How to Get Pulled into a Whorl
by Mandira Pattnaik
So, Bakru thinks he can loop Time, bend it like a bicycle spoke, curl it around his finger, weave it like a spider spins a web, like Masi makes up stories about her missing crocodile husband and his detachable scute that she claims to wash by the public water-spout every day, like Mother and I wait for news, while the dates roll away. If Father found the woman who recently sent a letter that she’ll die if she didn’t see her only love one last time, her childhood crush, who is our Father now, she said she’d name him for abatement of suicide. Because the laws are so skewed here for things like that, Father went. It wouldn’t matter that Father hasn’t seen her in twenty years, we don’t live nearby, have never met her, and don’t know if it's only a trap and Father’s going to be murdered, for we own some land, barren but prime, back in Father’s ancestral village. Bakru, therefore, takes me to the river, where we take a small boat, and indeed the water loops and uncurls as though some ancient time is unravelling, clings to the boatman’s oars, is released, repeated, until we’ve found the jetty where Father might be if we are lucky. I hand my brother a catapult and some pebbles, just in case, before we make our way through the tall grass with white autumnal flowers on their tips, because it is just time for Dusshera festival, and spongy white cloud blobs scoot in the eastern sky while dusk rules the opposite end. I call the woman who passes us by with a bundle of straw on her head: Do you know someone called Meherjabin? She nods, and since we don’t know what else to ask, she stops for half a minute and then continues on her way. Bakru pulls out a small packet wrapped in a handkerchief from his pocket and we lick the raw mango slices while we’re about. A tender vein of fear and danger creeps up from our bare feet and reaches our hearts — it’ll be nighttime soon. We race past abandoned heaths and half-ruined stone walls, past rickety palms, past a homeward bound cow, when we notice boatmen bearing fishing nets on their shoulders on the distant riverside, like puppet-shadows, and we both silently ponder whether to turn back and return to where Mother is, baking us nice fluffy rotis, and where Masi is crouched between rag dolls scattered about her, though she has long been an adult, and her grays show, for Bakru can’t keep-up if Time might loop again, and we might find ourselves pulled back, reversed, and turned back into particles in a whorl, with no borders and boundaries except the river delineating between.
Mandira Pattnaik is an Indian writer published in The McNeese Review, Penn Review, Quarterly West, Passages North, Timber, Contrary, Watershed Review, Quarter After Eight and Best Small Fictions Anthology (2021), among others. Her writing has secured multiple nominations for Pushcart Prize, BotN, Best Small Fictions, Best Microfiction, and listing in Wigleaf Top50 (2023). She is the author of collections "Anatomy of a Storm-Weathered Quaint Townspeople" (2022, Fahmidan, Poetry), "Girls Who Don't Cry" (2023, ABP, Flash) and "Where We Set Our Easel" (May, 2023, Stanchion Publishing, Novella). Work forthcoming in IHLR, The Rumpus and SAND Journal.