She’s brewed a pot of Darjeeling. No tea bags today. She’s cooked an omelet with six eggs and two kinds of cheeses, creating a creamy blue and yellow striated, slightly pungent centre that she hopes he’ll like. It’s a new recipe she concocted in a sudden brainwave. She’s also made his favourite Melba toast. There’s French butter too, instead of their regular margarine, preserves from the deli, and a jug of fresh grapefruit juice to go. She’s brushed her hair, and put on lipstick the same plum shade as her Chinese silk robe.
He woke up earlier than usual, but remained still, eyes closed, until the quiet beside him announced, cruelly, that she’d already got up and left. The bed. His. Theirs. The sheet, cool beneath his fingers, the imprint of her body barely there. He’d brought lilies last evening. She’d said they were dripping all over the carpet and quickly shoved them into a jug. She’d looked at the clock once, for a long moment. He should have said something. But now it’s already morning. So he shaves, showers and irons his shirt. He smells the divine steam of Darjeeling as he walks down the stairs. He sees a blur of plum from the corner of his eye. And something nutshell hard seals tight in his heart. His mouth twists down as the words spring up in his mind: Jack-in-the-box. Lid up. Jump up and grin. Lid down. Stay down and be quiet.
Now she divides the eggs unequally on the pan. She serves and sits down at the table with him. He pores over his morning paper. She pours out his tea. He takes the cup. She takes a quick bite of her smaller portion. They eat together in the morning light, looking almost like an advertisement for breakfast cereal. And, the air of compatibility remains, even when he unceremoniously forgets to carry his portion of the breakfast things to the sink, but with a slight quiver now, not unlike a reprimanded lower lip.
His eyes graze hers. Their breaths hang together, frozen between them. The pine of his aftershave prickles her skin as he leans forward to peck at her cheek. Like he does everyday. He picks up his briefcase and adjusts his tie, as usual. He walks out with firm strides. He stands on the steps leading away. From her. A fierce emotion grips him. Blinds him to the bright day outside, and almost drives him back. To her. But he’s already shut the door behind him.
She remains at the table, fingers playing with the ring. She seems not to listen to the soft click of the shutting door, and the silence that howls, circling the house like an abandoned dog. He’s gone. Like everyday, on the dot. The whole thing seems so normal. A thought strikes her and a laugh cracks out, hurting her throat with its brittleness. A pair of zombies! In their neat little zombie house! The thought begins to spit and hiss. But the hammering in her heart speaks of blood rushing inside. Warm and desperate.
He’s in the car now, with the engine idling. His head angled so he can watch the window curtain without seeming to. It should fall back any moment now. And the door should open. It has to. It had better. But already a leg has slid out of the car, without informing his mind.
Rumjhum Biswas has been published in countries in all the five continents in both online and print journals and anthologies. One of her poems was long listed in the Bridport Poetry Prize 2006 and is also a finalist in the 2010 Aesthetica Creative Arts Contest. She has won prizes in poetry contests in India. Her poem “March” was commended in the Writelinks’ Spring Fever Competition, 2008. Her story “Ahalya’s Valhalla” was among Story South’s Million Writers’ notable stories of 2007. Her poem “Bones”? has been nominated for a 2010 Pushcart by Cha: An Asian Literary Journal. She was a participating poet in the 2008 Prakriti Foundation Poetry Festival in Chennai. She was a featured poet during the Poetry Slam organized jointly by the US Consul General, Chennai and The Prakriti Foundation in December 2009. She blogs at rumjhumkbiswas.wordpress.com and polyphagous.wordpress.com.