I told him, ‘Don’t tell me how your wife tightens up when you enter her because she’s scared of becoming pregnant.’
I didn’t want to know how deeply the two of you mould into one parental unit, I didn’t want to know how deeply he was prepared to betray you to be with me; I didn’t want the remnants of you scattered like tight seeds in our future. I didn’t want the shadows of your songs, your shared liturgies of the everyday; I didn’t want to think of you at all.
But I have ever since. When I think of him, you are the echo. Hear me out.
I’m telling you about a man crazed by love. Remember his last conference in Madrid – when you were angry he was away, leaving you to shift into the new apartment by yourself? That’s when I called to tell him I’m pregnant. With heart-stopping gentleness he said, we’ll do whatever you want. I cradled the phone to me long after I disconnected, I cradled it like a fragrant baby to my breast; I cradled it blind with happiness, eyes sparkling. A week later, a clot, large as an eye, bleeds out of me. I felt it coming down, my heart with it. I called him in London. Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t make me limbless so far away he said, don’t ache my love, don’t cry; don’t cry, don’t cry I told myself as I drove to hospital, drove back. Back, he kissed my flat stomach, he made a semen drawing on my ache and made me laugh again. He gifted me chandelier earrings and you the small ones with amethyst, he showed yours to me. You always showed poor in comparison. I didn’t want this. I preferred feeling good without you. Always without you.
But he couldn’t stop, your husband. He told me how you needed make-up sex; he told me how easily you get duped; he told me you’re not like me so he’s got to be around to clean up the mess. That’s when I realized you weren’t stupid at all; rather you use your girlish and charming naïveté. While I had courage, beauty, wit arrayed against me. I’m a three-headed clay pigeon.
One day he said, I’ve got a flat for you and me near the office; I let him know how much I liked it, he liked it. He couldn’t believe he’d managed it, we couldn’t believe we’d have entire nights together in this city; I couldn’t believe you hadn’t caught on. But you had, hadn’t you? You let it steep, you know him intimately. But let me tell you I never got more than three steps in before your husband was on me grabbing my hair, ramming me against the wall mouthing between kisses I can’t get enough of you baby; making me drop my handbag, making me stall one shoe on, one shoe off. He’s a greedy man, your husband. As once, he must have been for you.
You haunt me like a ghost twin. So hear me. Let me tell you we had nights, seasons, years of gasping into each others’ ears the brief enigma of the body’s bloom – that is part language, part silence, part amalgamation of both and yet beyond; we both listened and did not to our twining monologues of passion; we both spread and convulsed as our blood ran wild hand prints over each other in designs delicious, dangerous. Let me tell you he has brewed coffee for me while standing naked, he has washed and conditioned my hair – all of it; he has rocked me when I had nightmares, his voice washing away terror, brewing comfort in my ears. He has seen me sleep; he has said he is stilled by my beauty as I sleep; that he falls asleep with thoughts of me sleeping, his eyes growing sad and distant while he spoke. Your husband and I have laughed tumbling naked over each other, we’ve cultivated amorous nicknames for each other’s pleasure; he has wept into my palms.
But the day he said he’s stopped making love to you because his love for me made him monogamous, I wondered: what next? I wondered off and on as he poured wine, as he cooked for me, as he stood dumbstruck when I emerged, not in lacy lingerie but an old nightdress, translucent with wear, him saying stand right there, stand against the light, as he kissed my feet, my ankles, kissed his way up to my sex. I wondered off and on how long you’d stand being deprived of him in bed. I wondered, scared for him, scared for me, scared of you. A fish of fear leapt in me, trying to flee somewhere far away and be forgotten; it leapt and leapt in my throat trying to leap out.
But was it that night or some other that I asked him, are you like this with your wife too? That once, he was silent; his muteness betrayed him. Because I wasn’t comparing the two of us, raging, loving antipodes, rather noting similarities in his behaviour towards us, his shared ground. Yes, I wept. Secretly. Once I asked him that question, your husband made up in ways I couldn’t have imagined; with a wildness that rode on anguish, with an unknown freedom in our lovemaking; he said we’ve done things they don’t show in porn movies. Let me also tell you he’d cradle me in tenderness, his pleasured body curled behind mine, nesting, his lips on my nape saying, shhuu, lie still. I’d awaken with his legs and arms heavy on my body and when I slid away to wash and returned, he’d open his arms like someone lost and breath my name in my hair as if it were he who is lost and has now found home.
Yet I am excluded; walled in, walled out, walled between secrecy and the spirit’s splendour. You don’t know the gut-ripping isolation and torment of this space, this definition, this way of loving your husband. He has shown me your photographs; I demanded he does. A semi circle of smiling faces: child-you-child-him against mountains, sunsets, walls that were merely walls. I know you are pretty, younger but your arms flap, you are no patch on me yet complacent in a way I never am – and long to be. I know every inch of your face.
I have never known what my feelings are towards you, or should be. Hatred, victory march, scorn? You have given me such sorrow. But I sometimes wondered about your loneliness and despair when you pretended he’s working late, pretended I’d disappear if only you looked away long enough, pretended a gnawing normalcy at home with the kids and him while you gathered your resources to fight not him, but me. Listen, you-with-kids-who-have-your-eyes-and-his-smile, you should have fought him, not me. I was never your finest enemy, I was jewel and outcaste; I am love. Birds of rapture flutter around me.
Think of my life. A strange silence hoods me; void yet filled with your life. I’d be howling and surprise at being o so lonely, so hurt when your husband is crazy in love with me and he’s snug, arguing with you about the children in a secure domestic spat. When Nina should see the dentist for braces, whether Vicky needs maths tuitions, should you renew the lease with the tenants in your other house? I’ve known your life better than I’ve known mine.
Yes, of course I know about Nina’s serious bleed after a tooth extraction; her pillow went wet with blood spreading like a flower disfigured that night and you couldn’t reach him because he was with me. He had no thought of you and the kids; he was with me, in the timeless space of happiness, understand?
I shall plunge a wall here, at this very point of cruel coincidence, raise it up to the heavens. Stop the porosity, stop the excuses; make me a corpse.
Yet memories mottle, blister, ooze. The morning after, in a bloodbath of guilt and recriminations our love – your husband’s and mine – burst like a boil in your home. He hugged Nina, her small body seared to his, and broke down.
You know what happened, I shan’t tell you what happened to me; I don’t want to know what he went through as he tried to reconcile irreconcilables.
Yet remember this: when he said he wanted ‘time out’ from me to sort things out between the two of you, I pulled out. I did this not for him. Nor for you. But for myself. A sheet of lightening pulled back, got lost in its self, illuminating loss. Can you imagine how forked darkness spreads?
I’ve imagined the make-up sex you and he needed. I know its sweet desperation, its savagery; I know it is never enough. I know his guilt, I know his ridiculousness; I know my love.
I’d walk down familiar places and be lost, I’d drive, not knowing where I am driving; I’d shop not knowing what I’ve bought, I didn’t know why I was doing the things I was doing or how to stop doing them. I didn’t know how to stop thinking of your husband, or you; youtwo.
My life became a maze, unreal and continuous, collapsing and re-forming, through which I moved as if on an endless airport escalator not knowing what my destination was, waiting, waiting, waiting… Then I heard you were pregnant again. Suddenly I grew steel wings and fled this city; this city was too small to hold your growing child and my larger abandonment. I banished myself.
But do you know what? Your husband calls me today. Out of the blue. I’m undone again. My longing and vengeance churns. I don’t know who to turn to except you. What should I do?
Priya Sarukkai Chabria is a poet, writer and translator. Her publications include Dialogues and Other Poems (2005) reprint (2006) and Not Springtime Yet (2008), and novels The Other Garden (1995) and Generation 14 (2008). Sarukkai-Chabria edits the website Talking Poetry and edited the anthology 50 Poets 50 Poems. Recipient of Senior Fellowship to Outstanding Artists from the Indian government, she has worked with the Rasa Theory of Aesthetics, co-founded a film society Friends of the Archive and collaborated with classical dancer Malavika Sarukkai. She is translating works of eighth century Tamil mystic poet Aandaal, writing a travelogue, and a story collection; all three books are to be published in 2012. She’s at www.priyawriting.com.