“If we made a baby it would be the same color as your drink,” Sheena says.
I choke, and set the cold coffee down on the dark ring it has left on the patio step.
“We could call him Cold Coffee.” She chuckles.
“It’s not funny.”
“You are right. Naming should reflect thoughtfulness. Did I tell you my name’s an anagram of Aneesh, my dad’s name? Cool, Isn’t it?”
I wipe the sweat off my forehead. “You’re on the pills. Right?”
“Uh-huh.” She averts her gaze, and starts prying out chalk dust from under her nails, unruly curls tumbling to cloud her face.
I stare at the lawn I’ve just mowed.
“Don’t you love the neat alternating strips of light and dark green?” she asks.
“I was looking at the long shadow of the little willow tree.”
“Here, I made something for you.” She hands me the chalk sculpture she’s been working on. The feet of the figurine are stuck to a seashell, and the hands cover the privates. “It’s Botticelli’s Venus.”
She likes doing this stuff. That’s why she’s going to Carnegie Mellon to study Fine Arts. “What time’s your flight for Pittsburgh tomorrow?” I ask.
“I can drive you to the airport.”
“I don’t think Mom would like that.”
My jaw clenches. Sheena promised to stand up to Dr. Patel after the episode last month when the woman went ballistic on me for talking to Sheena. “I better get going,” I say, standing up.
“Don’t be mad.” She hugs me, unperturbed by my sweaty clothes. Seeing her dark arm against mine, I think of the mahogany and birch bench I made recently. Her T-shirt is inside out. I can’t help smile at her carelessness. Suddenly her body goes rigid and she disengages.
“What the hell’s going on?” Dr. Patel’s voice booms.
“Nothing,” Sheena says, her face scarlet.
Doctor Patel glares at me and then at my lawn mower, like she intends to run me over with it. “I pay you to work here, not to get cozy with my daughter.”
I will Sheena to say that I’m her boyfriend, but she stands looking down — dumb like her figurine.
“Sheena and I are seeing each other,” I say.
Sheena shakes her head, her eyes large with fear. I feel like such a fool.
Snorting, Dr. Patel fishes in her bag for twenty-five bucks and hurls the bills at me. They fall to the ground. “Now, get off my property. For good.”
I curse under my breath and walk away.
“Shame on you?” I hear her hiss at Sheena.
Sheena leaves for Pittsburgh and I move into an apartment close to the community college where I’m studying carpentry. Nursing a hurt ego, I don’t call or email her. Neither does she. Then about two months later, she leaves a message on my phone saying she has something important to talk about, and that I should call back immediately. Although I miss her desperately, I make her wait two whole weeks before calling back. She doesn’t answer.
On my visit home during Thanksgiving, I’m so eager to see Sheena that I take forever to rake and bag the fallen leaves in my yard. It’s evening by the time I’m done and Mom comes to call me for dinner. That’s when Dr. Patel pulls into her driveway. Mom extends a greeting but the woman doesn’t deign to acknowledge it.
“She’s cold as her speculum,” Mom mumbles.
“Isn’t Sheena home for Thanksgiving?” I ask, noting that the passenger seat is empty.
“Haven’t seen the girl since the time she came looking for you.”
“When was that?”
“Sometime last month. I told her you might be at the community college, and she said she’d call you.”
Maybe that was when she left the voicemail. I feel bad about not calling back immediately. Suddenly her window — exposed due to the nearly stripped Maple outside — springs to light. I rush to her yard and aim a dried branch at her window. The lace-curtain parts, and her face — strangely soft and round like the Venus she gave me — appears behind the glass. I gesture for her to come down. She closes the curtain and vanishes.
I wait, my eyes glued to the door. The breeze snaps free the last of the brittle leaves from the branches. She doesn’t come.
It’s not until May of the following year, when I’m home for Mother’s Day, that I see Sheena. She’s picking white jasmines from the vines lacing her fence. The ground below her is carpeted with yellow weed flowers.
I wonder what she’s doing in Charlotte during exam week. Pittsburgh has added a few pounds to her frame.Her long navy dress seems a little tight, and the midday sun has created dark shadows under her eyes making her look older than seventeen. She walks over to the willow tree, and kneels down to place the flowers on the mound of pine needles skirting the tree.
I dash out toward her.
She looks at me and then away at her jasmines, her face suddenly pale.
“Would you stop ignoring me?” I say.
She takes a handful of pine needles and throws them over the flowers. When she meets my gaze again, her eyes are glinting.
“Look, I’m sorry for not returning your call immediately, but I think you are overreacting.”
Instead of answering, she hurries back inside, the jersey dress hugging her hips and legs.
Curious about why she hid the flowers, I open the gate and barge into her yard. When I brush away the pine needles from the spot where she laid the jasmines, I find a baked clay slab engraved with a tiny handprint and the words, Spring brought no life for Diana, April 13, 2011.
“Aidan Fox, you are trespassing,” Dr. Patel’s voice booms.
Blood rushes to my face and bangs in my ears as I hear my name, and stare at the one on the slab.
Rajni Gupta lives with her husband and daughter in Charlotte, North Carolina. She was a finalist for the Elizabeth Simpson Smith award in 2011. Her stories have appeared in Muse India, Shotgun Honey and Pif magazine.
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