Step right up and invent an enemy. Tell him about it. Tell him how you feel now, like marshmallow wrapped in bacon. Tell him about the sea, your flooded home, the jetty with two sail boats that honeymooners hire to go out and anchor in the middle of the waters. Tell him about the markets spilling with cheap wares you buy, for your people can no longer afford the standard ones, no longer buy books, or go to the movies, and how each day, the level of water rises, the tide encroaches, nibbles at your backyard, licks the fence just abutting the sea, takes away a little as ransom for another day.
Hear him answer in monosyllables at the other end of the line, for his commander will not allow conversations, particularly since he’s a boy cadet. Less than a year in the corps. Imagine his ill-fitting uniform, the humid air, the smell of sweat under his collar. Hear him drop sighs, whisper low and feeble like foetal wind before a storm. Think of him as a wilting morning flower.
Stop really. Draw breath. Strain your ears to listen to how his lips move, his tongue flickers. Don’t catch what he says last.
Step out of the booth, into the gravel, hear the land groan one step at a time, look at your painted toenails, with head hung upon your chest.
As you walk towards the deserted quay, you unfurl fingers, count the months since he promised you, since you loved him back, since he went away. Raise your eyes when thunder claps on the marble hills, like something snapping somewhere. On the last grey hill, watch a bank of clouds, marvellously dark. Dwell on the scenery, watch the clouds cross the threshold of holding together, of keeping within. Let your eyes devour the pain when they burst, fall in torrents.
Brace yourself. Take the oars of your tiny boat, row out towards that rain, for your home is out there somewhere, on an island. Play the conversation in your mind. Run it fast, run it slow, run it in reverse. Linger on what he said last, wonder if it was real. Like the lightning you think hit the waves just now.
Did he say it? Was it what your ears had heard, between sobs and a thumping heart?
Was it, Forgive me?
Mandira Pattnaik’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Flash International Short-Short Magazine, Atlas & Alice, Citron Review, Watershed Review, Passages North, Amsterdam Quarterly, Bangor Literary, and Timber Journal among other places. On Twitter @MandiraPattnaik