June 21, 2020 by The Citron Review
by Mandira Pattnaik
Not since Philip has left that Jo’s gazed this intensely at the string of moving dashes on her bedroom wall. Peeling off paint, running from behind the four-poster bed, where fragments of Philip stuck to her and came unstuck, like their love, gushed out. The fire ants are moving to the window, beyond which they’ve made conspicuous mounds on soft earth.
Jo notices the damp softness of the grass, sunshine sieving through the Gulmuhar drawing an unverifiable mosaic, the dew glistening like a bed of gold. Then the ants trailing others, joining family. But hey, there isn’t any tiny hole visible, into the mounds. Aren’t her eyes allowed a follow? Into their lives, one of them. Belong.
She’s been severed off! Like the rest of her own.
Jo thinks her life’s a mishap. Her infant face never emoted. Mum put her on medicines after the initial diagnosis. Doctors thought she was ‘suffering’ more than she should. It was upto the counselors to put her on track, they said. Mum didn’t think it was a disease. Just a syndrome with a name, she’d say, like little eccentricities we’re all carrying. Huh! Tic that makes you more human!
Now that face is shielded under a hoodie jacket. Twenty-two years bridged in by hiding–beginning at the school library behind enormous cabinets until well after school-hours so nobody could talk to her.
Jo and Mum kept up with sessions when they could afford. She met Philip at the counselors, brushed shoulders, an alarm buzzed off. Philip said hello! She shrunk in her jacket. Mum laughed, like her life depended on it, until what remained was a speck that glistened at the corner of her eyes. Her death was merely a link broken in the chain; another domino piece taken off. She’d attempted it twice before. But that plunge did it for her.
The doorbell rings again. Or so she thinks. This time she doesn’t scamper down the stairs of her shell of a home; only tiptoes, the hallway clock ticking. She doesn’t open the door; stands and waits for Philip to say something from the other side. She swears she can hear his breath, like Philip whispering in her ears in bed before it all denuded.
There’s only the rustle of dry yellow-orange maple leaves on the other side.
Rain begins to batter the walls of her heart. Philip would be here if she called just one more time; told him she needed him. He’d know he could hold her so she didn’t hurtle down. Yes, she would run back to her room, call him.
Jo rushes up the stairs; searches frantically for her phone and struggles not to get distracted by the silhouette of a semicolon in watercolor on her wrist to cover her first attempt, one of a clan of snug tattoos, engrained as reminders of the scars on her soul. Besides they hide her skin.
She dials Philip once again. Again she’s met with the monotonous drone that she imagines to be the pounding of Philip’s heart as she lay on his chest. As always, she trusts him to be on another call; believes he is busy.
She’s beginning to be hypnotized by that tone again, when Philip answers.
A flock of pigeons take flight, an arrested breath escapes.
This time there’s a pause. Then he cuts the line off.
The fire ants are still on their way, still kissing on pheromone tracks.
Mandira Pattnaik is a word-weaver who chucked her Economics degree for the love of making up stories, some of which have made their way into places like Watershed Review, Splonk, Cabinet of Heed, Eclectica, HFR, Lunate, Door=Jar, Gasher, Panoplyzine, Spelk, and Star 82 among others. She is a finalist at National Flash Fiction Day New Zealand Microfiction Contest and longlisted at Australian Writers’ Centre.