Wednesday 1 September 2010

ShortStory 2010 FeaturedWriter Madhavi Vaidya

Amy’s Letters

Dear Son,
Your early morning guitar melodies played again. They still play in my ears and those musical notes echo in my mind. Today morning as I got up, my fragile hands reached a pack of cornflakes. I sat myself down on a chair, as I poured them in a bowl on our dinner table. Sooner did I settle down I remembered, you like them with chilled milk only. 

Resting my hands on the table my frail legs and aching knees managed to pick my ageing body up again to walk towards the refrigerator. I opened the door to find a can of chilled milk. I mixed it with the flakes and before they became soggy I shouted “Sam, breakfast is ready and if you don’t waste anymore time, I’m preparing your favorite Spanish omelette too." You never came down son and the tunes of your guitar somehow vanished in thin air.

I started my daily routine chores. Your father as usual has left for the day without eating breakfast. “I will be home early today Jen… love you.”  He yelled as he drove off in his car. I love it when your father calls me Jen. I have loved it for 40 years. I always thought Jennifer was a lovely name and I didn’t want any pet names. But when your father first called me ‘Jen’, I just fell in love with it.
As he had promised me, he returned home early today. He bought me flowers. Roses. You know Sam, how much I love them!

We had a simple dinner and then we waited for you together. Today I flipped our family album. Sam you looked funny wearing the Joker cap and cake all over your face. I wonder, now whom you must be celebrating your birthday with…I still light a candle on a homemade cake as usual on every birthday of yours. 

Sam I cleaned your Baseball kit today. You remember the first school match you played? I had come to see you perform. Getting up early morning for the match and then hurriedly gulping down a glass of milk only to rush out in the fields for a warm up run, I remember overlooking you from our window. Once you had suddenly disappeared in the fields and I went looking for you in all the directions in the fields around our house.

You emerged after sometime only to cover my eyes from behind giggling and teasing. I really felt like whacking you that day. I should have done that Sam, because your habit of disappearing still continues.
Tuesday… Today again you skipped your breakfast. You are so much like your father. We plan to play Carom. I want you to win this time. Last time your Dad had won but I believe he cheated. How can you loose, my son? It’s not possible.
I delivered cookies to the nearby shop. They made my payment too. On my way back I picked up a smart sweater for you. It’s a deep blue color. Sam, please come home early today.
It’s late evening and your father has still not returned. I gathered my flowing gown and slowly opened the window of our house. Adjusting my scarf I looked out of the window to see only darkness. 

I kept looking for some more time only to return to the telephone to call your father. As my trembling hand reached out to the phone, the phone rang. In a hasty attempt of picking up the phone I dropped it to the floor but managed to pick it up. It was your father. “I will be late darling, do not worry” before I said anything he cut the call. 

I looked around the house in fear. It was only me in the house and one sound…the ticking sound of the clock on the wall. Time…My only companion. I called up your department to ask for you, but as usual they were rude to me. The game of Carom that I had set remained untouched as I sat near the window the whole night. Neither your father nor you returned.

I patiently waited with the cornflakes in the bowl and omelet in the side dish the next morning. I went upstairs to check whether you were still in bed. You were not. You never showed up my son…
I went to the church to pray. On my way back I met your friend Jack. I asked him about you but he looked sad. I said I prayed for you, but he said “Mrs. Douglas, you know how a sailor’s life is! Sam was sailing around the Bermudas. We too haven’t seen him for months now. People say he just disappeared one day.” 

Jack is insane. He tells me this depressing thought every time he meets me on my way back from the church. He was telling me how some people said you were abducted by the aliens while you were out in the Bermudas.
I also have heard such rubbish tales. But I know you are very much here. You must have lost your way somewhere only for sometime. I didn’t tell him that you played guitar on Monday morning and I enjoyed every tune of it. 

Back home I read a book on Bermuda triangle. I kept reading till it was dark. Your father and me we went to the terrace. How lovely our house is. It’s a cottage miles away, on the outskirts of the town. The sky is so low almost touching the earth. The deep enigmatic space above with stars as holes in it is a delight to watch. Your telescope still lies in the terrace Sam. I miss you so much.
“So, Amy how far have you covered writing your story? Did Jennifer finally meet her son? I mean how many letters will the poor old lady write to her son? John teased his wife. “Well, it’s the last Thursday, that is all I have to cover.” said Amy “Amy you have been an author for the last forty years of your life. How much more work will you do?” asked John. “You have been writing Jennifer’s story for the last three years now.” 

“Well many letters have been written, but now Jen plans to write the last one. I haven’t penned down the details of the last letter. I was waiting for you dear. You know I have this habit of reading out my half written stories to you!” Amy said. “But you have been immersed in this story too much. Too much work at this age” exclaimed John. “Hey I call this my last story; I don’t know if my age will permit me to write more after this.” said Amy. 

Amy suddenly popped an unexpected question to John. “Do you see Jennifer in me?” asked Amy raising her eyebrows “What kind of a weird question is that Amy. Now lets play a game or two, you need a break.” said John starting to set the game. “But first my narration and then whatever you say darling” Amy arranged two chairs. On one she sat herself down flipping through her story and next to the other chair she arranged a side table. “For my cigarettes?” winked John. “Well I have to bribe you to read my story, but you must quit smoking. I know you won’t, but I won’t stop telling you either.”
“The famous Cheese cake from the Clarke’s!” Both Amy and John turned to find Julia, their only neighbor in the area, as they lived miles away from the town. Julia was a divorcee and had moved in next to the Douglas a year back. She was a fairly good looking woman with a thin frame. She worked for a nearest mall from her residence. She managed their accounts. She was trying to get over her past in an attempt to get over bitter relationships. She dropped in at the Douglas occasionally to chat with the old couple.

“Sorry to disturb your romantic evening Mr. and Mrs. Douglas” “Oh no common, my audience is increasing” said a frail Amy, as she pulled another chair for Julia and asked her to join in the narration of her story ‘Letters’ and Julia happily obliged. Amy narrated the various weekdays, weekends and Jennifer’s routine with a detailed description. 

“Oh John please get the phone.” interrupting her narration Amy requested John. “What? There’s no telephone ringing here” said shocked John. “I heard it. Am sure” said Amy “No Amy, nobody’s calling. I think you are overworked. You need some rest.” “Ok, let me complete my narration.” said Amy, ignoring John. Julia how did you find it so far?” asked Amy. “Excellent… I can almost visualize Jennifer’s life.” “Well, that’s the point.” Amy continued reading further. ‘Your telescope still lies in the terrace. I miss you so much Sam.’ adjusting her spectacles Amy narrated the last lines of her incomplete story.

Tomorrow I plan to write the climax of the story. “Oh, please Amy, tell me what it is” Julia asked. “No! How can I disclose it now, you will have to read my story for that” said Amy calmly. “No! am away for a week. I’m leaving for my native town to settle some bank accounts. And after that you folks are planning a trip to Chicago right? I can’t wait till then.” said Julia in a childish tone.
 “No” said Amy. I have to sleep early tonight, as I have to get up early tomorrow. Tomorrow is a Thursday morning you see.” Both Julia and John exchanged looks in confusion. “Thursday?” they murmured
John lit his fourteenth cigarette. “Let’s go to the terrace.” John took a pack of cigarettes. After slowly climbing up the stairs, the three settled, aligned for a view of the vast fields all around their house. “How lovely our house is. The sky is so low, almost touching the earth and with stars as holes in the deep space. A delight to watch.” said Amy
Startled Julia looked at Amy. “Some lines from you story I guess. This view looks exactly the way you described it Amy.” “Yes there are always shades of me and my life in my stories and that way I can identify with the characters in them.” Amy explained. “Hmmm…” all three got engrossed in star gazing as the night grew darker and thicker.

After much star gazing, Julia left with a quick goodnight. Amy was now too tired to even set the bed, John helped her out. While he set the bed, Amy went to the kitchen. She opened the refrigerator and checked a can of milk. 

“What were you doing in the kitchen?” asked surprised John. “Nothing, I just checked if everything’s in place for breakfast tomorrow.” Amy crept inside her blanket and kept looking at the window as she went fast asleep. “But I don’t have breakfast darling” with no response from Amy, John switched off the lights and went off to sleep.

Next day morning Amy went in the kitchen to cook. I hope John returns early tonight, I want to complete my story, Amy murmured to herself. John left for the day. He returned early that day as he was feeling a little unwell. “Dinner is ready darling” said a weak Amy. “Will catch up with you after I finish my fag” John lay in the sofa watching TV. 

“John you never have dinner when it is at the right temperature. Please come soon” Amy waited for ten minutes and then approached the sofa where John was watching TV. “John, Dinner?” there was no reply. John was not smoking. He lay still in the sofa. Amy doubted something was wrong. She turned to look at John. He was looking pale. She watched a little closer. He didn’t move his eyes at all. “John are you OK?” asked Amy with a gulp in her throat. She touched John. His body lay cold and lifeless. No movement. “John” Amy moved behind in shock. She called the doctor. “Emergency…”

“Massive cardiac arrest. Mrs. Douglas, I’m sorry John is no more” said the doc. The doctor explained the formalities. She followed the doctor without a word or a question. After all the formalities and rituals she returned home. For days she sat near the window and stared outside in the darkness. She didn’t write.

Days passed but Amy was no longer herself she was speechless, emotionless, as if she was stuck, frozen in time. One fine morning Amy went to the church. She sat there till noon. She came back and without a thought or hint she started writing, completing her incomplete story.
Today is a Thursday. But nothing seems to be the same anymore. Sam, some things have changed forever. Today I didn’t make breakfast for you or your dad. Amy started writing, adjusting her spectacles. I wish I could rewind and stop time. Son there’s bad news. Yesterday your father passed away. Smoking killed him. I often told him not to smoke. He never listened to me. Now am lonely my son. I need you Sam.

Friday and am still writing to you Sam. I’m tired now, tired of my loneliness, tired of waiting. Met Jack on my way back from the church, but I didn’t exchange a word with him today. I cooked dinner for your father out of habit. Son, I’m leaving for Bermudas, to look for you. Amy went on writing.

“Amy…Didn’t you go to Chicago? Or you folks are already back? Anyways, Amy please narrate your story ‘Letters’ to me” said Julia. She had returned from her holiday. Amy didn’t respond. “Where’s John. Terrace? Must be having a fag?” asked curious Julia. Amy was writing without noticing Julia at all. Then she suddenly turned and said “John’s dead. He smoked too much. I have written so to Sam. I hope he returns at least after getting these letters of mine.”
Shocked Julia stood like a statue. What? John…” she murmured. “Amy all this happened when I was away. How did you manage alone? I mean are you…are you Ok? Julia looked at Amy. Amy’s face was blank. She was busy writing but was looking very pale…

“I have completed my story Julia, but do you think Sam will come back after he knows about his father’s death.” asked Amy. “Sam? Amy…what are you saying? John is dead… I mean…” Julia said in an utterly confused tone. “Amy I’m talking about your husband John. I’m not talking about the character Sam in your story.” said Julia with a chocked voice. 

Ignoring Julia Amy continued her conversation…“Tomorrow I have to get up early. It’s a Saturday tomorrow.” said Amy. “No Amy, it’s not a Saturday.” said Julia. She tried to console Amy to come to terms with what had happened. “Amy listen to me. Look at me. I’m Julia your neighbor. I understand you are depressed because John has suddenly left you. But you are not alone. I’m there for you.” said a worried Julia. Amy removed her spectacles, wore a scarf and went and sat near the window to stare at the darkness outside. The whole of the room and the house resonated with silence.
“Julia did you see Sam’s birthday album? Today I just laughed looking at his photographs. I was looking for his guitar. He hasn’t played it in several days. I think he must be getting tired after his Basket ball matches.” Amy broke the silence suddenly.

Now slowly grasping the situation, Julia sat quietly next to Amy. “Amy please listen to me carefully. There’s no Sam. You were only writing Jennifer’s story. You are not Jennifer. You are Amy. Your husband John has passed away. This is real and not your story. There’s no Sam. You have been childless all your life.” Julia tried explaining Amy’s confusion to her. But in vain. Amy was already living Jennifer’s life. The signs were evident even before. 

“Please go to bed Julia. You seem to be too tired. You should be fresh in the morning. Come early for breakfast.  I’m making Spanish omelet. Sam loves it. I shall see you tomorrow. Goodnight.” Amy quietly walked to her bedroom. Helpless Julia switched off the lights for Amy and went back to her house.

The next morning Julia returned to check on Amy. Her door was open. Julia entered the kitchen. The table was neatly laid with cornflakes in a bowl with chilled milk and Spanish omelet in a side dish. Julia looked around. No signs of Amy.

She went near her writing desk. She found some papers of her story. Only the climax of the story. “Today is a Saturday. Am not writing any more letters to you my son. I’m leaving for the Bermudas today, to look for you.”

Julia froze in place. Slowly things started to unfold. Amy had really left in search of Sam.
A few months passed. Amy did not return. Julia tried finding Amy’s whereabouts, but no trace of Amy. She seemed to have vanished forever. 

It was a Monday night, Julia stood alone on the Douglas’s terrace missing them a lot. She looked at the telescope in the corner of the terrace and then kept looking at the deep sky with the hope that someday Amy might return.

‘The sky is so low almost touching the earth and with stars as holes in the deep space, a delight to watch.’ Julia remembered the lines from Amy’s story as she kept staring at the vast fields and the infinite sky above her.

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