Read This Short Story: A Temporary Matter

A Temporary Matter is from Jhumpa Lahiri’s collection of short stories entitled Interpreter of Maladies.  I prefer to read short stories without any prior synopsis so I’ll skip that part and let you read:

The notice informed them that it was a temporary matter: for five days their electricity would be cut off for one hour, beginning at eight P.M. A line had gone down in the last snowstorm, and the repairmen were going to take advantage of the milder evenings to set it right. The work would affect only the houses on the quiet tree-lined street, within walking distance of a row of brick-faced stores and a trolley stop, where Shoba and Shukumar had lived for three years.

“It’s good of them to warn us,” Shoba conceded after reading the notice aloud, more for her own benefit than Shukumar’s. She let the strap of her leather satchel, plump with files, slip from her shoulders, and left it in the hallway as she walked into the kitchen. She wore a navy blue poplin raincoat over gray sweatpants and white sneakers, looking, at thirty-three, like the type of woman she’d once claimed she would never resemble.

She’d come from the gym. Her cranberry lipstick was visible only on the outer reaches of her mouth, and her eyeliner had left charcoal patches beneath her lower lashes. She used to look this way sometimes, Shukumar thought, on mornings after a party or a night at a bar, when she’d been too lazy to wash her face, too eager to collapse into his arms. She dropped a sheaf of mail on the table without a glance. Her eyes were still fixed on the notice in her other hand. “But they should do this sort of thing during the day.”

“When I’m here, you mean,” Shukumar said. He put a glass lid on a pot of lamb, adjusting it so only the slightest bit of steam could escape. Since January he’d been working at home, trying to complete the final chapters of his dissertation on agrarian revolts in India. “When do the repairs start?”

“It says March nineteenth. Is today the nineteenth?” Shoba walked over to the framed corkboard that hung on the wall by the fridge, bare except for a calendar of William Morris wallpaper patterns. She looked at it as if for the first time, studying the wallpaper pattern carefully on the top half before allowing her eyes to fall to the numbered grid on the bottom. A friend had sent the calendar in the mail as a Christmas gift, even though Shoba and Shukumar hadn’t celebrated Christmas that year.

“Today then,” Shoba announced. “You have a dentist appointment next Friday, by the way.”

He ran his tongue over the tops of his teeth; he’d forgotten to brush them that morning. It wasn’t the first time. He hadn’t left the house at all that day, or the day before. The more Shoba stayed out, the more she began putting in extra hours at work and taking on additional projects, the more he wanted to stay in, not even leaving to get the mail, or to buy fruit or wine at the stores by the trolley stop.

Six months ago, in September, Shukumar was at an academic conference in Baltimore when Shoba went into labor, three weeks before her due date. He hadn’t wanted to go to the conference, but she had insisted; it was important to make contacts, and he would be entering the job market next year. She told him that she had his number at the hotel, and a copy of his schedule and flight numbers, and she had arranged with her friend Gillian for a ride to the hospital in the event of an emergency. When the cab pulled away that morning for the airport, Shoba stood waving good-bye in her robe, with one arm resting on the mound of her belly as if it were a perfectly natural part of her body.

Each time he thought of that moment, the last moment he saw Shoba pregnant, it was the cab he remembered most, a station wagon, painted red with blue lettering. It was cavernous compared to their own car. Although Shukumar was six feet tall, with hands too big ever to rest comfortably in the pockets of his jeans, he felt dwarfed in the back seat. As the cab sped down Beacon Street, he imagined a day when he and Shoba might need to buy a station wagon of their own, to cart their children back and forth from music lessons and dentist appointments. He imagined himself gripping the wheel, as Shoba turned around to hand the children juice boxes. Once, these images of parenthood had troubled Shukumar, adding to his anxiety that he was still a student at thirty-five. But that early autumn morning, the trees still heavy with bronze leaves, he welcomed the image for the first time.

Read the rest here (you will need a New York Times account).

Willful Creatures

Another detour from my summer of African literature.

I stan for Miranda July and according to Feminist Texican, If you like Aimee Bender then you may like Miranda July.  Banking on the converse also being true, I requested Bender’s Willful Creatures from the library.   A collection of 15 stories in 3 parts, Willful Creatures is a perfect mix of reflections on life and humor.  When I first started the collection, I wasn’t getting it, the first story, “Death Watch” was too weird for me.  By the third story, “Off”, I was a fan.  My favorites in the collection:

Off
An awkwardly arrogant woman attends a party.  She has one goal for the night: to kiss 3 men (one with blond hair, one with red hair, and one with black hair).  The shenanigans that occur in her pursuit are hilarious and pitiful.

The Meeting starts:

The woman he met. He met a woman. This woman was the woman he met. She was not the woman he expected to meet or planned to meet or had carved into his head in full dress with a particular nose and eyes and lips and a very particular brain.

*sigh*  When we meet someone who is unlike the image of our perfect partner and we decide to give it a try, are we settling or being more open?  “The Meeting” is not ambivalent in its response but I’m not convinced by the answer it leans towards.

Motherfucker
This is the story of a man who literally fucks mother.  Yeah, sounds crass I know but I loved how this story developed. He travels by train from the Midwest to Los Angeles, meeting women along the way.  When he lands in L.A., he meets a mother who is also a well-known actress.  She is so good at her profession, she sometimes doesn’t know when to not act.  And this is where the magic happens, he gets her to open up in a way that has nothing to do with sex.  I absolutely loved this story!

You can read excerpts here and you can purchase Willful Creatures at
Barnes & Noble
Powell’s
IndieBound
Amazon