[NOTE: This story was a finalist in the ‘2017 Best of the Net Anthology’.]
One boy is more vicious than the rest. He lopes over like some big movie villain and lands a kick on my husband’s face, sending him sprawling sideways. When the old man stays motionless after falling, the boy runs. His friends, following him, yell a count in English they must have been learning in school: “One, two, three… eight, nine, ten…”
Some numbers I want them to know: fifty—the age of the man they knocked over; fifteen—my age when I met him as a child bride; twenty-five—how many years I had been his wife; fifty thousand—the amount we had got for our farmland to pay for my sick parents’ hospital bills; two—bottles of rat poison we had bought to end our constant worries about work and money; one—the number of times I had been pregnant, and he had gone from the happiest to the saddest I had ever known.
‘Lunch Ticket‘ is a well-respected literary journal run by students and alumni of the Antioch University’s MFA Program in Los Angeles, CA. They have published and profiled a diverse range of writers from across the world. And, as they say in their Mission Statement, “The name Lunch Ticket pays homage to the MFA program’s and Antioch University’s historic focus on issues that affect the working class and under-served or under-represented communities.”
‘Amuse-Bouche‘ is their online offering where, on a weekly basis, they spotlight a particular writer’s or artist’s works, book reviews, and student-written craft essays.
This story is about the two-week aftermath of the death of a wife and how that affects her husband. Though it is not a ghost story, most of the point of view and voice is that of the dead wife. What I particularly wanted to explore is how loss and grief are tied to memory, and how memory, in turn, is connected to dreams.
The setting is a small village in Gujarat, which has been dealing with drought-like conditions. These have made the lot of farmworkers, like the couple here, the hardest. So there is also an underlying theme of blind superstition related to these hardships.
A quick word about “the afterlife”. I do not actually believe in it — how can we know something we cannot prove? But I do think that we, the living, can continue to sense the presence or energy of a loved one after they pass away. This is, likely, more a way that we deal with their loss than anything else. I will leave it there for now.
Major plot points are punctuated by and progress through particular dreams. Aside from my personal fascination with dream symbology, I was somewhat inspired by some new scientific studies about the purpose of dreams and how they can be harnessed to alter our neural networks.
Some say the function of dreams is to forget things, erase memories or suppress thoughts, whereas the others say that this is our brain’s way of simulating futures, so you’re kind of thinking about dumping him and moving to Vancouver or marrying him and starting a family in Alabama. You don’t know the answer. Your brain is going to simulate both options and give you something to think about when you wake up. But regardless of whichever option you believe in, what’s common to all of them is that during the night, we think that this is our brain’s way of keeping ourselves up and crafting answers to problems.
In this story, rather than making dreams function as a way of forgetting things or erasing memories or suppressing thoughts, I wanted to make them a way of remembering and giving rise to new memories/thoughts. I suppose I was more interested in the “simulating futures” scenario described above.
[Personal Note: I must confess I spent a lot of time researching dream symbology — often as a way to avoid actually writing the story — because it was all so fascinating. That said, I also have frequent, vivid dreams with certain symbols that have recurred over decades. So I do believe that, often, dreams are simply a way for our subconscious to try to process or resolve ongoing problems/issues. Though I have never actually resolved a real-life problem through a dream, it has always proved a helpful signal, prodding me to pay attention to something I might be suppressing/avoiding during my waking hours. As you can tell, I am rather drawn to dream neuropsychology/science.]