Severance11 mins 400 11 mins 400
One moment Mani was drifting through the clouds like a disembodied pair of eyes surveying her home from above and the next there were pots and pans of half-cooked food all over the kitchen and the sink was overflowing with dishes. There had been weightlessness, a little tickle, maybe a vague sense of hunger just a few seconds ago. Now, there was a painful awareness of the mess. Frantically stirring the concoction of lentils and sweet potato didn’t help her anxiety.
Meanwhile, Lenny appeared beside her and planted a little kiss on her cheek.
“Not now! Stay away!”, she waved her hand impatiently in dismissal, making him vanish.
Maybe, if she cleaned up a little, it’d help her focus. She looked at the clock. It was 3:40 pm. There was a little over two hours before Vij and Gutgut were expected. It’d take about a quarter of an hour to get a bit more organized and to refocus. She could still get everything done in time. She took the wok off the stove and stood in the middle of the kitchen, arms akimbo, estimating how much of it could be dealt with within the time she had. She set to work.
“It’ll be okay. It’ll work today. He is not superhuman. When he’s hungry he’ll have to eat,” she whispered to herself, even though she knew that wasn’t necessarily true.
She knew how Gutgut would rather throw a crazy fit until the burning feeling of hunger inside his stomach subsided than accept a morsel of food that he didn’t find comforting enough to swallow. What he found comforting was maddeningly limited -- both in variety and in nutritive value.
She kept trying to reach Vij at the office all morning. It kept going to voicemail. It was nearly time when he called back.
“I’m just on my way to pick him up from school, now. What’s up? I saw that I had missed a bunch of calls from you!”
“No, it’s nothing…I was going to ask you what you think I should cook for dinner today. I gave something a try…let’s see if it works.”
And before she was quite ready to face it, there was that ding announcing that the daily report of her son’s day at school had been delivered to her phone. The report that preceded his homecoming. A summary of his school activities for the day. More importantly, a summary of what and how much he had eaten there in the last 8 hours.
One moment she was fighting off a masked villain in a desolate alley of a big city on a bleak, rainy night, the next she was standing in the bathtub surrounded by smudged drawings in bright colored chalk. It took her a moment to conjure some resolve. Then, she took a long, deep breath and started to undress her son. His shrieking protests followed. In a flash, she was every character he loved from his favorite nursery rhyme videos. His screams mellowed out to coos and the pout retreated. Sounds of giggles and shadows of synchronized hand gestures filled up the bathroom. She felt the tension building up in her chest as her hands felt his bones. She had been feeling the snug security of his baby fat melting away bit by bit over the last two months as Gutgut determinedly continued on his downward spiral of food refusal. And just as she turned him around to wash his back, the sharpness of his occipital protuberances stabbed her in the eyes without warning.
“My eyes! I’m bleeding, I’m bleeding!” she howled.
Gutgut stopped dead in his track, looking at her in awe.
Vij came running and dragged her out of the bathroom. He pelted burning coals at her with his eyes and banished her from the scene. He snatched Gutgut up from the bathtub, cradled him, and wrapped him up in a towel. Angry red boils started to cover her skin.
So, she barfed and let the Mother-part out. She sent the Mother-part to help Vij along, while she herself resigned to the other room. She melted into the armchair, deciding to pretend to be a piece of furniture and sit in the dark until she felt it was okay.
In the middle of the night, she tip-toed into the bedroom. She found the Mother-part sleeping peacefully beside Gutgut. He had his butt pressed up against her chest. She reckoned it might be safe enough now to re-enter his life. But, Gutgut started to squirm in his sleep. The Mother-part sat up and Vij half-raised his head from the pillow.
“He’s going to wake up crying. He is hungry I am sure. Get the Yogurt he likes!” said Vij.
“But that’s what he had for dinner as well! He didn’t touch any of the cooked food!” the Mother-part replied.
“Do you have a better solution?” asked Vij.
“I’ll get the yogurt!” the Mother-part resigned.
With a heavy conscience, she withdrew into the other room again. Lenny asked if she would like a foot massage. He added that he thought she looked worn out.
“Thanks, Lenny!” she sighed and fell asleep to muffled sounds of the Mother-part singing a lullaby coming from the bedroom.
“What should I cook for dinner? What will he eat?” she asked Vij desperately over the phone.
“Look Mani, I understand what you are going through. It’ll be okay … we’re going to the doctor next week … all toddlers go through this I’m sure … we’ll find a solution,” Vij consoled.
“But, what about today? What should I cook today for dinner?” she implored.
She sounded like a homeless person at the traffic lights, trying to catch the eye of the man in the car who in a moment of reckless kindness had rolled down his window and then regretted it.
“Something with cheese, or maybe a soup? Didn’t he accept a few spoonsful of chicken soup last week?” Vij ventured.
She considered this idea for a few moments. Then, she closed her eyes and saw Vij. He was twiddling the chords of the earphones unmindfully, his head bent slightly, pacing a corridor outside the conference room at his office, his face lined, his expression that of a helpless man. He probably had a headache right now from skipping lunch. He kept kicking the ground lightly with the pointed end of his shoe. She felt his restlessness to get back to the meeting he came out of to answer her call.
“I’ll think of something,” she sighed and hung up.
She started looking for Lenny. But it was 2 pm on a Thursday and Lenny was inside the TV playing with aplomb the brilliant doctor with a troubled personal life as usual. She wouldn’t be able to get hold of him for the next hour, not while he was right there on the screen making it blatant that he was a figment of her imagination.
There was a beaten up looking Indian recipe book for international style cooking sitting on the bookshelf. She had completely forgotten about it. She pulled it out and flipped through it. She liked a few ideas that she could improvise to fit the palate of her child, but she didn’t have the ingredients.
So, she decided to take out the magic carpet and go grocery shopping. It was an absolute delight. She wondered why she didn’t ride it every day.
Vij really enjoyed the dinner. He kept following her around, feeding her mouthfuls from his plate while she pranced about trying to corner Gutgut into accepting one last dollop of his favorite fucking yogurt. He took one whiff of the Indian-style Chinese broth that she had cooked and didn’t let her get anywhere near him with a spoonful of it. Now, he was suspicious of the yogurt as well.
At night Lenny wanted to have sex. She told him for the umpteenth time that she had no intention of cheating on Vij. She did, nevertheless, accompany him to the next room to waltz with him.
The Mother-part lay beside Gutgut, readjusting the position of Vij’s arm over him so that he had enough room to turn in his sleep if he wanted to.
“See? It’s all okay!”
There was a rare animation in Vij’s voice. He was relieved because the doctor said that Gutgut’s weight was perfectly normal. He was probably eating better than his parents’ assessment of it. She insisted that he was likely to grow out of the choosiness and become a normal eater as long as they kept trying to offer him everything that they ate. Mani was hoping the doctor would suggest a dietary supplement but she said there was no need for it now. It was just a phase just like Vij had assured Mani. All Mani had to do was to “keep up the good work”, because she was “on the right track” already. They’d find something he’d like, she just needed to keep trying like she had been.
In fact, the doctor was much more concerned about a delay in his speech development. She recommended speech therapy for Gutgut.
It was almost 7pm. They decided to go to a restaurant for dinner. Gutgut had once eaten an entire pie of the kids’ size pizza at that place. He was younger then and somehow more adventurous about trying new foods.
The waiter made a remark about how cute Gutgut was. He smiled at Gutgut and asked him if he preferred pepperoni on his pizza or grilled chicken. Vij sounded unnecessarily apologetic as he informed the waiter that Gutgut can’t form any words yet.
They could coax him to eat only half a slice of pizza this time.
“It’s okay. Let’s go home. I’ll cook something. We’ll keep offering home food to him just like the doctor said,” Mani muttered a little vacantly.
At night, she wiped off the yogurt stains from the corner of Gutgut’s mouth as gently as she could. He was asleep and she was afraid she’d wake him up. He was already turning over and over in his sleep making her job difficult. Afterwards, she kissed every bone on his back that she could feel under her fingers. She mouthed goodnight to Lenny who was standing at the door of the bedroom unsure where she planned to spend the night. She watched Lenny fade himself out as she drifted off to sleep.
She woke up in the morning to a tiny tug on the edge of her nightgown.
“Mommy! I’m hungry! Can you make me those banana pancakes you made last weekend?” cried Gutgut.
She rubbed her eyes hard to check if she was dreaming. Vij was leaning against the wall watching them with an amused smile on his face!
“He is talking!” she cried in disbelief. She felt a little disoriented.
“Yeah! I know! I taught him!” Vij replied.
“Well, why couldn’t you have done it earlier? It would have saved him so much frustration! We could have tried new ways to get him to eat if he could understand what we were saying to him! Half of the problem was communicating with him!”
“Well, he is saying he is hungry now, so feed him!” said Vij in his newfound lively tone.
She sprang up from the bed and ran into the kitchen. She felt a little like peeing, but that could wait.
Gutgut ate a whole stack of pancakes with gusto and followed it up with a whole orange.
Afterward, the three of them jigged their way to the car to a peppy dance number and then went to the supermarket to look for a special blend of spices because Gutgut said he wanted to have Biriyani for lunch.
At the supermarket Mani’s cart grazed the elbow of a woman who looked familiar. The woman was engrossed in a phone conversation and didn’t seem to notice the cart.
“Please excuse me…” Mani started to say to her before becoming transfixed on her face.
“Yes! Yes, I’m getting the rice! Maybe he’ll have some if I make Pulao … he had some once from your plate, right? Meet me here after you’ve picked up the baby yogurt,” the woman was saying into her phone.
“You’re the Mother-part! When did you slip away from me? What are you doing here? Who are you talking to?” Mani demanded of her.
She looked through Mani and went on her way. Mani felt her talking-Gutgut and her dancing-Vij start to fade themselves away beside her just like Lenny did last night. After a while, the regular Vij entered their aisle to meet the Mother-part, one arm around a huge box full of little yogurt containers and another around Gutgut.
Mani noticed that her hands and legs had started to look hazier. Soon, everything around her was muted. Eventually, she could only see things as if from the other side of a thick glass window.
She sat down cross-legged on the other side of the glass to ponder on the next courses of possible actions. She could go live in the city library now! She could become an old rich woman with nothing to do but knit a lot of Fair Isle style jumpers! She could join the ghostbusters! She could start deep-sea diving! Maybe she should join the hospital Lenny worked at as a fellow cardiac surgeon. She’d have to think through it. She turned back just once before walking away. Her eyes found Gutgut. She wondered why he seemed to look somewhat softer than usual. It was the glass, she concluded. The glass made it difficult for her to discern the outlines of his bones.