Undress

A broken beauty, with a broken heart.
Whose life did end before its start.
Getting up every day, only to sleep.
Someone else every day, cutting her deep.

Waiting for the next one,
Pinning up her clothes and make.
Happy like a cartoon,
Smiling but fake.

Who’ll it be now, numb with dread.
One more time, dying on the bed.
Stuck between walls of shame and hate.
Searching for sunshine, but the hour is late.
No one ever opened her closed door.
None undressed the smile she wore.

Cookie

“No more.” The little boy’s mother says after he eats four cookies.

His mother puts the remaining cookies in a glass jar and stores it in a cupboard.

Later that night the boy waits for his mom to fall asleep. At midnight he sneaks into the kitchen and opens the cupboard.

He sees the jar but there are no cookies inside it. There’s a folded note inside the jar.

The boy retrieves the note which reads: “Go back to sleep. Love, mom.”

Sleeping Beauty

Newly-wed Anamika looked lovely in the bright outfits adorning her slender frame. Her beautiful dreamy eyes spoke a thousand words, only if people could understand.

She often slept longer than expected so people called her lazy. But her loving husband, unconcerned with their remarks, often quietly watched his sleeping beauty.

With each passing day she slept longer until the day she was found still with a bottle of pills.

Her dreams were a place where she met her lover, relived the past & fulfilled her desire.

Boy, Bye!

Betty crosses her legs to keep them from shaking. Restless leg syndrome, her doctor calls it. Her pointed stilettos make a ‘tap, tap’ noise on the wooden floor of her therapist’s office. She runs her left hand over the pleats of her pink printed dress, as if to smoothen it. Darlene, a therapist in her mid-thirties with sharp features and dark brown hair, looks at her patient with an expression of mild concern.

“How was your week?” Darlene asks. “Anything noteworthy? How’s Jack?”

Betty shrugs, “Great. Jack is… great. He’s on another business trip, so…I am sorry I fidget a lot. Jack keeps telling me I need to learn to compose myself.”

“This is a safe space, Betty,” Darlene responds gently. “You do not need to compose yourself here.”

Betty doesn’t say anything for a long time. When she finally speaks, her voice is low, so low in fact, that Darlene has to strain her ears to hear her, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I should be so happy. I should feel good about my marriage. Jack’s a great husband. And he’s… Actually, I’m in therapy because… well, I have made a lot of mistakes in my life. And a lot of wrong choices.”

“What sort of choices?”

“I don’t know who I am anymore…” Betty scratches her chin. Darlene notices that all her fingernails are chipped. “I feel like everything I do is wrong and it’s upsetting because Jack has to always take care of me. I hate making him do that!”

“Making him do what exactly?”

“Just that he knows how to be an adult but I haven’t figured it out yet. And he’s so freaking mature! And wonderful. You know he got me flowers the other day? Chrysanthemums. I am allergic, but it’s a small mistake… He had good intentions.”

Betty shifts her attention to the room. It is a pretty office, she thinks. The walls are coloured in dusty blue shades, with a window on one side overlooking the harbour. The warm afternoon sun pours in through the window, and the succulents next to it reach out towards the light. The bookshelves on the opposite wall are crammed with books.

Darlene sits on a comfortable chair near the door. Betty’s eyes wander towards a simple painting of a fruit bowl placed directly above the therapist’s head.

“I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. Jack says I complain a lot. Poor man, he works for fourteen, fifteen hours every day so…Actually, he feels that I should get a job.”

“Do you want a job?” Darlene looks directly into Betty’s eyes.

Betty shuffles in her chair, “I… I have stopped questioning my husband. You’d too if you met him. Jack is always right. It’s infuriating, you know…Anyway, my fifty minutes are up, I think. I’m not sure if I can afford therapy anymore, so…”

“I will give you a twenty percent discount,” Darlene says, as they both stand up. “Come next week.”

**

 

 

 

Betty watches the sea waves breaking against the rocks. She spots a couple of sailboats heading east and quietly takes a picture of the scene with her phone camera. She looks at her watch and realizes that she still has fifteen minutes to go before her appointment. At 2:25 pm, she gets up from the park bench and walks overto the taco food truck parked right outside her therapist’s building.

“Hey Betty!”

She stops cold in her tracks. She recognizes that face. It is her husband’s colleague Ryan, the one she met at the Christmas party.

“I’m sorry, who are you?” She asks the man waving at her.

Ryan’s smile turns immediately into a frown. “Um, sorry, I think I got the wrong, uh…”

Betty then turns around and orders a chicken burrito. As soon as he hands her the burrito, she pays without bothering to collect her change, and promptly walks towards the building. It’s only when the elevator doors shut that she allows herself to relax. She enters the waiting room of her therapist’s office, and quickly removes her sunglasses and scarf, and stuffs both inside her bag. Then, she gently removes her blonde wig, letting her natural red hair fall onto her shoulders, and waits for Darlene to call her in. In less than two minutes, she’s inside.

“Hi Betty,” Darlene greets her with a calm, mellifluous voice. “Glad to see you made it. How are we doing today?”

“You know, I wanted to be a model when I was in college, but my parents just didn’t…” Betty throws her hands up in frustration. “Funny. I look at models now, and I wonder how they ever got selected. Then I wonder what my life would have been had everyone not had an opinion about what I should or shouldn’t do…”

“I see,” Darlene jots something down on her notepad and says, “Is that something you feel often? That people have an opinion on your life?”

“Did I tell you Jack thinks models are dumb? I guess I agree… now.”

“So you disagreed before.”

“I think before I met Jack, I didn’t know much about the world. Jack’s um, he’s older and more experienced, he’s traveled around a lot, he even lived in Europe for a couple of years, and I mean, obviously, he knows better. He has a successful hedge fund, and you know, he… knows a lot, a lot more than I do.”

“I see.”

“He’s perfect… I just wish sometimes that I was more like him,” says Betty in a quiet voice. “Capable of being perfect.”

Darlene looks at her patient’s hunched shoulders and sad eyes. The woman has no idea what she’s gotten herself into, she thinks. Suddenly, she gets an urge to get up from her armchair, hold Betty by the shoulders and give her one tight slap, screaming, “Wake up!” into her ears. With some difficulty, she manages to stay put, hoping her expression is neutral. On days like these, Darlene wishes she could speed up the process of therapy. She decides to take another approach.

“Betty, I remember in your first session, I had asked you what you liked to do in your free time,” Darlene flips through the pages in her notebook. “You’d mentioned you enjoy sailing, gardening and watching films.”

Her patient nods.

“Tell me about sailing,” she asks. “Who taught you how to sail?”

“Oh, I don’t do that much anymore,” Betty shrugs. “My husband can’t swim and is, um, scared of water so…”

“Right. And what kind of films do you enjoy?”

“Um, ones with happy endings,” Betty’s eyes light up. For the first time, she smiles. Darlene notices that Betty has a beautiful smile. “You know, like 27 Dresses, Pretty Woman… But Jack says I should watch more documentaries. He’s right, you know. Rom-coms make me feel soooo emotional all the time. Jack teases that I am like a sensitive pig!”

“A pig?”

“Yes, because of my nose. I mean, my nose before the surgery,” she corrects herself, absent-mindedly touching her now sharp nose. “I never even realized it was so weird… but Jack not only pointed it out, but he paid for the cosmetic procedure! ‘You don’t have to live like this,’ he told me one night. ‘I have booked an appointment with the best plastic surgeon in town. ‘We will fix your nose and later, plump up those gorgeous lips.’ And then, once I was… corrected, he went down on one knee and asked me to marry him! Right at the clinic. It was soooo romantic!”

“And how long were you two together before you got married?” Darlene asks.

“Oh, five months!” Betty gushes. “We fell in love at first sight. He proposed after two months! We have been married for a year and a half now.”

After her session that day, as Betty walks past the taco food truck she had her lunch from earlier, the food truck owner calls out to her, “Hey, blonde lady!”

It takes Betty a moment to realize that he’s addressing her. She turns around.

“You forgot your change,” he says. “Here, have a free burrito.”

**

 

 

 

“Honey, I am home!”

Jack takes off his shoes and walks into the kitchen. Betty notices that he is carrying takeout from the Chinese place downtown that she loathes.

“Oh, my favourite,” She says, her voice dry.

“Chicken hakka noodles and pork dimsums,” Jack places the takeout on the kitchen counter, and leans towards her, as if to kiss her. She closes her eyes and imagines herself kissing the man operating the taco food truck. He was kind of cute.

Instead, she feels her husband’s rough beard scratching her lips. She’d gifted him a beard oil set on his thirty-third birthday last month, but he never opened it.

Betty opens the package as Jack lays out the dinner plates. Once they sit down, she tries to dig into the noodles and dimsums but she’s barely able to put any in her mouth. Jack notices this with displeasure on his face.

“Aren’t you hungry?” he asks.

“Actually, I had a small snack earlier.”

“Oh, did you now?”

“I’m sorry I just couldn’t help it,” Betty shrugs.

“But honey, you know we always have dinner together on Fridays,” Jack pouts. Betty wants to slap his face. Why can’t he act his age?

“Why not the other days, Jack?”

He looks at her for a full minute. Betty stares back. Then Jack pushes his chair out and stands up, “Okay, that’s it. I don’t know why you’re picking fights all the time these days. You either tell me what’s wrong now instead of the drama or I’m going out.”

“Is it not enough that you’re out every other night? Do you have to leave tonight too?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means exactly what it means. You’re never home for dinner most nights. And the one night you make time for me, you want to leave.”

“I can’t help it if you don’t respect our time together by not even bothering to save your appetite for date night.”

“What sort of appetite are we talking about, Jack? You think you can buy me with food? And that too this rubbish…”

**

 

 

 

Betty’s lips quiver as she recounts the incident to her therapist the following week. She’s wearing an orange sundress today. Her neck, Darlene notices, has bruises. Her eyes are full of tears. She wonders if Betty’s husband choked her.

“What happened next?” Darlene asks.

“He dumped the food on the floor. Then he made me clean it up. At first I told him to clean up after himself but then he… he grabbed my throat and, uh, he… hit me.”

“And then?”

“I told him that he should call one of his hoes to clean it up. Then he slapped me again. He said I needed a-a… lesson in manners.”

Darlene says nothing. She wants to use the silence to allow her patient to gather herself. She wants Betty to realize that she’s in an abusive marriage.

“No, please don’t look at me like that,” Betty’s voice rises an octave. “It’s not what you’re thinking. This is all a punishment from God because, because I was out of line talking like that to him. And also because I was fantasizing about… someone else. And I’d been angry at him for not being home often and… oh God, that’s it. It was a punishment! I deserved this. Do you see?”

“Betty, I want to ask you something now and I hope you will trust me to answer this honestly,” Darlene’s voice is calm. She realizes she’s being pushy but her concerns get the better of her. “Betty, has he hit you before?”

“It’s not like that! He doesn’t, only when…” Betty scratches her neck and flinches, realizing she’s hit her bruise. “He, um, he doesn’t do it that often, I mean…”

“Are you ever afraid that one day he’ll go too far?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, do you ever fear for your life?”

“Of course not!” Betty retorts. “Jack loves me. He would never do anything like that. And you know what? I am done here. Goodbye.”

 

 

 

“Betty, get your camera ready! One, two, cheese!”

She smiles her broadest smile as her husband clicks photos of her. After much cajoling, Jack agreed to go sailing with her. She is wearing a white jumpsuit today. Jack is in a white shirt and dark blue shorts. He laughs as she pouts into the camera, making duck faces at Jack. The wind blows her red hair towards her face. She works with her fingers to remove the knots and then blows a kiss in Jack’s direction.

He puts his camera away and walks closer to her. “You are beautiful, you know that? Two years since we’ve been together and I thank my lucky stars every morning that I wake up next to you.”

She giggles as he plants several kisses on her neck.

“You’re so beautiful,” he gushes.

“You are beautiful too, darling,” Betty whispers, putting her head on his shoulders.

“Well, men are handsome,” Jack remarks. “Not beautiful.”

Betty feels herself getting annoyed. Must he correct me always, she thinks. Anyway, it all ends today.

“Handsome, eh?” Betty smiles. “How nice of you to teach me… things. What is this, an English lesson?”

His wife’s sudden hostility throws Jack off. They are no longer embracing. Instead, Jack moves a couple of steps towards the railings and looks at Betty, bewildered.

She continues, “You remember the first time we met? We were at this gorgeous restaurant where I’d been dying to go for years to try their famous roasted duck. You, Mr. Perfect come along and tell me how the duck there is overcooked. And then you order us both hakka noodles. Hakka noodles, seriously? That night, when I came back from that date, I told myself I will never see you again. In fact, I swore off online dating forever.”

Jack stares at Betty, stunned at her confession, wondering where this is going.

“And just when I’ve forgotten about your damned existence, you send me flowers. Chrysthanthemums. Yuck!”

Jack continues to stare but doesn’t utter a word.

“My mother said I’d never find anyone, that I am too, what is that word she used? Damaged? Do you know how hard she tried to… to fix me? Do you know how many therapists she dragged me to?” Betty’s face hardens, her voice barely audible over the sound of the wind, “They all told my mother I was a psychopath. You know what that means, don’t you?”

Jack nods. When he speaks, Betty notices that he sounds terrified, “A psychopath is someone who is extremely anti-social-”

“No, Jack, that’s a sociopath,” Betty grins and rolls her eyes. “Not always right, are you? Let me give you an English lesson now. A psychopath is someone who lacks empathy. A mentally unstable person. It’s funny, though. They say I don’t have the capacity to feel but that night we met, I felt something strong… this yearning. When you denied me that beautiful roasted duck, I wanted to reach out to you from across the table and strangle you with my bare arms. That’d have taught you a lesson, you fucking bastard! But I decided to spare you instead. And what do you do? You keep chasing me. Asking me to marry you in two months! Two months, Jack? For someone who thinks himself to be smart, you really are an idiot, aren’t you?”

“Betty, I…”

“Well, my mother was wrong,” Betty pushes her red hair off her face. “I did find the perfect man. Someone to take me out on fancy dates and buy me flowers, someone to get me new dresses, who’d repaint the walls of our house lemon because I love that colour, someone with deep pockets that I can reach into whenever I want, and now that I’ve had my fill, I don’t think I need you anymore, do I Jack?”

“Betty, what are you doing… what are you saying?”

“Betty, what are you doing? What are you saying?” She imitates him. “God, you’re so stupid. I have been planning this for a long time now. You were so distracted with your stock market and blah blah life that you missed it all. You see that building over there by the coast? There’s a therapist on the thirteenth floor who thinks my husband is physically abusing me. Physically and emotionally both, actually. I convinced her in three weeks that you were a monster and I was in denial. A therapist and even she got fooled! Your colleague Ryan that you’re so tight with? I once told him at a Christmas Party that I was afraid of you. Sometimes when you’re not at home, which I admit is often, I scream and bang the walls. All our neighbours think you are a bad, bad man. And the guy who sells me tacos?”

“What about him?”

“I’m going to fuck him after I kill you.”

It is then that Jack realises he’s been feeling light-headed for a while, and not just because of his wife’s diabolical confessions. Something stronger inside his brain seems to be tugging at him, lulling him to sleep. Betty notices his discomfort and grins. Then she picks a fishing knife lying strategically next to her on the deck and with one swift motion, stabs him in the stomach.

At this point, Jack knows he should try to fight back but he’s in complete shock. How could he think Betty was one way when she’s something else entirely?

His shock gives way to a burning, searing pain from the stab wound. It’s as if a sharp punch has penetrated his life force. The impact tears him apart, causing him to double down in pain. The burning leads to a kind of cold sensation. He can see a similar coldness in Betty’s eyes. How can such beautiful eyes carry so much loathing?

“I-I ordered those… hakka noodles because it’s so much better… I just wanted the best for you.” Jack whimpers.

“That’s the thing. You’ve always been too perfect for me,” are Betty’s final words to him as she throws him overboard.

The last thing he sees is a look of smug satisfaction on his wife’s face at a job well done.

Boy, bye!

Rot

‘He looks miserable, Matt!’ Rebecca suddenly remarked, eyeing the homeless man in the shadows.

Mathew’s reverie was broken. He had been walking with Rebecca’s hand in his own after their perfect candlelit dinner on October 31st – three years since their first date, complete with his proposal, which Rebecca had accepted.

He deemed her perfect, as was their relationship. With her, even the silence felt comfortable and companionable. They’d spend many a rainy afternoon on their couch together, with him pouring over his sci-fi novels, and her, those classic horror stories or Victorian romance novels. She was truly a paradox. And she was his.

Now she stood silently staring at the homeless man with pitiful eyes.

Rebecca – ever the empath.

Mathew handed her some loose change saying, ‘Here –’ also silently praying that she wouldn’t start one of her tirades about egalitarianism.

Rebecca bent over to drop the loose change into a shabby hat saying, ‘Please take care, Sir…’ when the man with a sudden move lurched at her ankle, biting it.

Rebecca screamed. Before she and Mathew could really process what had just happened, the man scampered into a dark alley.

‘Jesus, what the –’ Mathew began.

‘Did he just bite me?’ Rebecca asked in a quivering voice.

Mathew was now kneeling before her, examining her ankle. ‘It’s just a graze, love,’ he assured her, wiping the redness and the drool left by the lunatic, with his handkerchief.

Putting an arm around her, he decided to take her home immediately and order her favourite salted caramel ice cream.

~

It had been a week since the night of the proposal. Rebecca had all but forgotten about her encounter with the disturbed homeless man. She was now shopping with her cousin, and preparing for her wedding, which was in three months.

She was now at a perfumer’s on her cousin’s insistence. Claire had insisted that they pick out the perfect perfume for Rebecca’s special day.

‘Why can’t I wear my usual scent, Claire?’ Rebecca had whined.

‘Ugh! You can’t wear your usual CK to your wedding!’ Claire had reprimanded her. ‘Too pleb!’

‘Here, try this,’ she insisted, handing Rebecca a tester of Tom Ford’s Black Orchid.

Rebecca sniffing at it disinterestedly said, ‘Yeah, I like it. Let’s take it.’ She couldn’t believe they had spent over an hour looking for perfumes when they had so much ground to cover.

‘Becca! C’mon, you didn’t even smell it properly!’

This time Rebecca took a deep whiff. She decided that she genuinely liked it. But something was wrong.
She smelled it again. There, beneath all the notes of bergamot, patchouli and vanilla, was the unmistakable smell of rot. It was revolting.

‘Claire,’ she whispered, ‘It smells like shit.’

Claire giggled. ‘Here, try this one, instead,’ she insisted, handing Rebecca a bottle of Vera Wang’s Princess.
Rebecca smelled that, and the one after that. And beneath all of the fruity, floral and aromatic notes, was the distinctive smell of rot. It reminded her of death.

~

Rebecca had run home that afternoon, pleading with Claire to excuse her, saying she wasn’t feeling well. Must be all the wedding preparation related stress, she had explained.

She had come home, showered, put on fresh pyjamas and her signature Calvin Klein perfume, and curled up on the couch with ‘The Viscount Who Loved Me’, the second book in the Bridgerton series.

But the smell lingered. It had become worse. No matter what she did, the smell remained. It was then that Rebecca realised that it was coming from her. She smelled like rot and decay.

‘Hey, babe!’ Mathew called out. ‘What do you feel like eating today? Dim sums?’

Rebecca threw her arms around him and asked tentatively, ‘Matt, do you smell anything?’

‘Err…’ he started uncertainly. ‘Are you wearing something new? Did Claire take you perfume shopping? Sorry, love. You smell like… well, you.’

Rebecca looked at him suspiciously. Could he really not smell it? Was she losing it?

~

Rebecca was out for a jog. She sprinted half a block and then doubled over, feeling completely winded. What was happening to her? This fatigue was unfamiliar to her. She looked up to find a frail old lady doubled over with age, struggling to cross the street. She immediately rushed to her side to help her. She held her hand, and slowly helped her across the street, to the safety of the sidewalk. But as she held the old lady’s hand in her own, all she could feel was her steady pulse which drowned out everything around her. Rebecca looked down at the frail, almost skeletal hand that she now held in her own, with bulging blue veins – it looked delicious. Her stomach started growling. She just wanted one taste. And then, the spell was broken. She felt disgusted and excused herself.

As the weeks went by, Rebecca felt less and less like herself. She had lost her appetite and sleep. The face that greeted her in the mirror was a shadow at best of her former self. Her once bright green eyes were now always bloodshot and puffy, and the dark circles under her eyes were almost reaching her cheekbones. Thankfully, Mathew was not there with her to witness any of it. He was away on a month-long business trip. But what about when he returned?

Rebecca cursed the day she had decided to help the homeless man. He had infected her with something; she knew it. She had seen several doctors since then – none of them had been able to come up with something conclusive. They had all surmised that it was probably pre-wedding stress, and suggested that she see a therapist. Rebecca had laughed bitterly. What could she be stressing about? She was marrying the love of her life!

One day, as the hunger pangs hit, and she opened her refrigerator door to make herself a sandwich; her eyes fell on some raw filet mignon and before she knew what she was doing, she was eating the bloodied meat straight from the bag it came in with her bare hands.

But it didn’t stop there. One evening, when she found her neighbour’s beagle, Phoebe, wandering the block by herself, she rushed to the dog’s side with the intention of carrying her back in her arms to her neighbour. But as she gathered Phoebe in her arms, an uncontrollable instinct took over – and she found herself exerting more and more pressure on the little dog’s windpipe until it stopped whimpering and lay lifeless in her arms. She then proceeded to devour its tiny body and then buried its remains in a shallow grave.

Rebecca was spiralling.

The worst part of the infection wasn’t the deafening silence or the loneliness that seemed to be her constant companion. It was being fully conscious, but being unable to control the actions of her rotting body.

She couldn’t let Mathew see her like this. So, the day he was going to return, she packed herself a light bag which would keep her going for the next few days and made up her mind to leave. Who knew how many days she had left?

Mathew’s flight was scheduled to land around midnight, and he would be home around 1 am. Right before the clock struck midnight, Rebecca scribbled a terse note for Mathew which read, “Matt, I am not the woman you fell in love with. She’s gone, and now I should too. I will love you forever, but may you find the happiness you deserve with someone else. Yours, Rebecca.”; took one last look at the apartment she had shared with her fiance and left.

She had no idea what she would do the next few days. But she had one certain pit stop. She took a cab to the restaurant she had visited with Mathew that fated night when a single act of kindness had made her life go awry. She got down at the restaurant, tipped the driver generously and then proceeded to walk around the block.

She finally found the man she was looking for – the homeless lunatic. He seemed to have shrunk since she last saw him, but he still wore the dirty brown windsheeter jacket from their first meeting. She slowly approached him and crouched before him. As their eyes met, she was sure that he neither recognized her nor felt her presence. His eyes had a vacant look but were far more bloodshot than her own with dark circles that made his eyes look like they were outlined with soot. But the stench of rot and decay were only too familiar.

Revenge had never been a part of Rebecca’s plan. She was sure that he would fuck himself up on his own. And while she knew that there was no turning back from this, she couldn’t let him hurt anyone else. So she grabbed a handful of the man’s hair, tipped his head back, and began to gnaw and tear at his filthy neck.

B.Y.O.M

B.Y.O.M

“Wow! You look stunning. Whatever did I do to get so lucky? Happy Anniversary, love,” Reuben beamed.

Samantha blushed at his words.

It was their 5th anniversary and she had planned everything to the very last detail. All those years ago when they had newly begun their relationship, Reuben had accidentally let it slip that he would pop “the question” if they lasted five years. And voila! The day was finally here.
She wanted this night to be perfect.

Samantha walked out in an off-the-shoulder, red evening dress, sporting a sweetheart neckline that had Reuben’s jaw almost sweeping the floor. Her hair was done up in a lace braided bun and she had chosen to wear her diamond earrings for the occasion.

She didn’t know when she had started preparing for this day. Perhaps, immediately after Reuben’s little declaration. But she clearly remembered when she finished outlining it.
A month ago.

“You really went all out, didn’t you? This place looks so elegant, although the name threw me off a bit. What does B-Y-O-M even mean?” Reuben asked while he let his eyes soak in the restaurant’s beautiful interiors.

“Well, you know B-Y-O-B, right? Bring your own booze? It’s a similar concept. “M” stands for meat,” she replied.

“But we didn’t get any…..”

Before Reuben could finish his sentence, he was interrupted by their attendant.

“Welcome to Bring Your Own Meat where we specialize in serving a variety of cuisines, especially tailored for any meat provided to us by you. Ms. Sequeira, I’m happy to let you know that we have received the email with your dinner preferences. It will be our pleasure to serve you.
Now Sir, if you could follow me please for the highlighted activity of the evening.”

Reuben almost jumped out of his chair with excitement. “I can’t wait to see what you’ve planned. But I’ll still steal the show,” he exclaimed as he patted the pocket on his suit.

“Oh darling, I’m sure you will.” Samantha smiled.

A month ago, Samantha had been looking for her phone. Reuben, surprisingly, had gone for a shower without his phone. So she picked it up to call herself. That’s when she had stumbled upon all the lascivious texts between him and Rachel, her best friend. She had felt her lungs collapse at the sight of their exchanges.

She had compelled herself to see all the pictures and videos that their lack of shame had bred. At first, she wanted to tear down the bathroom door and confront him. But as the feeling of helplessness soon turned to seething anger, she collected herself, placed the phone back exactly where she had found it and left the room quietly.

Now here she sat, sipping on a glass of Merlot, as the restaurant prepared pan seared steak with the meat that had walked in with her; medium rare, just the way she liked it. Samantha had to marvel at the chef’s flair when the aroma filled the room before the waitress had even placed the dish on her table. It looked so delectable as the sauces generously oozed out of its crevices. The first bite sent her into a frenzy of emotions. Her palate had never before savored something so tender and exquisitely seasoned. Samantha was almost sorry this would be the last time she’d taste him.

When it was time for dessert, she was happy to see that the chocolate pastry had come decorated with a certain diamond ring.

“Not too much to ask for after five years, I’m sure,” she pondered.

Just as she slipped it on her finger and began admiring the ring’s radiance, the waitress walked up to her.

“I do hope everything has been to your liking this evening, Ms. Sequeira. Here’s the takeaway you had requested.”

Her email had made it clear that she would be happy with an 8-ounce fillet. They could discard or do whatever they deemed fit with the rest of Reuben. She had, however, asked them to save one organ.

After all, she couldn’t deprive Rachel of her favorite piece of him.

Ghosted

She loved cuddles, especially when she got to be the smaller spoon. And right now, the way her boyfriend’s arms consumed her, made her feel so secure. The warmth in his embrace brought a dreamy smile to her face.

“Wait a minute!” She opened her eyes only to realize she’d been single for four years.

She turned her head slowly.

The light seeping in through the window revealed a silhouette bearing no semblance to the human form. It lay next to her while holding her in a tight grasp.

“Ah, what the hell!” she sighed; then hugged it back tightly and murmured, “Good Night.”

It awkwardly whispered back, “Umm… I’m not looking for anything serious.”

Hero

Typical dinner with family friends. The men talk about politics and the women prepare dinner.

But this time there is somebody my age to talk to, a 17-year-old girl named Maya who wants to become a doctor, something that worries her parents.

“My parents don’t want me to catch a virus. So many doctors are dying from the pandemic.” She says.

“By the time you become a doctor the pandemic will be over.”

“What if there’s another one? Every two years there’s a new one.”

“Let’s go outside. It’s getting noisy in here.” I suggest.

We go to my backyard and sit near the bushes.

Just then I see my neighbours through their bedroom window. They’re arguing again.

“I wonder what they’re fighting about.” Maya asks.

“The wife wants a divorce and wants her jewelry back.” I reply. “She had given it to him because he said it would be safe at the bank. But now he’s claiming that she never gave her jewelry to him.”

“How do you know?”

“My mom told me.”

“Look! He hit her.” Maya says.

I quickly look up at the bedroom window but only see the man, not the woman.

“She fell.” She says. “First he hit her and then he pushed her.”

Maya immediately pulls out her phone and calls 911.

“The cops will be here any minute.” She says. “But that might be too late.”

“What else can we do?” I ask.

“We have to get in there. She could be dead by the time the cops reach.” She says. “Help me over the fence.”

The fence separating my backyard from my neighbour’s is not too tall, and I can help her over, but what if she doesn’t land properly? She could get hurt. I keep these thoughts to myself though, Maya seems determined.

I crouch near the fence and she steps on my back and pulls herself over the fence. I take several steps back, and run towards the fence and manage to hop over. But I end up hurting my elbow. Damn it, I can hardly move it now.

Meanwhile Maya finds a rock in the neighbour’s backyard and throws it at the neighbour’s window, shattering the glass. The home alarm system starts blaring, and moments later a deranged man rushes out.

“What the fuck?” The man growls — The same man who pounced on his wife upstairs.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” He demands.

I’m closer to him so he immediately comes to me and smacks me in the face. I lose my balance and hit the ground hard.

Next he chases after Maya. She tries to run away but he jumps on her and pins her to the ground. He starts choking her.

She’s struggling to remove his hands. He’s too strong.

He’s choking her and I know I need to get up and help but I can’t… I’m in too much pain.

Pretty soon we hear police sirens along with the home alarm system that is still blaring.

Maya loosens the man’s hands for a second and screams, “HELP!”

But then he starts choking her again. Maya stops moving.

The police quickly reach the backyard and they yank the man of Maya and subdue him.

Maya saved the neighbour lady’s life. The abusive husband was in the middle of beating her to death but got distracted by the home alarm. He broke her leg and she will have to be in a wheelchair for a while, but she’ll live.

Unfortunately, he ended up choking Maya to death

For Life & Beyond

In their 6 years of blissful marriage, Tara couldn’t recall a single instance where Vivaan was late. The man was like a Swiss clock, a stellar quality he had inherited from his diligent military father. Vivaan went on a lot of business trips abroad, and every time she knew he was coming home, she would play the lookout game. “I should be home around 9:15 tonight,” he had told her earlier on the phone, before he boarded his flight from Cape Town.

And then the lookout game would ensue. Close to his arrival time, Tara always stood at their apartment’s balcony, with a clear view of all the cars arriving to the apartment’s entrance. It was their little tradition. Vivaan would arrive, look up 7 storeys knowing Tara would be watching from the balcony, she would wave excitedly to him and all the sparkle that had left their home from it being empty for the past few days would return the instant Vivaan walked in the front door.

Their romance was always one to aspire to. Her best friends enviously remarked how theirs was a couple that knew no separation, no arguments and no relationship problems that other marriages saw.

Tara swung the door open, watching the elevator climb 7 floors and twirled the bracelet around her wrist as she waited for what felt like an eternity. The beautiful bracelet Vivaan had gifted her for their anniversary this past year had ‘for life and beyond’ etched into it, a vow they had made each other during their wedding ceremony. He never forgot thoughtful gestures. He was the perfect man, after all.

Vivaan walked out of the elevator, but unlike most days when he would be cheery and have a bear hug ready for Tara, today, his shoulders were slumped, his forehead was creased and he looked like he hadn’t slept in a few nights. Tara flung herself on him and hugged him, sensing that something was amiss and that he felt more fragile than usual. “What’s wrong? You look beat” said Tara.

“That felt like the longest flight in the world, Tara. There was so much turbulence that there was a point my head hit the window kind of hard, and I’ve had a migraine since. Do you mind if I just take some medicine and go right to bed sweetheart?” Vivaan said, shuffling to their bedroom.

Tara put away the risotto she had made for dinner back into the fridge and retreated into their bedroom. Vivaan was fast asleep already, his handsome features looking ever so delicate against the dim glow of the bedside lamp. As she crawled into bed, Vivaan moved towards her and spooned her, the only position she was ever able to fall asleep in. The nights Vivaan traveled, Tara wouldn’t be able to sleep more than 4 hours. Tonight, like the perfect jigsaw puzzle with their bodies fitting into each other’s, Tara fell into a sound, dreamless sleep.

She was jolted awake by the shrill sound of her phone ringing at the break of dawn around 4am. It was her mother-in-law calling, so Tara tried her best to snap out of her exhaustion to attend to the call. Vivaan was still asleep next to her and she wanted to be careful not to wake him yet, so she tiptoed into the adjacent room.

She whispered hello into the phone and was met with sharp sobs on the other line. “Hi, mom? What’s wrong?” There was silence on the other end, just muffled sounding cries and heavy breathing. Her mother in law finally composed herself after a minute and spoke, her voice trembling.

“Sweetheart, I’m heartbroken and don’t know how to tell you this. The flight Vivaan was on last night from Cape Town never landed. I thought you might have fallen asleep early last night which is why you didn’t call. I’m so sorry, I didn’t want to disturb you with this just yet but sweetheart, I have a feeling something terrible happened so I just had to wake you. They’re saying the plane disappeared over the ocean….the airline has no answers but they think it likely crashed and that there are no survivors.”

“I should have known the moment he didn’t send me his usual text….I should have known……,” her mother-in-law broke down again, howling something intangible that Tara could not focus on anymore. Tara left the phone slip from her trembling fingers, and slowly walked back into the bedroom, enveloped by complete horror and devastation.

Vivaan was sitting up and facing her, his face looking hollowed than ever, forcing a weak smile. “For life and beyond, darling.”

Man of the house

Mom: Please don’t do it, Mike.

Dad: What do you want me to do, then?!

Mom: Please don’t leave us. Let’s sit down and find a way out of it. I beg you.

Dad: This is the only way!

Mom(crying): Please, Mike, don’t do this to me.

Dad(angrily): Why do you have to be such a crybaby?

Mom(shocked): M-mike?

Dad(loudly): All you’ve ever done is sulk over in the kitchen and cry over how you burnt the food, or added too much salt to it, or mixed the coloured clothes with white ones in the laundry!

Mom(heartbroken): Mike…how can you say all that?

Dad: Oh! Are you going to cry over this, too?

Mom cries, burying her face in her palms.

Dad: Always with the sulking. You’ve been a touch-me-not girl from the moment I’ve known you.

Mom(Loudly): I’m not all that. I was just a naive girl, filled with so much love, having no clue what to do with it. All I knew was to give all that love to you, and then to our son, and then to our house. But if I knew how much you hated all this, I would’ve let you go years ago.

Dad: You couldn’t have. You never had the guts to stand up on your own feet or to provide our son with the protection he’d need. You don’t have what it takes to be the Man of the house.

Mom: I’m fine being the woman of my house, Mike. And you don’t know me. If I’d seen your true face back then, I would surely have gathered my courage.

Dad huffs under his breath.

Dad: All you can do is be delusional, Isa.

Mom: Shut up! I don’t need you in my life. I can protect myself and my son very well on my own.

Dad: Uh-huh, I see. So you don’t need me? Glad to hear that.

Mom: I-I don’t…

Dad: Fine by me. You and your son are on your own from now on.

Mom: Mike?

Dad turns his back towards Mom and me.

Dad: Be the woman of the house then, Isa.

Dad cocks his gun.

He walks up the stairs and enters the bedroom.

Mom’s face loses colour as she runs upstairs.

I follow her.

Mom: Mike! No. Please don’t do it. We can find another way. Let’s sit down and talk. Please.

She holds the door but Dad tries to shut it, his arm peeking out as the infection spreads to his palm’s veins and then to his fingers’. His nails go purple and then break out from the skin, revealing the clotted blood above his metacarpals.

Mom(crying): Mike, I love you, please…don’t do it to us. We need you. We can’t survive this without you.

Dad: Yes, you can. Take the gun out of my hand after fifteen minutes, you’ll need it the most… and shoot anyone in sight who looks even slightly infected.

He whispers ‘I love you’ before bolting the door.

Gunshot.