Almost

Ekphrasis

There is half a cello on the almost chessboard floor. Its thin strings are a darker grey than the grey on the floor that is almost white. The instrument on the top of the table can almost be seen; the painting on the right that you can almost make out through its darkness has a man with two women. You cannot like the man. There is some hope in the sky in the painting on the left, above the blackness of trees you cannot discern. The blue cloth that lies out of place on the table has thick folds—it is heavy, like velvet that is at once too soft, and too artificial.

The painting on the instrument that she is playing is a continuous rolling landscape that you move with slowly. Beyond it there will be some more of the same—hills and rocks and trees against a blurred blue sky—here, the only wonder left is at the ordinary. The bows in her hair match the yellow of her dress, an intentional choice that her face does not betray. She watches her thin hands intently, only you cannot see their movement. The man sitting at the orange chair who does not face you is the man in the painting above him—he has to be. He does not watch his hands moving across the instrument he holds; there is some thought of after, when the movement and sound is momentarily ceased. She stands with one hand raised and a paper in the other, singing. The earrings and necklace she wears are the same as her friend in yellow. Like the women in the painting above her who are wearing similar clothes.

There is almost too much darkness, the room needs light. They do not look at each other now, their looks will be saved for the conversation after—the song has almost ended.

A window on the third floor

There is nothing that I can say about it. There are no people, no women talking, no horses, no faces, and no trees—there is nothing in this painting that I can see in the others lying next to it. I would like to tell you about the day it was made because this is the only story of it that I know, but perhaps I shouldn’t; to me the painting is only colours. So I will not tell you about how she turned a large calendar from Goethe Institute over, and stuck it on the wall. I will not tell you that she was fourteen years old, or of how she pushed a table to that wall and sat on the four large pillows she put on it. She can tell you that it was uncomfortable, but she is not here, so she won’t. She can also tell you that there was nothing on her mind when she painted that day, but she will not be able to tell you that either.

It is the corner of the right side that I like the most. The colours there are dark, moving from one to the next in no exact shape that has a name. There is, for instance, a red bean. It is a colour that doesn’t yet have a name, an odd mixture of crimson lake and Prussian blue. I can tell you that she first used crimson lake because of the way the Prussian blue looks on it—like circular waves, like ripples when you drop a stone in water when you are at a lake and feeling sad. Below the nameless colour is a green—not viridian hue—but at the moment, I cannot remember the name. It is muddy and dark, like the paste you made of Neem leaves when you were younger, to use in the cooking games she wanted you to play. The two of you no longer talk now. Around this is Prussian blue that has been scratched at in straight lines that criss-cross each other, looking like the mosquito mesh on your window. In some places the Prussian becomes cobalt blue because it was rubbed at with cloth—I see the advantage of using oil paints on glossy paper, it is so easy to make sure that nothing remains.

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There is more happening on the left; I like it less because it is so crowded. They are colours that move quickly and they are less similar—here it is more about the lines, than the blocks of colour. The paint is thinner and there are no layers, the colours scratched out by the backs of paintbrushes and toothpicks seem more hasty—like she ran out of songs to sing, and couldn’t wait to finish painting. It is not a bad thing. The burnt sienna close to the corner was mixed with too much linseed oil, I can see where it dripped down, and she did not notice. It has made a track of its own; it looks like a pathway cleared in the snow, though I have never seen snow. But the track is surrounded by almost haphazardly drawn lines that do not allow for dark colour, like new snow that falls and covers tracks. Somewhere above it the green looks like fire. She was always scared of fire; at six she hated matchsticks and she still cannot light one.

It is odd to touch. You think you can feel the lines but they are actually too close together; there is only more roughness than anything else. Involuntarily you look at your finger and expect paint, but there is nothing there.

White.

His hair is more grey than black now,

Wisps of grey cotton candy she dropped from her hand.

Hers would have been

Brown weeds of dark chocolate, 86%.

Five-thirty, he would have come home,

She had bought him his black office bag seven years ago.

Now on year ten, its strap is torn like the bottom of those kurtas he still fits into.

A gas cylinder undelivered, a leaking kitchen tap,

She waits, but his hand has stretched to turn on the television

–Why do you make the pasta so soggy–

She is by now already in their room, reading.

The question hangs on an invisible hook, a coat temporarily unused,

Unanswered, and staying.

Sunday morning, the mixed smell of coffee and payasam,

They sat together, him talking,

“But,” she would say softly, and he would stop to listen.

Him, quieter now, they would discuss her writing.

There is something of their old scooter rides around Bangalore,

Days now seen mistily in black and white,

Like that slowly smudging photograph of their backs, sharing lunch on a hill in Goa.

And there are still yellow rubber gloves in her full cupboard,

Stained brown from the last mixed dye.

But his hair is no longer black,

And now he cooks for the two of us.

To anyone reading

I must go now.

She was sitting on her bed, her night clothes in a ball at her feet. They were just away from the edge so that he would not bite them—he was still too small to jump up. This was her first letter, and she was excited. He was asleep in the corner, and she wanted to wake him up.

I have kept you long enough—she wrote—and there will be more to come anyway.

She set aside the letter; she would read it again later before she sent it. For a minute she remembered a story and smiled, of the girl who wrote letters and left them on the road for someone to read. They would have disappeared the next morning and she liked to think they had been picked up by someone, anyone; they couldn’t have been swept away.

Perhaps I’ll return with another story soon, there are so many I want to tell, she added.

She stood up, leaving her pen uncapped on the bed. Next to it was an orange stain made by a highlighter once left open. Later, she’d rub the blue ink stain with her finger wondering how it could look wet but not feel that way, and hope that nobody would notice. Her grandmother was calling her for lunch. She glanced at the letter again and left the room. It was on the middle of the bed, he would not be able to reach it.

Yesterday I tried to write again, it has almost been a week since my last attempt. I have not been able to write—what I say is not what I mean, and nothing said seems worth it. Appa says I should imagine stories, write about those other than my own, but how to do so, I cannot tell. The stories seem to arrive half-baked, the oven is not hot enough, and it seems like it’ll always fall short of that perfect, exact temperature. She sighed. This was supposed to make her happy.

But yesterday I sat anyway, and when no words came, I listened to the sound they made—I heard them being typed. I sat on my bed on the side closest to the window, hoping that the still air outside would move, blowing a story my way as it exhaled. It didn’t, but I heard the words being tried on and discarded, left hanging on a hook in the trial room, a word document saved in the hope that I would return to it someday.

Perhaps I noticed the sound because of the conversation we had had in the Department that day, she said writers were writers in movies because of the sound of typing—they were usually heard before they were seen. In my head there is an image of a writer, with space, with words, where being alone doesn’t mean loneliness. The writer in my head keeps her stories in notebooks; piles of notebooks written in with blue and black ink. She writes in the night under yellow lights, the pages look a murky yellow and orange; the words written do not look obviously black or blue but like something in between. She sat up straighter, going back to the top of the letter and reading it again. “To anyone reading, I am writing this letter because I cannot seem to be able to write anything else. It feels open, freer, almost, and perhaps this is what I’m looking for at the moment,” she whispered.

But I say that for the writer who types, this sound of the words is a part of the writer’s image. It is an impatient man’s nails hitting the glass table before him in quick succession, one bent finger after the next; the space bar is a sharp breaking of a piece of chalk as it hits the floor and becomes more pieces. I think of a machine but the word gives me too pointed an image. It is like a square, too defined and too sharp, when what I’m looking for is something like a circle re-drawn with a blunt corner. The back space key is longer, like what I imagine the spreading of a crack on a car’s windshield to sound like.

So I look for a lighter image, like a leaves falling from a tree, but it is too light—like a balloon left by a nineteen year old as two others look on, watching it float upwards lazily, happily. Here I cannot feel enough purpose, like in the image of the girl waiting at a signal light, her fingers tapping the steering wheel confidently on her second day at driving class. Later she said she had done it consciously, and now I don’t think I can do it unconsciously even if I wanted to. Whether I am now talking about the sound or the action, I can no longer tell. Then I remember a nightmare where I was a dot and things were falling on me, one heavy cube over another heavy cube, until I felt like I could not breathe, even though nothing else was happening. I took too long to wake up, and each key pressed was like creating a letter that was the heavy cube. This image, I did not like. She did not like remembering the dream. She looked at her watch and heard its hand move. It was a similar sound, but it didn’t fit her image.

Then I went to the tailor this morning. If I typed fast enough, typing was like the sound of the tailor’s sewing machine, I placed this sound with the loud beating of a weaving loom and the whizzing of a shuttle between its threads, and my writer’s image appeared complete. I added darkness, a yellow light, and this circle seemed to have a corner.

I must go now. I have kept you long enough, and there will be more to come anyway.

I thought they were the same

I was supposed to be home by five.

We were sitting on some abandoned slabs of stone that

looked like they wanted to be sat on. He was standing, she was talking,

I was listening but not responding. It was a quiet street;

some old houses, an older man, a slowly moving car.

I was picturing a staircase.

I was scaring her, she said, but I didn’t mean to. I was just picturing a staircase.

An upward-moving escalator that I got on but walked up anyway, just like Appa did.

What’s the point of an escalator then, she had once said, standing as I walked up.

I was walking up the black and white moving staircase when he spoke.

We’ll read your blog tonight, they said; those words would talk to them.

Even then I knew I wouldn’t write that night; the black and white constantly moving staircase

looked like it had been drawn.

I got home; it was around six, the figure at the dining table rose to go inside.

In my room, I opened her drawer to find something to draw with; there were oil pastels I hadn’t used for years.

I turned off my phone,

Coloured a large blue square leaving no white spaces. Satisfied, I covered

the blue with a purple, and then the purple with a darker blue, there was an urgency that I couldn’t place.

Five times I coloured.

An hour later I scratched out a staircase in the coloured square, what colour the square was, I cannot tell.

I wanted it to be like the one in my head,

but it was another.