This morning, some grading, followed by a long day on campus. I had planned to order the SH mugs tomorrow, but now I'm worried that they won't arrive before I leave town. I wonder if I can get Jeremy to handle them for me over the summer, since he's here. I also have to write that Ada paper tomorrow, and get it out of the way, so that I'm primed to write the big Kathryn paper next week. I also need to find out if I'm supposed to write a big history paper as well; not sure. I think it's all still do-able; I'm just feeling the time pressure. I slacked off a bit the last two weeks, and now it has come back to haunt me. Never again will I try to take four classes and teach one -- it's been a crazy semester, and while I think I'll manage it, it'll be just by the skin of my teeth.
I have a reading on campus this Thursday evening. If any of you are Salt Lake residents and are interested in coming, please let me know, and I'll send you the time and directions. I have twelve minutes; I'm not sure what I'm going to read. I had thought it might be interesting to read "Silence and the Word", but I think that'll run too long. I'll have to time it and see. I'm also not sure I have the nerve to read that one out to my classmates. I might read "Johnny's Story" -- that one is just fun to read, though my accent gets more and more implausible the further I go in it, usually. Any other suggestions? I read them "A Jewel of a Woman" for the Valentine's Day reading, so I can't do that one again. That's still clearly the funniest / most audience-engaging one to read aloud. I've used up my best material, and now I'm doomed.
I'd really like to write something new for this, but there just isn't time to do even a semi-decent job. As I was falling asleep last night, I was thinking it would be really fun to do a mini-play type thing -- I was imagining a series of monologues, with me up in front and various of my classmates in the audience. But we'd have to rehearse it at last once, and I just don't think that's going to happen. Not to mention that I was thinking about writing it about dating people in your department, which is maybe a slightly touchy topic. But it would have been fun. Maybe next year...
I'm starting to get the urge to write again, which is very good, since I'm hoping to do a fair bit of that this summer -- but I really can't do much of it now. I'm supposed to do one more experiment for Fiction class, due next week, but she's not expecting a finished story; just 1-4 pages exploring something. The start of a story, really. I've actually done enough on that already, but I think I'd like to set aside some time this weekend and actually try to develop it some more. We'll see.
I need to go do some grading, but I haven't given you guys any fiction here in a very long time, so I'm going to go ahead and give you the first page of this story.
She comes home by noon, the sun high in the sky, rowing the boat with strong arms over the breakwater, jumping out to drag it up onto the shore. She was once a curiosity, and the beggar children gathered to laugh, to point, to stare at this strange woman in her widow's white, this old woman who goes out alone to the sea, every day. But familiarity breeds comfort as well as contempt, and they have long-ago grown used to her, this strangeness, this madwoman. They have heard her story from their siblings, their parents, and now no one bothers to tell it. They leave her alone, for the most part. They let her fish.
Most days she trades much of her catch. She wakes up long before dawn, goes out for cold hours in the boat that she has learned to care for, to watch over, to love. Comes back with enough fish to trade for her other small necessities. Oil and chili powder. Rice and lentils. Her goat gives her milk; her chicken gives her eggs. It is not much, but she is not as hungry as she used to be, these days. Once the fish are gone, she sleeps away the afternoon. In the evening she walks on the beach; she sits on a particularly large rock; she watches the waves coming in, going out. Since the servant woman died, six years ago, she has lived alone.
Some days are different; this is one of those days. She pulls out her hoard of spices; she trades for rich coconut milk, ghee, fresh vegetables. The other women look knowingly at each other, and some of them tell their children: "Aaiyyee! -- Medha's cooking today. Go wait there." As Medha slowly walks home, limping slightly, the children trail behind her, eventually gathering under the huge spreading banyan tree that guards the door to her small house. The monsoon rain is pouring down; slamming hard into the ground, and the children jump around, squishing mud between their toes. Medha walks blindly, eyes unfocused, nose deep in the scent of fresh mango rising from the full string bag she carries. Her arms should be aching, but on days like this, she doesn't notice.
She enters the clean kitchen, clears a space on the table. She takes her large knife in hand, sharpens it carefully on a stone. Medha starts slowly, but then catches the angle, the rhythm of it, and moves faster. She puts down the stone, places three onions on the table. Cuts off the top and bottom. Cuts them in half, length-wise. Peels the skins off, being sure to get each bit of brown. It is not a day for being careless, for being just good-enough. When she is satisfied, she rinses in them in cold water, and then begins to slice them. Paper-thin slices, from a hand swift and skilled with long practice. She has been cooking since she was eight? ten? At least sixty years now. She remembers how her mother would come and pinch her the extra flesh on her arm, hard, when she did not slice thinly enough. Punishing her for two sins at once. Too clumsy, too fat. Probably for being too dark as well, though Medha truly could do nothing about that. If her mother could see her now, perhaps she would at least conceded that Medha is no longer fat. She has become a rail-thin woman; wiry and strong from the hours on the ocean, slender from endless meals of rice and lentils. Two cups of each will sustain her in a normal day -- but this is not a normal day.
She slices each half, keeping the shape of the half-onion, then turns it ninety degrees, and dices it cross-wise. For this first dish, she needs a very fine dice, a mince, really. When the onions are finished, she slides them into one of her large Teflon pots. Her brother had tried to send her money, from America; she refused it, over and over. But one Christmas, he and his wife sent her a beautiful set of Teflon-coated pots and pans. Those, she kept. She loved the way the food slid right out of the pan, the fact that she could just rinse it and be done. She had no interest in the gadgets they sent as well; one corner of the kitchen held cardboard boxes full of unused kitchen toys. But the Teflon -- that, she likes.
She sautees the onions in ghee, adding black mustard seed, cumin seed. She chops three tomatoes while she waits, chops them small and juicy. When the onions are golden, she adds perhaps a teaspoon of raw red chili powder. As it cooks, the smoke rises and makes her cough. That is her cue to add the tomatoes, a few tablespoons of vinegar, a little sugar, and a mix of dry-roasted spices, dark and fiercely aromatic. As the tomatoes cook down she quickly peels and chops three large potatoes; this first dish is a potato curry, because that takes longest to cook. Into the pot. She stirs hard, turning up the rich blend of onion and spice, coating every piece of potato. She lowers the heat on the gas range (another gift; she had once cooked over an open fire), covers the dish, and turns back to the cutting board.
Can you remember where you've seen this character before? Any suggestions on where to take this? Parts you'd like to see explored? Things that confuse you? Tell me!