By Simar Malhotra
I watch her stuff bananas in her mouth hurriedly. Stuffing them one, two, three, regardless of how much can be taken in. Stuffing them such that not stuffing them would maybe be catastrophic. She guzzles, like a starving child, quickly and hungrily. I don’t stop her. I know this routine now. It’s been three years. There is an innocence in the fast, fluid way her thin fingers peel the skin off one after the other banana. There is habit in that swiftness of motion, a practice of a sort. Almost like art. She still paints some times like she used to. But it’s not the same. She squiggles on the walls in the house with crayon now instead of on her canvas. Now that no one comes over anymore the state of the house matters little.
I pass her a cold glass of milk. She stops, stares and then smiles. Glops of chewed banana are stuck in her teeth. A few fall off the side of her lips. I take a tissue and wipe them off. She gulps the milk down from the glass, unaware of the white trail dripping from the sides of her chin. I take another tissue and wipe these off too.
My phone beeps. It’s Kate. I grin invariably, and get up to go to the bedroom. One side of the bed is made — creaseless, untouched. Kate asks if I reached home in time last night. I say I did. She asks if I had a good time last night. I say I did. She asks what I am doing now. I hesitate. Getting her breakfast, I say. Kate sighs. Will I see you tonight, I ask. Maybe, she says. I hear screaming from outside. It crescendos to loud painful shrieks in a jiffy. I rush to the kitchen. The table top is on fire. Her hand is too. I run and wrap a blanket around it and swat the flames on the slab with my arm. She’s crying and squealing. I hear Kate ask what’s happening. I toss the phone away and rub her back reassuringly. I tell her that its okay, its okay. She’s still wailing but her screams are softer. She digs her teeth into my shoulder and moans in pain. I kiss her forehead and stroke her hair. I try to touch her hand. She cries and flinches away. Can I please see it, I ask in a pacifying voice. I gingerly bring her hand closer and unwrap the blanket.
It's not a severe burn, just redness on the skin.I retrieve a green tube from the medicine drawer and slowly begin applying it on her hand. I can see it hurts her. She wants to recoil but she doesn’t. I make conversation to distract her. She was always a talker. What were you doing there, I ask. Were you cooking? She nods. What were you cooking? P… pancakes, she stammers. Y… you like p… pancakes. I look up. She tries to smile between her sobs. My phone beeps again somewhere. It’s Kate. I know because her ringtone is different. In that semi-smile and the phone ring, a heavy anchor plummets in my stomach. I look intently at her face. I haven’t looked at her in that way since a long time, since before I met Kate, since a little after that accident, since she became this new person that she is, this child, this ignorant, stupid, incapable, brainless adult child. Since she lost all that made her who she used to be, her mind, her soul, her heart. In that moment I see in her the woman I married seven years ago, the woman I had loved more supremely than anything, the woman who made me me. And in me she must see the man she married seven years ago, the man who she still loved more supremely than anything, the man who was a now cheater, an infidel, the man that she didn’t know was a cheater, an infidel.
Ph…phone is ringing, she says. I know, I say. Do you want to make pancakes together, I ask.