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Anjali Ravi

Black Ice

I am the author of my bruises. The surgeons opened me with plastic hands and lifted him to the light, a bloody, gray testament to my suffering. How could I know that this was no occasion of release? I held him to my breast as he slept, dumbfounded by the vacant spaces that should have been filled with people I loved. But I loved no one. Not until this child with invisible lips unfolded upon my skin. His fingers left a warmth where they brushed against me, curled into peachy fists, humbled me, for never before had I so dread the fragility of young.

My sister Meena did not trust the baby. She cradled him without touching him to her body, which often smelled of cognac and motor oil. For a time, she did not think he came from me. The baby’s eyes change colors, she would say, the baby has an extra toe, the baby doesn’t cry, it whispers. I know, I know. In my dreams, he would walk toward me from the open shed in Meena’s backyard, mouth gaping, and though he could not speak I knew what he asked of me. Eight voicemails—Meena. The ringing woke him up some nights, until eventually I had to unplug the phone.

In the months to follow, he drained me of fluids, expanded, broke the silence, brandished rows of teeth. He learned the word monster before he could spell his own name. I am the arms that welcomed him from school, palms that spilled with his anger. The neighbors with their gentle mocking looks steered their children away from him. My face burned each time I saw the people who had wronged him or whom he had wronged and I cried when he said that it was my fault because I knew it was true.

I watch him grow, the largeness of his body possessed by some twisted root extending within him, something I cannot remember planting there. He has the voice of his father. Eyes and hands of a painter, my Van Gogh, though he deals only in black-blues. I am the canvas onto which he empties himself. What am I to say? Those blurry nights I spend stooped over on the kitchen floor, waiting for his breath to thicken with booze and sleep, surrounded by broken china, onion peels, dust, my pain takes me back to the first time I held him. No, before then—the memory of him inside me somehow weighs more than my left eyelid sealed shut, than all of this.

I am the question. One winter morning when he was but seven I warned him about black ice. He ripped himself from my embrace and went running, slipping, crashing down the asphalt. Where did I go wrong? Should I have held him tighter, harder, or should I have let him go and wiped the tears from his scaly cheeks, when all I could do at the time was watch, watch in horror, hoping he did not fall apart?

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