Friday 15 September 2017

Short Story 2017 Featured Sneha Maria Varghese

The Warm Story

Tell me a story. A warm one, one that will make me smile and cuddle over.

Hmm... Well...
The moment their eyes met, she felt as if the world had come to a stop. She knew right away that he was the One, the One who was to complete her, the One who would become her reason for existence, the One she would love till the end of time. As he made his way over to her...

The church bells clanged enthusiastically. Anticipation thickened the air. And there she was finally, a goddess in her element. He couldn’t breathe anymore, he was too happy to. As she made her way over to him....
She thought she would burst. Her happiness had no bounds as she looked at the baby’s smiling face. This wonderful being was...
SCENE CHANGE.                                         
He walked along the seashore holding his wife’s and daughter’s hands. He smiled at the horizon for he could now feel his life brimming with the promise of happiness and opportunity.
He looked at her and all he could see was contentment, it was a life worth living, it was a life well lived.

There you have it, your warm story.
Too short huh? Not much content?
Well here’s the deal. The longer version of this story isn’t warm. It won’t make you smile, or cuddle over or any of those things.
The longer version of this story is uncut and unvarnished. It is interesting at the best of times, profound at others and cruel at its worst. But it is much more real. 

Here’s how it goes....
The moment their eyes met, she felt as if the world had come to a stop...
Long before the Moment; the one in which their eyes met, the world stopped, and she had a series of revelations; there were many other smaller moments that contrived to bring about that big Moment. The comparative significance of these many moments is up for debate, but there is one among them that is unique in its deceptive ubiquity. It is the moment of the Wrong Address.

Three generations prior to the birth of Mr James Gregory and Miss Rose Caleb, the parties involved in the Moment, there was a great-grand aunt, on the Mr. James’s side, who was suffering from cataract. Not being too much of a believer in accuracy, she posted a letter meant for her niece, Miss Jane G., Barrington street , House 34 to a Miss Jane G., Baslington street, House 34. The mistake would have been inconsequential in the larger scheme of things, hadn’t it been for the housekeeper at House 34, Baslington Street finally deciding to make something of her long fantasized vacation real, and thereby putting Pseudo Miss Jane G. in the propitious position of receiving that letter with her own hands. The adept housekeeper, would have done sensible things like checking the address and returning the letter to the sender but thankfully, the impetuous Miss Jane Gefferson was above such considerations. The content of the letter was surprisingly pertinent to the situations of both Miss Jane Gregory and Miss Jane Gefferson. Both these lovely ladies, whose birthdays had a wide berth of two decades between them, where at that point in their lives, the object of men’s nuptial aspirations. Miss Jane Gregory, whom the letter was originally intended for, was unable to make up her mind and her loving aunt had made it her business to gently but quite cogently imply that she was not twenty and to ‘carpe diem’ before her time was out. Miss Jane Gefferson who was twenty, however, was unaware of these circumstances and was quite moved by the displaced advice. So when the trader’s son, Mr. Caleb, who lived in the neighbouring street knocked on her door ten minutes later to proclaim undying love, she faithfully ‘carpe diem’ ed and accepted without a second thought, thereby reinventing herself as Mrs Jane Caleb. Mr James’s great-grand aunt had thus, quite inadvertently, brought about the collaboration of genes that formed the Caleb clan and eventually resulted in the beautiful Miss Rose, whose eyes Mr James would meet, whose world would stop, and who would receive a revelation overdose in that polemical Moment.

The great-grand aunt and her letter, inspite of their pervasive effects elsewhere, had missed the mark with the poor Miss Jane Gregory. She was never able to overcome her befuddlement and like her aunt had predicted, she soon ‘ran out of time’. She left the earth a spinster and heirless. Her death, like many others, would have been inconsequential in the larger scheme of things, had it not been for Mr. Barron, an enterprising young lawyer who suddenly found himself as the opportune heir of Miss Jane Gregory. Mr Barron, who was related to Miss Jane Gregory through a maternal chain of relations that had long withered away, is not especially pertinent to our story. His grand son, Mr Barron Jr. Jr., however is quite important. Though it doesn’t happen often, it just so happened in Mr Barron’s case, that his progeny mirrored him. The grandson was also an enterprising lawyer blessed with an innate knack for attracting opportune instances just like his ancestor. That is how Mr Barron Jr. Jr. happened to be present in that particular milieu where the celebrated Moment occurred.

Like I said, this story is not without its profound moments which, as it so happens in this case, chose to occur in the most nondescript of locations, on a street. The ultimate meeting of perfect matched souls, a phenomenon beyond time and reason happened, the only way it could, without any preamble. There was no predicting, nor labouring for its occurrence. The parties involved were engaged in quite ubiquitous activities then, she walking home, he walking to work. It took only half a millisecond for those routine processes to be converted into actions of infinite importance for, the moment their eyes met, she felt as if the world had come to a stop. She knew right away that he was the One, the One who was to complete her, the One who would become her reason for existence, the One she would love till the end of time. As he made his way over to her, however, he didn’t look.

Profound moments like these are too empyrean to be concerned with practical considerations like looking before you cross. I warned you of cruelty and here it is. Inspite of all the efforts (inadvertent, of course) of their ancestors, Mr James Gregory and Miss Rose Caleb, weren’t allowed to continue that profoundly beautiful moment. It quickly converted itself into an unnecessarily gory one, motor car whizzing past, horrible thunk of human body against metal, uncharacteristic plop of body against concrete, and a series of unmusical shrieks. Miss Rose, was only dimly aware of these happenings as she started crossing over to the spot where Mr. James had stood, in a desperate and inane attempt to revive her dear Moment. This is where opportune Mr Barron’s progeny steps into the fore. He just so happened to be at the right place and the right time to heroically sweep the beautiful Miss Rose safely into his arms, and away from danger. Having had Eros and Thanatos put her through the emotional turmoil most people undergo over an entire lifetime, in a couple of seconds, Miss Rose promptly fainted into his arms. When she awoke, six hours later, feeling uncharacteristically bereft, she saw the young Mr Barron Jr. Jr.’s face smiling down at her. Genetically enterprising as he was, the lawyer wasted no time in setting things into motion, and toppling the series of dominoes, that would lead to church bells clanging enthusiastically for him.       

The church bells clanged enthusiastically. Anticipation thickened the air. And there she was finally, a goddess in her element. He couldn’t breathe anymore, he was too happy to. As she made her way over to him, however, her mind was filled with memories of that long gone, profound Moment. She wasn’t remembering it in regret, she was remembering it in realization. That would be the bar against which she would compare all the subsequent moments in her life, an insuperable bar if there was any. She would have been right too, there wouldn’t have been a single moment that met her elitist standards, had it not been for the efforts of another seemingly inconsequential moment- the Moment of the Misplaced Note.

This moment concerns an unfortunate Mr. Bates. Mr. Bates was the recipient of his flirtatious neighbour’s tenacious advances. The lady had an imaginative turn of mind especially with regards to her cooked up romantic relationship with Mr Bates. She just needed Mr Bates' compliance to move forward with it and so she endeavoured to leave a highly contentious note for him in his office. Mr Bates’s affinity for the unfortunate ensured that Mrs Bates chanced upon the note, thereby triggering a fairly serious argument between the couple. The most immediate effect of that argument was that Mr Bates’s sleep dissipated along with his peace of mind. He turned up at the car workshop where he worked, the next day, groggy and cranky. Among the cars that were to be subjected to his duplicitous care that day was Miss Rose’s (now Mrs Rose Barron’s) car. Mr Bates, did an artfully destructive job with it, leaving the car in a quite treacherous state. When Mrs. Rose took the vehicle the next day it was only a matter of hours before the car came to a stuttering stop at an inopportune locality at an inopportune timing. 

This, again, would have been inconsequential in the large scheme of things, hadn’t it been for Mrs Rose’s impulsive decision to seek refuge at the orphanage at the street end. The orphanage had a painfully ironic facade, with platitudes painted on its frontier proclaiming God’s undying love for mankind, while containing within its walls truncated instances of that very same love. One such instance was the poor Miss Viola. Miss Viola had been subjected to so many tragedies over the course of her short lifetime that her caretakers had classified her under the ‘at odds with the universe’ category. At two months, her mother succumbed to influenza, leaving her in her father’s care. 

At nine months, her father too was snatched away in a car accident, making her an official orphan and putting her in the state’s care. Having thus tumbled down the social ladder long before she could even crawl, Miss Viola was the object of constant attention of a particular Sr. Faustina., the most recent addition to the orphanage’s workforce. Sr. Faustina was the one who was present that afternoon to welcome the peripatetically impaired Mrs Rose, and assure her into the orphanage’s hall to wait for help. Seeing that Mrs. Rose was an affluent woman, Sr. Faustina promptly narrated baby Viola’s tale of woe with succulent emotional embellishment, hoping she could trigger some remunerative reaction. The tears that welled in Mrs Rose’s eyes could have convinced Sr. Faustina that she had accomplished her goal, but she was not one to leave things to chance. So she fished out Miss Viola’s file and presented it to Mrs Rose as a closing argument. Looking through the file Mrs Rose discovered that Miss Viola’s late father was none other than the unfortunate Mr. James Gregory, her unknown partner in that formerly peerless profound Moment.                   

She thought she would burst. Her happiness had no bounds as she looked at the baby’s smiling face. This wonderful being was her’s to love and to behold. In this baby she saw repayment of the magical love that had been unfairly taken from her. It didn’t matter to Mrs Rose that the esoteric partner in her mystical Moment was in fact a widower; in her imagination he stood far beyond any sort of reproach. She looked at the baby with trepidation, because profound moments like these were nothing if not ephemeral. Her fears however were needless, for the babe Viola had exhausted her quota for tragedy in life and was to now be awarded with luxurious amounts of love and care. Mr James had ensured of this when, through his untimely death, he passed the triad responsibilities of being Mrs Rose’s completion, reason for existence, and object of love till the time's end, to his progeny Miss Viola. Though Miss Viola was then, too young to have a say in these matters, she would grow up years later to be the proud and content dispenser of those prematurely conferred responsibilities. 

While Mrs Rose sat thus in the orphanage regurgitating memories of her profound Moment, her husband, Mr Barron Jr. Jr. sat in his office enduring a characteristically sombre one. His new wife didn’t seem to be as indulgent in her affections to him as he was to her. His position was an obviously discriminatory one, for in Mrs Rose’s mind, there was no limit to the illusionary qualities the late Mr James could have, as opposed to his meagre real ones. The scales were further tipped against him since he was completely unaware of this inanimate competition that was mounting a quite animate resistance from Miss Rose’s imagination. His logical brain, couldn’t figure the answer to a problem that lacked a question, but as the next series of domino reactions would prove, there are some answers that abound all logic. 

The culprit for this particular domino reaction chain was again, the unfortunate Mr. Bates. In his misfortune, he had become the conduit not only for Mrs Rose’s reason for existence but also for the answer to Mr Barron’s insolvable problem. On the very same day that marital problems swindled him of his precious sleep, he happened to be invited for a drink by an old college friend he hadn’t heard from in years. Being in no mood to be subjected to the expeditions of an alien acquaintance, he claimed health complaints and diplomatically excused himself from the rendezvous. Unknown to him however, his acquaintance hadn’t called on him to renew affections, but instead to seek monetary help. Mr Bates had been his last ray of hope, but apparent ‘indigestion’ had extinguished even that last resort. The acquaintance therefore promptly chose a rope and a fan as the easy way out of his problem. This death too, could have joined the array of inconsequential deaths, if Mrs Ellen (the dead acquaintance’s wife) hadn’t chanced upon the name of her old childhood friend, Mrs Rose, while searching her address book for connections she could convert into monetary input.           
It was thus that Mr Barron Jr. Jr. came to be apprised of Mrs Ellen’s travails. As Mr. Barron sat at the dinner table that evening, asking after his wife’s friend’s problem he didn’t realize that he was about to be party to a moment that would change his life cataclysmically. Mrs Ellen’s husband it so appeared was an ex- military man who in spite of surviving the demons of war couldn’t conquer the demons of gambling addiction. While Mrs Rose only saw in this proof of life’s unfair nature, Mr Barron saw in this the solution to Mrs Ellen’s conundrum. The enterprising lawyer saw that the suicide could be argued to be an inevitable culmination of the mental trauma inflicted on Mrs Ellen’s husband during his years of faithful service for queen and country, thereby making Mrs Ellen, a credible claimant of the state’s care. In seeing this solution, he unknowingly engendered the solution to his own nagging perplex ion too. As Mr Barron Jr. Jr presented this practical and sensible suggestion to Mrs Rose, Mrs Rose’s brain formulated a single unbidden and yet strong thought, ‘He didn’t look.’

For all the infinitive qualities she had assigned to the late Mr James, father of her adopted daughter, Mrs Rose couldn’t in any manner assign the practicality her tangible and alive husband had just displayed. That realization created a chink in the empyrean pedestal she had erected for Mr James and it wasn’t long before the entire thing dissipated in a poof of smoke. Mr Barron Jr. Jr. had finally won against Mr James Gregory in the heated war that was waged in Mrs Rose mind. The defeating blow had been Mrs Rose’s conclusion that Mr Barron Jr. Jr. would have looked before he crossed. This new found peace in Mrs Rose’s mind could have been easily destroyed by logical thoughts like the fact that her conclusion was too hypothetical to be definitive. Thankfully though, it was successfully maintained. Like I said some solutions abound all logic. Thus it was that marital bliss was awarded to Mr Barron Jr. Jr. through the marital dissension of the poor, oblivious Mr Bates.

It wasn’t long after that He walked along the seashore holding his wife’s and daughter’s hands. He smiled at the horizon for he could now feel his life brimming with the promise of happiness and opportunity. That moment was to be the first in the series of profound and beautiful moments he was to share with his wife until they culminated in that last one in which he looked at her face and all he could see was contentment. They had had a life worth living, a life well lived. Though he wasn’t aware of it at that moment, he did suspect, that the full life he had been enjoyed with his wife, was not a reward of his own merits and efforts but rather the fruit of the collaborated efforts of wrong addresses, car accidents, misplaced notes and a gazillion other unknown happenstances, far beyond his comprehension.

So there you have it, the real, longer version of a warm story.
Now that I think of it however, reality is not without warmth of its own.

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