It is strange how writing can be influenced in subtle and indirect ways. For my birthday six months ago, my husband had gifted me “On Writing”. It is a fantastic book with valuable lessons on writing by Stephen King, the ‘King’ of the horror genre. Although I had hardly read any of the author’s actual work, I loved what he had to say about the craft of writing and absorbed many useful lessons as I gleefully chomped through his non-fiction book.
In it, Stephen King also talks about some of his novels and short stories including the themes and characters in them. I think it was perhaps only due to these fleeting references, without even reading an entire horror story or novel, that the antennae in my subconscious mind started picking up signals to imagine a story with a slight supernatural connection. My story titled “One Saturday Morning”, set against a domestic backdrop in an ordinary household takes a sudden macabre turn on a seemingly lazy weekend morning. It recently appeared in a literary magazine called “Indian Short Fiction” and here is the link to it: http://indianshortfiction.com/flash-fiction-stories.php?id=141
Since the above link may not be functional anymore, here is the story in its entirety:
One Saturday Morning
Tender light filtering in through the curtains managed to wake up Jaya even before her alarm clock could beep. Perhaps this is an effect of advancing age, she thought, unable to go back to sleep. It was a Saturday morning and too early to wake up. Monday and her part time job at the beauty salon seemed a long way off. She had no specific plans for the weekend. No lunches or movies scheduled with friends, no weddings to attend and nowhere to go to with her husband who was at the moment away on a business trip. She had gone shopping just last weekend. The day stretched out long and languorous like the sun rays that were beginning to warm her toes. How deceptively innocent it had seemed then, Jaya would reflect later on.
She tossed and turned for a while, then gave up and headed to the bathroom. Turning her face this way and that, she hunted for the presence of new wrinkles and any gray hair that might have appeared as her hair color faded. Finding none, she started to hum a cheerful tune under her breath as she freshened up, looking forward to enjoying her morning cup of steaming hot tea. The maid servant Sarita would be here soon and she remembered a cleaning task she wanted to get done by her. Having worked with them for a decade, Sarita had been entrusted with the key to their apartment and could enter on her own to start household chores without disturbing her employers’ sleep on weekend mornings.
As she passed her son Rahul’s room, Jaya paused and tried to open the door just a little and as quietly as possible. The bedroom door yielded easily. Even before she peeked inside, the fact that it was not locked immediately told her that his bed would be lying undisturbed. Her darling boy, how hard he partied every Friday night! It was seven o’clock and he would stumble home soon, his clothes smelling of cigarette smoke, alcohol and feminine perfume. She would then make a half-hearted attempt to scold him while trying to suppress the joy she felt every time her eyes rested on her one and only offspring. It was a relief that his father was not at home. Saturday mornings turned unpleasant quickly at such times as father and son viciously lunged at each other. Some other people – relatives and friends who were just jealous, she knew – had a few complaints against him, mainly about his driving and his attitude. Some even had the nerve to gossip about his adamant pursuit of girls allegedly against their wishes. People found it hard to swallow his success and happiness, she thought. How proud she had been when he secured his first high-paying job! It also made her happy that it was in the same city where they lived so that he could continue to live at home. He worked so hard and deserved to enjoy and recharge himself at the end of the week. There was young blood pulsing through his veins. After all, boys will be boys, she reasoned.
Jaya was careful to shut back the door for fear of angering him if he suspected that she had tried to enter his bedroom without his permission. She continued on to the kitchen to make tea. Putting on some water to boil, she was reaching for the sugar when she almost jumped out of her skin. Sarita was already in the kitchen, standing near the counter with her back towards her.
“Oh my God! Sarita! You gave me a heart attack! I didn’t even hear the door open and realize you had already come in.”
Pouring another cup of water and adding two spoons of sugar in it, Jaya went on, “Alright, now that you are here, drink some tea first and I’ll tell you what you simply must do today.”
“Madam, I don’t think I can work today,” Sarita’s voice cracked.
Jaya frowned. These maidservants were always taking unscheduled leaves and coming up with excuses not to do their job. “What is it, today?” she frowned, already regretting her kind offer of tea.
Sarita spoke as if through a curtain of tears. “Madam, first of all, I must confess that I have not always been truthful to you. I have often not come to work on time or have taken many unexpected leaves for no good reason. I once stole some money from your purse while cleaning your room. Yes, I have been a thief and a liar. But I did not know I would be punished like this. No, not like this. Oh, not like this!”
She slowly turned around to face her employer. The container of sugar fell down from Jaya’s hands on to the smooth kitchen floor with a clang, spreading its white contents all over it.
The front of Sarita’s sari was drenched in blood. Her hand was twisted at the elbow so that it pointed unnaturally away from her body. Her head was tilted to the side at an odd angle like a broken doll, wobbling dangerously, as if it would roll off every time she moved. The most ghastly parts, however, were her eyes, which had turned completely white.
Jaya screamed, or at least thought she did but no sound came out. She took a few steps back, all the while thinking she would faint, unable to take her eyes off the sight in front of her.
Sarita or whatever disfigured creature it was that was standing before her looked back with a grotesquely sad smile. “This time, I have a strong reason for a leave of absence.”
“What happened to you?” Jaya began to shake uncontrollably.
Sarita sighed. “You must ask your son that question, Madam”.
Before she could say anything, Jaya heard the key turning in the lock and Rahul stumbling inside. She ran out of the kitchen with a scream and threw herself at him.
“The kitchen … the kitchen”, she repeated over and over.
Rahul tried to steady them both as he swayed. The smell of alcohol emanating from him was intense. He pushed Jaya away and sat down heavily on a sofa with his head in his hands.
It was then that Jaya noticed the bloody cut on Rahul’s forehead and the purple bruise on his cheek.
“How did you get hurt?” She asked.
Rahul looked up with bloodshot eyes. “I was in an accident close to our home. I hit her with my car.” He said.
“Sarita.” Rahul replied, “I think she is dead.”
He began to tremble and gasp for breath. “My head was hurting so much but I kept going since I was so close to home. I didn’t see her in the bright morning light.”
Jaya recognized the terror in his eyes as a pure reflection of her own from just a while ago. “Oh God! She was covered in so much blood.” His voice came in a whisper now. “She is still lying there. I could not look anymore … and … And I just ran up here.”
The doorbell rang and frantic knocks landed on their door, accompanied by a horde of voices calling out her dear son’s name from outside. Jaya stayed frozen, her hand pointing limply at the kitchen that anybody who peeked inside could have vouched was unoccupied, with only the water boiling away merrily, waiting for fragrant tea that was supposed to be made and consumed while savoring a Saturday morning.