Mary piled up the stones. She got them from the river bed during her excursion, last week. Using the plumb bob she borrowed from the mason in the neighbourhood, she checked the vertical line over and again, and abutted the structure with pebbles, here and there. She was just about to complete a tower with maximum possible height and minimum possible base, when her younger half-brother Kim, came in from nowhere and jumped over it. She felt a pang. She had been working on this model for two hours now. And he got himself hurt, and started crying. She looked at him, but didn’t say anything. His mom came in and started yelling at her. “Could you not just let him be? Why should you bother him all the time? Oh my God, look at his knee, it’s bruised. Come to mama, sweetheart.”
“He just ruined my school project!” She didn’t say that. She was thinking of something else. Kim always walked into her room without knocking first, so did his mom after him, taking him as an excuse. Whenever Mary tried to teach him to respect people’s privacy, his mom interrupted. “Should the kid not be free to explore his own home? How can you be so mean, girl?” Mary wouldn’t want to argue. By the time she returned home from school in the evening, she didn’t find the stones in her room. She came downstairs.
“Oh, the stones, I asked the maid to clean them up. You don’t want to hurt your brother again, do you?” Sarah said, giggling. After that, Mary locked her room every time she left home. Dany repeated many a time, that she should move out of the house, and live with her, but Mary always smiled and turned her down. “I love my house, Dany. My mother lived there.” Dany shared her material with Mary, and they together completed her project, after school.
Mary was preparing soup for her dad when he caught cold, the next week. She just about finished, and poured it into a bowl, when Mark came down, into the hall. “Oh poor dear! You came down all by yourself?” Sarah screamed. “I was about to get the soup to your room. You just sit there, and I will be with you in a minute” she said, and rushed into the kitchen, twisting her face to show worry. “Move aside girl, your dad is sick!” and she took the bowl into her hands, and walked into the hall. “Hmm..yummy…!” she said, as he tasted the soup. Her smile vanished, when he looked at his daughter and said, “Thanks for the soup Mary, it’s really good and spicy.” Mary smiled. He was the other reason, why she didn’t move out of the house yet. She couldn’t fathom, though how hard she tried, why he wanted to marry ‘her’ after her mom passed. She never asked.
“Now, now, move along girl. What are you doing there, standing? Didn’t you listen? The soup is too spicy. Oh my God! Get him some water.” She twisted her face again.
“No, I’m fine, Sarah.” Mark said, plainly. Mary knew that he was controlling his irritation.“Oh no dear, look at you, you are so sick.” Sarah said, brushing his hair with her palm.
Mary left the place and moved into her room. She gently lifted the chair and placed it against the door. Then she unlocked her cupboard, took out a file, and placed it over the table beside her bed. She sat and gently leafed through the sheets. They were intricate blueprints of costumes, that she drew in her spare time. She focussed the study lamp on one particular drawing, and took out her pencil. She understood where the design went flat, while Sarah was screaming, a few minutes ago.
* * *
Mariana was a designer in her early forties, based in Paris. She visited Asheville, to conduct a workshop, when Mary was in her final year. But it was more of an exhibition of her designs, than a workshop. Despite her boastings, Mary felt that her designs were good. Mary met her, backstage, and showed her some of the designs she drew. She glanced through each sheet, and gazed at Mary. “Promising” she remarked,“but you’ve much to learn, still. Keep practising.” Mary smiled. Dany frowned. She genuinely felt that Mary’s designs were much better than the costumes of Mariana. “You can mail me your drawings girl, and keep in touch. We shall discuss your career after complete your high school,” she said on the day she left the town.
Mary scanned some of her best drawings, and mailed them to Mariana, though Dany was against the idea. “You can’t trust her just like that. She might just copy your designs,” she said, while they were playing frisbee. “May be. And I can always make new designs, Dany. But don’t worry. She seems too proud to copy anyone’s designs.” Mary said, smiling. Dany laughed, “That’s true.”
They graduated from high school, the next month. Mary scored A+ in two subjects. She applied for a professional costume-design course in the New York university, and got selected, with complete fee waiver. There were schools with better exposure. But they didn’t offer substantial merit scholarships. Dany was going to pursue commerce degree course in the same university. She planned that they both shall go for a vacation together, before the commencement of their courses. Dany’s father was a major shareholder in the Berkshire touring company, that offered summer adventure camping programmes. Though there was a general waiting list for at least one year, before newbies could join their programme, he managed to get two passes for that summer, for Dany and Mary.
On the day Mary left for camping, Kim rolled over the floor like a pig, that he too wanted to go. “She’s too greedy dear. She wouldn’t want her brother to enjoy his life, like she does. Cry as you like, she’s not going to take you, baby.” Mary wasn’t shocked at her remarks.
“Is that the way to pacify Sarah?” Mark was irritated.
“Oh no, Mark, that isn’t the way, is it? But who said I’m trying to pacify? Who can pacify a broken heart? He never thought his beloved sister would betray him in plain sight!” Dany was patiently watching all this.
“I’m sorry Kim, there is a minimum age requirement for adventure camps. Please understand.” Mary tried to pacify him, ignoring Sarah. But Kim seemed to be interested in only rolling all over the floor.
“Oh, yes, understand Kim dear, and understand well. Your sister would have given up her pass for you, otherwise. Do you understand, dear? This is the way to cover things up.” Mary looked at her. That is true. Mary would have sent him with Dany, otherwise, though Dany always thought him a pig, and though she hated pigs.
Dany understood that his roller coaster motions were nowhere near coming to an end, and pulled Mary out of the house. Mark too came outside. He was going on a business trip to Boston. He dropped them off at the airport in his car. “Stay safe, girls. Enjoy your time.” Mark said, and waved them good bye. He waited for another hour at the station, opposite the airport after they left, and boarded his train. And he waited for an hour at the airport two weeks later, after he returned. His meetings ended four days earlier, but he preferred to stay in Boston, so that he’d go to Asheville by the time Mary would return.
When Mary returned, her skin tanned a little, but her face glowed as ever, with her sweet smile. Dany didn’t change a bit. She wanted to stay with Mary for that night. Her dad would pick her up the next morning. They travelled for half an hour to reach home, and all the while, Dany slept on Mary’s shoulder. “Carry me up to your room, Mary. I couldn’t move.” Dany said, giggling, by the time they reached. As they walked upstairs, Mary found that her room was opened in her absence. The way Sarah smiled, she knew something was wrong.
“Oh, that, I cleaned your room,” said Sarah. I did what you should have done ages ago, girl! What a mess it was!”
Mary looked around. The room was in the exact way, when she left for the camp, only the lock of her cupboard was broken. “You opened my cupboard?” Mary was anxious.
“Oh, yes, that’s what I was talking about. A rat died in there. And I cleaned up the mess.”
“What?” Mary’s voice was already shaking.
“Oh, your cupboard, girl. I have to break it open to clean the mess. I think you locked up that poor thing, in there. I doubted you a vile being for so long, but oh, girl, I never imagined this sadistic side of yours would make you fall to this level of depravity.”
“What are you talking?” Mark muttered. He couldn’t believe, Sarah would do this.
But she ignored his remark and continued, looking at Mary. “The poor being ate away that godforsaken scrap you piled up in there, and shitted all over. And when it could live there no more, oh girl, it died and twisted our guts out, with the stink.” There was a wild sense of contentment in her voice. “And mind you girl, your little brother suffered without sleep due to you!” she continued, rubbing her son’s sticky scalp. He stood, unconcerned about all this.
Tears rolled down Mary’s eyes. “Those were my designs,” her voice changed to something, that Dany had never ever heard before.
“Oh, you selfish punk! You killed a poor being, and made us suffer the stink. You forced me to clean up the mess, and all you are worried about, is your precious shit loaded designs?”
“Where are her drawings, you bloody bitch! Answer, or I’ll cut your guts out, right now!” Dany was shaking with rage. Strangely, Sarah wasn’t offended. She looked at Dany and spoke,“I put them in the fireplace and light them up, so the smell would fade away.” There was a hint of smile on her face. “We expect to live in this house, you little chick!”
Mary was on her knees, before the fireplace. She held the ashes, that crumbled between her fingers, and she looked at her life’s work, ruined beyond recognition. She delicately picked up the only available trace of her burnt file, which she had never thought of even opening in a haste.
Then, for the second time in her life, Mary Sanders cried out loud. Dany was scared. She sat beside her on the floor, and held her so tight, that Sarah doubted, and secretly wished, that Mary would die. Dany turned back. Her eyes were burning like fire. “I’ll see you rotting in a cell, without food, for what you did, you whore.” She spoke, slowly, stressing every syllable. “And that sorry pig of yours, be sold away as a castrated slave in a nameless nation and no one would ever know.” Sarah was shocked, and at last, afraid. She pulled Kim, behind her. “And you shall suffer in hell Mark, for bringing that bitch into Mary’s life. You deserve an awful death.” Mark stood at a distance, motionless. There were lines of tears down his cheeks, reflecting the sight of his daughter.
Mary held her hand. “No,” she spoke indistinctly, “let’s get out of here,” she couldn’t control her tears. Dany called her dad, and within forty minutes, there was a chopper. Dany meanwhile collected the few unburnt remnants of Mary’s drawings in a polythene bag, and rest of the ashes in another. Mary held the burnt trace of her file, crying continuously. At two o’clock in the night, she was still sobbing. Dany fell asleep, holding her close, in the bed. When she woke up the next morning, she saw her friend sit at a distance, still holding the trace of that burnt file. She seemed calm.
Dany walked to her. She tried to be normal. Pressing her shoulder, she said hesitantly, “You can always make new designs, Mary.” Mary looked up and spoke in plain voice,“This file was the gift from my mother, before she died.” Tears rolled down Dany’s eyes.
* * *
Mary checked her inbox after a week in Dany’s laptop, to know the exact date of commencement of her course. Above the mail from the New York university was a mail from ‘Mariana Maltova’.
Hope you are doing well. I presume that you’ve completed schooling by now. I said that we shall discuss your career once you graduate from your high school. I must say that I was quite impressed by the detailing of your work at the very first glance. Costume designing means my life, and I’ve rarely seen anyone, as talented as you are, prior to, or for that matter, even after formal training. Don’t let this get into your head when I say, you have nothing to learn from a professional costume design course, that you already didn’t know. So, don’t waste your time. I took the freedom to show your designs to my friends at the Paris University, and found you a position as research scholar. Here, you’ll be spending your time in pursuing independent research and shall develop your original designs. And you’ll be given opportunity to submit your costumes for competition, in the annual fashion events at the university.
You’ll however have to take two classes a week, instructing the first year students at the university, (no need to worry, they are only beginners with passion, and preliminary understanding of design) to earn your fellowship. Once you complete 1000 teaching hours, (It’s a joke, you’d get old by then) or get your designs qualified to get exhibited in the annual events for three times in a row,(some of your designs are competent enough to win the events, even now) you shall be offered a permanent teaching position, and a higher salary package. You can just walk into the university anytime you wish, before 14th of July, and tell that you are Mary Sanders. I would know when you’ve accepted my offer. Just come here, kid. A whole new world is waiting for you.
Senior Fabric Costume Designer and
Professor, Paris University.
* * *
– Avinash Kumar