The first thing Amita did after she asked her husband to leave was kill the squirrel in the backyard.
She felt bad about it, sure, but its chirping and incessant thievery of her shiny objects in her boudoir over the past fifteen years left her with few options. The squirrel had pilfered her expensive pearls, her roses clip-on earrings that made her earlobes droop, and her cameo ring she’d placed on kitchen window’s ledge when she’d made her husband’s favorite pie. The squirrel had unraveled a jute rug Amita picked up from the store in town and used the ropes to create an enviable nest. Amita imagined other squirrels would have admired the mosaic fortress, and though she’d never seen it, the nest she envisioned was as large as a bee hive.
If Amita could have served the squirrel an eviction notice like the one she’d served her husband symbolically through his pre-packed Samsonite, she would have. She’d attempted to lure her/him out of the tree with gifts and shiny pieces of tin. (Perhaps, Amita thought, the squirrel was a she; she had seen it with hanging nipples last spring). Amita trimmed the oak tree until it was a naked shadow of its former self in order to eliminate all paths to the roof. When it came time to do the deed, she’d baked rat poison into a waffle, covered it with Grade B syrup, and left it on the kitchen window’s ledge. The waffle disappeared in minutes. And so, Amita imagined, had the squirrel.
“Shit,” she said aloud to her empty house. Her husband had left to a three-star hotel and then a job miles away (and into the arms of the nearest warm-blooded female). Her son had been deployed by the military into the hills of Afghanistan months ago. Now Amita was alone.
She’d thought it would feel lighter, aloneness. Instead, the pistachio walls darkened and pressed upon her. Amita poured her tea into the sink, patted her sweaty forehead and gazed through the window into the backyard. She saw in her future only two paths, because Amita always saw things in pairs:
In her first imagining she would be cooking for her life, or, at least, cooking would become her life. She would receive a letter from her son that he missed home and she would begin to cook, and would never stop. The bay leaf would feel fragile between her fingers. Amita’s mother-in-law had taught her to only use fresh bay, but out here in Waltham, Massachusetts she had yet to locate an Indian grocer. She would find American health food stores foreign with the piles of self-serve scented soaps and bag-less checkout. How, she would wonder the first and only time she visited the Vitamin Cottage on Main, am I supposed to fit my bulk flour, spices and spinach in my pants pockets? Amita would shake her head and toss two bay leaves like wishes into the pot.
She’d turn the pan with a flourish of her slender wrist; her three fingers might lift from the handle like a peacock’s tail. ‘They,’ she’d think, ‘would eat this up on the Food Network.’ Her show would be televised around the world. Her face would don covers of cookbooks, boxes of rice and jars of pickle. They’d call her the Indian Rachael Ray. Her portrait would show her better side of her face, the left, her long unnaturally black dyed hair would be coiffed into a French twist, cherry red lips, and a bhindi glued to the space between her eyebrows would complete her persona. She’d smile at her reflection in the back of a large spoon and recite, “Tangy, texture, juxtapose.”
She would imagine many things.
Her second imagined future felt attainable. She’d put an ad for a boarder. They would fill the space with their hand-me-down furniture, paintings, and other relics of their life. Her house was large enough so that two people could live in it without ever running across one another—except for the kitchen.
The first interview would be with a young graduate student from the university who was writing her dissertation on South African literature and colonization of insects, or insects and depictions of colonialism, or simply ant colonies and the politics of dirt. She would be a quiet young woman with short hair. She’d smell of cigarettes. She’d wear Dansko clogs and shapeless collared shirts. She’d be in her final year of writing her book and she’d bite her hangnails every few seconds.
Amita decided against both futures and took another cup of tea into the backyard. It was humid; breathing was like sucking air through a straw. Her tea was cloying but she choked it down. She heard a small rustling in the raspberry bush and moved toward it, she imagined, with predatory stealth. It was just a female cardinal whose fair feathers were blushing yellow. At that moment she realized that she hoped to see her dead or alive to give the entire situation closure. Amita tossed the rest of her tea into the grass and looked behind the fruit trees, inside the shed with the rusted lawnmower and rakes, and under the bird bath. Sweat permeated her silk blouse and Amita removed her ballet flats, pedicure be damned, and trampled through the brush in the adjoining forest. The dead and decaying leaves and pine needles were like a sponge under her feet. Amita sat down on the damp grass, feeling very put upon by the dead or dying creature, the heat of the day, and being the only one around to deal with it. And, right at that moment, she spied a slightly slower than usual squirrel walking the tightrope telephone wire above her head and she smiled.
Olivia Chadha‘s fiction has been featured on Anothersubcontinent.com and Damselfly Press, and she just completed her Ph.D. in English and Creative Writing at SUNY Binghamton. The first chapter of her novel, Deluge, was chosen to represent SUNY in a national contest of Best New American Writers. She started her career writing scripts for comic books in Los Angeles for properties such as Fathom, Aspen and Cannon Hawke. She has taught creative writing at the University of Colorado, Boulder and Binghamton University. In her spare time she watches butterflies.