Flash Fiction: Creature of Habit

Neha peels open her eyes and strips back the duvet to sit up. She places a hand across her forehead to break the orange glint seeping in from the street lamp outside. She studies the pits on her skin: a pattern, left from the cardigan she’s slept in. It’s something for Neha to focus on. They’ve been happening a lot lately — each time the lines appear sharper than the last as if her skin is losing its fibre. As if she’s letting it.

It prompts her to get up.

She throws off the cardigan as she faces the mirror. She pats down her hair — pulling thick black ringlets in front of her eyes, like a child who discovers her identity for the first time. A child who doesn’t acknowledge the pigment, only the chaotic curls. They fall around her pallid freckled cheeks. Her cheeks hold a little plumpness, not like the grey hollows that sit beneath her eyes. Neha swipes her index finger across the indent of the age-line on her forehead then slides her ring finger down the curve of her cheek and across the scar on her chin. She looks down at the neck of her cotton t-shirt and pulls it forward. Under the fabric, she catches the silhouette of her round brown chest. She pushes her stomach outward and lets go of the cotton. With the tips of her fingers, she strokes the curve of her stomach as if she were still with child.

Rohan watches Neha through the crack of their bedroom door. He thinks to go and hold her but decides against it. “You decided to get up?” His voice is loud enough for Neha to realise he’s home but not loud enough to startle her.

Neha watches Rohan as he unbuttons and takes off his shirt. The sight of his six-foot-four frame in his under-sized thermal tank induces her to look away with the haste of an embarrassed child.

“Have you had any dinner?” Neha asks, not facing him.

“You know I have,” he says as he looks at the bedside clock. He knows better than to utter condescending statements. Statements that cause Neha further angst, that make it seem like it’s somehow her fault, but he feels his brain has been rewired without his consent, and it no longer allows room for considerate gestures.

“Have you?” He tries to make it up by showing concern, but his words hang neglected.

“I just got up.” Neha sits back down on the bed.

Rohan looks at her. The woman who was once a creature of vivacity is now a creature of habit. He’s still attracted to her, of course, but she doesn’t look familiar. When she lost the baby, he had called his over mother to look after her — To offer her the emotional support that he couldn’t. Neha visited Accident and Emergency frequently after it happened. Rohan was convinced she was seeking answers rather than going in for medical advice. It hadn’t occurred to him she was seeking comfort. The first couple of times, he had gone with her, sat with her, but she would stare at other women, unable to take her eyes off women who were pregnant. This made him uncomfortable, embarrassed almost, from the undesired attention they received. From the judgement. From the peeved women who moved away from them. After the second visit, he lied to avoid going with her and sent his mother to go with her instead. He would call her every hour — because of the guilt. He wanted Neha, and his mother, to know he wanted to be there, but somewhere between the shame and the guilt, he was glad he wasn’t.

“How much longer will this carry on?” He asks but regrets his words as soon as they’ve left his mouth; not because he knows the question is difficult to answer, but because of its ability to drive Neha further from him.

Neha shrugs. She presses her thumb and forefinger over her closed eyes.

“This is not healthy for you, you know.”

Neha says nothing.

Rohan pulls out a bath towel from inside the canvas wardrobe. It has been thrown in there, along with his pyjamas, which he unravels from the towel. Both feel damp. He no longer wants to take a shower but it’s a place to hide. “I’ll be in the shower.” He shuts the bathroom door hard which prompts Neha to hug her chest as if to protect her heart from falling out.

Neha falls back on to her side of the bed and pulls the duvet over her head. She doesn’t fall asleep like she had this morning. Once more the darkness prompts tears — always twice as much at this hour. It’s as if the night is telling her to go ahead and cry, no-one can see the tears. She sobs hard, then heavy. Short breaths forced upon her until sleep carries her away.

Rohan hopes Neha didn’t take his statement as an invitation to join him. It isn’t the right time now, of course, but, he pictures Neha. The Neha she was before, with the Rohan he was before. Her belly growing again. Their hopes growing again. Hopes of it being a boy this time –his hope. He often thinks it, and like every other time, is followed by another image. One that falls heavy. Tangled. Mass and liquid. Red and black. It makes its way to the pit of his stomach — the gutter he calls it — his stomach. The core of nothing; something he attributes to his father. He pushes the image aside, but it’s still there somewhere. It’s always there. He rubs his hands on Neha’s organic lemon soap and swipes his cheeks hard with the foam. He doesn’t know whether it’s the soap that makes his cheeks sting, or if it’s the flow of hot tears.

In the morning, Neha and Rohan lie in bed. Back to back, both: sore eyes and heavy heads.

Neha has the duvet over her head which makes Rohan curl up tighter. She pulls the duvet hard. In the warmth of the dark, she grins. A second later the smile vanishes and her face is painted with sadness.

Rohan feels a flush of cold air as Neha takes the duvet off her head. He feels her naked legs, prickly, as they push the duvet back down over to his side. He uncurls. Rohan knows he should turn over and face his wife but he doesn’t. Instead, he shuts his eyes and thinks about his father. His father, who had taught him everything, except how to express affection.

Thank you very much for reading.

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I tell stories about life, about imperfect humans. Fiction and non-fiction.

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preeti

preeti

I tell stories about life, about imperfect humans. Fiction and non-fiction.

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