Fiction: Incredible Harmony – Parambir Kaur

FICTION – The Literary Jewels: Vol.2, Issue 1

INCREDIBLE HARMONY

By PARAMBIR KAUR

Even today the sight of a dilapidated house or a dried up, dead tree standing anywhere transports my mind back to the time when I used to be a frequent witness to the presence of both of these together. This relates to about three and a half decades ago. I was doing graduation at the time and Srishti used to be my constant companion and friend in college. Even her house was merely a stone’s throw away from my parental home. And it was our wont to visit each other off and on, in the evenings for an effervescent chatter. Srishti would invariably take me to the roof of her single storey house, and we would stand near the parapet, our arms resting on it. The adjoining house had a large muddy compound, with only a ramshackle room, standing in one of its corners. Half of the room’s roof was missing and the remaining half could give way any time. A run-down door-frame too stood there as if to certify that the room had doors in its better times.

There stood in the yard of the ‘house’ a large, tall, stark dry, dead tree, devoid of even its bark. The top branches were too brittle to sport even the weight of a kite or crow. Whenever one or two of these birds landed on its higher, thin branches, these would break, thus making the bird fly to another branch but the same would be repeated. It was such a sight to see a number of crows and kites descending on the tree, flitting from one branch to another, only to return disenchanted or probably they made a game of it. The ground beneath the tree was scattered all over with dry twigs. The huge size of the tree did indicate though, that during its heydays it must have been a safe haven to a large number of birds. It must have also provided cool shade and maybe some fruit to the inhabitants of the house!

A very old woman dressed in dull and nondescript clothes could be spotted, very rarely of course, when she moved out of the battered room, on some purpose. It was mostly to draw water from an old-fashioned, rickety hand-pump which stood quietly in another corner of the plot. She walked with the help of a stick, bent with the burden of age and probably desolation too. We never saw her making a sound of any kind.

The fact that I found most incredible about this place, was that all the occupants of the ‘house’ were so identical, all past their prime and in absolute unanimity with each other. They not only looked alike but ‘sounded’ similar too; in fact they were all so silent. What chance must have brought all these together, at the same time and place! The tree did not have a single leaf which at least the wind could have rustled while passing by it; the old lady had probably resigned to her quiet, lonely state and made no sound at all; the room did not even have a door which could have produced some creaky sound and even the forsaken hand-pump was so silent when water trickled out of it!   To an onlooker it seemed that they had all got used to contemplating and conversing with their inner-selves. One also wondered where those people could be, who could have thrived and basked in the glory of the old woman’s blessings!

Fiction: ‘Sulochna’s Delight’

A short story by K.Parthasarathi

Sulochana had moved into this apartment recently after her transfer. Her parents were expected to join her after winding up things at their previous place. Her apartment overlooked a lake and the complex had all facilities like a swimming pool, gym, walking pathway and a small store. She worked in a marketing company as Finance Executive. Her parents were looking for a good match for her through matrimonial bureaus and friends. She had come here just three weeks back and was yet to get acquainted with people there.

It was morning and she was going through the daily over her Spartan breakfast. Just then the bell rang. A young man was standing with a small packet in hand.”Are you Sulochana? There is a packet for you”, he said.

“Yes, I am Sulochana.”

“From whom could this packet could be?” she loudly wondered.

The young man, clean shaven and adorning a well pressed shirt, was very handsome. His curly hair did not fail to make a favourable impression.

“How would I know! The name of sender should there be on the packet”, he said with a smile.

Sulochana gathered herself from admiring his looks to the task in hand and said, “Okay, please give me the packet.”

He handed over the packet and said “Yes, here you”, and added, “this is the first time I am coming here. You must have moved in recently” he said in a baritone voice that was as arresting as his looks.

“Yes, yes, I came here three weeks ago on transfer. Thank you very much.” she said

Even after he left, she was still recollecting his pleasant features, without having opened the packet.

There was a romantic novel of Danielle Steele inside and she could not figure out the name of the sender.

Two days later, the same person was there with yet another packet.

He smiled at her and said, “You seem to be getting such packets frequently.”

“Frankly I do not know who sent the last one. I am unable to recall any one by that name. Let me see who the guy is this time” she said. On seeing the packet she said with a surprise, “It is the same fellow. What do you suggest? Should I receive the packet from unknown people? Why don’t you take it back?”

“I think you should accept this time. You can reject the next time or send a letter to him at the address asking him to desist from sending. What was that you received last time?” he asked.

“Some romantic novel. Okay I will take it for now but will surely refuse the next time. Now something personal, I wish to ask you. You speak well in flawless English and must be a graduate. Why are you working in a courier company as a delivery person?”she asked.

“I am a post graduate Ma’m.But I like this job and am doing it willingly” he said with a loud chuckle.

“Pretty strange. How I wish you had some ambition” she said with a touch of disappointment.

He looked at her intently with a grin.

Her parents had moved in during the week with their bag and baggage. They settled down at the new place and liked the ambience. The next Sunday when the three were having breakfast, her dad asked “Sulochi, can you please get me my mobile from my bag in the bed room”

When Sulochana opened his bag to get the mobile, a photo fell. She was surprised to find it was that of the young courier boy, who had delivered the packets. Wondering how his photo was with them, she rushed to her dad and asked him “Tell me, papa, how is it you are carrying this photo of a courier boy in your bag?”

Her dad looked at it and said “What crap are you talking?”He turned to her mom and said “Look at this foolish girl calling him a courier boy” He then turned to Sulochana and said “Do you know his qualifications? He has a doctorate besides a string of degrees and is working in a senior position in a reputed MNC in US. We are in the advanced stage of finalizing him for you.”

“Papa, he is a cheat. He has already delivered two courier packets to me. I know him. He is no doubt handsome and speaks good English. I think he is taking you for a ride” she explained.

“I know this young man’s parents. Anyway they are coming this afternoon to meet you. Let us have this matter resolved then” he replied calmly.

At 3pm they all came in a swanky car. He was accompanied by his parents and sister.Sulochana saw from the balcony that it was the same courier man. After some initial pleasantries, Sulochana was called to the drawing hall. When her eyes met him, he smiled at her with a faint wink. She rose to the occasion and asked him “Have you any packet for me to deliver today?”

His parents looked at him in confusion while her parents were embarrassed. It was then his sister broke the news that he had used this ploy to get a glimpse of Sulochana before this meeting. He had the details of her from his parents. His parents and sister broke into peals of laughter much to the amusement of Sulochana’s parents and, of course, to her delight.

Fiction: ‘Ugly to Start With’

 A Story by John Michael Cummings

We called her Skinny Minnie because she was terribly skinny when we first found her hung up in the chicken-wire fence across the street. At first, even Dad was nice to her, letting her stay inside, near the wood stove. Everybody wanted her on their bed, too, because her coat was soft and clean. She had obviously been an indoor cat, Mom said, wondering where she came from. Her small neck had no collar, but we checked at the houses on our street anyway. Nobody missed her.
When warm weather came that year, Skinny Minnie wanted to go outside. She sneaked out and stayed out for hours, sometimes overnight, and all the next day, too. I started finding her in the backyard, curled up in a sunny spot in the bamboo, sleeping. Soon she came and went as she pleased, and we learned not to expect her. Apparently, she had been an indoor/outdoor cat, as Mom called her.

One time, when Mom and I went for a walk down to the train station to see the river, we saw a silver tabby slinking around the old spur.
“Is that Skinny Minnie?” Mom asked. “Here, kitty-kitty.”
It was Skinny Minnie all right, but she darted off. It amazed Mom that she had wandered so far from the house, and then didn’t recognize any of us—ran from us like strangers.
When I got sick with shingles and was home in bed for a month, Skinny Minnie came to my bedroom window every afternoon. Somehow she was able to leap from the weedy lot next door to the sill of my stained-glass window, where she stood on the narrow ledge and meowed until I let her in. It was lonely in the afternoons, being sick and lying in bed for hours, my brothers in school, the sounds of the town far below, my mother far below, too, on the first floor, two flights down, where she couldn’t always hear me when I cried out. Skinny Minnie was a welcome companion. She kneaded my stomach, but was too light to hurt the shingles on my side. I petted her until I fell asleep.

When I began to feel better, Mom brought me sketch paper and pencils. I sat up and started sketching. Every afternoon, Skinny Minnie lay like a donut on my bed, breathing in and out softly. She was still staying out all night and came in during the day just to sleep on my bed. When she did, I drew her as she slept. Every now and then, I reached over and petted her and admired how her coat felt. I looked at the silver stripes and blotches and tried to show them on paper by using the side of my pencil. I found that I could, without much trouble. Mom put one of the drawings in a frame.
With late spring came high weeds in the lot next door. Then the big bully cats arrived. You could see them swaggering through the new nettles, looking for trouble. My brother threw broken-up bricks at them every summer, but they came back every spring. They came from the Groves’ house down near the church. Mrs. Grove had hair as red and frizzy as copper wire. She had no kids, and her cats and dogs were always dirty and on the loose. Her nephew Dink wandered through our backyard once and spit peanut butter on our swing set. My family might have been lowly West Virginians in the eyes of out-of-staters, but the Groves were really low-class. In the winter, when there were no weeds in the lot, you could see across into their back yard. There was a big pile of coal near their back porch, which was black from the coal being tracked in and out of the house.
Soon Skinny Minnie was getting into fights in the weedy lot. We could hear wild cat screams at night, and when she showed up at the door in the morning, her coat was dug open in places, and bloody sores glistened.
“Oh, poor thing,” Mom said, stooping down to touch her.
She was in too much pain to be picked up and was in no mood to be touched, either. Mom tried to keep her on the back porch, in a box, until she healed, but she didn’t take to it. Instead, she meowed at the door, wanting in. Dad said no, not until she healed.

Even after she healed, no one wanted her on their bed anymore and wouldn’t let her sit on their lap, either, because of her scabs. I shoved her off mine because she was gross. We all did. Then, when she came in one day with more fresh wounds, Dad started chasing her out of the house for good.

“Get out,” he said whenever he saw her, and she shot out through a crack in the door.
Night after night, I heard her crying. A long, painful cry that wouldn’t stop. I covered my ears with pillows, but still I could hear it. The Groves’ fat cats were picking on her. I opened my window and shot my BB gun into the dark, trying to hit her or whatever was scaring her, to make the whole thing go away. But she kept crying, sometimes screaming out the most awful scream. I lay there praying she would die and go away and I would never remember her.

Sometimes whole days passed, and she didn’t show up, and I forgot about her for a while. Then she came back, looking worse than ever. Her soft, perfect coat was matted with sticks and dried blood. She had a limp, too, and half an ear was missing. I couldn’t bear to touch her, couldn’t stand having her near me, either. All she did was sit there and moan, her wounds oozing. I pushed her away. She was gross. At night, she tried to get in through the stained-glass window, but I wouldn’t open it. I could hear her faint meows. They seemed to go on for hours.

When summer came and I was home, I started shooting at Skinny Minnie with my BB gun whenever I saw her trying to come near the house. I could see the small, gold BB hit the side of her body. She jumped as if she had stepped on electricity and ran back into the overgrown lot. My body shuddered. If only she would die, then I wouldn’t feel the embarrassment anymore. That’s how my family was. Whatever it was, if it was ugly to start with, or turned ugly, we were ashamed of it and wanted it to go away.

Still, Skinny Minnie kept coming back, though more and more cautiously each time. A couple of times she looked up at me in the window from the edge of the weeds, as if asking why.

“Oh, poor thing, just look at her,” Mom said whenever she found her at the door and Skinny Minnie held still for her. There were more raw sores everywhere. “Oh dear—Bill, what’d we do?”
Dad said nothing could be done.

I could feel my mother crying on the inside. She hated the way my father ran the house. Skinny Minnie was something else my father did wrong.
One day I realized that Skinny Minnie had not come back in a long time. I asked Mom where she went.
“Oh, I think the poor thing went away to die.”
I just stared at her.
“They do that when they’re sick,” she said.

I did not wonder so much about death as where the place to die was. I checked the spot in the bamboo. I could still see the little impression her body left. I looked out my window into the weedy lot and called out. I went down to the train station and looked around the old spur.

It was just as well. I didn’t want her around, unless her fur was perfect.

*John Michael Cummings is a short story writer and novelist from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. He is the award-winning author of The Night I Freed John Brown.