepherds down under are finding drones better than sheepdogs. And, on everyday issues, being sober as a judge, his erudite articulation baffled everyone, taking a toll on intuition.
All that was long ago, whereas now, going through the divorce papers, she resolved to leave the bungalow once and for all. The very next morning, she reached her maternal home, to the utter glee of neighbours. A married daughter visiting home unaccompanied by anyone is a neighbours’ delight; a validation that there’s something seriously amiss, the very incentive to keep an eye.
A month later, a tweet said he wanted to meet her the very next day, just a week from Christmas. He had to be done with Sandra a few days before the New Year’s Eve as his new sweetie had insisted on flying out on a holiday.
When someone appearing as Sandra’s eldest sister opened the door, Matthew said, “...Here to see Sandra...”
“I’m Mary, her granny, please be seated…I will be right back,” Mary said and looked around to see whether neighbours noticed him entering.
The long, well-kept hallway with a ribbon window impressed him.
“I am Esther, Sandra’s mother.” She left after handing a glass of water.
As he mused about Mary’s genial ease, Sandra strode in swinging her arms and took the other end of the couch, her tranquillity was still unharmed. Sandra looked well-rounded and her glow was prettier than the first flush of youth.
Forcing a smile at a smiling Esther, picking a newspaper, he mused over the friendly atmosphere that could have been no less standoffish.
“How about some coffee...?” Sandra asked, “Strong?”
Peeping out of newspaper, while he nodded ponderously, her smile fashioned two dimples. Sandra felt it the politest conversation they ever had.
Perked up by a second cup of coffee, Matthew juggled with paperwork and named the deposits, debentures that would go to Sandra. After every signature, he asked whether that was enough and moved on only after exacting affirmative blinks out of Esther and Mary too.
“We will dine one last time here, Matt... The menu being what we generally lay out on Christmas day, Matt,” said Sandra, wiping tears across her nose.
The circumstance slowed his reaction down, the interim quiet serving as his acceptance. Sandra ambled to kitchen, not knowing that he began waving a no. As he retrieved his hand still in the air, something sweet struck him; she had called him Matt, twice on the trot, each Matt sounding separately sweet, separately sweetened with separate sweeteners. This was how he loved to be called but everyone called him Maythyoo, as if the abbreviated form was fully pregnant with disgraceful connotations.
Mary shuffled in with a trayful of cookies and, handing a saucerful, said, “The Xmas spread tells us all about our origin, descendence, the cultures we married into and the places we reached before settling here.”
“My mother used to say the same in different words,” said Matthew.
While he chewed pan after pan between cigarettes and consoled his new girl over the phone, Mary and Sandra laid the fare that consisted of duck roast, plum cake, appam, egg roast, special fish curry in coconut milk, crab curry and variety of other dishes.
“It’s mealtime, no cigarettes please...” Mary said.
If he was bowled over by such a spread, the dessert blew his mind: kulkuls, guava cheese, dodol, bebinca, neuris, nuts, chana doce, marzipans, fruits and milk toffees.
Immediately after the dinner, pulling trousers up his distended belly, he asked them to clear the plates. He then spread deeds of properties peppered across the town and asked to pick the ones they want.
As their hesitation lengthened, he separated a few and said, “All of these, without much maintenance costs, would fetch you a regular income, regularly enough to lead more than regular life.”
Casting puzzled glances at each other, Sandra, Esther and Mary were quiet and stayed hushful for minutes together.
“Why so mum? Say something?” Mathew said.
“We are devout Christians keeping traditional observances...wanting others’ possessions is sinful. We are happy as we are...propertyless,” said Mary.
“Oh, old school stuff… This is alimony she deserves; now that she has signed the papers, we aren’t man and wife anymore,” Matthew said.
Unmindful of that, handing ice-cream and a dessertspoon in a saucer, Mary said, “Sandra is carrying...doctors say it’s a case called multiple pregnancies.”
He was wildly confused and nervously stunned. What about his new sweetie? Or, despite the case, is the pregnancy the reset button? What the hell...? Such thoughts apart, things involving one’s progeny were too delightful to get over. He always hated sentiment, but this had a sweet genetic sensation to it. He felt sweet fetters fettering him and the mere thought of fatherhood caused shivers of thrill, and the odds of twins doubled the shivers, doubling the thrill.
“Are they hatching something? If they are, why would they decline such hefty alimony then?” Or, is the refusal a grander gambit? Am I that a thickhead not to get it?” Mathew asked himself.
“Here are the reports,” Esther said.
Stunned by her instantaneity, he flicked through the papers, throwing the most cursory of futile glances. He quietly dragged himself to the veranda. Might I be a good father? Isn’t parentage too solemn a responsibility? As impulsive as I am, isn’t it impossible?
Carrying the thoughts to bed, he slept over the night in Sandra’s house. To their surprise, he spent the next day, a few more days and then a couple of weeks quietly. He ignored his new girl’s repeated calls. The toothsome food Mary and Esther served not only pleased his palate; it also dispensed effects to stay calm. That as unpretentious a thing as food could shape dispositions of people wasn’t something he thought deserved to be dwelt on. If that’s the case, shall we blame the food we were raised on for all our foibles? Back at his palatial bungalow, his battery of five-star chefs and cook-maids invariably dished out fiery curries that caused hypertension.
By now, he had really taken to a composed state never one of his attributes. Now the only things bothering him were his new girl’s calls; unable to take any more nonsense, one afternoon, calling her a greedy bitch, he switched the phone off.
He then packed the country midwife off and sent for a medical obstetrician to stay put right through the gestation.
Thoughts haunted him all night and preyed on until the wee hours. Feeling giddy, he sauntered to the dining-table as though it was coffee-time. Within moments, Sandra emerged from her bedroom, headed straight to the kitchen and returned with a very hot coffee-pot. The sweet-smelling, swirling wafts unclouded Matthew’s giddy head even before a sip. Refreshed by small mouthfuls, he asked, on his knees, “Man and wife...all over again…”