Today's Reading

Inside the curves of the cloud, he draws an asterisk. Next to it, he writes 'amyloid plaque'. The plaques are protein formations that usually appear in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.

'Did you see one of these in the scan?' I ask.

'No,' he says. 'Not yet, at least. But your mother is forgetting.'

I tell him I don't understand how that can be, and in answer he lists some pharmaceutical drugs on the market. Donepezil is the most popular. He circles it three times.

'What are the side effects?'

'High blood pressure, headache, stomach problems, depression.' He looks up at the ceiling and squints, trying to remember more. In the drawing, the amyloid plaque doesn't look so bad. It's almost magical, a lone tangle of yarn. I say this out loud and regret it a moment later.

'Does she knit?' he asks.

'No. She hates anything that seems domestic. Except cooking. She's a wonderful cook.'

'Well, that won't help. Recipes are notoriously difficult to keep straight. Knitting, when it becomes muscle memory, can bypass parts of the brain.'

I shrug. 'I suppose I could try. She'll hate the idea.'

'Nothing about her is certain any more,' he says. 'She may be a whole different person tomorrow.' 

On the way out, the doctor asks me if we are related to a Dr Vinay Lamba, someone senior in an important hospital in Bombay. I tell him we aren't, and he looks disappointed, sad for us. I wonder if inventing a relation could have helped.

'Does your mother live with someone, a husband or a son?' he says.

'No,' I say. 'She lives alone. Right now.'

'Don't bite your nails,' Ma says on the way home.

I put my right hand back on the steering wheel and try not to clench it, but my left hand moves automatically to my mouth.

'It isn't really the nail that I'm biting, it's the cuticle.'

Ma says she doesn't care for the difference and thinks it's a shame my fingers should look this way when I'm always doing so much with my hands. I stay quiet as she speaks for the rest of the journey, listening less to what she says than how she says it, the rhythm and hesitation in her voice when she doesn't say what she means, misspeaks, inserts a reprimand to cover for her own uncertainty. She apologizes, says I'm to blame for my mistakes, thanks me and sighs,
massaging her temples. Her lips cave in where two teeth are missing at the side of her mouth, and she looks like she has eaten something bitter.

I ask my mother who she is speaking to, but she doesn't answer. I glance at the back seat, just in case.

In her flat, we drink tea with digestive biscuits because they're Ma's favourite and it's been a hard day. I tell Kashta to make a paste of honey and ginger for my tickling throat. My mother is wordless as I give these instructions.

'Add some fresh turmeric to that,' she says a moment later. 'Just a sliver the size of a baby's foreskin is enough.'

She presses her thumbnail against the tip of her middle finger when she says this, measuring the exact amount. Then she looks down into her teacup, stirring an elliptical in its firmament.

'Please don't talk about foreskin,' I say, breaking the biscuits into halves.

'What's there in a little foreskin? Don't be such a prude.' She remembers how to insult me well enough.

Her apartment is a quiet mess. I consolidate three shakers of salt into one. A collection of untouched newspapers sits on the four-seater dining table. Ma insists on keeping them, says she will get to them one day.

I turn over a small bag of mung beans from the market into a steel thali and begin separating the pulse from the stone. Kashta tries to pull the plate from me but I push her away. When I'm done, I begin separating the mung by shades—military green, taupe, beige. My mother looks at the discrete piles and shakes her head. I crack my knuckles and continue separating. I know it won't make a difference once they're all in the cooker, but I've started now and I can't
stop, can't stop looking for differences, until they are all where they're meant to be, coded, surrounded by their own families.

Ma naps on the sofa, and for a moment I can imagine what she'll look like when she dies, when her face slackens and the air abandons her lungs. Around her are objects, papers, photo frames filled with faces she hasn't seen in years. Among these things her body looks lifeless and alone, and I wonder if performing for the world circulates something vital, if the pressure of an audience is what forces the blood to pump. It's easy to unravel when no one is watching.

My old room stands apart from the rest of the flat, like a graft of foreign skin. There is an order, a symmetry I have left behind—one she hasn't been able to undo. On the wall, in identical frames, are black-and-white sketches of faces I have hung five centimetres apart.

The bed is made, and I run my hands over the sheets to remove the creases but they have been ironed into the fabric.


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