Before your mother’s death, your father sat anywhere in the living room. Afterward, he’d place himself where he could see the urn holding her ashes. One day, he scoops out a tablespoon of ash and mixes it with his tea. Then he sits outside, up to his face in the pink evening as the light falls away.
A week later, when your father starts wearing your mother’s saris and polishes his toenails pink, you tell yourself his transition is no longer a temporary one. He’s still grieving, a relative says. Let him be.
One day, in the bedroom, you notice him blinking his kohl-lined eyes, the sparkle of your mother’s Mangal sutra on his neck bobbing a flash on the walls.
What’re you doing? you bawl.
He shrugs, applies a coral lipstick on his dark, thin lips and smacks them together. His hands look worn and you wonder if they can cook fluffy puris and bouncy Gulab jamuns, feel warm against your cheek, any time of the day.
Late that afternoon, he’s changing into her silk blouse and you realize you’ve been wearing the same clothes every day. You look at his face—it’s covered in foundation. The sari tied around his paunch and over his skinny legs has thin, pinned pleats. The little curly hairs on his arms and big toes are gone.
He asks you to watch your mother’s favorite cooking show with him. Chickpea curry and bhaturas. He says he’ll try the recipe. On the show, the fermented bread puffs in the fuming oil. A new old kind of transformation.
When do we distribute her ashes in the Ganges? you ask, your mind going straight to the urn.
He clears his throat. Her golden bangles on his arm jingle. We don’t need to, he says, creating anxiety as you imagine your mother swimming in his veins, blooming, rising behind the whites of his eyes, wanting to come out, wanting to stay in.
“New Old” first appeared in The Southhampton Review, 2019
FEATURED IMAGE: Hemendranath Mazumdar 1894-1948 UNTITLED (Woman in a Blue Sari) Oil on canvas 76 by 45 cm. (29 7/8 by 17 3/4 in.), Calcutta