Green Hills Literary Lantern

 

 

 

 For Objects Do Sustain

  

Here on the white-clothed table is her plate of curry, raita, basmati rice, and dahl, redolent with history. Here are the conversations of other diners, a palimpsest of inflections, bursts, and monotones. Here is her tongue, burning with cayenne pepper. Here is the dark-haired waiter, solicitous without resentment and speaking with a pleasing lilt. It makes her anxious to be served, as if she will be punished for it later, but this waiter is at ease. He navigates the tables with a half-smile, hands raised to his chest amid the sitar and percussion that soar from hidden speakers. Through the plate-glass windows, the sun shines for the first time in weeks, even as a snow flurry thickens. An old man in the parking lot stops his shuffling walk to turn his upper body and watch a car pull from a space. The old man’s mouth is open; pleasantness flushes his every feature. But the driver pays no notice. The man’s face falls, and he turns back to his slow trudging. He’d hoped for an encounter, the wave of a hand, a nod, anything to show that he was seen. His wish and its outdated friendliness pierce her heart, and she vows to dedicate a portion of her life to loving the elderly, and this vow joins a pile that weighs on and nearly crushes her. Still, she raises her fork and fills her mouth with food that trails heat down her esophagus. 

The large-leafed plants at the corners of the room are so bright green, so impossible to mistake for the real, as to have their own vivacious charm. The fake, six-petaled flowers peer up eagerly from a pot on her table, their pastel tones declaring endless spring. Her empty plate departs, and she is brought dessert: balls of milk and flour fried a chestnut brown and doused with rose-flavored sugar water. She wants to eat them and become them, round and golden, shining side by side in their caramel-colored bath. She thanks the waiter without a smile so he won’t think she’s flirting, which has been a problem at other restaurants. She asks where he is from—Kolkata—and he grins to hear that she lived there for a month, and they are no longer strangers. Of course he lives where she is now, a permanent displacement that is far more remarkable. She leaves an ample tip and puts on an oversized black cashmere coat to go outside. She is very much enjoying wearing a dead man’s coat, warm and heavy, even though or perhaps because its former occupant, her grandfather, left it only months ago. Her dead grandmother’s faux-gold hoops hang from her earlobes, and together the coat and the earrings add up to a sort of permanence, to her grandmother and grandfather stepping out into the snow—for objects do sustain the presence of their dead owners—and whispering their story lines to her simultaneously.

 

 

Janet Benton, a professional writer, editor, and teacher of writing, received her M.F.A. from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. In 2013, her fiction was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and appeared in Switchback and the Tulane Review. Glimmer Train published her interview with novelist Valerie Martin. A nonfiction essay appeared in the New York Times “Modern Love”  column in 2013. She has co-written documentaries on Philadelphia history, of which Fever: 1793 won a 2013 Emmy for Best Feature Documentary. She has received three fellowships, co-directed Cummington Community of the Arts, and attended Cottages at Hedgebrook. Benton is completing a historical novel.