Honorable Mention – Flash 405, August 2022: “Burn”
Opportunist—I was jolted awake to find Ganga walking-rocking my bawling, one-day-old baby, his skin like ash and his mouth open like a young birdie’s beak and all the new mothers in the ward tche-tched, held their quiet-milk-drinking sons and daughters close to their bosoms, the ayah barked expletives and I closed my ears, betrayer—Ganga, that old bird who had been in the labour room of all of Pillai’s daughters and Ganga who had come running to attend to my labour and postpartum, Ganga who shushed-soothed my hysteric, why-did-you-come-at-all like it was baby blabber, slept under my cot on the floor littered with feet filth and bed-pan spills, scoffed at the still-shouting ayah and stopped near one of the cots, holding out the baby like an invitation and Ganga’s intent made me edgy and the woman said no, thief, my head pounded, yet undeterred, Ganga moved on, like a brown mountain to the next and next and next cots only to get negative responses, loser, Ganga who was there to wash my baby clothes, Ganga who was there when I left Pillai’s house to marry the baby’s dad, and Ganga who was now back to wash my baby’s clothes, was now walking towards me, having failed in her mission to quieten my son who was still bawling, through the still-cursing women, to mix powder milk, to crush my breasts to collect a drop for my son to catch the taste—when all of a sudden the woman opposite my cot gestured to Ganga, the same woman who had delivered a stillborn last night and was waiting to go home took my son, and Ganga, relieved, shushed and cooed to help the bawling birdie-mouth close around the woman’s cold nipple, beggar, leech, home-wrecker—I watched as metallic blows shuddered through me, as Ganga returned with my sated, sleeping son—guiding the birdie-mouth to my waiting nipple, his latching sending a static current that filled my breasts, his suckling landing me in hollow places, and in the room’s soft light that fell like tears, I told Ganga about Pillai’s curses that had blazed in me all these years, the howling flame, my Jeeva Jothi that singed my soul and my son’s newborn skin, stoked and stoked and stoked every time I fell, surging the need in me to live up to be his daughter and also tore me away from it.
Such lovely twists of language here. I love the running current of the child’s “birdie-mouth” throughout. The way the burn is something bubbling underneath this story, always simmering, waiting for release
Vijayalakshmi Sridhar grew up with stories—both telling and listening to. She explores the angst around relationships in her fiction.
Photo Credit: Sergiu Vălenaș