The women at the graduation party, mothers of the graduates, wore hot-pink dresses and mint-green dresses and caftans, midis and lace and leather dresses, dresses that The Wall Street Journal and Vogue had declared to be warm-weather essentials, that sold for $1,599 or $59 (cheap-chic is smart-chic) and blended into the garden of the Wellesley home, which was studded with New Guinea impatiens in rainbow colors, the home itself featured in a recent issue of New England Homes, the hostess in a white chiffon with asymmetrical hem, her figure fit, her nails done in coral (the new red); in truth, all the women had had their nails done the day before at appointments made weeks earlier in anticipation of the party, done in French manicures and pastels, their hair too done that morning, in sleek or bouffant styles, and though their skins, beneath tinted foundation and loose powder, spanned a range of shades from pink-and-white to brown and browner, they all spoke the same language and said the same things: congratulations, what a beautiful evening, what a lovely house. That is, they blended in with the New England home, and if they made an effort—if they concealed Dr. Scholls in their high heels or downed anti-anxiety pills or Googled “garden party etiquette in America” and “what do Americans like to talk about”—it was not obvious; they did fit into the house with the lawn and pink-and-white hostess and new outdoor kitchen—yes, they fit in—but underneath their words (which fit in) you could discern traces of accents—a few rolled rrrrs, some lahs, a ze for the or f-ah-st for fast—Singaporean and Russian and Indian accents. One mother, in a straw hat and sunglasses she did not take off even when the sun went down as if she wanted to hide the strain in her eyes, revealed more than she meant to when she said, “This is the best country to grow up in, so many colleges, such good healthcare,” upon which the hostess turned pale blue eyes on her and looked puzzled: Were there other countries in the world? Another mother with a round apple figure beneath whose skin you could almost see the stacked pooris, the greasy ghee, kept pulling her tight dress over her round knees—she’d really have been far more comfortable in a salwar kameez in a hot, humid flat in Mumbai, fan turning lazily, masala tea at hand—and went on and on about her graduating son. In truth all the women talked about was their children, their past worries about their children (vaping, smoking, failing) and their future worries about their children (hazing, drinking, failing), and they all said, in those voices with faint accents—if only he had a friend at college, if only he knew someone—that is, underneath their clothes and skins and accents, they were all just worried mothers, who each managed to find another mother with a child in the same college to whom they talked and talked until they inevitably became hungry and, one by one, wandered to the outdoor kitchen and downed burgers and chips with an urgency brought on by stress—oh, how hungry they were!—they forgot their party manners and picked up the food with fingers and opposable thumbs, like they might a piece of roti, and popped it in their mouths and chewed with jaws and teeth adapted for cooked food only recently—twenty thousand years ago to be precise—because underneath it all, they were all warm-blooded primates that needed to capture energy in the form of grain and protein to keep warm, keep talking, keep living. Then they went home, calmed with food and talk, each clutching the number of a mother, thinking warm thoughts about her, thinking—now I have someone, now I don’t have to worry alone; that is, underneath the clothes and skins and words and accents and jaws and teeth and fingers, they were clusters of warmth-seeking atoms, they were beating hearts, they were the same.
Anu Kandikuppa’s short stories, flash fiction, and essays appear in Gone Lawn, Jellyfish Review, The Cincinnati Review (miCRo), Colorado Review, and other journals. Anu worked as an economics consultant in a former life and lives in Boston.
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