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Previously in Unbound Fiction:

"Logic Game," by Doug Dorst (January 20, 2000)
"Lydia and her husband, Oscar, are giving a dinner party. They have invited eight of their oldest and best friends. The guests must be seated at the dinner table according to the following rules...."

"Girl and Marble Boy," by Edith Pearlman (December 29, 1999)
"Nina Logan stood facing the masterpiece. Its nakedness had unnerved the Lauras. Its beauty had been lost on the twins. Its politics had left the potheads cold. Its pose had sent her mother off on a mysterious errand."

"Dreams of the Old Green Man," by Poe Ballantine (November 17, 1999)
"Death wore plaid green knickers and a large silver pocket-watch that made a sound like a lumberjack cutting down a tree. I knew if he kissed me I would die."

"Be Here Now," by Lisa Zeidner (October 20, 1999)
"Everyone knows that misery is messy. But happiness, Alice thought, is messy too. Dense, busy. Weed-studded."

"The Bell Rope," by M. J. Clement (September 22, 1999)
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I don't want to cause any trouble, no parent should have to go through this, death of a child is a cruel thing."

"Everyone Please Be Careful," by Lucia Nevai (August 25, 1999)
"He's more than a pet, my baby, less than an actual socialized man."

More fiction from Atlantic Unbound and The Atlantic Monthly.


February 24, 2000

A Catalogue of Change, by Piya Kochhar

TREMBLING HAND: Once upon a time a long time ago, a lady is crossing a road. When she looks down, her left hand is shaking, and it refuses to stop. "Nerves," her doctor tells her. "You worry too much." The lady keeps worrying, and she stops playing cards. She also acquires the habit of hiding her hand under her sari's shawl.

VERY WHITE TEETH: A girl walks up a house's steps one winter and the lady greets her, kissing her hair, her eyes, her nose. The lady smells of Nivea cream, and her flannel nightie feels soft on the girl's skin. She holds the girl's face between her palms. "Let me look at you," she says. The girl looks at the lady and almost screams. When the lady smiles she looks like a skeleton; her teeth are very large and very white. Dentures, the girl finds out later on, ill-fitting dentures that never seem to get corrected. The lady can't eat meat because it slips off her teeth, and she can't eat a piece of Toblerone. The chocolate gets stuck on the top of her plastic gums and does not melt.

A PHOTOGRAPH: The lady remembers a small black-and-white photo with rippled edges. A man and woman are lying on a bed. Between them is a child in a white sleeper. They are looking at each other, heads on soft pillows. They are smiling because the man has said something, and the thought of it makes them happy. "Did you think this day would come?" Between them is their first grandchild.

WEIGHT LOSS: On a summer afternoon when everyone else has gone shopping, the girl enters the lady's room. The lady is supposed to be napping, but she is standing on the scale instead. "What are you doing?" the girl asks. The lady peers at the foggy window with numbers on it. "I've gained weight. I've gained weight. Too many sweets." The girl leads the lady back to her bed and makes the lady touch her hips. "No, I've gained weight," the girl says. "My 'freshman twenty' to be exact." The lady begins to laugh -- a silent laugh, mouth open, tears rolling from her eyes. She's lost sixty pounds.

VARIOUS THEORIES: Everyone in the lady's family has a theory about what she has and why. Her husband believes she simply wants attention. Her daughter-in-law believes she's lost her mind, because of all the worry the lady's husband has caused her. Her son believes she has Parkinson's mixed with Alzheimer's. Sometimes the lady will rattle off a number to the girl. "291-9680. Who lives there?" the lady asks. The girl dials the number. It's the lady's sister. The lady wouldn't remember who she is.

A STORY: In the early morning the girl looks at the lady's palms, which are pink with thin lines. The heart crossed at Jupiter. The mount of Saturn marked by a bursting star. The lifeline divided in two, a forked tongue. And the brain, straight, unwavering; an arrow crossing a river.

SUICIDE ATTEMPT: One winter when the girl returns home, her sister watches her as she washes her face in their grandfather's small yellow bathroom. "She didn't accidentally overdose, you know," the sister says. The girl looks up at her in the mirror, water slipping down her face onto her neck. "She didn't overdose; she tried to kill herself." The sister is crying. "He showed me the note. He was crying. He said she didn't want to be a burden to him. She thought he was having an affair. He told me not to tell anyone." The girl hugs her sister, and doesn't know what to do. They don't say anything to anyone.

EMPTY CUPBOARD: The next summer, the girl takes stock of the lady's cupboard. Three salwar kameezes. Some cardigans -- red, white, pink, blue. Some nighties -- paisley with white flowers, soft green-cotton, one solid-pink flannel. Seven pairs of woolen socks. Two pairs of Birkenstocks.

DUSTY BOOKS: One day the girl and the lady's husband sit on a bed while he tries to feed the lady guavas. The girl notices a cardboard box filled with torn romance novels. "Are you selling these?" she asks. The husband swallows a radish. "Yes, to that man in C-Market. He's giving ten rupees a book. A very good price. He's coming tomorrow." The girl looks out the window and notices small green mangoes hanging from a tree.

A FIGHT: On a summer evening when the sky is dark and the air smells of flowers, the lady's husband tells the lady that he hates her. That she's ruining his life. That he wishes he'd never married her. He says these things because she can't swallow her soup. "You're a bad man," the lady says. "This is no way to talk." She is crying. Later, so is he. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, my darling. You know this doesn't mean anything. We have a bond, yes, darling? We have a bond. We can't live without each other." The lady responds, eyes dry. "You can't live without me."

A GIRLISH THOUGHT: Is this what I never understood? Who will I ask? Who will answer me?

UNBLINKING EYES: Now the lady looks at her family. Nothing dramatic, not many words. Just a steady glance like a curious child's.


Join a conversation on fiction in the Arts & Literature conference of Post & Riposte.

More fiction from Atlantic Unbound and The Atlantic Monthly.

Piya Kochhar majored in English at Vassar College. She is currently living in New York. This is her first published story.

Copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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