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It’s just… too much, some days. Most days. Resulting in me getting nothing done. No work. No stories. There is barely a thought I can keep straight in my head.
The Muse of the Month is a monthly writing contest organised by Women’s Web, bringing you original fiction inspired by women.
Rashmi Raj is one of the winners for the February 2021 Muse of the Month. About this story, our author juror for this month, Damyanti Biswas says, “This is an emotionally resonant story: it represents every housewife and her attempts to find the self she loses to her family.”
It was originally titled ‘Hold That Thought’.
Darkness slow and deep, quiet, still, unmoving, unbreathing in a dark, sugary sleep: no pain, no joy, no sight, no sound, no taste; she remained floating, distant. She wouldn’t wake up, she’d stay in this cotton-wool world, its soft, sleepy music lifting her up through the roof, the banisters, the rooms up above, through the entire weight of the building, its steeple. She rose like a wisp of cloud…
“Is the pain too much?”
I look up, startled. “Huh!”
“The pain,” he asks again, as if speaking to a little child – annoyed, but knowing only too well there is no point showing his annoyance – “is it too bad?”
“No,” I lie; “not since I took the painkiller.” The truth is, the painkillers have stopped working now that I have been taking them for too long.
He nods, though, believing me, taking me at face value.
She rose like a wisp of cloud…
“Good,” he says, “but this is not right, you know that. Someday these painkillers will stop working. And then? Then what will you do? What will we do, have you thought of that?”
I nod. “I know,” I say, “I will be more careful.”
“No more unnecessary baking,” he says.
I shake my head in agreement.
“No more experiments of baking bread at home,” he goes on. “We can buy as much bread as you wish to eat. Please. Don’t go standing up longer than is necessary and kneading that dough.”
I nod my head in the affirmative. Not because I agree with him. but because I want him to stop. To go away, back to his study and back to work, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
I look at the clock, I have fifteen more minutes before the children are due back from school. i. e. due to run out of their respective rooms once the school hours for the day are over.
If he goes away now, I can take those fifteen minutes to myself.
As if he can read my mind, he sighs. big. And turns to go back to the study.
And I squirm in my chair. As much as I wanted him to go, his actual going has created this big vacuum on my side. A big void that I don’t think anyone or anything can fill. A moment ago, I couldn’t wait for him to get back to work. But now, I want him back here, next to me, asking about my pain!
As if reminded that I am thinking of it, pain shoots up my right thigh as I try to move it. It’s a muscle cramp. It has been there since I woke up in the morning. I haven’t been able to move much all day. I have somehow managed to send the children away to school by feeding them breakfast on time, and then I managed to get up on my feet again to get everyone’s lunch ready on time. But now, I am done. All energy has left me, and I am here, sitting in the armchair by the bay window, taking in the silent, quiet breathing time to myself before the children come back and I have to be available to them. And while I sit here, I create stories in my head. Stories that I want to write. That I know I should be writing – I am a writer, after all – but somehow never end up actually writing. In fact that was what I was doing when he interrupted me, asking about the pain.
He wants to help, I know. He is my husband, he doesn’t like seeing me in pain, and then trying to manage that pain with painkillers. I know that. I know he cares. But the way he shows it, is weird. His first reaction, if something happens to me, is that of getting angry at me. No, he is not a bad person. He just somehow thinks, that if I take better care of myself, not overdo things, then I can take better care of my health.
And he has a point. It is a little too much that I indulge myself in the kitchen. I mean, I always liked baking – who doesn’t like cakes and cookies, right? And last year, when the lockdown was announced, it was the one thing that helped me stay sane, and cope. And so I began baking. More than I baked ever before. Soon, the cakes and cookies that I started out with because more and more complex, and elaborate. I moved from regular choco-chip cookies to macaroons; from simple sponge cakes to banana cakes, to the most recently tried out Black Forest cake. Not just with the cakes and cookies, I somehow also got this idea in my head that I loved homemade whole wheat flour breads! And for the past three months, I am experiments with bread-baking for a large part of my day! In fact, it is this bread baking – more specifically the kneading for ten to fifteen minutes – that has had an adverse effect on my already painful legs, leading to the muscle cramps that come out of nowhere rendering me immobile and gasping for breath.
I am only forty. And in reasonable health. But even I know that being reasonably healthy is not the same as being fit. I know that my stamina is not what it used to be before the pandemic. I used to go out and about then. Get some walking done. But now, it has been almost a year that I have gone for a walk or indulged in any form of regular exercise. I figured, I was doing quite a bit of work in the kitchen and that was going to be exercise enough! Well, turns out, that is not the case. I need to have continued with more and more exercise, apparently – in addition to the kitchen work I immersed myself into.
But that was difficult. You see, mornings went in trying to wake the children, feed them breakfast, and get them to school on time. Mid-morning, I tried to catch up with some work, but that was the time my husband took his phone calls, and chose to help me around the house – sweeping, mopping, cleaning, anything that took his fancy. And then I would sit there, watching him hover around me, and instead of feeling the love and the connect that I should have, I felt an overcrowding of my mental space, and then I couldn’t get any work done, the accusing cursor blinking adamantly at me! And so then I would go online, to take my mind off of the fact that I cannot concentrate with people hovering around me, and check out some cooking video or the other.
That is, in fact, where the love for breadmaking came from. To distract myself from the fact that I was getting no work done, no writing done, with the whole family working/studying from home, crowding into my physical as well as mental space, taking my concentration away!
I am a fairly good writer as the few books that I have to my name can vouch for. And I enjoy the process of writing. Of creating something raw, and beautiful, and alive, with mere words, using just my imagination, and the time that I had at my disposal.
But since the pandemic hit, that time that I had at my disposal changed.
Earlier, I was fairly alone at home at all times. And the only things keeping me company, were my stories, my characters. My work. And I did quite a lot of it then. But now, there is time still, sometimes, but that time is riddled with someone, or something being around me, wanting something from me, saying something to me…
“Mum!” my son shouts from his room. “Mum where’s my Karate uniform? I have a class at four ‘clock!”
“Mummy, can I have a slice of banana cake? Can I have it with both caramel and chocolate toppings? Please?” my daughter comes to me with large innocent eyes, asking for her favourite sweet treat.
I check the clock, there’s only an hour before my son has to get ready for his online Karate class. I better make some snack for him quick, I think, even as I smile at my daughter and say, “Sure, but only if you give Mummy a sweet, sweet kissie!”
Am I annoyed? I think, wincing as my daughter climbs up in my lap, hurting my painful thigh muscles all the more. No. I realize, I am not annoyed. I am grateful.
Grateful for the family I have. For the husband who cares enough to get angry when I don’t take care of myself, and two lovely children who still need me.
As for my work, I will find time to do it. Later. Someday, when I am bored of all the cooking and baking experiments, when the bread will cease to be an item of awe, and become merely bread; when I will learn to navigate my mind space better; my work will be there for me.
Meanwhile, it is time to get busy with snacks and tea. I gently put my daughter down, and slowly stand up, out of the chair, coaxing my thigh muscles to cooperate with me, once again. Someday, I will begin exercise too, to make them feel better. But for now, I think another painkiller after tea should take me through dinner time.
Editor’s note: This month’s cue has been selected by Damyanti Biswas, author of the multi-faceted and fast paced crime fiction book, You Beneath Your Skin, reviewed here.
Damyanti Biswas currently calls Singapore her home. Her short fiction has been published, or is forthcoming, at Smokelong, Ambit, Litro, Puerto del Sol, Pembroke, Griffith Review Australia, as well as other journals in the USA and UK. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart, Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions and is available in various anthologies in Asia. She serves as one of the editors of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her debut literary crime novel, You Beneath Your Skin, was published by Simon & Schuster, and optioned for screens by Endemol Shine. She’s a mentor at Pitch Wars, a program for aspiring authors, a blogger for the past thirteen years, and sends out a curated monthly gazette for writers and readers.
The cue is from her book You Beneath Your Skin, which you have to incorporate into your entry – whether at the beginning, end or somewhere in between.
“Darkness slow and deep, quiet, still, unmoving, unbreathing in a dark, sugary sleep: no pain, no joy, no sight, no sound, no taste; she remained floating, distant. She wouldn’t wake up, she’d stay in this cotton-wool world, its soft, sleepy music lifting her up through the roof, the banisters, the rooms up above, through the entire weight of the building, its steeple. She rose like a wisp of cloud. “
Rashmi Raj wins a Rs 750 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations!
Image source: shutterstock
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