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A Vanishing Act – Aishwarya Srivastava

Jan 8, 2022 | Fiction | 2 comments

There is something they don’t tell you about grief. If you give it enough time, it turns into magic—a vanishing act. Suddenly, your appetite is gone, your appointments get canceled, you start missing hours, losing sleep, your clients start going another way and the last thing you know, you can’t even find pain anymore. One vanishing act follows another.
Two years, seven months, nine days—that is how long it has been since my Niki died. She took everything that was ours with her—except for our little walks along the banks of the Ravi River. While walking alongside that long pit of emptiness, algae, and polluted water, I see visions—Niki and me playing tag, making silly dog drawings, blowing bubbles over the stream, her high-school graduation photo session, the first time I told her that her dad and I are getting a divorce, the time she held me close as I drowned my tears into the river, etc. etc.
I often re-enact our worst moment here, in my head. Our last fight—“No, absolutely NOT,” I say. “No unsupervised parties.” There is heat and spite in my words. My mother never allowed me to stay out all night in a club. When she calls me an abusive hag, I slap her, hard. “How is *that* for abuse?” I say, filled with pure rage and disgust at her insolence. She mutters another obscenity and I slap her again. There are passersby—but they look away, walk away, giving us the privacy I think I have a right to. I am a parent, right?
Niki shivers with the rage she inherited from me. “You cannot slap me!” she shouts and tries to push me away with all her strength as I raise my hand once again. I fall into the river. She jumps in to save me. Neither of us ever learned how to swim. I don’t know how long it is before they pull one of us out.
In my re-enactment, it is Niki that they save. And I am falling, sinking, descending deep into the cool water until I am sprawled over the riverbed, fully awake.
“I come bearing gifts.’ It’s a goldfish. It’s talking to me. It’s smiling. I have never seen a fish smile before. It sounds like *her*.
“Niki?” I can’t tell if there are tears in my eyes with all the water around. I sit up.
“You wanna stop living like this,” she says to me. “Don’t you, mom?”
“I do. I really do. I am sorry, Niki.” I say between heavy pants of breath.
“Then I will give you three choices. Choices of another life, another plane of existence. You have to pick one. I will grant you that wish. You understand?”
“I understand,” I say, even if I don’t.
“One,” she says. “A Memory Palace.”
*A memory palace* I whisper to myself.
“You can live inside your memories. But you cannot alter them, you cannot choose which ones you will live through. You will live all of them in order.”
I try to remember every memory I have. I remember more grief than I remember happiness. Why don’t I remember happiness?
“Two, a Dream Dome. You can actually live all your dreams. But you cannot choose between the sweet dreams and nightmares.”
Lately, all I have been having are nightmares.
“Three.” Fish Niki says as she circles around me. “The Now Ville. This place is special. Here, you have control. Here, you can choose happiness and strength. Here, you have a little power.” She giggles. “Just a little, though. And here, memories and dreams come visit you sometimes too. So, tell me, mom, which one do you choose?”
I blink twice as fog colors my brain. “Three,” I manage to say. “I choose three.”
“Ding Ding Ding!” Fish Niki says. “Order number three coming right up!”

***

I wake up on her waterbed. The walls are purple. A thin layer of dust has covered her furniture. I hadn’t come into this room since the incident. There is a notebook in my right hand. I read the names highlighted in green—Dr. Mehta, Dr. Sinha, Dr. Mathur—3 years’ experience in neuropsychiatry.
“Three.” I repeat to myself. “The happiness she would want for me.” I pick up my cellphone from her desk. How did it get there? I dial Dr. Mathur’s number.
While dialing I remind myself—a vanishing act is only complete when what vanishes reappears at last.

Aishwarya Srivastava is a business student living in Pune, India who moonlights as a content writer and fiction author. She runs a literary blog called ‘The Youth Scholarly’ and likes to share her writing journey and insights (along with the photos of her pug) on her social media. Aishwarya is always looking for ways to bring her two loves together- fiction and business and plans to one day launch a publishing company of her own.

2 Comments

  1. Chandreyee

    Appreciate the layers in this story and how succinct it is as it delivers it’s message.

    Reply
  2. Rajat

    Phenomenal!
    The solution lies within. Such a great piece of writing.

    Reply

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