The Dresser – back of the drawer #WEPFF
There it stood. The first thing you saw as you entered our bedroom. A dark wood dresser with old-fashioned knobs and curlicues, a moss green pond of a mirror unable to reflect my face. The period piece from the most depressing era of furniture. Victorian. Solid wood. Dominating. Secretive. Seemingly asexual.
‘It has sentimental value,’ he had said. I had put up with it. It was beautiful in its way or had been in its day.
There really were far too many things in that house that had sentimental value and this wasn’t the worst of them. What was more distressing than a deeply pessimistic dresser smooth as silk on the outside with drawers that stuck? Its corners bruised me as I squeezed past it’s verging on pleasant varnish smell.
The photograph was more disturbing.
The three foot high, sandal wood garland festooned photograph of his first wife dominated the living room with her dead eyes and the dusty scent of reproach to the living.
If you think about it, they should have put it away when we got married. Or shrunk it to a more acceptable size. Out of consideration towards me.
I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t really. To whom? The man I’d married? Love wasn’t the driving force in our union. I had no grounds for demanding first place in his heart, or on the shelf. That seemed to belong to this dead woman.
Years of savage anger towards my parents had culminated in this. This marriage of convenience made for their happiness. Yes, the concept was as Victorian as the dresser. But not here. Not in India where parents routinely deny their children the right to choose whom to love.
Those dreams of blissful bodies intertwined on hot nights chilled by air conditioning, the moon throwing its light in striped shadows through the balcony grills as tuberoses perfumed the air were long gone. Killed really. By my parents who suddenly and inexplicably discovered a side to themselves that neither they nor I recognised. The great Indian family honour to be kept intact through arranged marriage. My soul mate, my best friend, wasn’t good enough for them. I protested. For years. Wept. Took pills. Howled at the moon. Embraced unemployment. All that.
Somewhere along the way I capitulated and one morning found myself in bridal red and didn’t even think of reaching for the blanketing comfort of the pills. Not even because of the photograph. He loved someone lost to him through time and fate. Just like me.
The dresser haunted me gently with its presence, throwing a greenish reflection of the night light onto the ceiling (the myopic mirror could be tilted) in a not quite ghostly but certainly far from lovely way. Its cavernous drawers held my clothes, yielding them up to me according to its own caprices. Honestly. It decided for me. Some days the T-shirt drawer was stuck and the kurta drawer slid smoothly open. On other days I couldn’t get at my jeans. I was placid, bovine almost, non confrontational, accepting the diktat of the dresser. Strangely docile considering my capacity for sustained conflict. Demure, tired, a little under the weather. Nothing I could put my finger on. I guess I owe my life to that dresser.
That day it held every drawer with a jaw stubborn as a shark’s. A steady stream of grey water cascaded from smoky skies dampening everything. It wasn’t surprising that the wood was as swollen as lentils soaked overnight. I tugged impatiently today. Shut tight as Ali Baba’s cave. I even jiggled one of the tiny drawers near the mirror, half expecting a frog to jump out of its discoloured depths. I don’t remember opening it ever before. It slid open as smoothly as a ballerina on ball bearings. Tucked inside – a folded piece of handmade paper – the kind with dried rose and marigold petals woven into the paper.
As I unfolded it, I locked the door.
It was a letter. From her. To me.
I don’t have cancer. Or didn’t. If you’re reading this I’m in the past tense. A has-been. Dead.
He tells me he will marry again when I die. I know what he’s doing because he wants me to know. His smile grows ever more cruel as he savours the pleasure of toying with the animal in the trap. That creature in the cage is me.
And you too.
I’m not the first either. A photograph sat in the living room when we married. It was his previous wife. She died of ‘cancer’. We moved cities and the photo was nowhere to be seen after that nor was the old wife mentioned to the neighbours.
Misleading me. I thought he was over her.
I don’t know what they put in my food. It makes me nauseous, sleepy and compliant. I can’t leave because of the boys. I can’t take them if I go. But they’re killing me slowly every day and I don’t even know why, he isn’t in love with anyone else.
My dear – he’s a murderer. Leave. I hope you don’t have children by the time you find this. I don’t know how you can prove this; stop him from doing this again. But you must run, while you still can.
God bless you. God give you the strength to fight your family. I don’t have the courage.’
I walked out into the storm, taking only the letter.
~ Kalpanaa Misra
WEP’s first challenge of the year – brought to you by the original imaginings of Nilanjana Bose, the creativity of Olga Godim, and your hosts, Denise Covey and Yolanda Renée! This month, let’s go to the…