Cat Dogs and Mothers-in-Law
I shifted in my chair, the faint squeak of springs the only sound in the dim room, light laddering across the floor through the Venetian blinds. Outside, the late summer sun beat down, the air swirling with the pop and fizz of insects. But inside we sat still and silent, Vidhya, her mother, and me.
Vivek and his father had disappeared, a mere half-hour after arriving from the airport, off to Home Depot to buy the necessary supplies to fix a leaky faucet. The accounting professor and his bookish son suddenly with a desperate interest in home repair. Cowards.
But I was still here, and I was terrified.
“Ma,” Vivek had said as we stood on the doorstep, “This is Tami.” Unsaid, hanging in the air between us, Tami, the white girl I want to marry, the one I never told you about, the one I moved with halfway across the country without a word.
Amma was unmoved by the introduction. She stood still on the doorjamb, her expression inscrutable, no malice in her coal-black eyes, but no softening around the mouth either. We hung in the doorway frozen in place for what seemed a long time, until Vivek’s sister broke the spell, rushing to the door and pulling me inside.
“So glad to see you. Was the flight long? Did you eat?” Vidhya’s words filling the emptiness; One awkward moment lived through until the next.
I’ve never been able to let silence lie -- I have to fill the void. Job interviews, cocktail parties, traffic stops; stories just bubble out, sometimes with disastrous consequences.
And now the room around me felt like it was filling with heavy air, the silence taking on the consistency of another body in the room. I crossed my legs and tugged at my braid -- carefully plaited since Vivek had mentioned proper Indian girls didn’t leave their hair loose.
Vivek’s mother sat in the shadows, hands around a cup of milky tea. The silence stretched and I felt like my heart would thrum right out of my chest as I began to speak.
“You have a dog, Misha. We always had dogs growing up. Dachshunds mostly. Except for Sam, he was a mut, Heinz 57 as my Grandpa would say. How old is Misha? Seven? My parents have a German Shepherd mix now, named Rascal.”
I couldn’t stop myself, not even slowing for answers. Vidhya watched, side-eyed over her teacup as she drank.
“My aunt and uncle, well, great aunt and uncle, they have Basenji’s and travel with them everywhere. They’re an African dog, with curly tails. They don’t even bark; they make a sound like laughing or yodeling.”
“My grandmother calls them the Blasted Basenjis, and probably worse when no one’s in earshot. But Nana puts up with them because Thurman is her baby brother, and she loves him, even if he did a marry did marry that damn Yankee and has two African laughing dogs that climb the furniture like cats.”
“One morning, Nana found them sitting bold as brass on top of the kitchen counter, wearing their outdoor coats and eating the bacon. She had found muddy footprints on the antimacassars on the couch the day before and broken crockery on the shelves in the living room too. She snapped, and chased them out of the house, waving a mixing spoon like a police baton.”
Vidhya snorted, tea spluttering back into her cup.
“After that, the Basenjis had to stay in their kennels when they came to visit. And Nana would mutter about cat dogs for weeks after they left.”
Amma quietly got up and left the room. We could hear the sound of the water running in the sink. The hinges of cabinets doors squeaked as they opened and closed.
The clock ticked in the corner of the room and time lengthened until we heard the peal of laughter, deep and uncontrolled, from the kitchen.
Vidhya smirked and grabbed my hand. “You’re in,” she whispered. “It will be rough, but just wait. You made her laugh.”
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