A Corner for the Fool by Chitra Gopalakrishnan

Online Open Mic – 2021

With the season of Valentines Day in the air, Chitra Goplakrishnan’s work of fiction from India is the perfect bit of romance to sink into. She immediately takes you with the character, feeling both the tension and the excitement. It is a fantastic love story with colorful layers.


A corner for the fool

By Chitra Gopalakrishnan

“I will jump from the platform onto the approaching train and all that will be left of me will be a sludge of substances,” I threatened. 

My voice billowed like my flowing clothes. It rose from a creak, like the protest of hinges on a rusty iron gate, to a bleating, to a bellowing, and then to actual shrieking, like a cascade of wounded hailstones, swelling from a fizz to a roar to a fanatical clamor.

I first met Akash one March morning when I threatened to reduce myself, thus, into slush, under the wheels of a train. 

No, not on account of him. 

My intent was to chase away a persistent beau who faffed on forever about, “You are my true love, I swear”. One who was beginning to repel me, his untruths setting my teeth on edge. I do admit he was keen on me but understood very soon that he was more upbeat about my ancestral family fortunes.

He had followed me all the way to the New Delhi railway station, snapping at my heels, when I was bound for a brief, day-long, official trip to the outskirts of the city. Mostly, I think to stutter his lines all over. But he missed hearing my threat, drowned as it was by the shrill cacophony of hawkers, the bedlam of coolies, and the base hum of the railway station noises that are peculiar to India. 

But a man on the opposite platform seemed unnerved by the ridiculousness of my proposed action. It was he who was affected by my high-pitched theatrics, and by my intended blood-sport. Did he hear me all the way from there or was he reacting to my gestures, my extreme non-verbal melodrama? 

He was separated from me by six, gleaming parallel lines of rail tracks, that looked like beams of flowing sunshine. I had a glimpse of his torso growing rigid, and his neck bracing against his swift and sharp head movements as his eyes craned to see whether I would totter headlong, heels and all, into the abyss beneath the platform. Whether his concern was on account of the frightening conjectures of my impending fate or because of the danger of the line being blocked, and a possible subsequent delays to other trains in the area, it was hard to say. 

A train whooshed past onto the middle rails with the speed of summer lightning, instantly clouding his line of vision and mine. My train came in within a hair’s breadth of this, and I was swallowed into its rail rhythms, its jolting and rattling, in a matter of seconds. As its scheduled stop was only for two minutes, I could not wait to see the effects of my sonic boom in the stranger’s life.

He and I met again, a week later, this time at a sedate, noiseless, and classically elegant location. A church in the center of our city at my friend’s wedding.  Or should I say ours? The groom was his friend, the bride mine. Separated this time by an aisle, six bodies, and twelve pairs of eyes, we vaulted past the preliminaries of names, work profiles, and phone numbers relying on lip movements, hand and finger gestures, and exaggerated facial expressions. 

Interpretive communication was seemingly becoming our signature interpersonal transmission mode. And all our gesturing happened even as, in extreme earnestness, the couple exchanged vows. And over and above the buzzkill of our respective benches’ six guests, who glowered their disapproval at our lack of social restraint and decorum. Even the fragrant bouquets of white lilies fastened to each bench, often referred to as sympathy flowers, could not quieten their indignation.

Once outside, his first words spoken with equanimity, were, “Tara, the dangerously unbalanced woman warrior I encountered at the station, and one who has been stalking my dreams ever since.” 

How was I to know whether he was intrigued by my levity, my perversity, my enacting of fiction? Or know whether he saw me as an impelling yet perilous attraction, like a provocative woman on a collision course with everyone, quite like a character that he would have conjured for an animation game, something he did for a living? Or know whether he saw my jesting as a ploy to make way for instinctual behavior, a funny way to be serious? 

He wouldn’t tell. I wouldn’t ask. His inscrutability was part of his charm for me.

We discovered compatibility almost instantly. For a start, Akash, his name, means the sky and mine Tara, a star. We shared a common distaste for conforming to expectations of others, for marriage, and both had fears of handling children’s messes, vomit, and loose shit, in particular. 

Even our travel plans were alike. As the creator of a gaming series that was attracting international interest, he was being pursued by many companies in the US, and had zeroed in on one. “I am set to go the US in six months to release the series I am working on,” he said. As a budding architect, I confided to him that, “I have set my sights on studying further in London, the most celebrated and design-focused countries in the world, and have also given myself six months’ time to get my application, papers, course preferences, and thought-processes in order.”

In the next six months, we covered the distance in our lives, full-throttle, wasting no time in moving in together, yet we were careful to give each other space. The contours of our relationship took peculiarly unconventional forms and may be best understood as being alive. We both let ourselves be, meaning we allowed each other the freedom to be completely certain of who we are. We both refused to let our impulses get stuck between selves. “We won’t allow our love lives to be counterbalanced with our individual paths,” we told ourselves and each other. And we both kept up with our curiosity about the world.”

I had molded myself and my decisions to my personality that over the years had taken a determinate shape and I was not about to give up that. My childhood joys were anchored solely by my grandmother; my parents were so caught up in animosities that they failed to scatter joy even once in a while. My father was black and bleak in the extreme, his melancholy stretching to foul moods, a bad temper, and a diminished career as a stodgy banker. My mother was emotionally evasive, self-sufficient, independent of outside forces or influences, including me, I guess, arguing her blithe unilateralism was the only way to put food on our table. Ironically, she is a family and matrimonial lawyer. 

“When my grandmother passed on, I separated my sense of myself from my parents’ expectations of me, and their frictions. I sought out my own purpose and values and the only thing I consciously held on to was my grandmother’s sense of fun, making nonsense of sense and sense out of nonsense, and her belief that I was destined for great things, that is if I gained aptitude,” I explained to Akash.

Akash learned to journey on his own, too. “I was deprived of a gentler, slower childhood by parents who were focussed on marks and grades, and a career in engineering for me, the three priorities that I was mostly uninvolved with. I always escaped falling into their ambushes, their urgings, and their hopings, their setting of limits to my expansion, by posing to be a flight risk for them. Can you see now that I am not dissimilar to you? I broke away after college to pursue my own welfare, and today my parents have made peace with my choices. I suspect it is on account of the successes that have fallen into my kitty,” he said.

The stories we tell about our lives are inadequate to their real complexity. Yet I could picture him and make sense of what he was saying. A simple, smiling boy with a high forehead. Playing with a dog in a muddy playground. And building castles in the air.

To keep the chutzpah in our lives alive, we pranked each other with delight. You could call our sense of fun different. I called him over once to a hospital emphasizing that it was urgent. I dragged him to the gynaecological department, and when he worriedly asked why, I would not tell. “We have been ultra-careful, haven’t we?” he asked fretfully. I would not answer. When, finally, he figured that all this was just to collect my routine check-up report, I could not decide which was funnier, his exasperation, or his relief. 

His skylarking, that took a while in coming, took the guise of several small fake spiders tied to a thin string. A killer job! He taped the string just above our bathroom door jam and then shut the door. When I opened the door, the spiders fell on me one after another, even as I kicked, screamed, and wailed in an unsophisticated fluster, turning sick with anxiety.

The aftermath of our romance, when our six-month bracket began to close in upon us, elicited a lot of emotion. He had to begin thinking of the US, I of London. Our life of comfort that we had built together was coming to an end and our moment of crisis was upon us. 

Should we demur to our farsighted choices, our earlier decisions to go to the US and London, decisions that did require of us long periods of deliberation? Or should we depend on our intuition? Make place for our attachment? 

In this moment of reckoning, as in my other at-a-crossroads-juncture in my life, my grandmother’s words came to my rescue. I remembered how I used to brace myself as a child on her left shoulder when my father reprimanded me and her right shoulder when my mother threw vile words at me, while she soothed me with comforting words. The wily, wizened, grand old lady had during such moments said to me, “When you are faced with a difficult turn in your life, when you can neither look back or forward, you need to excavate things that are important to you, things that bring zest and gaiety of an inexhaustible joie de vivre.  Always remember, the brain of the sage must have a corner for the fool, an optimistic, utopian space.”

These words have given me comfort in tough times. But more than that it has given me perspective. It was no different this time around. I now knew what I wanted. I did not want to wake up to realize I had lost the one person in life who could understand the subtle difference between independent and interdependent and could help me combine both with joy. And I knew unquestioningly that I should hold on to the one person who knew about ambiguities within relationships.

And that’s where I was. Aching in my heart with a set of contrasting, mushed up needs. I was aware that my current beliefs flew in the face of everything that I worked for so far. Settling down always seemed to me like giving in to living life on an expected loop. A virtuous, staid life, complete with harness and bells. It was like catching a bad habit. Yet in the very same breath, the very same idea, the idea of conjoining futures, now seemed to be exciting. In a startling strangeness, it appeared rash and reckless, one where future possibilities bloomed in a deliriously wonderful manner.  

Confusing? Yes, I was most certainly muddled.

But did he know as well? If he did, he did not say. His lack of candor was scary. It disturbed me immensely this time around. I fretted as I could not temper down my fears of his decision being the opposite of mine. I became increasingly tearful, and waves of despair washed over me. Why isn’t he separating shadow from substance? If I was clear on “London, be damned” why is he drawing out his decision, the telling of it to me? Will he find a way to be in my life? Or will he retreat?

I suspected that a stealthy solicitousness on his part was his way of putting a distance between us. I told myself for some days that his non-directness was understandable, and not ignoble. But soon I began to chafe against his silence, the indecisiveness of our situation. Finally, I did what I scared to do. I stirred the pot. I asked him for his decision.

“Wait,” he ordered. “I have made my decision while sober. I am going to get drunk now.  I have always made big decisions in my life by thinking them twice over: once while drunk, once while sober.” 

I stared in disbelief. This was a new level of levity even for me. One that threw up alarming new uncertainties.

“Silly girl, of course, US be damned!” he exclaimed. 

“But I have thought through another option. Marry me and then head off to London for two years as I go off to the United States. I will be back home sooner and two years will pass by in a twinkling of the eye for you. Maybe, I could even hop across to London once I am done with my work in the States. That is if you will allow me. To liven up your studies that will drag on horribly long without me. What say?”

I could now exhale. 

His plan sounded like prudential algebra. Future planning with a twist of fun. Exuberance even. 

And, now as a married woman, I wait for our lives to unfold before us.


Artist:

Chitra Gopalakrishnan uses her ardor for writing, wing to wing, to break firewalls between nonfiction and fiction, narratology and psychoanalysis, marginalia and manuscript and tree-ism and capitalism.

Follow:

www.chitragopalakrishnan.com  

John Sheirer – Online Open Mic

Risk Management

The first time Bob saw the bear cub at the office was when he opened the bottom drawer of the file cabinet. The bear cub was lying on its back among the folds of a quilted blanket like an infant in a crib, looking up at him with cheerful brown eyes. The bear cub wiggled its meaty little paws at him.

“Whoa,” Bob said, quickly shutting the drawer.

Bob immediately forgot why he had opened the file cabinet. Was he getting something out or putting something in? He had no idea. By the time he walked back to his desk and sat down, he was beginning to talk himself out of the idea that a bear cub was occupying a bottom file drawer in the document storage room at his nondescript place of employment, which happened to be an insurance company specializing in fire and flood policies.

“Whatcha doin’ there, Bob?” Cindy asked from her desk next to Bob’s. She wrote the policies. Bob kept track of them. They’d been a work team for nearly a decade.

“I think I need to get a file,” Bob said.

“Okey-dokey, if you think so,” Cindy replied, her skilled fingers blurring over the computer keys.

Bob walked slowly back to document storage and stood before the file cabinet again. He studied the bottom drawer, which seemed to be moving in and out a fraction of an inch every few seconds, almost as if it were breathing. The drawer was labeled, “L – R.” Bob couldn’t think of a word for “bear cub” that started with L, M, N, O, P, Q, or R. Bob had always believed that things belonged in their appropriate places.

Bob sighed. “What the hell,” he whispered as he opened the drawer. Sure enough, the bear cub was still there, still wiggling its big bear cub toes and looking at him with what he could only interpret as affection. The bear cub was cute, no doubt, but Bob wasn’t ready to return its affection just yet. Bob knew that even cute things could be dangerous. Bob had seen many situations where being cute could be used as an excellent disguise.

Bob looked around the document storage room. He was alone with the bear cub. His twelve coworkers were in the main office only ten steps through the doorway. He couldn’t very well call out, “Hey, who left the bear cub in the file cabinet?” This wasn’t a moldy sandwich in the office mini-fridge.

Bob wasn’t angry about the bear cub. He wasn’t even quite afraid of the bear cub. The best word to describe the feelings the bear cub brought up in Bob was suspicion. He was suspicious of this bear cub. He questioned its bear cub purpose and its bear cub motives and even its bear cub existence. What right did this bear cub have to interrupt his workday? It was almost lunch, and he didn’t want to waste his lunch half-hour dealing with some random bear cub.

Bob got down on one knee suspiciously. Cautiously would also be an accurate term. This was a wild animal, after all. What if its mother happened to be in another drawer somewhere close by? Mama bears were most dangerous when someone got between them and their bear cub. Bob had read that on the internet.

The bear cub watched Bob’s kneeling approach. It seemed pleased to have company after being alone in the drawer for … for how long? Bob didn’t remember the last time he had opened this particular drawer, and he was the one who did most of the filing.

The bear cub gurgled deep in its little bear cub throat, almost as if it were trying to imitate a grown bear’s roar but didn’t know how yet. Bob had to admit that the attempted roar was the cutest thing the bear cub had done so far, but he still wasn’t ready to give the bear cub the benefit of the doubt.

“Hey, Cindy?” Bob called out, just loud enough for Cindy but not the rest of the office drones to hear. “You got a second? Something to show you back here.”

The small but insistent sound of Cindy’s fingers striking the keys stopped. “Coming,” she called out. Cindy’s heels clicked on the tile floor, and the alert little bear cub craned its neck a bit to look around Bob for the source of the sound.

Bob could see Cindy’s shadow move across the floor and touch the bear cub. She put a hand on Bob’s shoulder.

“Oh,” she said. “You found Little Honey!”

“Little Honey?” Bob asked.

“Yeah,” Cindy said. “That’s what I call him.”

Bob craned his neck to look up at Cindy. The overhead light haloed her face. Her husband was some kind of a teacher who often stopped in just to give her a random rose and a quick kiss. She was pretty, Bob knew, in a grown-up girl-next-door-at-the-next-desk kind of way. But at that moment, backlit by humming fluorescents, she looked like a literal angel right out of an art book that featured nothing but angels. Or maybe a television show about angels Bob had once seen as a child. The point is, she was glowing.

“Seriously?” Bob asked. “Little Honey Bear?”

“It’s a good name for him, don’t you think?” Cindy said, her words floating down to Bob as if from heaven.

Bob looked back at the bear cub. Little after-images from Cindy’s angel light danced around the bear cub in Bob’s field of vision. He had to admit that Little Honey Bear was a good name for the furry creature in the file drawer.

Bob started to stand, not the easiest maneuver considering his bad knee. Cindy grasped his arm and helped him up. Her grip was stronger than he would have expected. Once he was upright, Cindy kept her hand wrapped around his arm. Bob found her grip reassuring.

“How long has he been here?” Bob asked.

“Not long,” Cindy replied. “A few years.”

“A few years?” Bob marveled. “I file things here ten times a day. How have I missed seeing him?”

“Well,” Cindy explained, “he moves from drawer to drawer now and then. And not everyone can see Little Honey right away. Sometimes it takes a few tries.”

The two of them looked down at Little Honey like parents watching their first-born child.

“Who else knows about him?” Bob asked.

“Janice in HR. Phil the janitor. And LaDonna in marketing,” Cindy said. “You now Arthur from the bank? Comes for planning sessions every few months? It took him a few tries, just like you. He can be really serious sometimes, but Little Honey got him to open up a bit, relax, be himself.”

“Really?” Bob asked. “Arthur from the bank can see a bear cub in our file drawer? He seems so … sensible.”

“Yep. Last month, he stopped in just to see Little Honey with his wife and daughter,” Cindy said. “They could all see him. A family thing.”

“Arthur from the bank …” Bob repeated, mystified.

Cindy continued: “And, of course, my husband Ted can see him. Saw him the very first time I showed him. Bob even calls me his ‘little honey bear’ sometimes.”

Cindy blushed slightly. Bob stared at her.

“Here’s one that will tickle you,” Cindy mused. “My sister has a little cute little dog named Ruby. A Border Terrier. Great breed. She visited with Ruby one day last month, and that little dog went right for the file cabinet and scratched until we opened the drawer. She and Little Honey took to each other like they’d been family forever. Ruby sniffed and nuzzled and practically jumped into the drawer with that bear cub. Then she looked at us as proud as can be, like she was showing off her own big, hairy puppy. Damnedest thing I ever saw.”

“I just don’t know what to think of all of this,” Bob said.

“That’s how I felt at first, too. But now you can see Little Honey,” Cindy said. “which makes me happy.”

“Some people can’t see him?” Bob asked.

“Funny thing,” Cindy replied. “The smokers can’t see him. Dennis in IT. Eric the UPS guy. Rhonda from billing saw him the day after she quit and put on that big nicotine patch. Hasn’t taken a puff since she saw Little Honey that day.”

Bob found the information about smokers as baffling as the basic fact that Little Honey was there. But he was secretly pleased to know that the bear cub hid himself that way. Bob’s parents had died from smoking, and his last serious relationship before meeting his wife ended in large part because the woman had smoked and hid it from her children. If Bob really stopped to consider it, he might even say that his dislike of smoking was part of the reason he got into the insurance business—although he’d probably have a hard time explaining how.

“Why is Little Honey here?” Bob asked, now that he was coming to grips with the fact that Little Honey was really there and not the product of more imagination than he thought he possessed.

“No one really knows for sure, but I have a theory,” Cindy said. “I think he’s here to make us feel better about the world. It’s tough sometimes, what with work and getting old and dying and crazy people running the country. But Little Honey can take us away from that for a few moments each day. That’s his gift to us.”

Bob shook his head. He was just as amazed by what Cindy was saying as he was by the idea that there was a bear cub named Little Honey in the bottom file drawer.

The two coworkers watched the bear cub for a while, and then Cindy said, “Wait here a second.” She released her friendly grip on his arm and went to a cupboard on the far wall. From her tiptoes, she reached into the back corner of an upper shelf. She found a zip-lock bag and extracted something that looked like a doggie biscuit. As she put the biscuit in Bob’s hand and closed his fingers around it, Little Honey watched the exchange with intense interest.

“If Little Honey lets you give him a treat, he’ll be your friend,” Cindy said to Bob. Then her voice lowered to a whisper. “But if he bites you, you’ll never see him again and forget you ever knew about him in the first place.”

“Does he bite many people?” Bob asked.

“Remember that guy, Dave? He came with Arthur from the bank that one time?” Cindy asked.

“Vaguely,” Bob replied. “Kind of a jerk.”

“Now you know why he never came back,” Cindy said.

“Oh,” Bob said.

The bear cub’s eyes moved from Bob’s treat-holding hand to his face and back again. Bob drew in a deep breath and held it as he let the treat slip from his palm to a loose grip between his thumb and fingertip. Little Honey’s deep, dark eyes widened. Did he want to eat the treat? Or did he want to eat Bob’s arm? Bob had no way to know for sure.

Bob, (Robert James Mann, Jr.)—age fifty-one, married for twenty years, two teenaged kids, homeowner, the beginning of a bald spot, mows his own lawn, drives a six-year-old Honda Civic, B.S. in Business with a minor in Accounting and twelve credits toward an MBA he’ll never finish—had never been a man prone to fantasy. He filed documents by day and spent quiet evenings with his family. He slept soundly and usually didn’t remember his dreams. On weekends, he enjoyed quiet drives with his wife or going to the kids’ sports events where he cheered earnestly at half volume.

Bob wasn’t the kind of guy who took risks. But he slowly lowered the treat toward Little Honey, bending slightly at the waist, smiling, and cooing, “niiiiice bear, gooood bear,” ready for whatever might happen next.


Artist:

Bio: John Sheirer (pronounced “shy-er”) lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, with his wonderful wife Betsy and happy dog Libby. He has taught writing and communications for 27 years at Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield, Connecticut, where he also serves as editor and faculty advisor for Freshwater Literary Journal (submissions welcome). He writes a monthly column on current events for his hometown newspaper, the Daily Hampshire Gazette, and his books include memoir, fiction, poetry, essays, political satire, and photography. His most recent books are a flash fiction collection, Too Wild, and a novella thriller, Uncorrected

Follow This Artist:

http://www.JohnSheirer.com

Online Open Mic – Call For Submissions

My Dearest Ponderbots,

We have got quite a lineup developing for the March Online Open Mic, so start getting your dancing shoes on because it’s going to be a ball!

If you were debating whether or not you should participate, let me settle the debate because the answer is: “YES!” There’s still time to send your submissions and the time is now.

See below for guidelines and I’ll see you soon!

Submission Guidelines:

1. Send your art of any kind (poems, music, drawings, paintings, videos, or any medium of creativity!). It can be of any genre or topic.

(Disclaimer: Submissions that include hate, discrimination, or inappropriate content will not be accepted).

2. Include a picture of yourself or any photo that you feel represents yourself as an artist.

3. Include any bios, links to your work, or social media sites that you would like to be shared.

4. Email your submission to Mia Savant at pondersavant@gmail.com with the subject line: Online Open Mic.

5. Follow the blog site www.pondersavant.com. If you have Facebook or Instagram follow there as well @pondersavant.

6. Spread the word! Let other artists know about the Online Open Mic by your social media sites or word of mouth!

Deadline for submission is February 29th, 2020