Tegan and Raul.
They kissed a lot.
They were that kind of couple. The ones that lonely house wives fantasize about while they scrub piles of dirty dishes over their kitchen sinks. They talked a lot, joked a lot too, and shared secrets like best friends. They smoked a joint on the balcony, played cards on a bed of hay in a farm, karaoked badly in public and got laughed at. They danced like clowns and watched other couples dance like clowns and laughed at them. On holidays, Raul obsessed over video games while she wrote bad poetry that never got published anywhere, all in the same room. He loved apples, and she loved oranges, literally. But on some days, she made this very odd pie with baked apples in orange juice and they ate it with tea. On working days, they stole time for each other, right under the noses of their bosses. They made each other’s bad days better. But there weren’t too many. Hardly any at all.
The teenagers next door made them their role models. Not their parents who talked only to squabble and never talked at other times, and dinner was had in two separate rooms, one in front of the TV, the other in front of a laptop and everything felt like a drudgerous arrangement. When I grow up, I’ll find someone like that, the teenagers thought and wrongly. Because some things, like Tegan and Raul, were rare as diamonds.
They wasted no time to love. They started in high school, under the sycamore tree when no one was looking. They kissed and kissed till principal Dayal barged in on them with her spectacles dancing on her pointed nose.
“You fornicators!” she said. But the same pudgy woman came to their wedding some eight years later, cried a bucket and made the sweetest toast about them.
Then the universe got really crazy, like it couldn’t bear two perfect things together. It went and got Tegan run over by a truck. They couldn’t even find all her body parts to put in the icebox. But they managed enough for the crematorium and could fill three fifths of an urn. A Dijon yellow one, with white tendrils running criss-cross around it. The one that Raul slept with in his king sized bed for many months.
Later, it went on his nightstand.
Next to his bed.
Under the lampshade.
The lonely housewives made a pass at him. He smiled a sad smile at them and broke their hearts. The teenagers next door brought him DVDs and pies and played him their guitar and learnt a harsh lesson in life. That nothing ever good lasts and it’s silly to think it would.
They kicked him out of the office for shoddy work. He took to video games, eighteen hours a day, and forgot time. End of the eighteen hours, he got so bored. He collected toy cars from all over the country, which cost him a little fortune. When they got robbed, he shrugged and went to bed. Then he tried to build a computer application that showed you where the nearest toilet was in case you had to go in a new place. When it was ready for business, he got uninterested and forgot all about it.
Then he took to bird watching, and beer brewing and overeating.
Then he met Likha.
Likha was not like Tegan. She was better. She liked the same books Raul did, the movies and the video games and the long walks and dogs. She was always happy and did happy things like dancing and singing and laughing and joking. He needed that, but he wanted something else.
Raul and Likha.
They were a puzzle.
She, a perfect circle. He, a shard of glass.
They moved in together and got a golden retriever. They named him Dexter after their favourite TV show. For the first time, he laughed and loved, just a little. But he often wrinkled his nose at the imaginary waft of apple pie made with orange juice.
They got married in a magistrate’s office in their best suits on a day when it rained sheets and they had to snuggle under the blankets on the floor. The moving truck couldn’t make it.
“You better wear a sweater, it’s cold,” she said.
“Don’t you baby me,” he snapped and trudged away to the balcony to watch the rain. Alone he sat, wanting so much to go to a karaoke and make a fool of himself.
The next day, he brought flowers and made love to Likha all day.
When they went to the bazaar, he tried on a black shirt and she thought that black didn’t suit him one bit.
“I’ll wear what I want,” he snapped again.
“Should I wear a yellow dress tonight?”
“What kinda stupid question is that?”
“Did you take out the trash?”
“Stop ordering me about!”
“Hey, I think you left a spot on the table.”
“You get off my back, Miss Perfect?
He snapped, and he snapped. At first, Likha tried to explain.
But he kept snapping until she was too afraid to say anything.
“Why are you so hard on me?”
“Leave if you want to.”
“How can you not care?”
“I just don’t.”
The days stretched long and silent in the house. Just the dirty dishes in the sink clinking and clanking and soap making bubbles and water jutting out from the tap.
The fucking universe was content.
Like as if everything got right with it again.
Prarthana J A lives in Bangalore, India. She quit her job as a corporate writer to care for her babies, a feisty toddler and her first novel. Her forthcoming novel is the winner of Novel Slices 2021. Her short stories have appeared in The Indian Periodical, Defenestration, The Potato Soup Journal, Mad Swirl and Emovere, an anthology.