S.Pradhan

United Kingdom

Message to Readers

I've been told that the best way to make your work feel real is to pull inspiration from yourself. If I was able to, I would have liked to describe themes of familial strife and building a new life from the ashes of the last, both of which I think I've felt to an extent. This story was an attempt for me to look at myself through an outsider's lens, so I'd love to know whether you related to it on some level.

Yellow Carnations

November 9, 2020

I let my bag hit the ground with a crack, probably breaking whatever dollar store perfume bottle I’d shoved in it at the last moment, which was rather deserving of the bottle in question. It’s not like it impressed any interviewers today. I’d been job-hunting for the past few weeks after being fired from a restaurant, they’d said my bachelor’s in math didn’t help with waiting tables.

The smell of wilting carnations filled my kitchen, pungent and sweet, with a hint of cloves. I shuffled through my ratty old bag and found the bottle, a crack snaking down the side of its canary yellow glass. I picked it up and wrapped it in a swathe of tissues, but something about its shining lemon glass had changed. A distant memory tugged at the roots of my hair, familiar voices and yellow pedals entwining together at the corner of my eye, a memory that begged not to be forgotten, but eluded me all the same.

“Have a look at these flowers” proclaimed a rough voice, echoing through my head with the sound of thunder. It was a rough voice, too rugged to be a child’s voice, much less a girl’s. But it was still Sonia’s.
“Did you pluck them out of the chai shop’s garden?” The scene appeared clearer now, I could see myself raising my eyebrows in distain at the long yellow blossoms clutched in Sonia’s palm, dirt still clinging to the roots.
“Amir told me that carnations mean admiration.”
“And?”
“And what could be a better gift for Bapa, a man who we all admire?” Sonia said waving the flowers proudly, scattering dirt on our new carpet.
“Those are yellow carnations, stupid, they mean failure. Still a fitting gift for Bapa, though” qipped Amir, who’d emerged from his bedroom for the first time that day, seemingly with the singular goal to irritate Sonia.

The memory started to dissolve away into snatches of light, as if it had done its duty of resurfacing and was now content to fade away into oblivion.
Bapa had been around then, and Sonia too, always at his tail, pestering him with questions until he answered with a disinterested drawl, albeit a sparkle in his eyes.

The odor of carnations started to grow a bit too strong. I pushed the bundled up bottle into the dustbin, tossing a few extra tissues after it in a fruitless effort to mask its scent. Giving up, I hauled myself over to my couch and threw myself down, a hiss of air escaping the worn down seams. I should do something about that, part of me said. Or you could not, a different part of me offered. I hid my head under my arms for a long moment, longing to vanish into the folds of the sofa and emerge when I actually had something to do. My inter monologue’s debate with itself nestled at the back of my head, weighing my eyes shut but not letting me evaporate into sleep.

A buzz against my leg pried me out of the limbo I’d fallen into, startling me into sentience. Maybe an interviewer had a change of heart after seeing my pitiful condition, and had decided to go against all protocol to hire me. I fished my phone out of my pocket with an almost pathetic amount of zeal, and for an instant wondered what Bapa would think of me, his youngest daughter awaiting a phone call like her life depended on it.

I flipped my phone open only to be greeted by an unfamiliar number and an area code that I didn’t recognize. Great. A wave of nausea swept up and threatened to close my airway. I felt sick, thinking about how exited I’d let myself become over what was probably a confused old lady trying to call her grandkid. The feeling revulsion built up in my throat and burnt at my eyes, leaving me short of breath, alone on my couch. I pushed it down, down deep into my chest, and when I was sure it wasn’t going to explode outwards, I declined it with shaky fingers. The old hag can figure out how to use a phone on her own.

Barely moments had passed when my phone started up again, the pattering ringtone I’d set starting to drill holes into my head. I reached for it again with a groan, wishing more than anything that my battery would just die so I didn’t have to move again.
“Listen lady, I think you got the wrong number-“
The voice that cut in was anything but old.

“Is this Mitali? Mitali Nayk?” The smell of carnations came rushing back to me. Yellow carnations, fresh dirt and bloodied fists. What could be a better gift for Bapa?
“Sonia?”
The voice at the other end, in all its familiar roughness, cracked a bit. I couldn’t tell if it was a sigh of relief or of defeat. “Mitali. It’s uh, it’s a bit sudden, but could you pick me up at DXB at four? I- I can’t ask Amir and I don’t have anybody else’s number-“
“Ah- yeah. Yes. I mean, Sonia- why”
She went quiet for a moment. “Mita- I- I can’t tell you why. Just trust me on this.”
Any hesitation I heard disappeared as the line went dead. I pushed myself back against the couch and let out a curse.

It’s been three years.
It’s been three years since Bapa died, and three years since Sonia left.
The girl who had held a fistful of honey colored flowers for Father’s Day was a mirage, a hallucination caused by the summer heat. The girl that ran away three years ago was reality, cold and hard and cruel. So what is she doing now, a woman who acted on logic, returning to a home that had nothing to offer?
I slid back down and breathed out a heavy sigh. What has she done now?

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  • November 9, 2020 - 10:06am (Now Viewing)

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1 Comment
  • anemoia (#words)

    Wow. So much pain and suspense! Congrats on the mention!


    3 months ago