rituals at dawn
Mornings in the home of Ada Benjamin are an intimate affair. Her husband often slept quite late, leaving Ada some brief, precious moments to make love to her remorse. Every morning, the same.
It went like this:
Ada wakes up with weight pressed on top of her, arms wrapped around her chest like boa constrictors. Briefly she panics before she remembers that she married those arms, gave them silent permission to squeeze her so. Carefully she disentangles herself from damp bed sheets and cold paper skin to stumble into the kitchen.
To ensure she is awake, Ada opens her living room curtains and stares into the sun until tears race each other down the lines of her face. She never wipes them away. Instead she goes about her day as planned, raindrops staining the charcoal of her cheeks, choking softly on the perfume cloud of her dark morning coffee.
sasha in bloom
When Sasha Giran was nine years old, her mother discovered a birthmark in the shape of a rosebud on the back of her daughter’s knee. One day nothing, and the next it appeared, like it was planted beneath her skin and had blossomed over night.
Padma went straight to panic.
“Let’s take her to the hospital,” she implored of her husband. “This can’t be normal, right?”
But Abba merely chuckled. He grabbed his girl around her ribs and lifted her high. “Don’t worry, my love,” he insisted. “It’s merely an angel’s kiss. Now the whole world sees you for what you are – my beautiful flower.”
Her father’s words would stay with Sasha for years, even after the incident where her flower turned to dust.
For college Ada went to Smith, but imported Cooper from his family home in Boston nearly every weekend. The two spent long, grey days together, mostly hidden by the cover of the night. They quickly developed a routine.
Cooper would drive in on Thursday, honk loudly enough for Ada to hear from her third story window, and Ada would rush down to meet him. Give him a kiss with mouth closed and eyes open. Then Cooper says, where to? and Ada says, take me away, just like those white girls taught her in the indie films of her childhood. So they drive around in silence for a while, windows down, radio humming softly. They’d never choose their destination, or even the songs they’d listen to – both understood they were driving just to kill time. Usually, the two end up parked by the side of this little lake they liked to pretend stretches out for miles. By this time its almost dark – the universe has cracked open an egg and spread it far across the sky. So they sit back and watch as the sun drips its yolk along the horizon.
“It’s beautiful,” Ada whispers.
Cooper unhooks her bra in agreement.
For the next several moments, Cooper makes love to marble. Ada, who had long learned his language of taking without touch and asking without words, floated above the scene, waiting patiently for grunts and heavy breaths to cease from her resting place among the clouds.
Once, she was interrupted.
Panting, shuffling, panic.
“What is it?”
“I can’t… I can’t find it…”
In that moment, Ada’s wings disappeared. The two quickly crouched on the floor of the van to search. Ada was moaning, low in her throat.
“No, no, no, no, no, no, no….”
“Hey,” reproached Cooper in a voice he thought was steady. “Would it really be that bad?”
“We’d get married, you know. We’re in this together.”
Ada sighed to keep from screaming. Lit a match. Cooper found their discarded protector behind the passenger’s seat. The two rose without breathing and stood in the dark.
“Come here,” said Cooper and pulled Ada close after tossing her light into the depths of the sea.
Let us recall for a moment that crisp fall day when Ada was seven and Sasha was eight. Though Ada and her mother Naomi had lived in the states for two years, there were still many things they had not yet acquired. Health insurance. A functioning car. Their own place to live. Naomi, who spoke twelve words of English and had never finished the second grade, began to clean neighborhood homes to make ends meet. She soon realized she was spending more time worrying after other children than her own and found a compromise: she began to bring Ada to work with her.
The Giran’s lived in the sort of house that Ada had long believed only existed in movies: white picket fence, pool in the back, grass trimmed just so. And in fact the Girans themselves seemed to have leaped off the pages of a Disney script: father (doctor), mother (teacher), brother, (quarterback), and daughter, (red rose) all living under one roof with framed photos and homecooked meals and macaroni art on the walls.
When Padma answered the door that morning and saw the state of her houseguests – Ada had worn holes in her winter hat and Naomi hadn’t brushed her curls in weeks – she took pity on the two and invited them in for tea. Though “tea” was not one of the twelve words Naomi was familiar with, she accepted just to be polite.
And so on this day a tradition was born. Two friendships were conceived and a garden was planted.
Soon the girls shared everything: summer dresses, English tutors, long hidden secrets. But the mothers shared something even more powerful: fear. Together they watched their girls grow close, far too close for comfort. Naomi fretted quietly as Ada rejected the school boys who found her accent simple and charming. Padma too began to recognize a look in her daughter’s eye; it was one she had never given her husband.
Slowly but surely, things began to change: the Giran’s found another cleaner and Naomi insisted her daughter be home for dinner. One day, maybe ten years down the line, there was a knock at the door.
“Sasha, meet Raj,” said Padma. “He’ll be joining us for dinner tonight.”
The girls continued to meet every now and again, but soon the air grew heavy with the knowledge that they had both become their mothers – silent, terrified, tethered to wandering men. Ada never imagined she’d travel across oceans to belong to a boy with two first names. If you had told Sasha she’d be picking her spouse from six preapproved boys of her homeland, she would have laughed aloud. And she did, at first. But then there was Abba.
“Come now, my love,” he had said. “Only the best for my flower.”
There was a night between two lost souls that was never discussed, not even in secret, not even today.
It went like this:
Not long before the tides changed, two old friends meet up for a parting daytime coffee. The coffee turned to dinner and then dinner turned to drinks, and this turned to watching the sky change costumes outside a familiar bedroom window.
It was then that the rose planted its roots in the soils of unknown lands. Her kiss said, please, her kiss said, I’m sorry, her kiss said, I hope you can understand. Ada too had longed to grow in a garden but knew there are things you do not say aloud. So she laid her head upon the earth and smiled with eyes wide.
After, Sasha opened the blinds, then the window. The sun, just starting to rise, bathed Ada in a warm pool of light.
“Don’t move,” said Sasha. “I want to remember you like this.”
Ada looked into the sun for just a brief moment, so bright she could see it with her eyes closed. Then she rose, hid her limbs inside soft cotton, and headed for the door.
“Thank you,” Ada said, and left.
A door closed, a darkness unearthed.
A rose wilting from petal to stem.
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