CW: unplanned pregnancy, termination, gaslighting/emotional manipulation, acute manic episode
There’s a clamour, a buzzing like a hive. No, a swarm. Discordant glasses clink, people chatter. A woman’s laugh rings out. It’s hers, I know it is. I look over. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but not the understated elegance of the lace bodice and gentle swell of the chiffon skirt. She has a tiny lace and rhinestone horseshoe dangling from her waist. So trite. If that were me, I’d be in a sari, blazing red, gold embroidery weighing me down, hair engorged with jasmine. I’d be cloying, I’d get in your nose.
“Isn’t she gorgeous?” Pei Yin asks.
I pooch my lips like I’m considering, like I haven’t been wondering the exact same thing. Is she gorgeous, or isn’t she?
“Let’s get a drink,” I say, dragging her to the bar. “Gin and tonic,” I waggle two fingers at the bartender.
“The church service was good,” says Pei Yin. She says it like a statement, but really she’s asking – what kind of scene are you going to make?
Something fizzes inside me – I decide it is excitement. Excitement at our erstwhile housemate’s wedding to a wonderful girl. Just wonderful. She’s a vet nurse. What’s not to like?
Mife -PRIS- tone.
I waggle another two fingers at the bartender. Pei Yin hasn’t finished her first one, so I shrug and down them both.
“Let’s dance!” I say.
“But they haven’t opened the dance floor yet!” she says, her voice dopplering after me.
I move into the centre of the room, tables and chairs are strewn about the space. Purple-orange light from the setting sun streams through the glass walls. I bump a couple of chairs out of the way and begin moving my hips, arms up in the air. They’re playing some kind of nineties shit.
“Maybe she chose the music!” I say to Pei Yin.
“Why aren’t you dancing?” I bump her on the hip.
“That’s my seat,” a woman in a black cocktail number says.
“Do you want to dance?” I yell at her. The chatter in the room is deafening. “This fuddy-duddy over here doesn’t want to, can you believe it?”
“Could you dance somewhere else please? That’s my seat.”
“Okay, geez,” I say, grabbing Pei Yin. “What is wrong with people?”
“You need to take it down a notch, Sana, okay? I said we shouldn’t come. This was a bad idea.”
“Relax, Yin! It’s all good! I’m so fucking happy for Daniel and his wife Leanne.”
“You know her name is Leigh, Sana. Stop it, you’re being obnoxious.”
“You’re being obnoxious, Yin. Always telling me what to do.”
My arrows always hit home with Yin - I’ve known her since we were twelve. “Shit, sorry Sana, it’s just…well, I’m worried about you.”
Ma had called, also trying to talk me out of going to the wedding.
“What dose has Dr. Rehman got you on?” she had asked. Everyone is so worried about me having any feelings.
I give Yin a hug. “I’m okay – see?” I flash a bright grin at her.
We head back to our table, in the far reaches of the Daniel-Leigh galaxy. I think he’s seated us with his old football buddies. I grab the champagne flute, bubbles tickling my nose.
“How do you know them?” a lanky man in an ill-fitting blue suit asks me.
“Yin and I used to live with Daniel,” I shout over the din, pointing at Yin.
“I used to play basketball with him,” he shouts back.
“I really don’t care,” I say.
“What?” he says.
“Isn’t Leigh wonderful?” I say.
The man smiles and gives me two thumbs up.
“Get me a refill?” I give him my flute, empty now.
“Back in a tick,” he says, getting up.
Yin is looking at me. “You good, Sana? Are we going to be okay today?”
“Such a worrywart, Yin! I’m having a fabulous time!”
She has always been a buzzkill. My body fizzes again, the velvet cover on the chair feels really itchy. I don’t know why I chose this satin dress. I wanted to wear a sari. I am Durga on a tiger.
“Stop fidgeting so much!” Yin says as I knock her drink over.
I put my napkin on the spill to stop it staining her dress.
“There’s Daniel’s mum!” I stand, pointing at the tall woman in purple. Yin rushes after me as I walk towards her.
“How are you girls? I hardly see you anymore!” she says.
“We’re well, Mrs. McDade, thank you! How are you?” Yin, like a horse out of the gates.
“I’m so happy today – don’t they look wonderful together?”
‘Just wonderful,” I say.
“Yes, it was a great ceremony,” Yin says, dragging me away. “Enjoy your night!”
“What was that about?” I hiss at her. “Why didn’t you let me speak to her?”
“I was worried you might say something -”
“Something what, Yin? Something true? Something real? You are fucking afraid. That’s what you are. Just afraid. And that makes you dishonest. It makes you say she’s wonderful. When you know damn well we’ve spent hours bitching about her!”
“Keep your voice down, Sana!” Yin is looking around us. She has always wanted to please everyone else. She continues, with that look on her face – the ‘I love you, but – ‘ look.
“You’ve been obsessing about him a bit, Sana.”
The fizzing is making my skin itch now. This dress is too tight. I mean that’s why I picked it, but I feel like I can’t breathe. Yin has never approved of me and Daniel. I remember the look she gave me that time when she woke up and saw us kissing. We had collapsed on the couch after one of our parties, Daniel in between, an arm around each of us. I tucked right into his armpit, snuggled my head on his chest. He was lazily twirling my hair in his fingers. I looked up, and he was looking down at me. He smiled, said hey, then kissed me. There was a split second when I might have stopped him, but I didn’t.
There’s a plate on the table in front of us. I am starving, so I grab it. It’s a flaky onion and feta tart. Delicious, but I have crumbs all over me. A bewildered man comes to me and says
“I think that’s my -”
A set to my jaw, I say, “your…what? Your what? Speak up man!”
“Never mind,” he backs away, looking at Yin who is mouthing sorry at him.
“Why is it so hard for people to just speak the truth, Yin?”
There’s a waitress passing with a plate of canapes. It’s a scallop on one of those stand-up spoons, with a little hillock of orange roe on top of it. The orange reminds me. “Have you seen my tiger?” I ask her. Quite solemnly she shakes her head.
At the next table there is a kid, about ten. She’s reading a book.
“I loved Judy Blume too,” I say, sitting next to her.
She glances up then back at her book.
“Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret was my favourite,” I try again.
She shrugs, “it was okay”.
I had read that book in the window seat in my room. The cushion on the seat had a pink and purple checked cover. It felt soft and hard at the same time, like I could sit there for hours, and it would hold me up as long as I wanted it to. I would sleep there sometimes, looking out at the luminous sky, stars winking that they’d keep the secret.
“Anyway, I’m not a kid anymore. I’m a goddess now. It’s just that I might have misplaced my tiger, so be careful, okay?” I say to the girl who finally looks at me properly.
“Come on Sana. Let’s go sit down,” Yin butts in.
I don’t want to sit! I want to fly! “Let’s get another drink.” I run to the bar, and she can’t keep up with me. She’s too slow, weighted down by all the lies and half-truths she tells. Like how she’s my best friend.
That second time, she was in the kitchen when I came out of Daniel’s room. She’d raised her eyebrows at me. When I had finished in the shower, they were having breakfast. Munching their toast like it was a normal day. She’d poured me a coffee and he’d left without even looking at me. What had she said to him?
The bartender is ignoring me on purpose. I know he is. “Hey! I asked for two gin and tonics!” I call out.
“He’ll get to us soon, Sana.” Yin says. She has the exact same exasperated look on her face she did when I went into her room that morning a few years ago. I had wanted her to explain the two blue lines on the pee stick to me, to tell me what to do. But I’d said the wrong thing. I’d said “Yin, it’s about Daniel and me,” and she’d rolled her eyes. “Will you just let go of it, Sana?” she’d said. “He’s with someone else now.”
I spin around to her, suddenly realising the truth “it was you all along, wasn’t it?”
“You fed him that poison. You told him to break it off with me, didn’t you?”
Yin is about to cry. I knew it! Fucking lying bitch.
“You have never loved me. You are a taker, Yin. At school you were at my place every fucking weekend because your family wouldn’t have you!”
She’s proper crying now. Good, the truth always hurts, but you have to hear it. You have to hear it to set yourself free.
I am so encumbered. By my hair all tied up in a stupid knot. I pull the hairpins out, and they scatter like the confetti we threw into the air earlier that day. People are saying something. What?
At the table next to me there’s a woman, and she has a baby in a pram. He’s the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. His skin is the exact colour of a toy chest I had once. It was from China, with a carving of a junk on it. Gold and caramel and coffee and pepper.
“Oh my God,” I say to his mother. She’s more latte. “Is Daniel the father of this baby too?” I ask. “Mine is littler. Much littler. Just an embryo really. Might have only been an idea in my mind. I would have called him Sachin. Means truth.”
She looks alarmed. I’ve frightened her. My tears are running in mascara rivulets down my cheeks.
“Are you okay?” she says, half standing.
I wave her back down and nod, “I’m fine,” then I shake my head, and I am wailing.
“All you have to do, to turn a real baby back into an idea, is to take mife-PRIS-tone, then twenty-four hours later, take miso-PROS-tol. That’s it! And if you’re really careful and you tell no one, you can even trick yourself that it was one of your little delusions.”
I look down at the baby, and it is wailing too. The baby knows.
“This is not your baby,” I hiss to the woman. Her eyes widen and she looks around wildly.
“This baby belongs to the Universe.”
“Ma’am?” a voice says at my elbow.
“I’m only called Ma’am when I go shopping, and everyone can tell I have pots of money, just pots! It’s just me on my corporate salary. No husband! No kid!” Alarmed, I look around, where is it?
“Have you seen my tiger?” I ask the waitperson. She looks to the mum, like the truth might be in her eyes.
“Don’t ask the mum! Ask the baby! The pepper baby!” This is the truest idea I’ve ever had. I lunge towards the table and the mum makes a little scream. She is not one who sees the truth. I grab the salt and pepper shakers and stand over the baby. Or I try to, but the waitperson gets in my way.
Suddenly – it is his face. His beautiful face – grey-green-brown eyes, the hint of brown stubble. “Sana, come with me.”
With you, Daniel, anywhere.
He takes me to the bathroom, and hands me a drink.
“Have you been taking your meds?”
“They’re a cage, Daniel. A cage for the mind. You wouldn’t understand. You just entered a cage voluntarily. One called marriage. To a wonderful girl. So happy for you.”
He sighs. He says my name, voice all husky, and it breaks me.
“Oh fuck, sorry. I’m sorry.” My cat eye is ruined. I think there’s snot all over my face too. He gets some toilet paper for me.
“Why can’t you let it go, Sana?”
But I did let it go. I let it all go down the toilet. Mife-PRIS-tone. Miso-PROS-tol.
I stand up and move closer to him, I must show him the truth. I reach for his waistband, pulling down his zip.
He grabs my hand. “Stop it.”
I titter. “You don’t really want me to.”
I am down on my knees.
“Stop it, Sana!” He turns away from me, doing up his zip. “I am married to Leigh. I love her.
Please stop this. I knew I shouldn’t have invited you.”
“Why did you then?” I say from my place curled up on the floor. It’s so comfortable here.
“Leigh wanted me to.”
That stops me.
“She thought it was right. She said I shouldn’t ignore the fact that we had something.” He looks at me, and I think he is saying sorry. Why does everyone speak in riddles?
Daniel turns to leave. When he opens the bathroom door, there is a balloon of sound – chatter, cutlery, laughter. The door shuts and abruptly cuts it off.
I stay on the cold floor, completely alone, like I have always been. There’s an orange light on the ceiling, buzzing at a frequency that hums in my bones.
I am five, out in the moonlight for a stroll with my dolly Gina in her pram. My pink plastic heels with the bow clack-clacking as I walked along the pavement all the way to the park. I spoke to Gina the whole way “it’s okay baby, I know you’re scared, but it’s okay, Mama’s here”. The sodium lights at the park buzzed orange as I walked right round the track. I didn’t know what else to do so I went back home. The front door was wide open, just like I’d left it. Ma never knew. It was a dream, I think.
The door opens again.
“Hey,” a voice says. The dearest voice in the world. The voice of the person who is always there. Always. No matter what.
“I’m sorry,” I say to Yin. My tears are falling through their own ponderous gravity. The lies I have been telling myself are pouring out of me.
She says, “I’ve called Dr Rehman. We’re going to see him tomorrow.”
“Okay,” I say.
She has our bags and coats already. Of course. I gather myself, and wash as best I can in the shitty sink. My cat eye has run all over my face, and my hair is a rumpled mess.
We head out, slinking past the mess of people and tables and happiness, to the exit.
“Sana,” someone calls. I turn. And it is her.
“Are you okay?” she asks.
I can’t speak.
“I get it,” she says. “I love him too.” She looks straight at me. “But he’s married now, Sana, okay? To me.”
Isn’t this what I have been waiting for? The truth, for once? So why does it hurt so much?
I lift my chin and nod at her, just once, then Yin and I leave.