A Temporary Matter
Husband and wife Shukumar and Shoba are notified that their electricity will be turned off at 8:00PM for five evenings in a row in order to fix a power line. Shoba tells her husband this news. He looks at her, noticing that her makeup has run from her time at the gym. He reminisces about how she would look in the morning after a party in happier times. Shoba insists that the electric company should work on the lines during the day. Shukumar takes slight offense at this idea; since January, he has worked at home on his dissertation. The outages begin that evening. Six months earlier, Shoba went into labor prematurely when Shukumar was attending a conference out of town. Shukumar remembers the station wagon cab that took him to the airport. For the first time, the images of parenthood that flashed through his mind – Shoba handing out juice boxes to their children in the back seat of their own station wagon – were welcome. While out of town, Shukumar was alerted of the labor complications, but by the time he arrived at the Boston hospital, their child had died. Lately, editor Shoba spends more time at work, leaving before Shukumar wakes and coming home late. Shukumar had been granted more time to work on his dissertation, but he finds himself unable to work. He and his wife have become strangers, experts in avoiding one another. A half an hour before the lights are due to go out, Shukumar continues cooking their dinner while Shoba showers. Reminded of a dentist appointment, Shukumar brushes his teeth with a toothbrush purchased long ago in case of overnight guests. Shoba was always prepared for what might happen. Groceries were purchased in bulk, Indian chutneys and marinades were prepared on the weekend, and dishes frozen for future use. A lavish feast could be whipped up on a moment’s notice. Now, Shukumar was working his way through their provisions, cooking dinner each evening just for the two of them to eat separately – Shukumar in the study that was to become the nursery and Shoba in front of the TV with her editing assignments spread out in front of her. Shukumar pretends to work when Shoba comes to visit each night, forcing herself to enter the room. Tonight, in the dark, would be the first time they ate together in months. Shukumar finds a half-empty box of birthday candles leftover from a surprise party Shoba had thrown for her husband last spring. At the party, she held his hand all night as they chatted easily with friends they now avoid. The only visitor they’d had since their baby died was Shoba’s mother, who somewhat blames Shukumar for his child’s death. Shukumar sets the table with a potted ivy to hold the candles and glasses of wine. Just as the meat is ready, the house goes dark. When the power would go out while visiting relatives in India, Shoba’s family would share jokes or poems. Shoba suggests they tell each other secrets in the dark. First, she confesses that when they began dating, she looked for her name in his phone book the first time she went to his apartment. Shukumar tells Shoba that he forgot to tip the waiter on their first date. He was distracted by the thought he might marry her. The next night, Shoba comes home earlier so they can eat together before the lights go out. When they lose power, they decide to sit outside in the unseasonably warm winter night. Shukumar wonders what Shoba will tell him since he feels they know everything about each other. Shoba shares first. When Shukumar’s mother came for a visit, she lied about working late and went out for a martini with her friend Gillian instead. Shukumar remembers the visit, his mother still in mourning for her husband twelve years after his death. Without Shoba there to say the right things, Shukumar felt awkward with his grief-stricken mother. Shukumar admits that, fifteen years ago, he cheated on an exam. His father had died only a few months earlier. Shoba takes his hand. They sit outside until the lights come on...
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