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Of course it isn’t easy! Do you think it was easy for her friend to achieve all her dreams, even as she was dying? Or for Annabelle herself, to write about that as a story?
Our Muse of the Month series this year focus on stories that pass the Bechdel test, and are written on inspiration from a new prompt every month. This month, the prompt was “Darkest Nights; Brightest Stars”. The story should pass the Bechdel Test, that is, it should have at least two well crafted, named women characters (we differ here slightly from the classic Bechdel test, in that we require these characters to be named),
The third winner of our December 2018 Muse of the Month contest is Vijayalakshmi Harish.
Taylor Swift is on the radio, telling me to “shake it off.” There is a gun in the glove compartment, that I’m not sure what to do with. I’m racing past the oil wells and wind turbines and my heart is as arid and as exposed as the Texan landscape.
I’m driving 30 miles above the speed limit, pushing 100. I’m hoping a cop will stop me. But no one does.
In the mirror, I catch a reflection of myself. Hair disheveled, mascara running. Very unlike my usual poised self.
Monahans Sandhills State Park. Next right.
I don’t know why I take that turn.
I have a vision of shooting myself in the head, in the middle of the desert, my blood soaking into the white sand dunes, under the cover of darkness. Maybe I will shoot myself in the same spot that Anurag proposed to me.
Or maybe I will drive back and shoot that cheating, lying, two-faced snake to whom I have been married to for the last 10 years. For whom I sacrificed everything –my home, my career, my happiness.
I don’t know yet.
But I am tired. I need to rest. And the desert is as good a place as any to scream out loud about the unfairness of it all.
It’s 4:00 pm. The sun will set in an hour’s time, and I expect the visitors would’ve all left. I just want to spend some time alone. My head feels like a wasp’s nest that has been poked.
I park as close to the dunes as possible. Grabbing my purse, I trudge over the sandhills. I’m not wearing the proper footwear and my heels are tripping me up, so I abandon them. Something about the cold sand between my toes is soothing, and by the time I reach my chosen spot, I have calmed down somewhat.
I lie down. Spreadeagled. There is sand in my clothes, in my hair. I don’t care. It feels good. I am beginning to understand why Sita asked Mother Earth to give her a home underground. I wish I would be swallowed up by the Earth myself.
Above me, the sky is starting to go grey, and in the horizon reds, pinks and purples are layering themselves across the sky. The city lights in the distance are beginning to twinkle. It is beautiful.
I close my eyes and weep.
I open my eyes and see a woman standing above me, grinning. She is young, blonde and way too chirpy looking. I wonder if the woman my husband is having an affair with looks like her.
“Hi.” I reply, trying to make it sound like “Go away.”
She doesn’t get the hint. Her smile widens.
“Can I sit here? I was worried everyone had left the park, but then I saw you. It’s getting dark and I’d rather not be alone.”
“Why don’t you just go home then?” I ask.
“Well, I’m kind of here to take pictures of the night sky,” she shrugs, pointing to her camera.
It seems ridiculous to me that this woman who does not want to be alone in the dark has chosen to come to an area that is sure to be lonely in the dark, to do something she can only do in the dark. I want to be alone. But now that she has asked me, I feel I cannot say no.
“Hmph,” I mutter noncommittally.
She lays down a beach towel carefully near me, and plops herself down on it.
Hoping that this is the end of the conversation, I close my eyes again. It has started to get really cold and I’m shivering.
“You look cold. Do you want to share my shawl?” she questions.
I want to say no. I don’t want anything from this freakishly happy stranger. I want to wallow alone in my misery. But my body has other ideas.
“Yes, thank you,” I find myself answering as I slide up to her.
“My name is Samantha, by the way,” she introduces herself.
“Nice to meet you, Sarita,” she chirps.
We sit in silence, watching the horizon swallow the sun.
“Do you have some water? I seem to have finished all of mine,” she requests after a while.
I remember that I have a bottle in my purse. I dig for it, and in the process, the book I have stashed in my purse falls out.
“Annabelle Johnson! Are you a fan?” she asks, picking it up.
“Yeah. She is my favourite author,” I say.
“I’ve heard her writing isn’t very good,” she responds, wrinkling her nose.
I snatch the book back from her. “Whoever told you that doesn’t have very good taste,” I snap.
She laughs. “Okay, tell me then. Why do you like her?”
“Because her stories are so inspiring! I like that her heroines are spunky, bold and unfraid.”
“Oh! That does sound interesting!”
“So, what’s your favourite book by her?”
“This one!” I exclaim pointing to the one I’m holding.
“What’s it about?”
“It is about a woman who is fighting cancer. How she overcomes it and then relapses, but in the process also manages to achieve all her dreams. It’s told through the POV of the woman’s best friend. It’s really motivating. They say that it’s autobiographical. That it is based on the life of a real friend of Annabelle Johnson’s. But we’ll never know, will we, because no one even knows who Annabelle herself is! Such an air of mystery around her!”
I realize that I’m speaking excitedly. My mood has been lifted, just a bit. Just because I’m talking about my favourite book to a stranger.
“I wish I could be like that,” I murmur.
“Bold. Fearless. The kind of woman Annabelle writes about.”
“I’m sure you are. Annabelle writes about the everyday woman. So I’ve heard,” she quips.
“It’s not easy to be so courageous and to keep one’s hopes up through all the trials of life.”
“Of course it isn’t easy! Do you think it was easy for her friend to achieve all her dreams, even as she was dying? Or for Annabelle herself, to write about that as a story? To share that dark, gloomy part of her life with the world? Assuming what you said about it being autobiographical is true. And forget that. There are so many women, everyday, who go through so much hurt, and who still stand up every day and turn those mountains of sorrow into molehills,” she chides me passionately.
She has got a point. Mountains into molehills indeed. It reminds me of my mother, who after my father’s death brought me up on her own. And my maasi, who fought the “bro club” and rose through the ranks to become part of the senior management in the company where she works.
I feel a twinge of embarrassment about the way I’ve reacted to finding out about Anurag’s cheating. I can do better than this. I owe that to the women before me.
This woman hasn’t revealed any great new truth to me. All she has done is remind me, at the time I need it the most, about the things I know to be true.
The sky above us is pitch black now. This state park is part of the Dark Skies Program, aimed at reducing light pollution from artificial lights and promoting star gazing. And how!
There is a blanket of twinkling stars above us, stretching into infinity. I’ve never seen such beauty before. I can see the constellations clearly, and even the faintest stars glow boldly.
“Darkest skies, brightest stars,” Samatha says, smiling as she clicks pictures.
I think of all the women I know, who have seen the darkness in their lives, not as a threat, but as a way to let their inner beauty shine.
I’m at peace now. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do next, about Anurag; about any of it. But I know that I am going to embrace these dark times in my life, and turn them into something bright. There are ambitions I’ve set aside to stand by Anurag, to make sure I’m always there for him. I’ve been the perfect wife. Now, it is time for me to be me. To make myself happy. It won’t be easy. Divorce will be hell. Finding a job, setting up an independent life for myself. All huge mountains to climb. I will do it though.
But first, I need to pee.
“I’m going to the restroom. Want to come?” I ask.
“No. Go ahead,” Samantha replies.
When I come back a few minutes later, she is gone, and so is all her stuff. My book and my purse lie side by side, illuminated by the full moon.
I pick up the book, shaking the sand out of it before I can put it back into my purse. I have a six hour drive back to Dallas. Might as well get going.
I notice something scrawled on the title page.
Dear Sarita, Make molehills of your mountains! Darkest skies, brightest stars! – Love, Annabelle Johnson (You know me as Samantha)
Vijayalakshmi Harish wins a Rs 250 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations!
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"There is a story and a vision which makes us gravitate towards cinema. Even as we worked as assistants on ads, we realised that cinema was our true calling," say Gunpreet Kaur Mann and Deepali Singh Raseen.
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Let me introduce to you the talented designer duo who have worked on these, and can be considered today’s upcoming costume designers for the screen. Gunpreet Kaur Mann and Deepali Singh.
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A ‘thank you’ makes a lot of difference in the way any woman in your life sees herself in your eyes. It might even mean the world to her.
I have not received any appreciation in the past. Probably never will. This is the experience of ample women across the globe. The expectation to be thanked for all the sacrifices she makes to keep others happy has faded. Yet the urge to hear few words of acknowledgement always lingers.
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It will mean the world to your mother if you answer her calls. If your sister seems lost give her a hug and assure her about her strengths. Tomorrow, there might come a day when you would have to make your daughter feel empowered with few words of wisdom every now and then. For the children to feel wanted and loved, you must be able to spare some quality time with your wife and be present in the moment.
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