Fiction

Vestigial

THE BOY RAN past the house just as Sherwin held the clothes pegs up to the line. The sheet sprayed soapsuds on the sunken floorboards, but Sherwin didn’t see them. The boy wore his trackies high on his back, shuffling up the hill with his hairless ankles shining in the summer sun.

Sherwin dropped the clothes pegs, found his slippers and leapt off the patio. There were never any other boys around here. He ran up the hill, panting, trying not to make too much sweat on the top of his belly.

He followed the boy to the top of the crescent and through the gates at Clayton Lakes. Sherwin’s parents used to take him to tour the estate, chatting to the builders and the realtors. He loved the lawns, as smooth as freshly made beds, and the fountains, fed by thousands of teeny-tiny pipes.

The boy seemed unaware of the magnificent homes. Hurrying by the houses with his hand on his forehead, he turned off the boulevard and stepped onto the building site where the red dirt turned dusty. This is trespassing, thought Sherwin, storing the word in his vocabulary bank. His glasses were foggy so he rubbed them on his sleeve.

The boy crept between the diggers, trembling. An excavator loomed above him, casting a deep shadow with its huge steel trough. His little whimpers limped into the wind.

I was just taking my walk, said Sherwin.

The boy’s hair was red, like pepper powder. He might have been old, maybe sixteen. His nose was full of gunk and his wide, wet eyes sunk into his skull. Shaking his head, he pointed at the trough.

There was a greyhound buried under the concrete. Its black fur hung in clumps from the rocks. Fat black flies convened at the end of its nose.

She’s a racer, said the boy, nodding at the stump on its bottom. She got the chop, see. He was trying not to make any tears but his mouth gaped like a goldfish.

What if we took her down, said Sherwin.

How.

We could make a plinth.

A what.

A plinth, said Sherwin, dropping to his hands and knees and stiffening his spine from his neck to his bottom.

Oh you mean a steppy. The boy stepped on Sherwin’s back and dragged the greyhound out of the trough. I’m Bobby, he said. Guess I owe you a favour sometime.

 

THEY LEFT THE excavator and went by the temp fence at the back of the site. Bobby pressed his toes out of his thongs and into the earth but the ground was hard, compact. The dust made a sting in their throats.

Do you know what Parsis do with their dead, said Sherwin.

Nah.

Sherwin explained how Parsis took their corpses to the top of a tower and left them for the vultures. Sometimes they added a little lime to help things along. But these days the vultures are getting sick, said Sherwin. Too many Indians have chemicals in their kidneys.

Why do you even know that.

My grandma was a Parsi.

So that would make you an Indian.

Actually my parents are there now. They had to borrow money for the flights but they’re hoping to sell my grandma’s house. But what do you think, said Sherwin. We could make our own tower of silence.

They dragged the greyhound around the lot until they found a port-a-loo. They swept the leaves off the roof, brushed the cobwebs off the door, spat on the metal walls and saw their spit evaporate.

She’s a bit messy, said Bobby, grabbing the greyhound’s legs and shaking the burrs out of its fur. He even crushed the maggots between his fingers.

Sherwin held it by the ears. Its tongue fell out its mouth and smeared some pus on his palm. So how long have you lived at Clayton Lakes, he said. I might be moving up here.

I’m not here, no way, said Bobby. I’m just passing through. Mum’s having a tough time so I’m helping out before I head to the country to look for work. His mother was a running coach. She was also a part-time beautician. Any bung nose, any boil, you just give her a ring, said Bobby. She’ll help you hide whatever you want. And she’s getting better on her wheels, you know.

And your friends.

What about them, said Bobby.

Do you have a lot of friends.

I don’t know. Maybe. Probably as many as you.

You would know it if someone was your friend. Sherwin stepped beside the port-a-loo and tried to reach the roof. You should give me a steppy.

Nah.

It’s your turn.

Don’t want you suffocating. It’s stinky as.

Fine. Sherwin dropped to his hands and knees and Bobby lifted the greyhound onto the roof. He pinned it down with some bricks. Then he looped his fingers in his waistband and landed on the concrete with a slap of his thongs.

It was already sunset when they walked back to the boulevard. The shadows of the birches reached across the lawns like slim fingers. Sherwin breathed as deeply as he could, sniffing chlorine from backyard pools and lamb cutlets on hidden grills. They reached the hill and walked back the way they came. I live here, said Sherwin, nodding at the patio and the sheet without its pegs. He hoped it was dry and not smelly anymore.

Wicked, said Bobby. See you. He limped down the road towards the station, where a train sliced along the tracks like a knife through the toes of the neighbourhood.

 

SIMPLE SHERWIN, LITTLE ladka, what has become of you. We call this home phone not once, not twice, but thrice already. Have you forgotten how much an international call costs. Here we are, your doting ama and apa, fearing what has happened.

Napping, he said. I was napping.

How to explain your deafness.

I was dreaming, he said. Are you coming home soon.

Yaar, soon. Now tell us, the entrance exam is how many months away.

Two thirds of one month.

And did cousin Azman spend his thirteenth year on God’s Earth dream- ing away his smarts. Have we not discussed this many, many times. This is your month to be hero of the house. How many words in your new vocabulary bank.

One.

And how many did we assign.

Thirteen.

Are you destined to become another Aussie deadweight.

No, Apa, he said. No, Ama.

Expect our call tomorrow, little ladka. Please don’t make us worry. We are already overrun with funeral costs. Remember, if you honour the work, the work will honour you.

 

THE BOTTOM OF his tummy hurt and he had the dirty sense he was about to do pissab but not in the toilet like he should. This is incontinence, he thought, trying not to remember the shame of last night.

He turned on the ceiling fan. His papers rose off the sofa and the ironing board. His hundreds of handwritten stories shifted in the breeze. Dusty Jones and the Impossible Space Race. Ronny and the Wicked Witch. Big Tom and the Murderous Cat.

There were only twenty days left until the Melbourne High School entrance exam. He had been preparing for five years, leaving parties at bowling alleys and laser tag for maths masterclasses and essay workshops. His parents said successful children didn’t waste their time making friends. His oldest cousin, Azman, had graduated dux from Melbourne High School ten years ago and now he worked at an investment bank. His parents taped Azman’s essays to the ceiling above Sherwin’s bed.

He went to the patio and took the sheet off the line. It was dry. He spread it on his parents’ bed instead of putting it in the cupboard.

Before she went away, his older sister sat him at the table and told him a hypothesis about their parents. She said they weren’t one woman and one man but one single consciousness. They clung to the same out-of-date university degrees. Their souls were one bleak shadow of what they were in India. Their lives served only clichés of immigrant success: no sitcoms for killing brain cells, no mobiles for internet chatrooms, no parties for unwanted pregnancies and no girlfriends, little ladka, for dilly-dallying in the world below their prayers.

But his sister had left for Sydney, abandoning them, and his parents said it was wisest to move on. In all sadness, they said, she was likely now a feminist.

Dusk crept up the hill and blanketed the house. Sherwin went to change into his lungi. As he tied it around his tummy, the smell of the greyhound rose off his hands and he smiled in the dark, recounting the day’s scene to his posters of bare-chested surfers gliding over the sea.

 

LAST NIGHT, ASLEEP in his parents’ bed, Sherwin had woken with a jolt, his fingers pinned around his throat, as the warm pissab spread through the bedsheet. Tonight, he simply could not sleep. He lay on the sofa with the damp sheet on his face, picturing his alarm sounding at 5.30. There were essays to rewrite. All day he would hold his pencil in his right hand and his stopwatch in his left. He would spend five minutes per introduction, three minutes per body paragraph and two minutes on the conclusion. He would cut articles from the newspaper and paste them in his reading log. American Housing Crash has Global Costs. Government Crackdown on Illegal Racing Ring. New Doping Scandal Clouds Beijing Olympics.

The cushions were cold. He drew his hands between his thighs and shivered. Tomorrow, he would take his calcium tablets with a glass of Milo and stretch his fingers to stop his knuckles dislocating. Many years ago, one of his uncles tore his collateral ligament during his engineering final at Bombay Tech. He failed the exam, ran from campus and lay on the tracks at Masjid station. It was an expensive funeral, his parents said. Ultimately preventable.

The mozzies whined in the netting around the windows. The refrigerator gurgled in the dark. This is insomnia, thought Sherwin, when a shadow crossed the flyscreen and someone knocked on the door.

You up, Shaz.

Sherwin found his glasses and peeked over the sheet.

Are you keen to go fishing, said Bobby. Meet you at the tower of silence or nah.

Sherwin stumbled to his bedroom. He found some cargo shorts and a button-down. Then he ran out of the house and up to Clayton Lakes, his shirt flapping under his armpits like a cape.

 

THE PORT-A-LOO TEEMED with creepy-crawlies. Bobby whistled in the reeds, warming his legs under his trackies with long, deep strokes of his hands. Then he rattled the temp fence. There’s a way to get these open, he said. But it’s a two-man job.

They lifted the fence out of its socket and pulled it apart. The road stretched beyond the streetlights and dipped into the construction site. It was like looking down the throat of the dead dog.

But it’s not that creepy, said Bobby. You got to trust me.

They slipped between the fence posts and took the road down the hill, their shoes turning red and sticky. The road circled a rainwater trench and rows of unmade houses. The clay spread for miles, dotted with piles of rubbish and tar, like pimples on an unwashed face. The power tower loomed above them, humming with its reams of cables, and the crescent moon quivered through the clouds, catching snakeskins and copper wires in a silver hue. Bobby put one fist on his mouth and whistled out the side. Sherwin copied his bird call and they laughed and the sky swallowed their coos in a single gulp.

What do you reckon is biting today, said Bobby, climbing up a pile of rubbish. There were orange rubber cones, cracked helmets, PVC pipes and shopping trolleys. He pulled from the rubble a car battery and a pair of jump- starters. How’s this for a fish, he said. My mum knew a guy who ran a car yard out here. He never hired anyone and made all his money by himself until he died.

Most great men are very independent, said Sherwin.

They walked to the building sites. The houses were triple-storey, with in-ground pools and five-car garages. The closest property was covered in scaffolding. Power’s out, said Bobby, fingering the tabs on the electric board. The summer air swept through the doors and flayed the paint off the walls. The rainwater lake reflected on the windows. The shoreline exhaled under the tide and a platform stretched into the water.

But I know about this place, said Sherwin. There’s going to be a jetty and a boathouse and a gelato shop.

You really think so.

I’ve collected all the pamphlets.

But the flogs got their investments wrong, said Bobby. How can you buy a house if you don’t got a job. He knelt and rolled a handful of clay. He tossed it in the air and it exploded at his feet. You want to play cricket.

I suppose.

Do you even like cricket.

Of course.

Have you ever played.

We used to listen on the radio.

I got no one to play with since coming out here, said Bobby. Why don’t you have a bowl.

He used a wooden plank for a bat. He drew a crease in the dirt at the window of the house. What’s he got. Spin or pace.

Sherwin made a new ball and stepped down the pitch. He bowled a high, loping delivery and Bobby whacked it into the lake.

That’s a six, said Bobby, holding his bat up and saluting the tractors. So does India have any more tricks up their sleeve.

The clouds covered the moon and set the pitch in shadow. Sherwin dug in the loam, found a lead pipe and rubbed it against his thigh. The pitch shortened as he hurled the ball through the air. It shattered the window. Bobby collapsed on the pitch.

Shaz.

Are you okay.

Fuck, said Bobby, moaning in the dark. I’d better watch out for you. There was a welt on his forehead and his eyes lost their focus. A bubble of blood rose up his throat and out the gap in his teeth.

I’m really sorry. Do you want to bowl at me.

Mate.

What does it feel like.

I’m fine, said Bobby, smiling. You think I’m a supermodel or what. Now where’s the fish I caught. He scrambled down the drive, smoothing his hair behind his ears and kicking up dustclouds as he looked for his battery.

Sherwin stopped shaking and stood at the window. Shards of glass speck- led the toolboxes and Tupperware lids. The tooth sat under a plywood sheet and he put it in his shirt pocket. Then he stepped from the scaffolding and ran to join Bobby, who was zapping the jump-starters under a starless sky.

 

THE NEXT DAY, Sherwin sat on the couch with his face in his hands. His scrapbook lay unopened on the table. He had never stayed awake for a whole night. He wondered if he had become a delinquent. His eyes were very dry. He didn’t know if he should sleep or try to study.

The telephone rang.

Simple Sherwin, what has become of you.

Reading, he said, as the tooth rocked in his pocket. When are you coming back.

Soon. Nana-ji’s clothes have been packed in four trunks and sent for auction. Her cleaners have come to pack the furniture. Weather is rainy tomorrow, could affect chances of sale. But what of you, little ladka, how many words in this week’s vocabulary bank.

Seven.

Only halfway there.

Yes, Ama, he said. Yes, Apa.

Is there any possibility of success or will our only son be resigned to drugs and disappointments for the rest of our lives.

Resigned, thought Sherwin when they hung up. A good one for the bank. He dropped the tooth in a mug of hot water. Pink strands came off the enamel and floated to the surface. He stirred the mug with his finger until the water turned lukewarm.

He wrote his next essay with his left hand. His handwriting was stiff, terse, and the pencil kept slipping between his fingers.

The tooth slept in his right hand at the middle of his lifelines. He pinched it tightly and made welts on his fingertips. He put it in his mouth and it clinked against his molars. He went to the bathroom, stood at the mirror and poked his tongue out. It isn’t offensive, thought Sherwin. There isn’t anyone here to see. The tooth wobbled on his tastebuds and went shiny with his spit.

He dropped the tooth in the sink. He wiped his hands on his trousers and went to eat brown bread and sultanas.

After eating he came back to the bathroom mirror. His belly was full but his eyes were underlined in purple and his hair stood up on end. The tooth was gone. He stared at the drain and it stared back at him. He thought it was a mean little thing.

 

THAT NIGHT, SHERWIN sat by the port-a-loo as the flies buzzed above. He wondered if, when they flew so high, the flies thought the diggers were yellow scorpions. Then he wondered, too, what the flies would make of him and Bobby. Sherwin’s stopwatch showed 12.30. He played the game his sister taught him and tried to pause the timer exactly at one second.

After forty-six minutes, Bobby stepped through the blackberry bushes. His face was layered with powder. Sorry for being late, he said. Mum didn’t want me going out looking like I’d been in a fight. She can’t come up and rescue me.

How does your head feel.

I’m fine. It only hurts when I think.

It was a warm summer night along the waterfront. They crept to the steamroller at the furthest side of the lake. Sherwin climbed inside, his hands on the steering wheel, and Bobby knelt at his ankles, fiddling with the wiring until the steamroller turned on. Bobby stepped in the water, treading through the mud. You’d reckon it’d be cold, he said, and paused when his feet found a causeway. It was made of brick, about as wide as his foot, sunk an inch under the surface. How far can I go, he said.

It was like he was walking on water. Sherwin leaned over the wheel as Bobby made it ten, fifteen metres over the lake. Suddenly the headlights hummed and two white beams arced across the water. Bobby yelped and fell off the bricks, cannoning into the lake. The water dragged his T-shirt and yanked his trackies down his legs.

There was something growing out of Bobby’s back. It was a tail, as long as an arm, segmented and hairless. It’s an appendage, thought Sherwin. Quickly Bobby pulled up his trackies and swam to the shore and Sherwin helped him onto dry land.

Cheers, said Bobby, clutching Sherwin’s shoulder. He stepped along the water’s edge and his feet made little farts in the mud. I’m actually soaked.

You actually are, said Sherwin. Everywhere.

They slipped through the scaffolding and into the house, creeping down a hallway until they found a dryer under the staircase. Bobby fiddled with the powerboard until the machine turned on. Sherwin sat on the stairs with his chin on his forearms. His watch said 4.15. His parents said it was rude to ask questions, so he pressed his eyes against the grill of the laundry vent.

Bobby stood in his blue boxers, facing the wall with his arms over his head. He had little auburn hairs all over his shoulders. His ribs poked out from his skin when he breathed. The tail lolled in the air and dripped water on the floor. It was pink at the top and grey at the bottom. It smelled like powdered milk. The grill turned hot against Sherwin’s forehead, but he didn’t flinch. Then Bobby pulled his clothes from the dryer and got dressed.

Tomorrow I’m going to sell my fish, he said, as they walked back to the temp fence. I need new boots and tools for the country work. You reckon a battery and jumpstarters will go for thirty bucks.

It will make you rich.

Oh nah I don’t know about that.

They closed the fence behind them and stepped through Clayton Lakes. A fox peeked from under the rose bushes. Its tail was fluffy, like a dust buster. They went down the hill and a fine mist of rain spread over the street. Bobby made the birdcall and Sherwin copied him. Then Bobby went home, squelching down the pavement with his fingers looped in his waistband.

 

THE WHEELIE BINS filled with rainwater and the Venus flytraps swam in their pots. A dump truck ambled down the hill, spraying the puddles on the nature strip. Sherwin sat on the patio, sniffing the wet air, deciding the lake had flooded.

He piled his notebooks on the table, put the dirty plates in the sink and slid his newspapers under the couch. The plywood creaked in the ceiling. The rain dripped from the paint. Though he found a hammer to fix the crack, he wasn’t tall enough to reach. He moved the bin under the drip and left his lungi on the sofa.

He sat on the porch under a yellow umbrella until Bobby squelched up the hill, his shirt stuck to his chest.

You’re going to get a virus, said Sherwin.

I got fifty bucks for the fish.

I want to use my favour. Sherwin dropped the umbrella and waited in the kitchen. Bobby stepped in the house without taking off his shoes. The rain slid off his soles and made puddles on the linoleum. There’s a hole, said Sherwin, and he made a steppy beside the bin, straightening his spine as stiff as possible.

Bobby took the hammer and smacked the plywood three times with each hand. I’ll have to get me one like this, he said, standing over the bin with his shirt dripping. Would be useful for the country work. He sneezed. Raindrops jumped off his collarbones and the curve on his throat.

You’re falling sick, said Sherwin, sliding his lungi from the sofa. You can wear this. You can tie it around your back and it never comes off.

Bobby crossed his hands on his chest. His eyes were watering and his hair lost its curls. If you don’t need it or anything.

Put it on.

At home.

Do it for me.

Yeah, later.

No, said Sherwin. You have to show me now. He pulled Bobby’s trackies down his legs. His calves were lean from all the miles he liked to walk. His kneecaps were knobby and crisscrossed with alabaster scars. The muscles of his thighs made a teardrop above his knees. Then Bobby twisted out of his wet underpants and the tail lolled free.

You don’t have to hide it.

Bobby stepped back to the kitchenette. The plastic counter pressed into his legs. It’s weird, he said. No need to see. It just gets in the way.

In the way of what. Sherwin didn’t know it but his hands were already sweating. He slipped around into the kitchen and grabbed Bobby’s tail. It turned from pink to red and curled around Sherwin’s hand, looping over his wrist in layers. It felt like the inside of the warmest glove he had ever worn.

 

SHERWIN LAY ON the couch and looked through the newspaper for the things Bobby could buy with fifty dollars. He could get ten margherita pizzas from Johnny Boy’s, or fifteen packs of footy cards, or five movie tickets with his youth discount.

Take this, said Bobby, sitting up and straightening the lungi. He took a fifty-dollar note and laid it on the table.

You need that for your workboots and your new hammer.

I’ll get the dosh another way.

Consider my lungi a gift to you.

Well who’s older here, said Bobby. You got a message, you know. He reached over the couch to the answering machine.

Little ladka, what has become of you. Surely Ama-Apa can share good news before our flight. Nana-ji’s belongings have been sold to mister collector from Dubai. Five lakhs, can you imagine, all in cash. One fine businessman presented his offer for the property. He wants to build a mall for the world’s most exclusive boutiques. Picture it, Beta, thousands of high-society ladies come for the finest of bags and shoes. The spirit of Nana-ji lives on. And his offer, Beta. Ninety-five lakhs. It all goes to show what happens when the Pandeys put their mind to the task.

Why are you crying, said Bobby. Are youse rich or something.

Sherwin let out his breath in a long, slow whistle. Bobby stepped to the kitchen table and leafed through the notebooks. He dragged his finger down the unfinished vocabulary list. Sherwin told him about the entrance exam and cousin Azman and the view from Melbourne High overlooking the Yarra River.

So you’re a schemer.

Better to have a scheme than to not, said Sherwin. Sometimes in life, you have to take whatever you can get.

 

AROUND MIDDAY, SHERWIN went up the hill and down the boulevard of Clayton Lakes. A realtor in a blue pantsuit guided two families between the houses. She carried three wooden picket signs and stuck them in the lawns. For Auction or Best Offer, they said. This is decadent, thought Sherwin. She pointed at the faded lawns with her chipped turquoise finger- nail. She explained the history of the neighbourhood, that the lands once belonged to an Aboriginal tribe, that because they were nomadic each resident could rest assured there were no burial grounds under bathtubs or basements.

But has anyone told you what the Parsis do with their dead, said Sherwin.

Oh hello, Mr Pandey, she said. You never told us you were taking the tour.

They looped past the construction site and she told them about the gelato shop and the pier. The port-a-loo was tipped on its side. Three workers in hardhats tied chains to the door. We’ve recently installed twenty-four-hour security cameras, she said. We’re committing to the best standard of safety for our residents. We also have a nightwatchman starting today.

Sherwin left the tour as two hulking cement trucks turned down the boulevard. The drivers didn’t wave back or toot their horns. A tractor followed, bucking with the momentum of the unpaved roads. Sherwin panted down the hill, stepping out of the sun and into the shade. His eyes were full of a big white light but his wrists were cold and covered in gooseflesh.

Treading over the patio, he found his lungi by the front door. He unfolded it and a yellow sticky note fell onto the mat. The words bulged through the back of the paper. Here’s your skirt back, it said. I’m finally getting out of here. Good luck with everything, I guess.

Sherwin stepped through the flyscreen, limped to his bedroom and fell on his bed. His heart was hammering. His tummy ached. Stupid fool, he thought, and he cried until his eyes slipped off his face.

 

ALL AFTERNOON THE trucks trundled up the hill. Their engines rumbled on the road and shook the windows in their sockets. Dust clouds covered the street signs and turned the nature strip brown. The telephone rang and he slid his sheet off his face.

Nana-ji’s fortune has landed in Melbourne. The good taxi driver is taking our bags. We will see our little Sherwin soon.

I took another tour at Clayton Lakes.

Some smarts on this boy. Now tell us, entrance exam is how many days away.

Three.

How many words in your vocabulary bank.

Eleven.

Are you destined to become another Aussie deadweight.

I am.

Sherwin Jahangir Pandey, little ladka, we have not worked for thirteen years to raise a stupid fool. Have you not learnt to stand up for yourself.

I haven’t learnt anything.

Well what is it you are waiting for. If a man does not define the moment, then the moment will define the man. Is that understood. Are we making ourselves clear.

 

WE’LL CALL THIS restoration, thought Sherwin. He took the hammer from beside the bin, washed it with soapy water and held it by the metal head. He put Bobby’s money in his pocket, left the house and turned down the hill.

The trucks had smeared orange dirt on the road. He walked on the balls of his feet, crossing the cracked tar, imagining huge tree roots spreading under the hillside. Blackberry bushes filled the garden beds and the last of the sunlight caught on their thorns. A beer bottle crunched under his slipper. The houses became smaller and darker and closer together. An old man lay in an armchair in his driveway, dangling his pale bony feet off the side. Sherwin tried not to make eye contact. At the bottom of the hill, the train lines crossed the road and the neighbourhood ended. There weren’t any traffic signals. It wasn’t clear when to stop and when to walk. He put the hammer on the ground and caught his breath.

A train swept along the tracks and boomed through the intersection, whipping Sherwin’s sleeves around his shoulders. He yelled at the train but the train was louder. The passing carriages held crates of pigs and sheep, bleating and farting in their cages, stinking of hay and farmyard shit. When the train stopped in the station, Sherwin picked up the hammer, crept around the last carriage and crossed the tracks.

He watched Bobby board, holding three plastic bags and a fluorescent vest. His shaved head bobbed in the gloom and his blue cargo shorts hung low on his hips. A woman in a wheelchair yelled from the platform and Bobby waved back, his thin fingers whisking through the steam of the engine. Sherwin put his hands on his lips and made their birdcall but the doors rolled shut.

He followed the woman out of the station, shaking the hammer against his hip. She had a grey cast on her left leg. She wore her red hair like a curtain down the seat. The train honked and raced into the distance. Bobby’s mother wheeled to the block of flats and went in through a back door.

Sherwin walked along the sliding glass doors. A dog barked. It was a greyhound, with blue eyes the size of marbles. Another greyhound leapt at the glass, sliding its silver paws against the frame, panting from the pit of its lungs. They scratched at a cardboard sheet taped across a hole in the door. Sherwin’s shadow slithered over the kennels, the cot and the mini fridge. Bobby’s mother rolled through the flat and pulled the greyhounds back into their kennels. She opened the mini fridge for a bottle of beer and froze. She turned to the screen door, her white eyes darting left and right, and raised her bare palm over her face.

The hammer fell from Sherwin’s hand and hit the curb. He backtracked to the pavement and tripped on a garbage bag. He took the money out of his pocket and shoved it between the plastic ties. Then he reached in the bag and found Bobby’s tail, burned black at the end and shrunk to half its size. He pulled it out and wrapped it in his fist. It was cold. It could have been plastic.

 

LITTLE LADKA.

Two sets of suitcases grazed over the floorboards, knocking against the sofa. Aren’t you going to kiss your jet-lagged parents. They opened his bedroom door and told him to get up. He burrowed under his sheets, wrapping his arms around his shoulders. He was trying to sleep but not to dream.

Time to get the number of the realtor.

He sat up in his bed and dragged the sheets off his legs. He breathed the smell of coconut oil, sandalwood perfume and frozen airline meals. Azman’s essays rippled on the ceiling and the cold rubber tail curled under his pillow.

But such silence, they said. Such a strange and moody son.

He shuffled to the kitchen and he saw the many rupees stacked across the table. The notes were pink and beige and fastened with thick rubber bands. He said that he was thankful they were home, that he had missed them very much. He sat beside the rupees and opened his notebook. The ligaments in his fingers felt tough and durable and his hands rolled on his wrists without any pain. It was a fair day to write another essay.

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