Prabha Zacharias

(10-03-1985 / Kerala)

The portrait of the dead wife


Aunt Eli was an immaculate kitchen,
her tiles neatly scrubbed.
Pots and pans of glazed metal
shone like little crystal moons.
Shelves were stocked with spices,
pickles, dried bitter gourd, tamarind.
Lizards and roaches stayed one foot away,
they were scared.

Life arrived at the kitchen each dawn
from dead slumbers and spiced snores;
breathing through bamboo steamers
pushing puttu out to the large mud vessel
swaying with the stone grinder
rhythmically tumbling a swell derriere
sighing with each sweep of the masala and
washing the stone back to jet black.

Uncle Joseph did all the right things,
begetting sons, making donations,
planting the right crops at the right time,
living the life of a good christian.
A huge white hound kept him company.
He always wore white mulmul
and nursed his hair with scented oil.
He feared god and fancied sin,
and seasonally strayed with claras
and rosies and susans and elsies.
He churned out hellos
dripping with secret charms;
casual enquiries;
angsty moans.
A Clara,
A Rosie,
A Susan,
An Elsie,
Desire.

Aunt Eli washed the scents
of putrid romances,
acidic sweat,
alkaline sweat.
Uncle joseph liked a particular shade of Robin Blue in his white mulmul.

One day Aunt Eli died.
He wept and wept and never calmed down.
He got a portrait made from memory
for he never clicked her photograph.
Clara's lips,
Rosie's eyes,
Susan's nose and Elsie's double chin.
Aunt Eli's immaculate smile,
her kind glance,
her peculiar frown,
her sweat drops on the upper lip too.
Uncle Joseph stared at it for half a decade.
It rained on his funeral.

Submitted: Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Edited: Friday, October 25, 2013

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  • Elin Grimes (10/21/2013 3:41:00 PM)

    This is beautiful - so compelling to read that you could turn it into a novel. There's something of the magic realism about it, turning ordinary, every day things and people into something which seems somehow magical and poignant. I really liked it and think you did an amazing job with it.

    Best of luck with the contest. (Report) Reply

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