LINES SO SHARP
You stand on the balcony of this ancient castle looking down at the American President’s wife, eyes transfixed by the pearls in three rows against her neck like teeth sucked from the ocean. White gloves from fingertip to elbow separate her, mark her celebrity and off-limits. Your status from the arranged marriage affords you this glimpse, but it’s like a bird looking down at a lioness.
Here, in India, the other young women chitter. And why not, you want to ask, but you’ve promised your husband that you won’t make any more scenes. This word he spits just before saying good night, his sturdy door locking hollowly behind you. Now, from the walls centuries old but as strong as ever, keeping out the poor and pestilent, you raise your hand, desperate to reach across time and space. Months you awaited her arrival, fantasies of sharing meals, of grasping her skin around her elbows, whispering your condolences about her Earth-returned child, asking her to grant her mercies upon your own swollen stomach. There is no time to think of ways to get closer. No way to land at her feet, so you wave at her back.
When the news of her husband’s assassination makes it to your country, you sit in the closet, legs crossed, and scream. I know, I know. The pink dress, so feminine, its lines so sharp, but soiled with blood and loss. You no longer wish to be her, and yet you continue to ask for pearls, because the desire for elegance never leaves your mind, because all other escapes are forbidden. You think, but do not utter your wish to drape them over your child, a talisman, surely, for though her husband is dead, Mrs. Kennedy lives, broken-mouthed, and rotting with grief.
Your due date comes and you hold the bloodless infant in your arms, dabbing endlessly at the forehead that will never wrinkle at the surprise of your touch. You ask for pearls and you are rebuked with a solemn shake of the head. You demand white gloves and your husband acquiesces under your silent grief. For days he makes promises while you wait for the cloth to arrive, inspecting every thread before sending it off to the tailor. How you hate yourself for not having the skill to sew them yourself.
And still you pray for Mrs. Kennedy, twinning her eternity with that of your child’s as if braiding their hair together. You pray without hope, rote ritual creating a stupor that numbs. You blow softly down the length of your child’s body, guiding her spirit out to the balcony where it might mingle with the wind. Again, you think of those pearls, wondering what it would feel like to run them through your hands. If spirits could nestle into objects, you think this would make a fine palace for your child to spend her eternal days.
Tommy Dean lives in Indiana with his wife and two children. He is the author of the flash fiction chapbook Special Like the People on TV from Redbird Chapbooks. He is the Flash Fiction Section Editor at Craft Literary. He has been previously published in BULL Magazine, The MacGuffin, The Lascaux Review, New World Writing, Pithead Chapel, and New Flash Fiction Review. Tommy Dean’s story “You’ve Stopped” was chosen by Dan Chaon to be included in Best Microfiction 2019. It will also be included in Best Small Fiction 2019. Find him @TommyDeanWriter on Twitter.
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