Jose Varghese, author of ‘Silver Painted Gandhi and Other Poems’, was a finalist in the Beverly Prize. His works have appeared in Unthology, Reflex Fiction, Chandrabhaga, Kavya Bharati, Postcolonial Text, Mercurial Stories, Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis and Unveiled (forthcoming). He was the winner of the River Muse Spring Poetry Contest, a runner-up in the Salt Flash Fiction Prize and Faber QuickFic, a second prize winner in the Wordweavers Flash Fiction Prize, shortlisted in Hourglass Short Story Contest and two Eyewear Fortnight Poetry Prize competitions, and was commended in the Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Prize.

A Short Story

By Jose Varghese

“She’s not difficult all the time. See how she’s at peace with herself today.” Alice says.

I watch Dianne feeding the pigeons, as we choose our ice creams. Dianne had indicated earlier that she didn’t need one. I’m not yet comfortable with the idea of it.

“Shall we ask her again?”

“No. All that she needs is coffee, but she goes hyper if she drinks a lot of that.”

Tourists are filling the boulevard with a whirl of accents and camera flashes. The foreign tongues all around fall heavy on my ears, some in pleasant tones, and some in their crass immediacy. I figure out some of what they mean. All of them relate to the excitement of being here right now, and the need to make the most of it. It’s cruel perhaps to dismiss their curiosity for the unseen as typical touristy low taste.

Pleasant smells waft out from the nearby café. We could have gone in there, but Alice wants to give her daughter some time for herself.

Dianne gets along so well with the pigeons the way only children can. The pigeons form a protective layer around her, moving in knowing circles. She looks determined to feed each and every one of them. I’m a bit troubled by what Alice referred to as the difficulty that this five-year-old is.

She’s now distracted by a group of folk musicians on the pavement. She runs towards them. We hurry after her. Now I notice how she’s not really in control of her limbs, and how her eyes are struggling to focus.

Alice squeezes my hands. My cold hands that refuse to wake to warmth and reassurance. I sense her eyes on me, her hopes hovering around my responses.

“We should walk faster. I’m afraid we’ll lose her in the crowd…” I say.

“She’ll be right there in front of the musicians.”

Her voice is calm. It surprises me, but she’s right. We find Dianne standing in front of the musicians. Her head moves sideways in a failed attempt to imitate the rhythm.  She’s lost in another world. I sit on my knees behind her, and circle an arm around her. She doesn’t move away but she isn’t aware of my presence. I feel how tiny she is, her tummy moving rhythmically against my palm.

The music has an effect on her. I sense that through the vibrations in her body. Her hair smells of Alice. Her eyes are moist and flit from one musician to the other, or rather, from one sound to the other. A warm teardrop falls on my wrist. I wonder what in the music makes her cry. She could be gifted in some way, despite her handicap.

Is she ever going to wake to words and what they mean; to move beyond the music that moves her? The depth of what she could be experiencing, lost fully in the moment, makes me feel heavy. My hands sweat.

I look back and see Alice sitting on a park bench, tasting her ice cream. Mine is in her left hand too, kept at an angle to let it melt and drip to the mouth of a stray cat. She smiles at us. I envy her resignation and trust, and wonder whether I would ever be a match for that.