Horizon lines confined to the slope of the hemispheres. Every good feeling is choked with a little fear.
By morning, the little light of the rising sun painted the room a dull monochromatic blue. And the sheets. And the carpet. And the rows of books stacked in rows of two on the dresser. On the cabinet. On the desk where the computer hummed sleeping. The yelp sounded from down the hall. The dog sat, dirty paws from the 4 AM call. He heaved, his pink tongue hung out and his belly gestated in and out. And his face, which used to be brown, was faded to a white, the color sucked away with time and worn out.
I heard his yelps that grew louder as I realized my own urge to urinate. And I got out of bed. And I went downstairs. And I opened the door. The damp, moist spring air. Chilled frost on the sliding windows. The morning light threw a dark monochromatic blue on the wooden fence of the backyard. The dog hopped out and down the steps into the grass. He trotted to the middle of the plot and stood wide. He urinated a stream that sprayed at parts. When he finished, he began to roam the frost-ridden grass, licking at leaves and drinking the muddy water accumulated at the slope of the backyard.
I slid the door closed and let him have his time. I poured myself a bowl of cereal, sat down and ate my early breakfast. He’d been asking to go out more frequently now. Sixteen years old for a dog is a milestone. Yesterday I dug out an old photograph from the dresser beside my bed. I put old relics and secrets in there. It was all the way at the bottom, past my high school student cards in which I still had baby fat in my cheeks and looked tubby. His photograph was nestled there all neat and tidy, unlike the mess of everything else.
There was so much color in his face back then. So much brown under his eyes and on his head. His muzzle looked soft and his snout still wet. I guess all things get worn out as they age.
I finished my cereal and put it in the sink, then heard the muffled yelp and let him in. He shook and shivered and then went to his carpet and before he sat down, he walked around on a spot in a circle a few times to find his groove and then nestled down and curled close to gather warmth. I sat on the sofa beside him and watched the clock. Momentarily he raised his head and panted heavily. I brushed my hand on his head and he nodded to acknowledge it then put his head back down and I waited again. A few minutes later he got up and went to his bowl and drank some water, taking pauses to take a breath and he drank some more.
I went to the sink and filled a glass of water and then I walked to his bowl and filled it up to the top. He drank half of it and then some more and went back and curled up next to the sofa that I sat on. Minutes passed and I lay down on the sofa. He eventually settled and when I heard slow and steady breathing, I got up and crept up the stairs to the bathroom and urinated.
In the evening, my parents were going off to someone’s marriage. All my peers were getting married. It was the thing to do. I suppose every age comes with an instruction booklet, every life with a checklist.
My father stood in the hallway, in between my brother and I. We were seated opposite each other, me on the stairs, my brother on a brown ottoman. I had a tired face on, one I put on because it was easy. My head in my hands. I had a lot of marking stacked on my desk upstairs.
“Why do you look like Devdas?” asked my father.
Devdas. He was referring to the tragic lover Devdas who died filled with unrequited love, who drunk his sorrows away. It was an Indian classical tale.
“Don’t be tired. You’re at a young age.”
Young people can’t get tired in the eyes of old people because every complaint out of their mouths is an insult to an old person wasted youth.
Then my father slapped my cheek lovingly with a wide smile.
“No matter how old you get, I’ll always love you like a child.”
I smiled and scratched the back of my head. My father went over and grabbed my brother’s right cheek and squeezed it. My brother pushed him away, embarrassingly.
My father stepped away and paced the hallway, a smile on his face, checking his clock. The light was dimming outside. Clouds were dispersed, the blue of the sky fading to darker navy. The light that shone into the living room was a monochromatic blue. The hallway was quiet. We all waited for my mother to finish her prayer and come downstairs so my parents could leave and their sons could close and lock the door.
My father spoke.
“This shirt, you know how old this shirt is?”
“How old?” I asked.
He turned his head and looked at the ceiling and thought, the thumb and index finger of his right hand squeezing the fabric of his brown dress jacket, savoring the feel.
“Ten years. I got it in 2002-2003. Eleven years now. Last time I wore it was a wedding. I forget who.”
“It’s too big on you now,” said my brother.
He turned and looked at my brother, a smug smile on his face, strutting on the spot.
“Guess how much I got it for?”
“I don’t know?”
“Why don’t you just tell me?”
My father looked at the shirt and felt its fabric. The color was a dark brown. It didn’t look old at all. It looked neat and consistently pressed.
“Around two-hundred and thirty dollars. That was the original price. I bargained it though. They brought it down to one hundred and seventy. Plus there was a sale going on. Seventy percent off. I ended up paying, roughly, seventy something bucks for it.”
“How many times have you worn it?” I asked.
“Not many,. It’s a good shirt. Good fabric,” he said.
My father called for my mother.
“What’s taking you so long? Do you want us to come up there and give you an aarti for you to come down? God!”
My mother came down eventually and my parents left for the wedding. I sat and watched some TV. I wasn’t going to work today. No.
In some ways, all things lose color over time. That’s a truth. Eventually we’re all just fossil fuels for future generations, preserving ourselves for a longer passage through time with, frequently changing how we value things when we lose the things we value, in order to value something else, in order to convince ourselves we’re content.
And it works.
The morning star through a chain mesh window after a sleepless night makes the lack of sleep seem worth it. I saw the sky at the end of the horizon begin to glow blue and then red as the sun peaked its head out. Some of the houses facing in my direction from the window, away from the horizon, were still shrouded in the withering night. But where the morning star hung, the sky around it was already pierced a sickly dark blue, disturbing the eerie ghostly veil of the night sky with the optimism of a new day.
By Ashish Seth