When Mike says, “It’s not you, its me,” the words singe the pit of Ana’s stomach, fiery, scalding and blistering.
Urgently, she scours floors, baseboards, and ceiling fans. Sheets churn, sudsy in the washer.
A month later, Mother introduces her to solicitous Neel who has shiny teeth and filed nails. For the next three Saturdays they take in a movie, a play, an art show. On the fourth date, she cooks dinner.
On Monday, he texts, “It’s not you, it’s me.”
In a frenzy, she empties her kitchen cabinets. Her dishwasher hums. Silverware gleams spotless, glassware sparkles. Bottles of cinnamon, cumin and turmeric stand in alphabetic order.
At her sister’s anniversary party, she’s seated with widower Dev. His hands tremble as he invites her to his office picnic. He brings a vegetable tray, says he’s scraped and washed the carrots, double-rinsed the broccoli. She says she likes her veggies clean.
Then, he places his arm around her, draws close.
Her body turns into wood, taut muscles hugging bones. She holds her ankles tight, knees together.
He withdraws the hug.
She scrubs and scrubs her body in a frothy tub, between her toes, behind the ears. Sticking a finger nail inside her belly button, she removes lint. She digs, but cannot clean the singe inside.
The doctors say it’s not Mike, Neel or Dev.
She digs deeper; it hurts. She screams.
Since the attack in the parking lot, she cannot get clean.
Perhaps she never will.
Sudha Balagopal’s recent short fiction appears in Whiskey Paper, Jellyfish Review, Dime Show Review and Vestal Review among other journals. She is the author of a novel, A New Dawn, and two short story collections, There are Seven Notes and Missing and Other Stories. More at sudhabalagopal.com.
Image: Pablo Varela