Hey y’all. For my english class, we were assigned books to read and do a number of projects on. The book I received was Nalini Jones’ auspicious debut, What You Call Winter, and by all means, it’s exactly What You Call a Good Read (
Get it? I’m so sorry). I highly recommend it if you favor short stories. With that said, these short stories are unlike any others. Nalini Jones masters the art of weaving stories together through the lives of an extended family by tracing the ways that small actions, events, and traits of a character can affect family members down the line. This is especially tangible when you’re given the same characters at different ages, for example, in “In the Garden,” we’re given a tale of nine-year-old Marian, and later on in “We Think of You Every Day,” a twelve-year-old and sixteen-year-old Marian are brought into play. The collection of interwoven stories isn’t linear, making the shifts forward and backwards in time from chapter to chapter a bit confusing to follow. Still, once you get the hang of it, it proves to be quite imperative.
The story that stuck out the most to me was “We Think of You Every Day.” In this short story, aforementioned nine-year-old Marian is brought back into the picture as a side character. The bigger picture revolves around her brother Simon, who, reluctantly, was forced to attend a boarding school. Through a series of letters he sends quite often, he begs his mother to let him come home. Instead of abiding by her son’s plea, she takes his letters and hides them in her closet, thus keeping his distress a secret until Marian stumbles across the most recent letter, which disclosed all of Simon’s despair. Marian, after having a revelation, began to understand the fact her mother deliberately hid Simon’s misery in order to secure his future.
Getting back to my english class – we were assigned a creative writing project in correspondence to our books, and I decided to rewrite a section of “We Think of You Every Day” while also adding a scene. This, as you can now guess, is my finished creative writing project. Enjoy. Take care.
“He Thought of Them Every Moment”
Whatever happened to the Almeida family never seemed quite as real as the stories they told. Unless one of them worked to remember the facts, the truth of the matter might fall off to the side, like a shadow cast from a tree. And if no one took care to hold each memory and guard it well, the darkening years would swallow the shadow, and only the story would be left standing.
– Nalini Jones, What You Call Winter
Writing letters had become second hand knowledge. It started with the first one, a general I moved in, I miss you anecdote to Simon’s parents. Like budding friendships and breaking in a new pair of shoes, he got accustomed to the manner in which writing letters with time made each more personal. He got really good at it too, all of the steps; from picking out the right piece of paper to picking a good pen that could glide its way through a storm. Oftentimes he’d find himself scribbling ideas of what to say right next to the perforated edges of his notebooks, and those ideas would blossom into pages upon pages of I haven’t moved in, I miss you anecdotes with a one-way ticket into the arms of his mother. She always wrote back.
He had an urge to write another now, but, just as the train screeched to an ear-piercing stop, he stuffed the dull-tipped pencil back into his pocket. He would be seeing her, and Marian, Jude, and his father in less than a day, anyway. Besides, he could write another plea right here and now and hand it to his mother when he walked through the garden into his house, but she would probably read it, look him in the eyes and say, “We think of you every day, my son.” Well, he thought of them every moment. She was always such an optimist in that sense. His letters commonly introduced the fundamentals of what it takes to be distraught, and each should’ve elicited a certain response out of her that he purposefully fished for daily. Though, her usual response was nothing more than, God knows your pain. Trust in His strength, my son. Say a little prayer, for He is always listening.
She always kept in constant contact. Not just with Simon. How else would Father Ivo know he was two, three years behind in Latin? How would any of his teachers know the time in which Simon tugged at his father’s trouser leg with the news that he caught a glimpse of a snake on the stucco wall? His father sent a single dispassionate page with news on St. Stanny’s or local politics he read from Times of India every now and again. Marian wrote on a handful of occasions, as well. Simple sisterly things. He could tell her stomach churned whenever their mother slid the paper in front of her. He truly missed her, and she missed him, and they missed the times they shared together. Simon used to annoy her by circling her with his bike. She used to just stand in place, sometimes in the middle of St. Hilary Road, very quietly until he’d grow tired and ride away. When Jude reaped the quote unquote benefits of his first fever, Simon and Marian situated themselves under the largest tree in the garden and talked about all the thoughts Marian used to get when she’d play piano for ninety minutes, and if they got really bored, they’d sit on the veranda and name every single speck of dust. It wasn’t until she gave him a melancholic “good bye” that he realized the weight of her life in his.
The train ride back to his unwelcoming home was twenty-four hours. There was something so odd about the commuter trains, so dangerous, so unkempt. During the prime rush-hour times in the morning and evening, the trains got extremely crowded. Men would pack themselves into and onto the cars of the train with their messenger bags moving with their bodies in the face of the laws of gravity. Periodically the trains got so crowded that men near the doorways have commonly fallen off. No matter, the young boy had a seat; one on silver beams above a family of five all sharing one copy of Times of India.
He made it seem like he was with them; he was a part of their happy family. A family whose mother brought all of her kids to her chest as they grew tired. A mother who didn’t weigh her eldest son’s unhappiness against the advantages his education will provide. A father who didn’t have to face inner turmoil over a bulky situation he had influence in from the time it budded. Still, no one could replace the image of Marian when she’d settle herself on the glossy black bench of St. Jerome’s piano on lesson days when she was nearing ten-years-old.
The temptation to shut his eyes and doze off was as great as the urge to write a letter. The twelve-year old’s spiky handwriting and an unsteady, crowded train were no match, just as sleep and him were no match either. St. Stanislaus School for Boys and One Miserable Pushover made sure of that. Last night one of the boys shook him until he shot up in bed again. In fact, the boy got right in his face with his conflagrant breath and waited until his buddies crowded around the foot of his bed to ask, “you’re from Santa Clara, right? Why is it so hot there that the birds pull worms out of the ground with potholders?” At the time he thought it could be worse. While there was always strength in their numbers, his father always said Almeida men were strong. That was so long ago, though, when the Big Dipper was still merely a cup. And besides that, he wasn’t even a man. He wasn’t even nearing twelve.
He lied down on the silver beams, using his oversized uniform jacket as a blanket, or a compassionate hug in what appeared to be a man’s coat on a small child. His mother had cut the shoulders too large, hoping he’d grow into it sometime within two years. He imagined the jacket that now enveloped him radiated the same warmth the mother sitting below gave her children, all fitting together with her like a hand in its own imprint in cement. Sleep never came.
A week after Simon came home for the summer break, he told his father he did not want to go back to school. He rehearsed his spiel while riding his bike up and down St. Hilary Road, so caught up in his thoughts that he almost hit a motorcyclist. He rehearsed while sitting on the dusty veranda, and next to Jude as he slept and hummed in his sleep about all the things he’d do and all the places he’d go to if their father had a car. Day and night and day again he rehearsed one sentence.
“Still unhappy? Why?”
Simon stayed silent, something that they’ve become accustomed to in the Almeida household in the past week alone.
His father persevered, “What’s the matter? It’s this Latin course? We can hire a tutor.” Thinking this lecture would go by quickly, the old man reached into his vest pocket and pulled out his pocket watch. He checked the time and properly tucked it back into his vest pocket, kept as snug as the blanket Simon’s mother used to cuddle him up with when he was younger. He remembers the first day his father brought home the watch. He was infatuated by its attachment to his father’s belt loop after a hard day at the registrar. Tears began to form in his eyes.
His father cooed, “Come, what is it?”
Simon took a harsh breath in that did more bad than good to his trembling throat. “I want to stay home.” With that said, his small fists met his eyes in an attempt to hide his sorrow, though, all he did was make the matter worse. His father sat back, a hand on his son’s back as a number of promises flew out of his mouth but never securely landed. He’d study, he would, really. He was destined to be a star-student at his neighborhood school and by the hands of God, everything that could ever distract him would be put on the back burner until he was his father’s age. He’d individually pick up every speck of dust on the dusty veranda by wielding two toothpicks like chopsticks. He’d put his time to good use, really, whether it be by teaching Jude not to persist when Mummy’s answer was no, or by meeting the stout morning postman outside whenever there was a letter.
Simon’s father was sympathetic, but there was nothing he could do. The fees were paid. Simon couldn’t come home. He couldn’t continue bowling with Uncle Peter, who was a real wiz by the way. Uncle Peter taught Simon everything he knew and before he went to boarding school, he was the best bowler in the neighborhood. The scholarship was granted. His tears fell with a newfound rapidity, but not a sound came out between two trembling lips.
“Try one more year. You’ve been through the worst of it already.”
He wasn’t even given a chance to prove that he could catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Instead, he’d have to live his adolescence as the first boy with a bare, concave amphitheater in his chest that reverberates whenever his heart beats too quickly. His mother would continue sending letters filled with God’s message but why bother trying to listen to them when he’s already tried many times to baptize himself in a sea of harmony and failed.
“You’ll be fine,” his father articulated, sternly.
Given the right situation, anything can be right. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. In a perfect world, yes, he would be fine. But in the subsequent years, he’d sporadically be reminded of this moment with his father: when he fearlessly tore Jude’s tooth out of his mouth; the first time he made it back to church and the priest said “God knows your pain;” another time on his eighteenth birthday when his father tried to reconcile by giving him his pocket watch; two years after that when he found the watch under his tousled bed; once when all he did was part his lips. Sometimes all it takes is a simple part of the lips.