“Kill someone”, Nandita snapped, and reached for more than a handful of potato chips from the bowl in her lap. Ashok, sitting on the other side of the table, watched her as her tongue scoured her cavities and poked against her cheeks. A sleek silver necklace, possibly bought at a flea market, chafed against her neck that glistened with sweat. She sipped from a glass of water and he could tell that she had to exert an effort; the wicker chair creaked as she leaned forward and shifted sideways.
“Kill the grandmother,” she said, “or her rabid horny pet dog, oh wait, kill the grandmother, she’s a drag – always sitting on the rocking chair masticating spite towards her ex-daughter-in-law who, by the way, is a pretty compelling character.” She placed a glance on him, as he had come to expect. She said, “She’s intense, three-dimensional, with a vibrant kaleidoscopic vibe about her.” She made slow, dramatic hand gestures as she said this, as if summoning a shamanic spirit.
Ashok fanned his face with a sheet of paper. Sun broiled his grubby skin, even in the shade where it seeped insidiously. “I say kill his ex-wife,” he announced. Aditi, the young author, peered at him curiously.
“The grandma is such a solid, soft, grounding figure in this maddening chaotic drama, poor man, spare him some grief, will you? Kill the wife, wipe her off the face of this novel, and let him be with his mother and children. Nothing more satisfying than a happy ending, is there?” He placed his eyes precisely an inch away from Nandita’s eyes, those obsidian eyes, on a building where two pigeons mated on a windowsill – the bedroom window of an old couple he knew.
“But she’s doing fine, she just got her ECG results in…” Aditi flipped around her manuscript with a crumpled forehead. “Chapter seven.”
“Give her gonorrhoea if you must, but fade her out, wipe the slate clean, uncork the possibilities, what do you think would happen now that she has left him?” He placed the fountain pen he had been nibbling at on the table. “She’ll meet him on a Tuesday night, grope his pants, soon they’re having sex on the living room sofa and it feels like a fight, she’s being nasty and he’s being furious, and then the kids arrive, and they’re having dinner but she’s put on that pallor again, she’s sobbing over cold pizza and… and I know where you’re going with your novel – it’s painful, it’s dark but it doesn’t have to be.” The pigeons were now pecking each other and although he couldn’t hear them, their guttural sounds clotted behind his chest.
He said, “What was the sex for anyway? It feels like a cop-out. Instead of groping the man’s genitals, the least she could do was sit down and talk about – about the issues – like adults. The sex feels gratuitous, like you’re pandering to the lowest denominator, and you’re better than that! You’re so much better that!” He looked up at the vines drooping from the ceiling, flailing in the heavy summer air. Aditi drew a sticky strand of oiled hair off her forehead and smiled awkwardly. Even as he looked away from her, Nandita was an insensate heaviness in his eyes that warped everything he set his eyes upon. The cacti pots. The neatly handwritten manuscript clasped in Aditi’s hands.
“I disagree” Nandita said, visibly shaking her head, as though she couldn’t disagree more, as though it were a dictum on all those years they had spent together. “I disagree.”
“Oh, don’t you always?”
“The sex” she said, and put the bowl up on the table again, “… was meaningful. Sex is always meaningful – uh – for this female character” She brushed a fleck of dust off the table. “It’s a dark place that she has tread into, she’s a dark character and she was expressing such tender vulnerability in the only way she could, it’s a different matter altogether that the guy doesn’t get it, he never does, does he, especially not on a day he’d jerked off thrice to his daughter’s swimming instructor with a fake French accent, what’s she like, twenty two? Oui? Two entire fucking decades younger than him?”
“She’s twenty nine,” he smiled, “…and aging with grace.” She was asking for this.
“I don’t,” Aditi murmured, ever so apologetic, “have a swimming instructor in my novel – I’m sorry if…”
Ashok let out a snort. “She’d make a wonderful addition to your story.”
“But you said I’ve too many characters”
“You can always accommodate a young, vibrant, reckless -”
“Don’t listen to the man, don’t listen to him,” Nandita crushed a potato chip in her fist. “It begins with wanting to be his protégé but he needs it more than you do.”
She rose from her chair – she couldn’t do this anymore, she never could – and walked over to the balcony in slow, disorienting steps.
Ashok leaned towards Aditi and whispered, “Don’t you bother, she’s out of her mind” He rolled his eyes. He was the kind of man who could roll his eyes at forty two and make a young girl like her chuckle at him.
“You’ve written a wonderful first draft, I’m impressed, I couldn’t do that when I was your age, I still can’t, I’m thoroughly, mightily impressed.” Perhaps, he had overdone modesty. “You have the trappings of a good author.”
Aditi beamed at him. He whispered, “A successful author.” A figure appeared at the window, and the pigeons flitted away towards sunset.
“Oh that means so much to me,” Aditi was smiling weakly, she was still confused but he could see a flicker of delirium in her eyes, as though she had chanced upon something wildly precious. He saw Nandita at the balcony, leaning over the edge, her hair dangling midair and her posterior protruding towards him, towards them.
“I want to fall” she’d say, coyly, her silk peignoir flying in the breeze, inviting him to grab her from behind.
“I want to fall” she’d keep saying, it wasn’t exactly what would make him come, but she’d keep chanting it until he would. He watched her now, a solid silhouette against a pale purple sky. A flock of cackling birds rose in the sky around her and dove behind a building.
“I’m struggling with the plot” Aditi said casually and edged closer towards him.
He scratched his stubble. Nandita turned around and walked back to her wicker chair. Her performance was over. Her fingers pressed on her oval opal pendant. The sex always throbbed with meaning, if you could call it that.
“Don’t worry about the plot,” he said, “Just go where the story takes you.”