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The Exile

by Deepthi Krishnamurthy

A woman’s memory of a traumatic night leads her into an exile of insomnia and silence. Deepthi Krishnamurthy tells the story through poetry and prose.

My neck hurts and my right ear seems to be twisted. I cannot feel the rest of my body. There was a thud a moment ago. Around me, it is hot as a furnace. I can see dying blazes from the corners of my eyes. There are shards of glass, black plastic parts bent out of shape, charcoal skies, melting tar, and a white, interrupted line that runs straight into the horizon. I can feel your presence vaguely. But soon, something explodes and leaves behind a buzzing silence.

I open my eyes. I’m relieved that I can move my neck. I find a mirror on the cupboard in front of me. On the mirror, there is that image of white curtains swaying and gently kissing the white wall. The image makes no sense. It is still superimposed with the shock of what I am slowly understanding was a car crash. It takes me a minute to understand that one of the images was a memory masquerading as a dream.

I’m sweating profusely. I sit up and peel the sheets off my aching body. At first, I gasp. Then, I breathe. It all makes sense. I remember where I am. I remember how badly I have needed to be in this exile. I look around my bed. One half of it is covered with books, wires and medicine strips. I grope in the darkness for the cold surface of my laptop. I open it and don’t even think till its brilliant white light hurts my eyes. The nervous cursor blinks back at me. I want to remember today’s date. How long has it been? A month? Two months? I look up at the date on the screen, November 15. I look at the time. I realise it is now technically tomorrow. It is 3:29 AM. I write:

Like two pressed
Springs set free
You and I
Found respite
Before we resumed
Our free fall
You yours
Me mine

The writing helps momentarily. It creates a clearing in my mind. I shut the laptop and close my eyes. The crash plays out again. I notice this time that we were both in the back seat. It hadn’t felt like we were going anywhere. But there was the feeling of being there. We had been talking about something banal, the pressed coils of springs that we were. I had never thought of us as being springs before. I understand things in the quietness of the night. I notice now, as it all plays out, that you were still breathing before the explosion. I will myself to sleep.

***

I can still feel your breathing against my belly. I hold you tighter. I dig my nails into your back. But in your place, there is now a shadow, heavy and dark. You have burned and left a hole in your shape within me. All that is left of you is smoke and ash. I am sweating and feel a sharp pain growing in my insides. I wake up to find the image of the white curtains kissing the white walls again. It seems almost violent, this image.

The night unleashes a flood of memories. I can now remember the cold calmness on your wife’s face as she passed the sterile corridors of the hospital. The claws of hushed whispers danced around her as people spoke of her miscarriage. I couldn’t cry for you after seeing her face. I watch these memories from a distance. It is like watching a movie, like reading a book, like overhearing someone else’s story. It is like watching raindrops pelting on the other side of a glass window. I sit up.

Outside, it hasn’t stopped raining all night. Not that it matters to someone who stays inside all the time. I follow a drop on the other side of the glass with my dry finger. It gets dragged under its own weight. I watch it hesitate, stop, and become a glowing globule—a prism that projects.

I wonder if it rained this much the last day we were together. Had we stayed inside because of the rain? Had the curtains kissed the walls that day? When was that day? I remember it was the August of the rains, of the choked tears, of the cadavers of miscarried hopes. I try to remember the last time I saw you. I can only think of your glasses, and they were not on you. I try to digest the fact that you’re just a memory now. I reach for the coldness of my laptop. The cursor is ready. It is tomorrow already—May 25. I must stop keeping track of how long it has been. This is, after all, my life now. It is 3:29 AM. I write:

A bubble has swallowed me
Inside, there is your scent
There is your voice
Your words float about
Disembodied
I wiggle my toes
In the amniotic sac
As comforting as routine
Claustrophobic as death
I suck on specks
Of clear joy
I regurgitate
Only your memory

I remember I was not supposed to be with you that day. I was never supposed to be with you. We were never meant to be together, to fit so perfectly in each other’s arms. Why had I not been able to feel guilty about it? It always only felt right. Until today. As time passes, my understanding of that day grows in layers as every night brings a new accumulation of meaning. I stare at the cross section of this ageing rock and it dawns on me that love is never without consequence. I feel the bile of guilt rising for the first time now as I realise that it might have been me who destroyed you by wanting you. The wall-kissing curtains are taunting me in the mirror. I gasp. I breathe. I will myself to sleep.

***

My neck is hurting. By now, I know the routine. I hear the thud, I smell the tar, I feel your breathing. I want to talk to you, to keep you alive. I won’t be passive this time and let you go. I will shout for help, tell you how much I love you, tell you everything like an actress in the movies would—in one perfect, sobbing, hyperventilating dialogue that wins all the awards. But I realise I have lost my voice. I gasp. I breathe. But I cannot talk, or scream, or wail. I dissolve into the buzzing silence.

I open my eyes to the mirror image of the curtains and the wall. I feel a breeze on my neck. I reach for my laptop. It is tomorrow, August 6, exactly a year since your body was peeled from me. But months and years have stopped meaning anything to me. It is 3:29 AM. I write:

There is a word for silence
Ironically, it can be uttered—
Silence—
Said out loud
To admonish courtrooms
Hissed menacingly
To muffle sobs
Whispered gravely—
A twist in the tale
Unbatting eyelids wait
But I can’t utter it
Since you took away my voice
Though in my mind I do
I utter it every day
Always saying it
With a startled question mark

I am still the same person as I was before the crash, except that I have lost my voice. The curtains kiss the walls. I walk across the room and draw the curtains close. They spread and bellow and kiss the walls even more dramatically. I shut all the windows behind the curtains. They go limp. They will no longer kiss the wall.

People sympathise and say things. They say that time will heal, that my wounds will go away, that I will eventually speak. But I no longer long to heal or speak. I wish to burn slowly in the silence you have left behind. That way, you will stay alive in my memories. I close my eyes and feel your breathing. I will myself to sleep.

Picture from https://www.flickr.com/photos/itspaulkelly/

Deepthi is a Copyeditor from Bangalore. She likes taking long walks and writing short stories. She attended the Bangalore Writers Workshop and the short fiction workshop at the Loft Literary Center, Minneapolis.
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