Calling All Star-Crossed Lovers; A Valentine's Day Story. . .
“Think of yourself as a tree,” her therapist says, “a tall, sturdy oak with its roots deep in the soil.” This is the visual she is supposed to imagine anytime she feels stressed by how her eighteen-year-old daughter treats her.
“Oh, for crap’s sake, Guinevere,” she complains, her lips pursing. “Sorry, pardon, my French, “ she mumbles, when she sees Guinevere cringe at her choice of colorful words.
Guinevere is probably sixty years old, a throwback to some bygone age in how she has decorated her home-office tucked away on the corner of Tiptoe Lane in downtown Pleasanton. Shiny new linoleum graces the kitchen floor, and dainty white doilies adorn the arms and backs of the mohair green sofa and matching chair in the living room where Jaya is seated. Jaya runs her hands over the white-fringed, chenille spread covering the sofa where the outline of a large yellow and pink flower flows from the center giving the room a focal point.
Guinevere doesn’t have to deal with the hell-child who’s too much like her father, only meaner.
“You promised you would teach me to drive, but you never do,” the brat yelled at her this morning, her caramel irises smoldering with anger, “You’re always too busy. I’m going away to New Zealand for college. Or Antartica. Somewhere far far away from you.”
She slammed shut the 75-foot imposing door, rescued from Princess Vijaya Devi’s summer Palace in Jaipur and patiently restored by an army of day laborers as she ran down the front steps to her car. The vintage door’s deeply-stained, wooden panels rocked, teetering from abuse it was a stranger to.
Jaya gripped the medieval door purposefully, to quell its trembling. “I’m unfamiliar with this particular brand of chaos too,” she wanted to assure the sandalwood door inlaid with ivory and ornately carved with hundreds of miniature elephants, their long snouts raised in a trumpeting roar.
Jaya lovingly stroked the intricate motifs of the two peacocks that adorned the side of the door and whispered to it, “I belong to the era of ‘Yes, Mummy ji,' ‘No, Mummy ji.’ Yes, I will marry the man you have chosen for me. Yes, Mummy ji, at twenty-one years old, it is my duty to save the family fortune. Even though I love the Dalit boy who quotes Ghalib to me on full-moon nights. He who creeps into the Palace, unbeknownst to you or the Palace security Gurkhas, to bestow a hundred feathery kisses on my face. Even when I know that my forty-nine-year-old-fiancé will never love me like Gopal did. I’m just a nail in the Silicon Valley tycoon’s belt, a trophy on his wall, a descendant of the legendary Princess Vijaya Devi.”
Guinevere leans forward, head cocked to the right as she considers Jaya with narrowed eyes.
For a moment, Jaya dallies with the thought of telling her everything. But no, Guinevere would never understand. Guinevere believes in God, in a higher power, in everything spiritual. She has never been locked in the dark hole—called the dungeon—beneath the trapdoor in Mummy ji’s room (the Maharani suite) lavishly decorated by the legendary Indian designer, Manish Malhotra in shades of taffeta pink and cloudburst blue. She hasn’t clawed at the walls of the moist, crumbling earth with henna-stained hands only to come up empty, to be dragged away by the Palace guards screaming, “Please, Mummy ji. No, no, please, don’t make me marry him. He scares me, Mummy ji.”
Jaya closes her eyes and takes a deep pranayama breath. No, Guinevere, I will not imagine myself to be a tree, but instead, I will be the eagle that spreads its wings and flies over yellow-stalks of mustard fields planted on the banks of Dhund river. It soars over the faces of the night-blooming jasmine that unfurls like white parasols at dusks in the Marigold garden at the Summer Palace.
The heart still holds what is worn away, soothing like an old lover’s embrace.