Winner of Bound’s Valentine’s Day Short Story Contest 2020 

The pancake should shape itself into a nice, round disc

like your mother’s chappatis

but you are not your mother

Have you ever been in love? I’m not talking about the kind that makes you feel good. I’m talking about the kind that makes you feel worthless and still you decide to stay, and you forget what you loved about him but now something is keeping you here, and maybe it’s love or maybe it’s fear, and maybe this is as good as it gets.

The thing with sadness is that everything feels like it’s your fault. With the burden of blame on your shoulders, you shrink and disappear. You make a list of all the things you need to do to feel like you’re enough. Don’t remind him to do the dishes five times. Of course he’ll get defensive. Don’t lock yourself in the bathroom when you get angry. Don’t hold a knife to your wrist and demand he tell you where he was last night. Don’t cry so much, yell so much, try so much, feel so much. Don’t ask him to love you, even as he tells you he feels like the love is dying. And when he walks out with his bag, don’t ask him to stay.

The beginning of a separation is the hardest part. You think he made you whole, that he completed you, so it’s only natural that you’ll feel broken when he leaves. But self-preservation is pretty spectacular. Each day is slightly better than the previous one. You learn to like yourself again, to see yourself again. You step out every evening and walk twenty minutes up a hill to buy vegetables. You talk to trees, whisper to sunsets. You become Tom Hanks in Castaway, a solitary survivor. And while Hanks had Wilson the volleyball, as his best friend, you have your pen, your paper, and your poetry. It’s been your religion since you were seven. And now, like all predictable gods, it saves you.

the recipe for whole wheat pancakes

calls for one cup of flour and one cup of milk

make sure you cut the portions in half

because now you’re cooking for one

remember

how he used to make fun of the way you said

fla-wer instead of flaar

the indian and american in you getting confused

your confusion making him smile

his smile making you proud of your eccentricity

making you forget that even quirks

can become boring

 

after blending the flour and milk

add one egg and half a tablespoon of honey

be generous with the honey

but be sure to divide the one fourth cup of oil by two

because now you are cooking for one

remember

because the world won’t let you forget how broken you are

they don’t want you to be better

they want you to go back

to say you’re sorry

to be the rachel to your ross

to dismiss disrespect

to be the bigger person for the greater good of love

so you tell this well-meaning world

you have no interest in being a martyr

 

after you mix the batter with a whisk

pour it into a narrow, tall container

like a jug

or a cup

it will make the pouring easier

not everything needs to be as hard as getting out of bed without his smell

maybe the batter wants to stretch

to fill more space, to look bigger than it feels

maybe the batter wants to stream into the margins

to expand its understanding of what it could be

the pancake should shape itself into a nice, round disc

like your mother’s chappatis

but you are not your mother

maybe the batter wants to stretch

to fill more space, to look bigger than it feels

maybe the batter wants to stream into the margins

to expand its understanding of what it could be

maybe the batter wants to run

like the little girl who runs

until she grows up and finds herself frozen

not realising when she stopped becoming

remember

though this meal won’t fill the emptiness

it will remind you how good it feels to be full

and though it won’t erase his memory

it will allow you to build new ones

and though it won’t make the day end faster

it will show you

for those thirty minutes

why you need to slow down.

 

the pancakes will be sweeter than you expect

which is the best kind of surprise

and even then, if you want to drizzle them with more honey

you should, because you can

because now, you’re cooking for one

All this is possible because you’ve cut off all contact. You cope through complete disconnection. Your therapist says it’s not healthy, but sometimes you feel she just wants to be controversial because that will make you think. You want to stop thinking and start living.

He comes back. You feel you are a bad feminist. In the movies, if the guy treats the girl poorly she leaves. But no one’s the victim here. You’re stronger somehow, less tied to the romantic notions of permanence and a happily ever after. Bollywood doesn’t tell you what happens after the wedding. Now you know. It is what it is, until it isn’t.

our love can bleed

without the violence of hands

between the two of us

there are enough mental blocks

to build a legoland

a castle we’ll never live in

rooms that will gather dust

towers that will topple

gates that will rust

because they are too silent

 

silent

rearranged

becomes

listen

which makes me think they aren’t different

because the ingredients are the same

 

there is a splinter in the spaces between our words

so that when we speak it hurts

and we become haters instead of lovers

i can’t offer you permanence

but I can offer you anagrams

friend becomes finder

sacred becomes scared

tried becomes tired

mate becomes team

hater rearranged becomes heart

which makes me think if I have the starvation

and insomnia and tears to hate you

i must really, really love you

 

i can’t offer you permanence

but I can offer you anagrams

friend becomes finder

sacred becomes scared

tried becomes tired

mate becomes team

i understand words more than i understand us

words can be defined

we can not

Pragya Bhagat

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