The Ink Chase Serial appears below, after Watch What the Rain Brings
Watch What the Rain Brings
by Abha Iyengar
That is the cat she sees, out in the rain, its fur a grey-white, sticking out like a porcupine’s spikes, straight out of her skin, as though caught by electric fright. There is space there in between the spikes, and she can see the dead-white-grey skin too, in between the hair. The cat is on the ground, lying, the rain pelting it, its hair then seeming unusual in the way it is straight up, not flattened by the hitting rain.
Maya, watching from the door, looking out, wants to rush out and bring her back in, into the room with its warmth, its dryness, its safety from the rain. She looks back to see if her mother is around, for her mother will not allow her to go out in the rain and bring a sodden cat in. Maya cannot help herself. She takes a few tentative steps out into the rain and finally runs towards the cat. Maya picks her up and holds it tight against her little body.
The cat is heavy. The cat hangs limp in Maya’s arms. Maya runs back into the house, dripping wet now, and places the cat on the floor. She wants to place her on the carpet, but knows her mother will not like that. She runs in to fetch a towel, to wipe the cat dry, to rub some life into her. Her mother, standing in front of the dressing table, combing her hair, catches sight of Maya.
Her eyes open wide and she rushes to grab a towel to rub Maya down. “Where have you been?” she asks, her eyes angry and concerned.
“Mother, there is a cat on the floor outside…” says Maya, and her mother has her answer. Maya’s mother is rubbing her down vigorously, and reaching for some new clothes, but Maya is struggling.
“Mother,” she says, “the cat is wet. It will die.”
Maya’s mother has removed Maya’s wet clothes and made her wear new dry ones. She is rubbing her hair hard, to get all the wetness out. Maya runs away, towards the room outside, her mother runs after her.
Maya points at the cat and begins to sob. Her mother holds her tight for a while. “Okay, Maya, you stand here and watch the cat,” she says. She goes in to fetch another towel and hands it to Maya. “Rub her gently with this, okay?” she says.
Maya’s face brightens and she moves towards the cat. Her mother goes to the kitchen to warm some milk, get a dropper from some drawer to feed the cat. It still looks looks like something from outer space.
Maya makes small purring sounds. The eyes of the cat open, and the cat snarls.
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Abha Iyengar is an internationally published author, poet and British Council certified Creative writing facilitator. Her work has appeared in The Four Quarters Magazine, Muse India, The Asian Writer, Pure Slush, and others. Her story, “The High Stool”, was nominated for the Story South Million Writers Award. Her poem-film “Parwaaz” won a special jury prize at Patras, Greece. She won the Lavanya Sankaran fellowship 2009-10. She was a finalist in the FlashMob 2013 Flash Fiction contest. Her published works are Yearnings, Flash Bites, Shrayan, Many Fish to Fry, and The Gourd Seller and Other Stories.
The Ink Chase
A Serial in eight parts
“Find me a Dr Harry Harlow’s papers—he is up for parole,” I said to my head clerk, first thing as I barged into office. “And get the jail warden in here—now!”
Diane was instantly better with just a drop of the potion I’d given her last night. The mother’s glow had returned to her. I’d carefully stored the vial in the safe. It would last a month on tops, I figured. I had to now keep my word, and make the witch keep hers, and get the whole damned thing over with. I could deal with her later. Or perhaps not. The writ of our law did not run large over creatures of the dark and the underworld.
Johnson Kombian, the jailer, was in my office by the time I’d finished combing the chemist’s file. Harlow seemed to have been put away for nothing more serious than scalding society women with his ointments, potions and divers sun lotions! Of course, there were so many complaints, and some of the ladies had never truly recovered, either from the effects of his quackery, or from the natural blemishes of the ageing process—his bloomer lay in the fact that a judge’s daughter, betrothed recently, an ugly, acned girl to begin with, as he’d claimed, had also been among his clientele. ‘My Experiments with the Truth,’ is how the fool, quite removed from reality, had defended himself at the trials!
“Why did they reject his parole,” I asked Kombian.
He shrugged. “Bad behavior.”
“He annoyed the committee by insisting that he’d not been provided for—with a white apron and glasses while in jail, as behove his status. They thought he was loony.”
“And?” I was beginning to get a little annoyed now. Was the man jesting?
“And for bursting firecrackers on Halloween and giving the islands one helluva grand show.”
“Where on earth did he lay his hands on explosives?”
“He didn’t. He made them—from stuff in the kitchen and the infirmary.”
“All right. Now, I’m not asking for a recommendation here, but what do you make of this man?”
“A little wacky, but harmless—he gives no trouble to the turnkeys. The other prisoners think highly of him, due to the aforesaid fireworks show. The guard’s wives at the isles swear by him though.” He loosened his collar and cleared his throat. “He makes wonderful homemade beauty potions for them that really work.” He shifted a little in the cane chair. “In fact they’d rather he stayed there.”
“Are we going to run this prison on ladies’ whims now, Jailor?”
“No sir, it’s your call…he should be let go.”
“Have I asked you?”
“Well, that will be all.” I pounded a ‘GRANTED’ stamp on his parole application. “When can you bring him here?”
“To your office sir?”
“Yes. I would like to motivate him to make something of his life. Can’t let talent waste now, can we?”
“No sir. I shall personally bring him in the noon ferry.”
“Be quick then.”
The doctor was brought before me at dusk. He was a mild, quivering man with fair hair, wearing a mussed striped suit and cracked glasses. In his hands he clutched a canvas bundle, out of which peeked a sheaf of notes, tin boxes, jars and more rags. He’d probably perfected his recipes on the jailors’ wives on the islands – he’d spent his captivity in good custom.
“Sit,” I ordered. “Someone wants to meet you desperately—they’ve in fact strongly recommended your freedom. You’ll be dropped at a place where you’ll wait for me. I can’t be seen escorting you out of here. Then I shall take you to your benefactor—got it?”
The relieved man, who couldn’t believe his luck at being released, nodded. I couldn’t have revealed any more to him in the fear he might well bolt right back to prison.
I thumbed the bell. Radhe rose at my elbow. “Put him on your bicycle and leave him near 38/6 KM Stone on the banks of North Brother Swamp—you know the place?”
“Yes sahib.” The orderly salaamed, a little puzzled. He’d never seen a convict getting dropped anywhere before.
To be continued