Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar, Lists of Wisdom

No matter how loud your husband’s snores or how smelly his farts, never leave your marital bed.

Those were Grandma’s words on my wedding day. She sent me off with those in my ears and a ruby necklace that had once belonged to her mother, around my neck.

Grandma was the stalwart of our family − the full-toothed seer, who held the universe’s knowledge, weaved into her silver waist-length braid.

The first few nights of my marriage were playful and wakeful, but soon my husband’s snores started. Sometimes they were short and intermittent like a beat-up Fiat car’s engine struggling to start; at other times, they were loud and steady like a Vespa scooter’s dirty exhaust pipe. I started pulling the covers over my head, plugging my ears with cotton, but nothing worked. Then, I decided to train my mind because Grandma always said that everything was in the mind. I started counting, back-counting, humming songs in my head, and soon sleep befriended me.

Two years into our marriage, my husband started sleep-talking. Those conversations, he had, were always with me. All his sentences were punctuated with my name. He argued, discussed grocery-lists, or made weekend plans, with me, in his sleep. I learned to sleep with my name on his tongue.

Sometimes, I woke up when he was too loud, shook him with my plump arms, into steady snores, but I never left our bed. I occupied most of the bed, anyway, so it was more mine.

In the fifth year, I heard him sleep-talking, gently, to another name. A sweet-sounding but foreign name. His tongue slurred so I could not catch the syllables that night. Next evening, when he returned from work, he had a Buddha-smile plastered on his face. His shirt smelled foreign. I waited for him to sleep. Soon enough, he was professing his love to a “Mirna”, swimming in the oceans of her eyes, and giggling like a first-time lover.

I lay still, but my mind ran full speed.

In the morning, I opened the lowest compartment of my carved jewelry box, the one holding Grandma’s ruby necklace, and pulled out a folded piece of paper labelled, “If you find yourself in a bog”. Grandma had slipped this paper into my palm and closed my fingers around it, three years ago, on Thanksgiving dinner at her place. I had kept it safe like all her words and the ruby necklace.

I called the first number on Grandma’s list and within a couple hours, someone called me back with Mirna’s details . A sealed package containing her pictures was slipped under my door sill.

Mirna was 23-years old, an Administrative Assistant in the company where my husband was a Director. She had hazel eyes, long hair the exact shade as her eyes, bronze skin, and a model-body showcased in a skimpy dress.

Such women are husband stealers, I imagined Grandma saying, her eyebrows raised over her kohl-eyes. I absolved my slightly paunchy husband. He was being stolen.

Soon, my husband started dyeing his gray temples, avoiding carbs, and buying new shirts. His hours at work stretched longer and his love-talks in the night grew louder.

Bad weather passes, fever subsides, Grandma always said. So, I gave it a month. Then, I called Grandma and sobbed into the mouthpiece. She called me back next day and asked me to list down some numbers under “When you need to drain the bog”. She also wired me money, a woman of means that she is.

I called the first number from the new list and asked to nudge Mirna away, per Grandma’s instructions. That day, my husband arrived from work at 5:30 pm, smelling of heartbreak. His shoulders were sagged under the laptop’s weight. His eyes were unhappy like a panhandler’s.

I unburdened him, led him to the couch, arranged pillows under his head, and made him ginger-tea. He said he was tired; I stroked his forehead.

At dinner, he ate cheese ravioli.

That night, he cried in his sleep. No words or names slipped his tongue. I grabbed the “Be Enchanted” body mist from my nightstand and spritzed myself with it. I joined my pillow to his, and pulled his slightly balding head to my ample bosom. He clung to me.

The last list was from Grandma’s friends – those that she had made in jail, years ago.

Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar is an Indian American. She was born in a middle-class family in India and will forever be indebted to her parents for educating her beyond their means. She lives in the United States. She is a Pushcart nominee for 2017 and her work has been published in The Ellipsis zine, The FormerCactus, The Same, Star82 Review, The Sidereal, and elsewhere. She blogs at Puny Fingers and can be reached on Twitter via @PunyFingers.

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