Tag Archives: grandmothers

glam-grandma, by Avi Naftali

The seagulls were strung like irritable white pearls across the Los Angeles sky. They floated through the alleyways, complaining and complaining. It was the hottest time of the year.

This weather always attracted grandma-who-kept-her-name. The alleyway behind my apartment would fill up with passionflower vines. They bristled thick in the heat and strangled each other for fence space. Their rotting fruit accumulated in the alleyway behind my apartment, and I’d keep running into grandma-who-kept-her-name stirring the squashed fruit with her cane, poking through the sweet red pulp. Reading fortunes again.

glam01“A war comes,” she said to me without looking up. “A king is hanged. A scarcity of barley. You look thin, you should eat more.” I ignored the last part. All of the grandmas thought I was too thin. I said, “Anything good?” I could see where dozens of passionflowers had been torn from their vines and thrown to the side, their stamens twisted out of shape. She said, “Nothing good in the flowers. Stock market tips. Unreliable.” Their heavy gold pollen was smeared across the front of her blouse. She waved her cane to shoo away some seagulls edging inquisitively towards her pile of pulp.

I said, “I can’t stay for long. I only came down this way because I’m meeting glam-grandma for brunch.”

She nodded and pulled herself up with her cane. “She still gatecrashes brunches.”

I shrugged a shoulder at her. There wasn’t much to say to that.

Abruptly she was in front of me, pulling me close by the collar of my shirt. Her breath was disgustingly close to my face. “They’ll kick her out forever. She’ll wander the streets of the city till she drops from the heat and her heels tumble off her feet—” She paused, pulled back, and spit to the side. She grinned. “But I’m only guessing. Let’s know for sure.”

She tore a passionfruit off a vine and smashed it against the tarmac. She pounded it with her cane and peered into the seedy mess. “She’ll travel. She’ll be successful. She’ll find love in strange places. She’ll write a screenplay but no one will read it. Even so, they’ll toast her name and toss back champagne like it’s New Year’s Eve for the last time.”

I laughed. “You should write for fortune cookies.”

She grabbed a passionfruit and threw it in my face. “I didn’t keep my name to put up with your flippancy.” She began to make her way slowly down the alleyway. She called without turning her head, “Just for that, I’ll see you in two months. No, four months. Longer, maybe. I’m not sure yet. It can be fun to sulk.” Her cane swung right, swung left, tapped echoes into the street. I believed, for just a moment, that she’d been blind all along.

But then a seagull flew too close and quick as a whip she smacked it sideways with her cane.


glam02Still, as I sprinted for my life out of a Hollywood Hills gated community, I couldn’t help but feel a little doubt. Behind us, the baying of dogs was getting louder. “Shit,” screamed glam-grandma into my ear, “they’ve got Dobermans! Toss the salami!”

I threw my handful of catered meat into the air. The salami discs sailed over my shoulder, and the barking broke off for just a moment. That was all the time we needed for glam-grandma to pull open the doors of her white Volkswagen and shove the key into the ignition. I leaped into my seat, and before I could even close the door, she kicked her foot against the gas pedal. The engine burst into life, and we shot down the road.

To me, the escapes were half the fun. When we came to a red light, glam-grandma tossed a cigarette into the air and caught it in her mouth, like a peanut. She lit up. “So,” she said, adjusting the padding in her bra, “I hear there’s a brunch happening at the Beverly Hilton right now. Want to give that one a try?”

If Sophocles had written a tragedy called glam-grandma, it would be analyzed by high school students for homework. They would be asked by their teachers to identify glam-grandma’s tragic flaw, and the popular answer would be: she desired too desperately a place among the old ladies who brunch. After some consideration, I decided such a goal was noble and right for a grandma who lived in Hollywood. And, even as I listened to her mumbled curses at other drivers as we sped downhill, I couldn’t help but feel for her. We root for the underdog.

She parked the Volkswagen on a side street behind the Hilton and we walked through the parking lot, dodging shifty glances from the valets. “Bet you there’s a brunch on the left,” she said as we stepped into the pink marble lobby. “They tend to happen to the left of things, I’ve noticed.”

It was like something a terrible gambler would say, like Bet you it lands on eight, it always lands on eight, but for once in her life she was right. We wandered through a crowd of bridesmaids inspecting a vast empty ballroom, and smelled the coffee and fresh bagels before we saw the propped-open doors.

We linked arms and strolled casually in.

Of course it was obvious that we didn’t fit. Glam-grandma spent time on her makeup, but she could wash it off at night, and the ladies who brunched could tell. And there was also me: my hair was too short. I wasn’t the only grandson there, and this was the summer when the Hollywood fashion for teenage boys was these styled nests of hair, with bangs that swung into your eyes. So all the other boys had their hair done up in dutiful nests. If it had been up to glam-grandma, I am sure my hair would have looked just like that, highlights and all. But grandma-from-Leningrad had gotten to it first. She’d taken me to an old Russian man who cut hair in his building’s parking garage, and he’d cropped it short with an electric razor for five dollars. That was the problem with having nine adoptive grandmothers. Their agendas sometimes worked at cross-purposes.

Glam-grandma sat herself down at a half-empty table by the door, and I quickly got up and went to look at the croissants. It embarrassed me a little to hear the things she would say. Well I probably look familiar because of that film I did in the seventies. It was such a hit… I focused on the croissants. They gleamed like parquet, stiff with polish and gloss. Hollywood croissants. Glam-grandma’s spiel floated over the roomful of chatter. You wouldn’t believe the letters I got from fans. Some of them were really quite naughty…. I brought my hand close to the bagels. They were fresh from the ovens. I could feel their heat without touching them.

In the end I chose the medallion-sized quiches. Miniature food is hard to resist.

When I returned to the table, the conversation had progressed to the part where one of the ladies shifted her posture, her empty espresso cup dangling from one finger, and she stared at glam-grandma, waiting for her to stutter and run out of things to say. It would be another minute, I figured, and then we’d have to run. I looked for the platter of cold-cuts. There it was, at the other end of the room. I was already half out of my chair, preparing to load up on salami, when I noticed that the chatter was fading away. All the ladies in the room were turning their heads towards the door. Glam-grandma stopped talking and sat unmoving for a moment. Then she turned to look as well.

I watched the ladies’ mouths. They were shriveling up like sea anemones poked with a finger.

An elderly woman had entered the room. She was all in green. Emeralds and diamonds dug into her neck, into her wrists, descended in points from the lobes of her ears. Her dress stunned me. Even I could tell it was too much. Green circles of fabric were layered like the scales of an artichoke, their ends curling up and pointing to the chandeliers. Each scale shivered in delight from every movement the woman made.

The ladies who brunched did not say anything. They did not need to. Already the dress was disintegrating in front of their eyes. The leaves of the dress were jerking out of their seams in a rustling flurry, collecting into a suspended cloud. Her gems flared and flickered and died. Her shoulder pads wrinkled and shriveled away. She continued walking through the room as if nothing was happening, accompanied only by the rat-tat-tat of a thousand snappings of threads. She stepped out of the cloud of green and left it behind her, frozen perfectly in the air. You could see the affectionate furrows wrinkling her breasts. Her mascara was painted in savage lines that jutted from her eyelids. Her mouth was darkly red with paint. She went calmly, nudely to get herself a plate.

The mouths of the old ladies unshriveled themselves. If there was a test, she had passed. They turned back to their tables and a murmur of conversation once more filled the room. A custodian brought in fresh pots of coffee. The green cloud moved out the door leaf by leaf, very slowly. It had turned into money. Money blowing out the door.

glam03Something like this had happened at a brunch two months ago—a little boy pointing at a lady, her dress dissolving into frothing sprays of sea foam that dripped all over the carpet. Or, the brunch some weeks before that, when a lady had laughed too loudly—her dress flying off her body like a startled bird, leaping through the window and cavorting into the sky—she was left in nothing but her lipstick and crocodile heels. The ladies who brunched were, I learned, prone to sudden disintegration.

After the excitement of the dress, the ladies forgot we were at their table. They talked over our heads as if we weren’t there. Glam-grandma pretended it didn’t matter to her, but kept shooting hurt little looks over her shoulder. She took her time finishing her croissant, fussing with the butter, dipping the end into her coffee. Finally she could put it off no longer. She dabbed at her mouth with a napkin and rose to leave. I rose with her. As we passed the still-disintegrating cloud of green, she reached out, plucked a few bills and stuck them in her purse. She murmured, “Always nice to have a little help with the bills.”

We linked arms and strolled casually out.


Glam-grandma liked to take me to the Hollywood Bowl on Tuesdays for the evening performances. I always got home late, and my mother didn’t like that. I said, “She’s a responsible adult and it’s educational and eleven-thirty isn’t really that late anyway.”

My mother said, “But don’t you think you should maybe be hanging out with friends your age?”

“Look,” I told her. “You and dad didn’t leave me any grandmas, so I’ve had to go and find some of my own. I’m just trying to be a good grandson, is that such a problem?”

So off I went to the Hollywood Bowl to listen to an orchestra butchering Mozart. “This might not be the best introduction to classical music,” said glam-grandma as she tossed popcorn into her mouth, “but goddamn it if I don’t find this entertaining.” I suppose that if you’ve listened to beautiful Mozart concertos all your life, hearing it done horribly can be diverting.

According to glam-grandma, the Hollywood Bowl was a terrible place to go if you cared about the music. Nearly one hundred years ago, it had been a natural amphitheater: a bowl-shaped valley with angelic acoustics. No one had needed amplification. People had sat on benches, or on the grass, and enjoyed outdoor performances in the sun. The atmosphere had been like a picnic.

The atmosphere was still like a picnic, and it was still outdoors. But the bowl had become the Bowl. The stage was ensconced in an iconic hemispherical shell made of increasingly large white arches—this was the Bowl that had gradually erased the bowl from memory, so now most people thought the shell was where the name had come from in the first place. The seating had expanded to nearly eighteen-thousand seats. It was the largest amphitheater in the country. Everything was amplified because you could barely hear the stage anymore. I knew this to be true because of the night when the power went out, just for a few seconds, but in those seconds I’d struggled to make out the orchestra scraping furiously away below. Big screens hung from the tips of the white shell and broadcast close-up shots of the performers. Only the closest seats could see them on the stage as anything but blurs.

Glam-grandma and I brought along our usual basket loaded with wine, sandwiches, blankets, and binoculars. We bought the one-dollar tickets along with most everyone else and climbed up to the X-Y-Z benches. We waited till the show started. Then, the moment the lights went down, we in the top rows snatched up our things and darted down to the more expensive M-N-O benches far below. The ushers could care less about enforcing seating, and everything from M and up was always pretty empty. After all, it’s hard to sell out eighteen-thousand seats every night.

Still, there were those who sat right up near the stage, dressed much finer than glam-grandma and I were, and certainly not wrapped in old blankets to keep off the evening chill. But the real luxuries were the boxes. They weren’t as close to the stage, but they were proper boxes instead of wood-and-concrete benches that stretched unbroken for hundreds of feet. The boxes had little doors, and you could reserve them for a whole season, and you could specify a need for tables, or a pack of cards, or catering. You could tell when it was a clan of well-off retirees in the boxes because they chatted enthusiastically, laughing and dropping olives onto their tongues, pointing to things on each other’s programs and waiting for their favorite part of a symphony that they knew half by heart.

Glam-grandma pulled her blanket tight around her shoulders and stared yearningly at a box we could just barely see, where four old ladies who brunched were toasting the fifth lady with baby bottles of Riesling while the timpani in the background pounded out a savage solo.

glam04“One day,” she shouted into my ear over the sudden trombones, “I’ll be sitting in that box with them. They’ll be toasting my birthday, but I’ll deceive them about my age. So they’ll be toasting to a lie. That’s how you’ll know that I’ve become one of them at last. What fun it will be! Now pay attention, that cellist is about to embarrass herself.”

But the cellist must have done something right because glam-grandma raised her eyebrows and made no comment, just took a bite out of her chocolate bar instead. I threw my head back and stared up at the sky and listened to the song of the cello. I could barely see any stars from all the surrounding lights. Not too far away, a helicopter vibrated its way through the night and I could hear its thrum growing over our cauldronful of music. I tried to make out the color of the helicopter, but whether it was helicopter-grandma or just an ordinary helicopter, I wasn’t able to tell.


There were things glam-grandma loved besides brunch. She loved the street signs in Burbank where, instead of letters, they just had the Warner Brothers logo and a distinguishing number. “Imagine living on that street! Oh, I know it’s just a studio avenue pretending to be a street, but still, think about it. Anyone who sent you a letter would have to know how to draw.”

Or: “I love the idea of Universal CityWalk. Someone took the path leading from this parking lot to that theme park, and they said, hey! Let’s turn that walkway into a glamorous outdoor shopping mall!” And nowadays people came just for the CityWalk; it had drowned its origins so well. We went there sometimes during the day and listened to the huge advertising banners snapping in the wind. We strolled past shoppers and workers and the occasional living statues with hats laid at their feet. The shops were a frenzy of competitive advertising, trying to grab attention any way they could, and even the juice stand was having a go, with huge models of assorted fruit popping out of its roof, twice as large as the stand itself. Glam-grandma joked about it. “I pretend to myself it’s a tribute to Carmen Miranda.”

She loved the older movie theaters, especially the rude ones where the facade had fused with the theater, like Grauman’s Chinese or the Egyptian. She called them rude because, in her words, they were giant insults to China and Egypt. They were some of the first of the Great Grand Movie Palaces. They were precisely the color of their names. She’d chosen an apartment that was within walking distance from the theaters, so that on Friday nights she could take a little stroll and partake of their extravagance. Her apartment was just one block off Hollywood Boulevard, small and concrete and very cheap. No one wanted to live in the tourist traps.

glam05Above all, she loved her white Volkswagen. Yes, she’d switched her cigarettes to Benson & Hedges because that was what they smoked at brunch; she’d changed her taste in heels, she’d changed her taste in wine, she’d given up her taste for aubergine tints in her hair. But the Volkswagen stayed. Her partner in crime for twenty years, it remained her greatest friend from the pre-Hollywood era. I believe that for a time she loved it more than brunch.

“There is nothing,” she shouted over the wind pouring in from the windows as we sped down the 101 Freeway, “nothing like racing a truck on a three-lane freeway in a beat-up old Volkswagen.” As she said this, the truck began to fall back at last and glam-grandma whooped and let up on the gas. I’d been clutching at my seatbelt the whole time. I had nothing to say in response.

“But something that’s almost as good,” she said as she pushed down the gas pedal once more and I resumed my hold on my seatbelt, “is navigating a truck tunnel in this car.”

In front of us, two trucks drove placidly side by side, one in the lane to our right, one in the lane to our left. There were no cars in front of us, and glam-grandma shot down the middle lane, cigarette clamped firmly between her teeth. We were suddenly scarily in between the trucks. Their smoky bulk towered over our heads, and it was like a wind tunnel as we raced through. Old receipts whipped up past my ears and shot out the windows, and then we were abruptly past them, back on the open concrete of the freeway. I noticed that glam-grandma was minus the cigarette. It took me a moment to realize it had been snatched by the wind as well.


The white Volkswagen broke down on the Cahuenga pass, on our way to another brunch. Together we managed to push the car to the side of the canyon road and out of traffic’s way. Then we stuck out our thumbs and hoped. I asked, “Is it all right to leave it on the side of the road? I mean, it might get towed.”

After a long minute, she said, “I can’t miss brunch.”

Some moments later, a blue Corolla slowed to a stop, and I smiled until the window rolled down and I realized we were being rescued by a lady who brunched. She pushed her sunglasses into her hair and said, “Where to?”

“Oakwood Apartments,” said glam-grandma, already opening the passenger door and inviting herself in, “I’m trying to get there in time for brunch.”

“Oakwood!” The woman tipped her sunglasses back over her eyes as we drove. “Do you live there too? I’ve never seen you before!”

“Oh, no, I was invited. You know. Friend-of-a-friend sort of thing.”

“Sure, I know how it is. Well, I hope you like our place. It’s a bit small, but it’s home.”

Oakwood Apartments, as we discovered, had a security gate and contained mounds and mounds of little hills dotted with tasteful condominiums. As we drove through its winding roads, our lady who brunched told us she lived in Neil Patrick Harris’s former apartment. Before that, she’d been in Queen Latifah’s old rooms, but she’d had to move. Her neighbors had been Disney Channel extras, and they were just too young and rowdy for her sleeping schedule.

There was a tense moment when our lady forgot whether the brunch was held at the south clubhouse or the north clubhouse. “Which one?” she asked glam-grandma, who said “Hmmmm?” and pretended she’d gone temporarily deaf, but then our lady remembered anyway. She parked the car, and we leaped out and hurried towards the double glass doors of the clubhouse before she could ask us any more questions.

As we sat at yet another round table with yet another plate of gleaming croissants, I wondered why it was always Sunday brunch. Briefly I toyed with the idea that the ladies who churched had been transformed into the ladies who brunched through contact with the desert air. According to grandma-from-Leningrad, when the Soviet government had deleted religion, people had found all sorts of odds and ends to take its place. I watched the ladies watching each other as they poured themselves glasses of grapefruit juice. It didn’t seem very religious. The air conditioner was cranking cold air out of the vents, but some of the windows were open anyway to let in a fresh breeze. I could see the seagulls strutting by the pool.

As it turned out, there was a talent show planned for the younger generation. The custodians had set up a stage by the pool, and I was treated to the sight of a dozen long-haired girls and nest-haired boys playing piano and singing in wobbling voices. The talent show was a boon in the end, because it kept the ladies from noticing that glam-grandma and I did not belong. Instead they craned their necks to see whose grandkid was singing what, each waiting for her turn to smile at us and tell us about all the things they’d accomplished in their life so far. Then, when her grandkid was done and would wander up for a dutiful kiss, she would pull them into a hug and whisper things into their ear.

Glam-grandma whispered into my ear, “You’re more talented than any of them. Smarter, too. I know you’ll do what it takes to make me proud. Don’t you ever forget that.” It unnerved me how convincing she sounded. She leaned back, smiling like a judge, like one of the old ladies who brunched. For the first time it worried me that this was her ambition.

And then suddenly everyone was gone. The stage was empty, the tables were deserted. They’d all left for the other clubhouse, for post-performance celebrations, or maybe brunch number two. It had happened so quickly that glam-grandma hadn’t noticed which direction they went. So we stumbled out of the clubhouse into the afternoon heat and hiked up and down the hilly roads of the Oakwood Apartments. We searched the tarmac for a trail of bagel crumbs to lead us along, but it was just like the fairy tale; the seagulls must have eaten them all. A security guard approached us. His questions were polite but he did not smile, and I knew this was it. Glam-grandma got flustered and waved her hands around. It did no good. He led us kindly but firmly to the exit. It was the nicest eviction we’d ever had.

We found ourselves standing on the empty highway of Barham Road. Glam-grandma stayed there for a moment, staring at her heels, not saying anything. Then she patted me on my shoulder and on we walked, the opposite way we’d come, baking in the sun all the way to the Volkswagen waiting for us on Cahuenga.


When I think back, I try to track the moment she became an old lady who brunched. At last she achieved her heart’s desire. But it’s hard to pin down the exact instant of transmutation. The best I could do was track a period of several weeks when I really should have seen it coming.

We drove in a lime-green Chevy, soaring down the 5. The Volkswagen had disappeared, sold to the junkyard to finance the new car. Maybe this was the first sign. Or perhaps it had been the moment she’d whispered to me in a voice so unlike her own that I was better than all the rest. Or, maybe, the moment she’d had to choose between the Volkswagen and the brunch. And she chose brunch.

She’d been unusually silent the whole car ride, her eyes fixed on the road. I’d been relaxing in the Chevy’s comfortable seats until I spotted two trucks ahead of us. I grabbed onto my seatbelt. Glam-grandma grinned and kicked her foot onto the gas pedal and we were accelerating once more, heading for the truck tunnel, the wind screaming in our ears.

glam06And then we were inside, and the trucks were roaring and I noticed the way glam-grandma’s dress was whipping away into silver clouds of tobacco smoke from the wind, the way the cotton wrap around her neck unrolled into crumbled old receipts and shot straight into the air. Her hair untangled itself from its plait and snapped free in a Medusa-like frenzy and we emerged from the truck tunnel. All that was left of her was her body and its make-up, the carefully painted strokes of red and black, the stamps of pink on her cheeks. The body turned to me and smiled and said, like someone commenting on a former childhood pleasure, “Well. That was pretty fun.”

And I knew it was the end. She would be evicted no more. This brunch, she would fool them. The act had become real. They would get her phone number. She’d get calls on Tuesday nights asking her to join them in their boxes at the Hollywood Bowl. I wouldn’t be invited. She’d be too busy to call me anymore, and she’d have a new grandson too. He’d live in Zac Efron’s former apartment. He’d have really nice white teeth and puffy lime-green sneakers to match her car. And though her body would still be there, driving and brunching, glam-grandma was gone forever, I knew.

I ask you, how could I not be happy for her? These things happen. People get what they want, and we have to sigh and move on.



 Avi Naftali moonlights as a fiction writer, composer, and sort-of essayist. He grew up in Los Angeles and currently works a nine-to-five in New York.



Moar Glam Ladies:

The Star Maiden, Roshani Chokshi – At night  my Lola liked to stand beside me and look out the window. Her hands—snarled with veins and rose-scented—would grip my shoulders tightly, as if I were the only thing anchoring her to ground. “Do you see that empty space, anak?” she would say, pointing to a sky dusted with pinpricks of light. I could never quite see where she was pointing, but I would nod anyway. “That space is mine. That is my home.”

The Last Dinosaur, Lavie Tidhar – As Mina drove, a hush fell over the city, gradually, in tiers, and the white fluffy clouds in the sky above London parted gently to open up a riverful of blue. It was a beautiful day for a ride. She hummed to herself, an old song, and her fingers tapped rhythm on the steering wheel.

In the Rustle of Pages, Cassandra Khaw – “I’m sorry?” Li Jing says, voice firmer than one would expect. She fumbles for her hearing aid, finds it in a graveyard of yellowed books and colored fabrics. “What did you say?” / “We want you to live with us, Auntie. So we can take care of you. Make sure you have everything you ever want.”

The Last Dinosaur, by Lavie Tidhar

AS MINA DROVE, a hush fell over the city, gradually, in tiers, and the white fluffy clouds in the sky above London parted gently to open up a riverful of blue. It was a beautiful day for a ride. She hummed to herself, an old song, and her fingers tapped rhythm on the steering wheel.

People lined the streets, silently, and watched her as she passed. A group of children on the corner of the road held balloons and flags, their faces smeared with chocolate and the spiderweb remnants of candy-floss. They watched her politely, without comprehension, not knowing they were witnesses to something magical. Mina pressed on the accelerator and felt the car thrum around her, an exoskeleton. She was part-woman and part-machine. She swooped down the empty road with the Thames on her right sparkling in the sun. It was a beautiful summer day and a beautiful day for a car ride. The old Shard shone in the distance behind her, visible in the rear-view mirror.

lavie-pull1She thought of nothing in particular, her mind skipping like a stone. She’d used to do that, going with her gran to the wildlife reservation at Thamesmead, when the wild horses had come back to London. One could spot grey herons circling in the sky, and flocks of black piratical gulls, great colonies of coots and starlings, swallows and wagtails. She remembered the white of swans against the greenness of the wide Thames, and the beavers busy in their dams. Gran and Mina would collect smooth pebblestones and toss them on the placid surface of the river, counting skips. The car had been her grandmother’s, though they never took the car then, but went by train. Gran had bought it back when cars were plentiful; it was a Beetle, like the band. In old photos you could see Mina and Gran smiling for the camera, holding rags, posing with the car at their back, slick with water.

It made her sad to think of Gran again, and all the memories crowded together, fighting for standing space in her head. She hadn’t consciously thought of this car ride this morning. She had woken up as usual, and had breakfast, leisurely, with nothing but silence for company. The sun played against the dust motes floating in the room. Then she washed her face and dressed and, without any plan to do so, went outside and opened the garage where the old car sat patiently waiting. It was such a nice day, and a wild desire flowered in her—to be on the road, to be free. There was just enough petrol for one more trip.

The road was empty. Ferns had crept along the side of the road and waved to her as she passed. The roots of elms and ash and wild cherry, walnut and acacia had taken hold of the ancient asphalt, breaking out of the ground defiantly, and Mina had to swerve and navigate carefully across various natural and human obstacles. Kids monopolised the ancient roads on their bicycles and pedestrians moved aside and stared at her, wonderingly.

She remembered travelling with her gran in the car, leaving the city, the sun setting over the Thames Barrier and the high rise office buildings of Canary Wharf, where the seals had made their home in the canals and multiplied. They had driven with no fixed destination in mind, but leaving the city behind them—sometimes in sunshine, more often in rain or sleet or snow, water streaking the windows of the car, black leaves rising in a flurry around them. But the countryside had crept into the city year by year. With each trip they took, the number of vehicles on the roads had declined. At first it was Gran driving, Mina by her side—then, as the years went by, it was Mina who took the wheel, Gran who sat next to her, adjusting the old radio button or winding down the window to inhale the scent of earth and rain. They could not afford many such trips. Their last had been the year before Gran’s passing. With each journey Gran had shrunk and faded, and with each journey the vegetation grew brighter and more vibrant: it was as though the landscape consumed Gran by degrees.

It was always just the two of them. Never Mina’s parents, who had grown up with the modern urbanite’s instinctive loathing to cars, “That smell!” Mina’s mum would say, and wave her hand in the air as though it were cigarettes—a thing Mina saw in old films but never experienced. The trips were a bond between them, a shared peace. When Mina ran away, when she had relationship problems, school or later job anxieties, then she would go see Gran and Gran would take out the old Beetle and they would drive; just drive.

Now the road was empty. Mina had not seen a single driver anywhere, no other vehicle. The last time she had taken the old car out the M25 was still navigable, as long as she went slowly, but the vegetation had spread and taken it over. But there had been other cars then, in ones and twos, passing almost shyly alongside or in the opposite direction, and a banner proclaimed an enthusiasts’ club gathering the second Saturday of every month, but of course she never went. When Gran died the car passed on to her, and the garage. Such a strange space, a garage, a place for storing something as alien as a car.

“It gets better,” Gran said, one ride, a long time ago, her hands confident on the steering wheel, the motorway passing outside, bright green hills and a petrol station in the distance, shrouded by fog. Mina had run to her—she barely remembered why now. A relationship gone sour, or worries about exams. Something anyway that had seemed momentous at the time but then faded mostly from memory, like a crumpled page pressed smooth again. Mina had slumped in the passenger seat as Gran drove. They pulled into the petrol station and filled up, and Mina remembered standing there in the parking lot (even then it was all but empty), hot tea in their hands, and their breaths fogged in the air before them. Gran had said something, Mina couldn’t remember what it was now, but suddenly she had felt better, and she smiled. There was the smell of rain and fuel and wet jeans and hot milk: she had wanted to cup it in her hands forever.

“I heard petrol comes from dinosaurs,” Mina had said. “When they all died, they decomposed, and over millions of years what was left became oil.”

Gran had smiled and said she didn’t think that was true, dear, and wasn’t it bacteria? But that, anyway, one day soon it would all be gone. Mina had probably shrugged. It was just something to say. But now she thought about it again, all those dinosaurs, ambling down the M25 and into London, pterodactyls flying over Canary Wharf, their wings casting jagged shadows over the canals, and stegosaurus herds gathering all around the Shard, baying plaintively at the rising moon.

She rolled down the window. A woman across the street smiled at her and Mina smiled back instinctively, and stuck her hand out of the window. The air was warm and the wind played between her splayed fingers. She checked the meter. The petrol gauge was very low. She drove ahead towards the old City Airport. It had been converted into a water park a long time before, after the last plane departed, and now kids played on the slides and parents milled by the water with alternately proud and worried expressions.

There was one petrol station ahead, and she pulled in with a sense of something coming to an end. They must have known she was coming, had been alerted, for the sole attendant was waiting with the nozzle of the pipe, wearing a uniform pressed clean, and a band made up of local residents struck up a spirited if mismatched rendering of a popular tune. A few news reporters were already gathered when she stepped out of the car.

The attendant filled the tank and Mina watched the pump’s meter dial turn round slowly until it hit zero and stopped. This was it. The attendant accepted her money ceremoniously, everyone burst into cheer, the band struck a new song, and a reporter asked her what it felt like, to be the last.

Mina shrugged. For a moment she pictured her gran in the passenger seat, looking up at her, grinning. “The last what?” she said.

She got back in the car as behind her the attendant put up a ‘Closed’ notice and walked away. Nobody seemed to notice, or mind. Mina drove on, past City Airport and over the old bridge to Woolwich, and she kept going, towards Thamesmead, when the car finally stopped. She looked at the meter and there was no more fuel. Through the open window came the smell of the Thames and looking out she could see a herd of wild horses thundering through the marshlands, and a heron flying high against the clear sky. She smiled and got out of the car and left it there with the door open as she walked away.


lavieLavie Tidhar is the author of A Man Lies Dreaming, The Violent Century and the World Fantasy Award winning Osama. His other works include the Bookman Histories trilogy, several novellas, two collections and a forthcoming comics mini-series, Adler. He currently lives in London.


Return to Shimmer #26 | Subscribe to Shimmer

The Star Maiden, by Roshani Chokshi


A star maiden is not an actual star.
If you split her open, you will find neither crumbled moons nor milky pearls.
A star maiden is a sliver of heaven made flesh.
She is an orphaned moonbeam clinging to one possession only:
A dress.

AT NIGHT my Lola liked to stand beside me and look out the window. Her hands—snarled with veins and rose-scented—would grip my shoulders tightly, as if I were the only thing anchoring her to ground.

“Do you see that empty space, anak?” she would say, pointing to a sky dusted with pinpricks of light. I could never quite see where she was pointing, but I would nod anyway. “That space is mine. That is my home.”

I used to laugh. “No it isn’t. This is your home, Lola.”

maiden1Always, she would turn and stare at the apartment that she had lived in for as long as I could remember. I could trace her gaze as it fell on the bowed heads of wooden statuettes—a Madonna wreathed in a fluorescent rosary, a Santo Niño with golden robes staring frank-eyed from its porcelain face, a kneeling Francis of Assisi beside a dusty candle. I could see her lips purse when she looked at the bright parol lantern with its oyster shells polished to translucence and strung with lights. I could see her eyes gleam at the sight of my late grandfather’s portrait in his military uniform, her husband unsmiling and handsome, age and sunlight now dulling the hair that had once been black as jet. Then, she would look beyond the photo, to her refrigerator, and a crayon drawing I had made in kindergarten. In the drawing, Lola and I both had wings and the night sky was a scrawl of indigo. I had run out of colors and left her dress a blank and pristine paper-white, outlined only in thick black marker.

When I gave the drawing to her, she wept.

But no matter how long my grandmother stared at the apartment, she would always turn back to me and say, “Even so. This is not my home. Not really.”

And then she would lead me inside, the balcony door swinging behind her like a sigh.

A fallen star maiden dies two deaths before she returns to her celestial haunt.
First, when the dress that she had laid by the banks disappears.
Second, when the hope of reclaiming it vanishes.

Whenever I think about home, the first memory that jumps to mind is neither my bedroom, lined with the portraits of broody boy bands, nor the warmth of our family couch, where my dog once brought me a dead vole. I picture my grandmother’s kitchen in the small apartment where she lived alone. I can feel the crocheted seat covers against my skin like a second flesh. I can smell the worn incense of that memory—old potpourri in a glass lotus-shaped bowl, bananas with brown peels, rice frothing on the stove. And I remember Lola.

Lola was meticulous.

Each night, she pressed her clothes for the next day and zipped them in protective plastic skins lined with lavender sprigs and rose petals. Everything in her cabinets—from a saltshaker shaped like a rabbit mid-spring and an ancient bottle of Jufran banana sauce, to crystal phials of eucalyptus oil and a jade box for the pearls Lolo had given her on their fiftieth wedding anniversary—was pristine. If it could be labeled, it was. If it could be compacted, it was. Our family joked that Lola’s first language was Tagalog and her second was Tupperware.

“Why are you so organized?” I had once asked.

I had not inherited any such trait and I was jealous. I remembered leaning against the countertop, my sunburned cheek cool against the granite. Lola had just finished pouring the puto rice cake batter into cupcake molds and had set them on the stove to cook. Tendrils of steam uncurled in the air, perfuming the kitchen with the soft-sweetness of cut banana leaves.

Lola was polishing silverware, and her hair—white as sea foam—had begun to frizz out from the steam, forming a cottony aureole around her head.

“I do not want to lose anything,” she said. “Not again.”

“What did you lose?”

I already knew what she would say. To anyone who would listen, she would tell them the tale of how she had floated down from the heavens to a secluded forest pool and how, there, my grandfather had fallen in love, captured her, and wedded her shortly thereafter.

“Your Lolo stole my dress when I was bathing,” she said matter-of-factly. “I could never fly back home. Without her dress, it is the star maiden’s curse to live out a mortal life.”

She crooned a little song before looking at my grandfather’s picture on the wall. “Salbahe,” she said, scolding the picture affectionately. “Your grandfather was very mischievous.”

When I was younger, I believed everything she said. I believed that a tikbalang slunk through coastal shantytowns, its ghost hooves crusted with sea-salt, its body twitching and hungry for virgins. I believed that a shadow in a tree meant a wakwak was preening and that its smooth-skinned witch familiar was nearby. I believed my Lola was a star-maiden who once wore a constellation in her hair and yearned to press her feet in the warm loam of the Philippines. Later, my parents would tell me that Lola had lived through the war and had lost everyone. If she chose to mask slain family members with a myth, then that was her business.

At the time, however, the one thing I couldn’t believe about my grandmother was why she stayed on Earth.

“He stole from you! Why did you stay?”

Lola shrugged. “I do not know. Perhaps I was curious. I was a foreigner, after all. The first day he saw me, he gave me a mango. I had never had a mango…it was masarap. Like eating a sun. He was a good man. And he had the most beautiful singing voice.”

Later, I would discover that things less powerful than sweet mangoes and lovely voices could grasp your heart. But at the time, I was quietly outraged. How could my grandmother—who knew a thousand ways to lull someone to sleep, who knew that the moon wore a coronet of solar flares, who knew what a star looked liked without its husk—fall for a song? Then again, perhaps I could understand. I remembered Lolo’s voice. He sang to me once when I was eight and had fallen off a bike. My head against his chest, his voice—exquisite and velvety—wrapped around us like gauze, soothing my bruised knee and scuffed elbow until I was bobbing my head with the rhythm, garbling the lyrics and trying to sing with him.

“Did you ever find it?” I pressed. “The dress?”

“Oh yes,” she said with a nonchalant wave of her hand. “He was so messy. He could not find his own nose without my help.”

“But you stayed.”

“I loved him. I still do. Mahal ko siya.”

“But he cursed you by taking your dress,” I pointed out.

“Oh anak, that is not the curse,” she said, taking my hand in hers. “The curse is to love, to be loved in return, and still have to leave.”


The heavens have a weakness for music.
The empyrean cities of heaven are cold, cleaved pearls, lined with thuribles of moonstone.
There, music is a myth and its secret language of cadence and rhythm weigh on star souls.
Desire—for sound, for water, for skin—are a powerful pull.
A star maiden can spend her whole life staring at Earth.

Lola told stories the way people breathed—naturally.

She said trees and plants withered at the touch of a pregnant woman because the enkanto within the blossoms and limbs would sour with jealousy. She said paying a debt at night attracted bad luck because a multos stalked in the shadows. She said green objects summoned the sarimanok bird, whose shadow brought gold and whose feathers left rainbows in their wake.

But her favorite story was the one where I would dance with her in the sky. We would skip over planets, our feet glowing in the echoes of things that had burned for eons. We would dine in a kingdom carved out by the waters of impossible oceans and feast on translucent sea creatures with flesh as clear as glass. She would introduce me to her sisters like some souvenir from her brief, mortal sojourn. It was something she talked about as casually as other people discussed trips to the dentist.

Sometimes, when afternoon visits stretched into nighttime, Lola liked to clear the space in the living room and play an old record.

“Come here, Tala,” she would say, summoning me with an imperious flick of her fingers. She was a princess in another world, after all. “I am going to teach you to dance.”

I could not dance. My feet always slipped out from under me, as if they would rather be tentacles or fins. At seventy-nine, Lola was more graceful than most ballerinas. Her neck was slender, her fingers long and expressive. When she danced, light clung to her. Lola’s dance hummed with magic and the precision of her grace—not practiced, but perfect; not taught, but transcendent—infected me with envy. I tried to follow her. But I was no star maiden. My movements were labored with earth. Where her blood ran silver and glass, mine was ruddy with roots and red.

“This is how we shall dance when you visit me in the sky,” she would say. “Side by side. Two star souls going home.”

The star maiden can gift—just once—the secrets of flight to another.
It will never be her dress, for that is her soul’s extension and cannot be remade.
A harrowing task lies before her,
Like dancing iron shoes into silk slippers, like kissing nettles into cotton, like dying.
But for one she loves, one who can follow, one who is a star herself,
She will accept any trial.

I was almost fifteen. My body had bulges and dips. Things seemed to smell different. Look different. Sometimes I couldn’t recognize myself and would have to look twice. Who was that lost girl in the mirror? Did she even belong in this world? On the cusp of fifteen, my world tilted. Boys smiled at me. I lent out other students’ secrets in exchange for a place to sit during lunch. Around me, homes cracked like teeth. And the only constant—Lola with her ridiculous stories—began to grate.

Lola wasn’t brilliant. She was batty.

She wasn’t magical. She was manic.

When I got my period for the first time, she didn’t tell me I was now a woman. She didn’t tell me about her first time or tell me how to soothe my cramps. Instead, she started gathering materials. If I asked her what she was making, she would hush me with a simple “Hoy!” and bat me away. “It is a surprise,” she would mutter every time I asked about the zipped up, opaque plastic bag that held a prized place in her closet.

She started collecting strange things. Uncut hulks of milky quartz, creamy aventurine pendants, heavy spheres of moonstone. There were boxes filled with plastic pearls, metallic thread, and garish sequins that caught the light and refracted it into ghastly splotches across the walls. More often than not, Lola looked tired. Bothered. Her hair, once smoothed into a neat bun at the nape of her neck, began to thin. Her words sounded cottony. Whatever otherworldly grace had once limned her movements began to wear and tear. She shuffled across the floors, gnarled hands filled with pearls. Her back bowed under the impossible weight of a mysterious task.

“She’s getting old,” my parents would whisper and tap their temples. There were more and more brochures in the house for facilities with sunny names and flat exteriors. I began to hate going there, and yet I wasn’t allowed to stay home by myself.

“Your grandmother would be so lonely without you. She loves you, Tala,” was my parents’ go-to response. “What are you going to do at home anyway? What if she fell? Just wait until we find a place for her.”

I hated being cooped up there. I hated how her apartment always smelled like fish and rice. I hated how forgetfulness and loss sleeved the rooms. Mementos of the dead, the pearls from my grandfather, island tribal knives. But more than anything, I hated its familiarity. I couldn’t recognize myself in the mirror, or consistently pronounce my own name to people, or decide whether I wanted to be “American attractive” or “Asian attractive,” and yet in Lola’s apartment—in that demesne of stories that couldn’t be true—I was unequivocally at home.

Sometimes, Lola would begin to tell me about the sirenas beneath the ocean, how they yearned to dance and would cleave their fins bloody in their desperation for legs, but then she would see my face—taut and bored—and lapse into silence.

Sometimes, Lola would tell me about the first time she felt ground beneath her feet. How the support of something bolstering her upright was the first time she felt safe. How Lolo had guessed what she was and instead of frightening her, instead of claiming her, had first tried to make her smile. But I had stopped listening and my response was always the same: “You’ve told me this before, Lola. I don’t need to hear it again.” And always she would nod tightly, pat my head and say, “Of course, anak. You are so smart and lovely. You do not need to hear the same tales over and over again. They are in your blood.”

Sometimes, Lola would coax me to dance with her. And maybe I was bored, or maybe I just wanted her to stop talking, and so I would.

“We will dance like this in the heavens,” she said for the thousandth time.

“How?” I groaned after one of our practices.

She grinned widely at me and her skin—like light seen through topaz—folded in hopeful wrinkles about her face. “Do not worry about that.”

In the tales of the Igorot people, the star-maiden always leaves.
Even when she wants to stay, she has no choice. It is a soul-tug to return home.
And Earth, despite its music, is forever a foreign city with which she is at odds.
It takes great effort to remember solidity, to forsake keening novas and wintry nebulas.
It takes great pain to age, to force oneself to surrender a body it has come to love.
It takes great love to abandon the ghosts of a life now shrouded in “once upon a time.”

When I turned eighteen, I didn’t have to go to Lola’s apartment after school. I could go home or to a friend’s house. Sometimes I found myself walking toward her street even when I didn’t want to go there or didn’t need to be there. It was habit by then. And each time I stopped and wrenched myself from the path to her home, a thousand needle-sharp bites snagged into my skin. Eventually, I grew used to it, that constant gnaw of wrongness, like something that fit too tightly. I grew used to wearing a second skin and pretending that I had won the right to wear it, like a victorious pelt.

Then, one day, Lola fell. Her hip broke in two places and she was considered too risky a candidate for surgery. I remembered her face in the hospital when they told her. She didn’t cry. She just raised her chin and stared straight at the physician:

“So, I cannot dance anymore?” she asked.

The physician looked taken aback. “No. I’m sorry, ma’am.”

“Do not be sorry,” she said, with all the imperious benevolence a queen who had found her living quarters not to her liking.

After that, my parents didn’t think it was safe for her to live by herself. We didn’t have enough room for her to stay with us. Even if we had, there would be no way we could afford a live-in nurse to take care of her. Mom told her she would have to move into a home nearby where they could visit her every week. Where she would be safe. Lola didn’t fight. But she had one request before she left the apartment.

maiden3A party, for her eightieth birthday.

“Tala will be my guest of honor,” she said. “She is my prinsesa after all.”

We bought a tiered cake laced in white frosting and ornamented with stars of spun sugar. We rented out the gymnasium at my high school and decorated with blue streamers, fake pearls and the flags of the Philippines. My parents spared no expense. Hundreds of cards went out, pale cream and bordered with blue, Lola’s favorite color. Dad ordered an entire lechon, its skin crisp and glistening from the roast. Tiers of steaming puto, violet sapin-sapin and pan de sal adorned the tables. On the main stage, our local cultural organization performed tinikling with great bamboo sticks. Outside, Mom had set up a table for guests to sign their names and express half-hearted endearments to see Lola again soon. Music filled the air, jovial rondalla music and old love songs. And at the head of the room was Lola’s seat of honor—a great wooden chair strung with bells and ribbons stole the spotlight. Like a throne.

In the days leading up to the party, Lola could not stop smiling. She would stroke the plastic leaves of the plants on our dining table and pat the television set like it was a friend. She told my Dad that he was a fussy baby, but a good boy. She told my Mom that she was welcome to anything of hers and that she was as good as any daughter she could have had. But she had a special message for me. “Soon, we shall dance and I will give you a constellation for your hair,” she would croon to me any time she thought no one was listening. Sometimes I would catch her bent over the suitcase she had brought containing all the things she would take with her to the retirement home. Each time she looked inside, her face seemed transfixed with light and I could see—for the first time—what she might have looked like when Lolo met her. Astral and incandescent.

On the day of the party she called me to her room. She had brushed her hair back and into an elegant twist. She wore a maria clara gown with stiffly starched pearl sleeves. At her throat lay Lolo’s necklace and when she saw me, her hands fluttered to its strands. She was sitting by the window, a white dressmaker’s bag slung across her lap.

“I finished it,” she said quietly.

“Finished what?”

“Your dress, anak.”

I looked down at my outfit. A simple black dress with a choker I borrowed from my friend. “I already have one, Lola.”

She tsked, “Not that. A real dress, for a bituin, a girl from the stars.” Grinning, she held the bag to me. “Open it. It is for you.”

The dress was long and white, with a high neckline and mismatched sleeves. A haphazard array of sequins covered the neckline and the hems were glitter-dipped and frayed with metallic threads. A crazed white stitching covered the back of the dress in the outline of wings drawn in a shaky hand. A second layer of cloth wrapped around the waist, small stones—nephrite, quartz and moonstone—glue-spattered to the material.

It was hideous.

“I want you to wear it for the party,” said Lola. Her voice was so pleased, so full of pride with her work. “It has taken me years. It has taken its toll. But I do not mind.”

“What—” I steadied my voice, trying to hide my disdain, “—what exactly is this, Lola?”

“It is your dress, of course! It is what you will wear when we dance in the heavens.” She looked at me as though I was some wild animal that had wandered, unwelcome, into her room. “Tonight, we go. Together. After the party. I have my dress too, I have been saving it for today. And now you have your dress, and we will fly up into the night and—”

“Can’t you just let it be?”

“Let what be?”

I waved my arms, as if it could encompass every story she told. But the words wouldn’t follow. “You want me to show up to the party in this?”

“Afterward, you will come with me,” continued Lola, unfazed. “You will love it, I know it. I know you.”

I know you.

I lost my calm. I thought about the people who would be there. The friends we’d invited. I thought about them laughing at my stupid dress and eccentric grandmother. I had escaped everyone’s attention so far. I moved so quickly from friend to friend, class to class, hobby to hobby, that no one could ever get a good look at me. No one could ever catch that I had stitched a second skin across my alien self and spent every minute wondering if any part of me was showing. But if I wore that dress, that invisibility would be gone. Too many eyes.

“No. I won’t do it.”

“Trust me, anak. It is lovely. Like you. And after—”

“What, we’ll just rise up in the sky?” I said, my voice shaking.

“Yes,” she said, her eyes shining. “Just try it on. Please. For me.”

And so I did.

I tore the dress from her and yanked it over my head.

“Tala, be gentle!” she warned.

I would not be gentle. I pushed my arms so forcefully through the sleeve that I heard stitches scream, gemstones moaning as they hit the ground in handfuls.

“What are you doing?” cried Lola.

The chair scraped against the wood as she rose to a stand. I could hear the edge in her voice. But I couldn’t stop. I dug my fingers into the cloth, into the veil…and I pulled with the weight of years and stories steeling my nails. The dress gave way like water. And when I had wrestled it limp and useless and slung it around my body, it hung off my shoulders like ripped flesh. My other dress—shiny and glittering and black—peered through the tears like wounds.

“There,” I said, my head turned from her, my voice so cold I felt icicles blooming across my neck. “I tried it on.”

When she returns, the heavens rejoice and the Earth licks its wounds in solitude.
She receives her sisters’ embraces and dusts off her throne of crystal.
Star maidens are never the same after a long absence.
The solidity of Earth clings to them in thick shadows.
They recount their travels, their lovers, their children.
And sometimes they lean out, silver hair brushing against the ether of other worlds,
Searching for their bloodline. Lulling their loneliness to sleep.

Lola died a week after the party. I tried to bury my apology with her, but by now it was a ghost trailing a broken hem and always I heard it softly moving over the floor where I walked, pinning itself to the mirror when I tried on clothes or settling on my shoulders like a pall. Sometimes I thought I saw quartz and sequins swinging from white silk out of the corner of my eye.

When I got to university, it was easier to shrug off the skin of high school. It was easier to breathe. After years of refusing to speak in Tagalog, I started taking courses in school. I discovered I was pretty good at languages. To me, they felt like sheathed daggers on my tongue—strange and powerful, able to knife through pain or confusion in a matter of seconds. When that second skin finally shriveled to a husk and fell off, nobody knew the difference. But even though it felt good to be myself, I carried the ghost of Lola’s dress and the worn weight of her stories.

One day I met a man by a pool, and even though it was at the local gym and not a forest, it felt magical. When he asked me to marry him, he hadn’t hidden a dress in a bamboo flute or a loose board in the ceiling. I loved him, even though he couldn’t sing worth a damn, and I wished I could tell Lola about him.

The week before my wedding, Dad sent me a package in the mail. It was light, the edges softly rounded with age. The scent—lavender sprigs and rose petals—diffused in my room. I sat cross-legged with the half-opened box. Dad’s terse note said it was Lola’s wish that I receive this before my wedding. At first, I thought it would be the strange mementos of her apartment. The set of knives inscribed with tribal names. A salt and peppershaker with the chipped, wary faces of ceramic rabbits. What I didn’t expect was a letter in Lola’s shaky handwriting—


Beneath her letter, wrapped in thin sheaves of paper, was a dress the nacreous white of a cleaved oyster. The silk shone iridescent beneath the weak lights of my apartment, and its color—the pristine glow of a star’s pith—crept under my skin and stayed. I lifted it reverently, my hands trembling and my breath coiled tight and hot in my throat. The dress was so cold, as though it held the memory of the star-spangled skies. I pressed it to me and my soul fluttered against the fabric. There were no wings on the fabric. No magic shimmering in the air. But for the first time in years, I believed Lola. What would happen if I wore the dress?

I thought back to our last conversation, my chest tightening. Since that night, I’d kept a useless apology in my heart. Now, my apology had gathered moss in its edges. It had collected dust and stains and fissures. Even if the dress didn’t catapult me to the heavens, even if the cold silk was just cold silk, the hope…of what it could be… was precious.

At night, I listened for the sounds of the city. My moving boxes were stacked against the walls. My pictures were wrapped, my silverware cocooned in towels and stuffed in containers. Next week would be the start of a whole new future, but I still had tonight to say goodbye, to make amends, to kindle the oldest of dreams.

I washed my hair and curled it so that it hung across my shoulders. I wore a simple necklace with a single pearl. I cleaned my engagement ring until it was sparkling. I considered wearing a pair of shoes, but thought better of it.

I moved like a ghost knee-deep in memory.

That night, I slipped on the dress and it clung to me like water.

I walked to the balcony, seeking some newly filled space in the night sky where I thought she would be. I don’t know what I wanted in that moment. Did I want to be proven wrong and end up laughing at myself? Or did I just want to tell her that I loved her and that I was sorry I had not visited sooner?

Eventually, I saw a cradle of stars tucked into a square of night. I thought I heard music. The ghost of a song rilled across my skin. Lola.

Slowly, my feet lifted off the ground…

In the empyrean skies of heaven, a world-weary star rejoices.
There are gifts exchanged—silver constellations and sea-glass flowers—
And words lingered over—of love and light, woes and weddings—
And when all is said and done, they prepare their farewells in dance.
Their feet light, fingers touching, two star souls at home.

unnamedRoshani Chokshi is the author of the upcoming Young-Adult Indian fantasy, The Bride of Dusk and Glass, from St. Martin’s Griffin. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming from Book Smugglers (“The Vishakanya’s Choice”), The Feminist Wire (“Antyesti”) and Fiction Vortex (“The Moira Sisters’ Inn”). She grew up in a pocket of the south and quickly discovered that boiled peanuts are the next best thing to ambrosia. Although her mother speaks Tagalog and her father speaks Gujarati, she knows only a smattering of curse words. But what she lacks in her family’s language, she makes up in stories. Twitter: @NotRashKnee. Web: www.roshanichokshi.com.


Return to Shimmer #26 | Subscribe to Shimmer