I head downstairs and around the dark corner to spy my eldest son in his child bed, grey sneaker poking through the captain’s wheel footboard. The familiar angles of his shoulder and hip turned toward the lavender wall. Upstairs: a turkey half-cooked, speakers blaring Radiohead, collards on simmer, beers all over the counter. My wisdom crumbles when I try to comfort anyone. Oh hon, I’m sorry, I say. He sobs and pulls the faded deer blanket over his head.
I just don’t want anybody else getting hurt, he says.
No one else is getting hurt, I tell him.
And watch as he weeps, not knowing what to do. Hug him? Would he want me to? My body does not leap into a hug. Nobody in my family hugged. Earlier he had tried to tell me about this boy Karl, his roommate first year at college—Oh, I remember your dorm room, I interrupted—that he was dead. Suicide, I heard my son say and went on chopping celery. Heat coils in my cheekbones and sinuses. Oh, that’s too bad. Is that all I said? That’s too bad.
The royal palms bathe in the soft warm air of February and everywhere I look there is the play of glittering afternoon light—on store windows and metal bistro tables, on the well-polished always white Mercedes and Lexuses, on the sorbet pinks and oranges and lime greens of faux-Spanish buildings. The most ordinary things here seem
“I am fascinated by the beauty of sight, but I never crave for it,” a blind actor says, brushing his fingers across the petals of flowers in a softly lit bazaar.The camera tracks from his hand to his grey-tinged hair as a market breeze circles his linen shirt and bamboo chimes patter the air.
Following My Daughter’s Fitting for a Prosthetic Eye
We arrive at night, landing at West Palm International, still wearing jeans and fleece jackets as we step into the Florida night and walk to the taxi stand through air softened by warmth and humidity. Fifteen minutes later my sister and I stumble over the tiny brick path that leads from the edge of the cul-de-sac to the front door, swatting at mosquitos while my dad punches in the security code, everybody exhausted but excited to finally be back. It’s always like this, in all my memories of the place – an evening flight out of Boston landing us in West Palm sometime between ten and midnight, the night always clear, the air a humid 73.
The house belonged to my grandparents. Every February while I was in elementary school, my family would stay there for a week, a brief respite from the New England winter. My grandparents purchased the house as an eventual retirement home, but my grandfather had still not retired, and so the house occupied a strange sort of limbo, going entirely un-lived-in over the summer, and seeing only nine or ten weeks of use in the rest of the year. We returned each year to a sterile, static domicile that was clearly nobody’s home, greeted by the same immaculate white carpets, spotless tabletops, and barren kitchen. The house felt like a blank canvas over which our vacations were painted; it functioned simply as a base of operations. And this was the role my parents wanted it to play, because they were always desperate to get out of the house, to not let their week off go to waste. But for me, the house, and the similarly sterile neighborhood around it became the consummate vacation setting. February vacation came to be synonymous with Florida, the days 80 degrees and sunny, the blacktop so hot that wiffleball games couldn’t be played barefoot, the nights cool and humid and echoing with the hooting, melancholy whistle of the night train that passed along the outskirts of the gated community just after my nine-thirty bedtime.
Feroz Rather is a PhD student in Creative Writing at Florida State University. His work has been published in such journals as TheMillions, TheRumpus, and TheSoutheast Review, and his debut novel, The Night of Broken Glass, was released by Harper Collins India this year. Through a series of interconnected stories, in which the same characters move in and out, the novel-in-stories describes the horrors of violence in Kashmir today. Read an excerpt online here.
Via email, Neha Kirpal spoke with Rather about Kashmir, V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr Biswas (“Isn’t that an extraordinary achievement?”), survival, and Rather’s social role as a Kashmiri Muslim writer (“The only responsibility the writer has is to find his own true voice”).
Living Under Siege: An Interview with Feroz Rather
Oh, how I crave Bloody Marys at night, tomato and vodka,
kick of Tabasco, spices make everything in life a hell
of a lot better, or at least a hell of a lot more interesting,
and I think that’s what we’re aiming for, and maybe what
I really want is tomato soup, like Andy Warhol used to request
I was reading my five-year-old son a story about dragons, when he threw me an unexpected question: “Dad? Was Katrina some kind of monster? Robbie’s big brother was talking about her at school. He said Katrina smashed his grandparents’ house a long time ago.”
For most of us living close to the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Katrina, which struck on August 29, 2005, was a monster of nearly mythical proportions, and for my son who was born five years later, the carnage Katrina inflicted seems beyond reality, the work of cartoon meanies with raspy voices and serrated teeth. Yet she was entirely real, and the destruction she wrought created millions of individual stories that make up the larger story of our nation’s weird relationship with Katrina.
Jim’s garden, like all gardens, was a work of deception.
I had a view of it from my side yard where the bamboo hedge had been reluctant to fill in, framing what it was supposed to hide: a sort of jungle fantasy some two hundred miles north of the tropics, shaded by laurel oaks.