The Raised Eyebrow: Ending

dreamy asian woman in sari and bindi touching arms
dreamy asian woman in sari and bindi touching arms
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Pt. I is here

Pt. II is here

            “To the last bolt!” says Paul.

            “The last bolt!” says Chandra.

            With that, Paul turns the ratchet as Chandra holds the nut in place. The bolt comes out and the final shelf collapses to the ground. They stack it with the rest. 

            “This is honest work,” she says.

            The warehouse feels empty, even though the mass of metal in it hasn’t been reduced. It’s a matter of volume, thinks Paul, as he surveys what they have done over the last five weeks. Soon, new people will come in to put up new shelves. “Did I tell you I used to fight? Mixed martial arts, really cool stuff. Never trained for it, but practiced a lot. Today I feel stronger, you know?”

            “Strong enough for a beer?”

            Despite the cold, they walk to the pub and sit at the bar. She takes off her bangles. He buys the first round.

            “To the initial step in a business enterprise that we haven’t planned and has no serious chance of success,” she says. Chandra sips her beer and opens her notebook to write something down.

            “What are you always writing, aunty?” he asks. “It’s always one or two words. Is it just reminders?”

            “I am not old enough to need reminders.”

            “My mother does that too…”

            She takes a long drink. “Your turn for a toast, Paul.”

            He lifts his beer, and before he can think otherwise, he says, “To the old country.”

            “The old country? That place? If you want. I’d rather say a cheers to this land.”

            “It’s so fucking cold here, though. And we’re out of a job again. Thank God for our new business.”

            “Good honest work, Paul. Good and honest. So now tell me – are you going to invite me to your apartment so that I can cook for your family? We are friends now, surely. I want to meet your Kartar, and your wife.”

            “Why so?”

            “As you’ve noted, I am possibly too old for marriage and certainly too old for children. The best I can do is have my fun, however possible. This may at times involve hearing the stories of other people and how they assembled into families.”

            “You really are an old aunty…”

            “If you still believe that, you have a big problem. Now come on. When will I come over? Let’s make the date.”

            Paul orders the second round, too. He wants to tell Chandra about love-marriage and bringing families together. About long, drawn-out songs performed in meadows as a man and woman spy on each other from behind trees. He wants to recount a wedding he can’t remember, show her photographs that were never taken. 

            “It’s not the story you think,” he tells her.

            “Oh?”

            His stomach hurts. It’s the beer and the hard work, he believes. But this knot has been with him a long time.

            He wants to give her a reality that will fill whatever void an old Indian woman in an Ontario winter feels. He wants to be in a movie with her, where it eventually all works out. But all he can remember is the smell of incense in a road-side temple, figurines tumbling as two people struggled with each other. He remembers pushing himself into the sunshine, filled and emptied at the same time. He had taken something he had wanted, deep in a land that didn’t know cold wind, and he’d stumbled home a hero. A conqueror. 

            “Can I have your book?” he asks.

            She slides it over. She is watching him very carefully. He writes it down, whatever he is feeling. All the things he has done. When he’s finished, he puts his beer aside and slides the notepad back to her.

##

            Chandra heard every word of the play. Her body didn’t enjoy sitting still for so long, but she managed it. There were several lines that stuck with her, enough so that she wrote them down. When the play was over, she rose and clapped much harder than anyone else. She may even have whistled.

            At the party afterwards, the performers were still in their costumes. She navigated her way through the people, her lengha not at all out of place in this company. The champagne in the long glasses tickled her nose. 

            Charlie was with a group of his friends. They were all his age, and greeted her as though he’d prepared them well for what to expect. They gave her hugs. She expected them to say how glad they were that Charlie finally had a girlfriend, but they didn’t. Instead, they treated him like a king, as though he had been the star of the show, even though his bit part as a dancing girl had given him maybe twenty minutes of stage time. She drank with them. Laughed at their stories and teasing. Picked at the appetizer trays as they made their way by.

            “You’re wearing make-up,” Charlie said, later.

            “Women are allowed this conceit,” she said. “You were wonderful up there.”

            He laughed. “I was playing a woman…”

            “I play one too at times,” she returned. “Are we going out for food?”

            “You don’t do that. You don’t eat food prepared by other people.”

            He was wearing a ridiculous yellow dress and black wig. When they got to the restaurant, she ordered wine and told him that she was embarrassed to be seen with him. They sat in the middle of the place, launching through the bottle and then a second one, his wig skewed to a side so that his red hair sprung out, her hiking the lengha up her legs until she felt like she was wearing the tablecloth. 

            Chandra ordered ice cream for dessert. “I enjoy thinking of you as a dancing woman slut.”

            Charlie had an espresso. “It’s not that much of a stretch.”

            “And dating an older Indian woman? What about that?”

            He yawned. “Zero point nothing on the Richter scale.” With that, in the middle of the restaurant, he leaned over and kissed her. He was warm with coffee, and smelled of the oysters he’d eaten from the shell. Chandra had never tasted anything so perfect.

            That night, she went to his place, a dorm room that he had taken pains to clean. They stayed up for hours, Charlie jumping on the bed and spinning around until his dress flew, Chandra sitting on the wooden desk chair, hollering applause at his performance. After the resident assistant came to the door informing them that there’d been a noise complaint, they lay on the bed and looked at the ceiling. The music played low as they each waited for the other to surprise them with whatever came next.

##

            Paul stares at the job board. He scans positions that might interest him, and then erases them until he has a list of things that he may actually be able to do. He has been here three hours, and has twenty-eight jobs on the phone. It is a matter of volume, he says to himself, that determines success. 

            The coffee cup in his lap says ‘please try again’. He was sure that it was a winner. The quarter inch of liquid in the bottom of the cup is cold, but that doesn’t stop him from considering what it would taste like.

            The door opens and a person sits next to him. She is dressed in jeans, very blue ones, and a hooded sweatshirt. She hands him a stack of papers, stapled three times along the long edge.

            “What’s this?” he asks.

            “Formalization of our business partnership,” says Chandra. “Or had you forgotten?”

            “That was only a joke…”

            “It used to be, yes. But not today. Sign yourself away, if you dare.”

            Her hair is down. She has new boots. He takes the booklet and reads. “What is ‘The Migrant’s Ratchet’? It sounds like a pub…”

            “My first name was ‘The Raised Eyebrow’, but it didn’t sound right. This is a proper business name. Does it not have a ring?”

            “Yes, fine. But the idea can’t work.”

            “You are about to sign papers saying that it will. Who is right? You or these words?”

            Paul puts away his phone. “You must detest me by now.”

            “For a few hours, I did. But then my cousin called me for dinner, and I ate rice pasta with a seven-year-old girl who sneezed on my food. She was wearing a gold necklace. And earrings. This reminded me of things I will now never do.” She waits for him to look up, and whispers, “I am more interested in seeing what you have done with your sins. I already know what I did with mine.”

            “You, aunty? Mistakes? Never.” For a moment, she is his mother, or perhaps the sister his mother never produced, the one that keeps to herself when with family but that sings openly on the road to the hill station. Paul signs the papers on the hard plastic of his phone. 

            “There,” she says. “We are done. No possibility of success, and so no way to fail. We have arrived, Paul.”

            “I never wanted to leave India,” he returns. “I hate the cold.”

            She puts a hand on his. “Come, show me to your family. We are wrapped up in each other now, so you have to.” 

            The walk to the bus stop is frigid. Chandra has him hold a bag of groceries. The bus stumbles on potholes and hills of salt. At the apartment building, Paul pushes the button for his floor and says, “I never touched her again. I never will. There won’t be more children.”

            “You made that path, Paul, and now you are on it. I will ask her tonight what path she sees for herself, in a marriage like this. Girls will talk to an aunty.” 

            “You will have to tell me what that path might be…”

            “No,” she says, putting a hand on his shoulder. “You are not relieved of the difficult conversations. Love or not love, figure it out, Paul. Where do your affections go now? Who receives them, and how?”

            In the apartment, she scoops Kartar into her arms and carries him about the little living room beneath the smell of boiling tea. A figure shuffles in the kitchen, putting away the groceries Chandra has brought.

            “You are good with children,” says Paul, on the couch.

            “I have both nephews and nieces,” she returns. “I hope you don’t mind, but I invited a friend for dinner.”He nods. When it comes out, the tea is hot. The sweets are fresh, and Kartar reaches for them at once. Paul picks him up and puts him on his lap, feeding him pieces of burfi in chunks. The little teeth barely chew the stuff. In the kitchen, the smell of spices is already strong, and voices are speaking, though he cannot hear the words. Now and then, the voices sing together, a sound he never expected to hear in this apartment. Paul looks at his son. He is still eating sweets, and inside he is surely smiling, but on the outside, he is very serious. There are many things that Paul wishes to tell him, and will when it is time. These are things about how hard life can be, what you have to do to persist, and how it’s not always possible to pick, in the end, what you love. Or who.

Dream hard, rage hard.

11 thoughts on “The Raised Eyebrow: Ending

  1. Oof. What an ending. Right in the feels, as they say, or used to…
    And will again.
    It is all cyclical and we have no control.
    I want more, of course. I want to know what happens next. I know it is up to me as the reader to decide that for myself but you tell such a fine tale that I want to know what your “and then” is. But, alas, we are back to having no control. And round and round we go.
    Another fantastic story, sir. You truly are a fine wordsmith.

    1. Merci, Matticus, really appreciate that. That ending was the sole reason for me writing this thing, all this broken relationship stuff but in the end, just the love of a child, and nothing matters more than that. I know you know what that means.

  2. This is a tough one, Trent. And this is what I like about your writing. Never shying away from the tough questions, no matter how tough.
    But also, not giving us answers. Just giving us the gift of wondering wether we can ever be sure that we have any of the answers.
    Because the easy answers are always the wrong answers and almost all answers are easy answers. The hard questions don’t really have answers at all. Just more questions that we have to learn how to live with. Always we have to learn to live with the questions….or they will eat us.

      1. “There is more power in telling little than in telling all.”
        —Mark Rothko

        “The truth is
        such that the moment
        we turn our
        backs on it
        it ceases to be the truth
        that we thought it was.

        The truth is
        such that the moment
        we take our
        next breath it
        changes and it changes the
        breath that we just took.”
        — J. Alex Pan

  3. I stand by my comment after Part II…I am amazed there are only 3 parts as this story has guts yet to be spilled (like the recurring reference to Kartar’s inside vs. outside…a tale of two people there me thinks) That said, you did give us, your constant readers, a soft (safe?) place to land.

    I read this twice, then went back and read the story start to finish…

    I didn’t realize how angry I was that Asha was as much pushed into the shadows here as she was in the temple until I read the story as a whole. I feel she was left out until Chandra’s character needed her to be real and present, to fulfill her own sense of self and, perhaps in the doing, help Asha along the way, but still…I will say though, from this woman’s POV, it is an accurate telling of a culture that looks to banish the sinned upon right along with the sinner so as not to be reminded the sin ever happened. And no, it is not the culture of India that I refer…it is the culture of men.

    I am not sure (though I think I am pretty sure actually) why I don’t hate Paul more than I accept him for what he is. I don’t believe he is redeemed, yet I allow myself to smile at his banter and friendship with Chandra while his wife remains in the dark alone, her whole future stolen from her by a single act of disgusting…anyway, again, it is (was) (is) also the culture of men to raise daughters to believe such things are acceptable, blah blah.

    (Surprising how difficult this is to do without punching a hole thru the computer screen…yikes!)

    Frankly, I don’t give a rat’s ass what happens with Paul, but am interested to know for one thing, just what aunty’s sins were?

    What I do like, a LOT, is this:

    “I am more interested in seeing what you have done with your sins. I already know what I did with mine.”

    That’s money NB…if I were ever to write a self help book, I would ask your permission to use “What Have You Done With Your Sins?” as a title.

    You’ve made your characters as real as you and me, as always, and have raised emotions in your telling, as always, and I remain a true and constant fan, as always.

    SB

    1. Thank you, SB. You’re totally right, this is about the culture of men. I really dislike Paul’s character. I think he got away with something, and now whines about being in a loveless marriage. The last bit is his only redemption, because he likely loves his son – he doesn’t really have any choice in that, for multiple reasons.

      Men are sad and stupid so often. It’s amazing how the structure of that dominance they think they have runs through their life. It’s inane and needs to go away.

      Thanks for reading, SB, as always. Not a lot of feedback on this story, I suspect it was just too long for blogland, but I really appreciate you taking the time. Like you wouldn’t believe.

      1. As one who wrote a trilogy or two here in blogland whose readership went down the hill rather than up for the ending, I agree with your assessment. Too bad too because those folks miss that last, ooey gooey, yummy goodness-y, bite at the end. Oh well, their loss.

        I actually want to apologize for my ‘missing the forest for the trees’ by focusing my comment on the obvious. Of course the child is the heart of it all. For all three of them. For very different, very personal reasons.

        As matticus and JC have stated and in true TL style, you leave your readers with more questions than answers; leave them wanting a peak into where you saw the story take its last breath, rather than where it organically went to dust in their own minds. In most cases, I’m right there with them…wanting you to do the heavy lifting, pull the trigger, dig the grave, and bury it for all eternity, leaving only the marker where we may visit it now and again, confident its remains are today as they were the day they were buried.

        Others may have wanted or needed that here. I don’t. I have no problem seeing this story’s three-pronged path. It may be as simple as perception, or as complicated as the dirt path my own experiences put me on, but see them clearly.

        The kicker for me is…the 4th prong, the heart of it all.

        The path leading to only God knows where.

        That, my dear NB, has my boots stuck in the mud and wanting……..which is perfect.

        1. Ah, you didn’t miss anything. I know you didn’t! It’s all about the child, in the end. I love that you call it a 4th prong, my aim is always to make the story about something just off to the side. It’s hard to do that.

          Your insight is wonderful, SB. Really looking forwards to more of your words.

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