Thursday, May 27, 2010


The child swims inside of me as if I am a great ocean. Even through the cacophony of battle, you must hear her flailing arms slapping against the water that embraces her. This one, our last one. As she emerges into the world, she will call to you.

Together we have created thirteen, my love. Thirteen times before I have become a vessel for what we mold together. We grieved as seven children slipped away from us not so long after entering this world.

I am the envy of the two women who came before me, yet I confess that sometimes I envy them. I envy their solitude, the quiet of their lives all their own, and the moments that you slip into their arms, though rare and only when I am as now. Once when I believed that you had gone to one of them, I found you sitting quietly in the garden, surrounded by the song of birds. You chose instead to nestle amidst the blooms and snaking waters of the charbagh, the garden child of my imagination. That child will also survive me.

Today, our seven lost children dance about just inside this earthly space. Often as I give birth I see them as sparks in the air and hear their small voices in the wind. This time I hear and see them more clearly, and among them are the unfortunate little ones who left this world with bellies empty. No matter how much I tried, I could not do enough for all of those children.

Here in Burhanpur and not far from me, you fulfill your dream of empire, your hands streaked with blood. Yet I know your heart teases you to abandon that struggle and to return to me, my Khurram. Come and take into your arms our tiny Gauhara.

Around me, this rowdy group of small earthly strangers, unfettered by worldly expectations, all shout with the sound of tinkling glass and beckon me to come with them, to truly be their mother at last. I see a vision of a white dome rising from the grounds of Agra as I pass. But as I leave, your whisper of my name, Mumtaz, echoes always in eternity.

"O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you."

Friday, May 21, 2010

Aunt Agnes

Inspired by a true story.

Every family should have an Aunt Agnes. What I mean is that every family should have an Aunt Agnes issued to it, if they don’t have one already. Otherwise, there’s no justice in the world.

This morning I’m settled in my office in front of the computer working on a Powerpoint presentation when I get the call.

“They’re taking out the black bags again.”

“The black bags?”

“The bags filled with the chopped up body parts. They’re taking them out and leaving them in my yard.”

I massage my forehead. “Agnes, we’ve already talked about this. Your next door neighbors are a nice couple from Vermont. They’re not serial killers.”

“The two of them are stacking the bags up against the fence. I told them to keep the bags away from my gate. At least twice, I told them.”

“Aunt Agnes, I…”

A protracted silence is followed by the repeated clicks of a cigarette lighter and a long drawn in breath. I can visualize the smoke curling across Aunt Agnes’ face the texture of fast food fried chicken. “And they disturbed my nap with their jackhammers.”

I thread my fingers through my hair to rub against my throbbing scalp. “There are jackhammers?”

“Destroying my driveway. That’s probably where they plan to bury the bags.”

As usual, my next call will be to Aunt Agnes’ neighbor Polly who lives across the street from her and who will confirm that there is no jackhammering in Agnes’ driveway just as she verified the previous week that the FBI was not scouring the neighborhood arresting people for using DVDS in violation of the video warning nor that Jehovah’s Witnesses were going door –to–door threatening people if they use the Internet. “Call Uncle Jack at the police department. He’ll check on the situation.” Again, I think to myself.

“Can’t you come over? I don’t know how much longer I can hold them off.”

“I’m busy, Aunt Agnes. I have a report and a presentation to finish.”

“When I was a bookkeeper for Huffmeyer Ford they let you work your own hours.”

I let out a sigh. “I’m not a bookkeeper. I’m a Financial Analyst for a bank.” Not that she would know the difference.

A muffled disapproving grumble crackles through the headset. “Well, when they find me in the bottom of a dumpster at the Stein Mart think of me when you divide up the booty.” While Aunt Agnes lives in what from the outside appears to be a lovely little cottage on a tree-lined street, she stuffs it with every garage sale find within a 20 mile radius. Every item in the house smells of a combination of sickly-sweet talcum powder and fried liver and onions. Whichever of her twelve nieces or nephews she willed the house to will be cursed to deal with all the stuff inside, for which the remainder will be elated to be relieved of any responsibility. Happy day; I’m her favorite.

My boss sticks his head in the door. “Beverly? You about ready?”

I want to shout, no, no, no, but instead lower the phone from my mouth and smile. “Almost. Another ten minutes?”

“Ten minutes in the conference room.” He is slightly annoyed rather than raging mad. Thankfully, my headache does not intensify. Time to end the call. “Agnes, I have to get back to work. Call Eddie and I’m sure he’ll be happy to come over and help you hold vigil.” Eddie is Agnes’ sometimes boyfriend.

More muffled crackling grumbles. “Eddie is so last week. You’ll come after work then. You get off at 3?”

“I’ll be there around 5.” I hang up without saying any more, knowing that she’ll talk for the next 30 minutes without noticing that I’m gone.

At 5pm and after ignoring three voice mails from her, I get in my car and set off for Aunt Agnes’ house. Once I turn onto her street, I notice police cars in the vicinity of where she lives. I wonder why six officers are leaning up against one of the cars just outside the neighbors’—the serial killers’—house. The police appear to be stalling before they take action, whatever that may be. The thought suddenly crosses my mind: she got it right.

Mr. Burnsides, the insurance adjuster originally from Vermont, peers out through his barely open front door as Aunt Agnes on his porch chatters away. She wears a robe held open by her hand on one hip just over the bottom half of the cotton underwear ensemble she has on underneath it. She is wearing hot pink high heels and dark red lipstick. A cigarette is wedged between the fingers curled against her hip and a long rope of ashes dangles out of it. From her head emerges a shock of hair recently died a color that can only be called maroon.

In her free hand, she holds a black plastic bag. And a copy of the Watchtower.

Friday, May 14, 2010

That Day in Spring

In front of the building, Emma skirted the drive where the cars piled into a traffic jam. Parents frantically waited there to pick up their children as quickly as they could to get home before the roads closed. The principals released all the students early, instructing them to go straight to their houses without stopping.

As Emma moved away from the school building, she walked the flawless white sidewalk slowly and tried to ignore the unnerving stillness. On what had been a beautiful spring day, clouds gathered over the streets now empty of people. A heavy silence muted the usual trill of birds.

Emma startled when an olive green car abruptly pulled up to the curb beside her. Both of its occupants smiled broadly, their eyes shrouded by opaque sunglasses. The one nearest her in the passenger’s seat spoke to her through the partially open window. “What are you doing outside, miss?”

“I had to finish something at school. I’m on my way home now.” She continued to walk at a slow pace.

The man in the passenger seat smiled even more broadly as Emma answered him, as if he knew something that no one else did. The driver turned his head to survey the area surrounding the car. The man in the passenger seat looked out at the street, the lenses of his glasses too dark to make out his eyes. “You had to finish something? A school project?” The tone of his voice didn’t threaten her.

“Yes.” Emma lied, warming to him as he took an interest in her.

The car continued to follow beside her. “Did you finish it?”

“The project? Yes.”

The driver then leaned over to speak through the open window. “Want a ride home?”

Her mother’s warnings about strangers snapped into her head. “No. I just live over there.” Emma pointed down the street.

“Okay. But we’ll stay with you until you get inside.” The driver moved back behind the wheel.

Emma crossed the street as the car pulled past her and up into the driveway of her house. She ran to the door and rang the bell even though the front door key was lodged in her pocket. Quickly moving footsteps came from inside as someone approached the door. Emma waved at the occupants of the car, then turned back to see her mother standing in the doorway, her face as she saw the car fading to pale. She quickly pulled Emma inside and shut the door.

Seven years later, the temporary situation born on that springtime afternoon lumbered into another year of the “great crusade” and “the salvation of the nation.” The handsome face of the Colonel who preached this gospel still stared out at her from billboards and handbills routinely disfigured until they were replaced. He never aged.

Not long after her eighteenth birthday, Emma sat on the floor in a dark room where candles painted their ephemeral twilight across the wall. Stale damp air crowded into the empty spaces. Emma pressed her back against the wall.

Across from her, Elena from another part of town finally finished the story she had hesitated to tell of that same day in the spring. “In the middle of the night they came to take me and my neighbors on both sides. Pushed us all into buses with the rest of the people they picked up, even though there wasn’t enough room for all of us. The bus took us to the gym at the high school. Everybody cried and I could feel everybody shaking all around me. We couldn’t sit down. When we got there, I saw so many of them, so many people with guns.”

Emma knew without being told that Elena had not revealed before the words perched on her lips slightly parted. “I never told anybody about what happened that night. I never said what they did to me.”

She brushed the side of her face with the palm of her hand. “I never did. And I never will.”

Friday, May 7, 2010

Save the SMU Press

Instead of a Friday Flash entry today, I'm posting a link to information about the elimination of the SMU Press. The Southwest Review, SMU's literary magazine, may also be threatened. Unfortunately, the only way to respond is to send a snail mail to the president. Here's more information about the issue:

And the President's snail mail address:

President Gerald Turner
PO Box 750100
Southern Methodist University
Dallas, TX 75275

Let's hope that he has a change of heart when he hears from the public.