Johnny America


The An­cient Art of Kathak


Hard­ing sat mas­sag­ing his tem­ples, el­bows on the ta­ble, a thick text­book in be­tween. He’d read the same line twen­ty-sev­en times, restart­ing rhyth­mi­cal­ly with the sound of stomp­ing feet and clash­ing met­al com­ing through the wood­en ceil­ing. Clang-clang-a-lang.

The kitchen door opened and Bun­ny en­tered. He shook the snow from his heavy woolen kur­ta and hung his shawl from a met­al hook. His boney In­di­an frame and sparse tufts of grey fa­cial hair lent him the air of an ag­ing moun­tain goat. When he spoke, which was rarely, it was with a wob­ble of his head and a mo­not­o­ne ac­cent that made it hard to know whom he was addressing.

“Love­ly Mami­jee, al­ways danc­ing,” he said. Hard­ing didn’t respond.

Bun­ny had come home with Harding’s moth­er, Lo­tus, a lit­tle over a month ago. They had met dur­ing her six month spir­i­tu­al jour­ney through In­dia, and had been mar­ried by a man of no le­gal au­thor­i­ty on a hill­side over­look­ing Nepal. Lo­tus had al­so re­turned from the jour­ney with a tat­too of Bud­dha and a se­mi-mas­tery of the an­cient In­di­an art of kathak, which she now prac­ticed in what used to be Harding’s sister’s room, one floor above.

Harding’s sis­ter, Lily, and fa­ther, Michael, had left a year ago. The last thing his fa­ther had said, be­fore tug­ging his sis­ter out the door and slam­ming it be­hind him, was “Sor­ry son, it’s just those fuck­ing pots!”

Lo­tus, a strug­gling ce­ram­i­cist, un­will­ing to waste ma­te­ri­als or sac­ri­fice vendible goods, in­sist­ed on stock­ing the kitchen with those ob­long pots and pans that had emerged from the kiln askew. The off-kil­ter dish­ware gave the house a queasy feel­ing of lop­sid­ed­ness that made stand­ing for long pe­ri­ods of time in­tol­er­a­ble. Need­less to say, it had been too much for Michael.

The stomp-stomp-clang-clang stopped as Bun­ny bent down to un­tie his boots.

“Hon­ey?” Lo­tus called down. She ap­peared at the top of the stairs as Hon­ey Bun­ny made his way un­easi­ly for­wards. “I have bad news,” she said. She wore a gold and green sari, her wrists cov­ered in ban­gles, and on the fore­fin­ger and thumb of each hand were tied the tiny met­al sym­bols that had on­ly just fin­ished their cho­rus of clang-clang-a-langs. Bun­ny looked up at her ad­mir­ing­ly, sta­bi­liz­ing him­self against the table.

“Just got a call from the em­bassy,” she con­tin­ued. “It looks like you’re not go­ing to get that green card af­ter all. The mar­riage wasn’t ex­act­ly on the books, if you know what I mean. But who the fuck are they to tell us what love is, right?” she gave a short laugh and waved a ban­gled wrist ironically.

“Oh Gawd,” he said, near­ly top­pling over with the weight of his accent.

“Your visa has you here for an­oth­er two months, but I fig­ured, since this is go­ing to have to end any­ways, we might as well bite the bul­let and move on with our lives. I booked you a flight for to­mor­row at five, okay? Don’t look so glum Bun­ny, we’ve got to be re­al­is­tic about this. There’s no point cry­ing over spilt milk.”

Bun­ny sat down across from Hard­ing and stared at the crooked pots, bewildered.

Of course, the on­ly truth in what she’d said was that Bun­ny was leav­ing to­mor­row at five o’­clock whether he liked it or not. There may or may not have been a phone call. If there was, it cer­tain­ly was not from any em­bassy. It was Hard­ing’s fa­ther, call­ing to sur­ren­der him­self back in­to Lo­tus love and vertigo.

Hard­ing looked at Bun­ny with a twinge of sad­ness. It had hap­pened the same way with Car­los from Pe­ru, Paulius from New Guinea, and Sam-Sam from Ja­maica — each one with that same ex­pres­sion. He knew his fa­ther would be home in a week, drag­ging Lily be­hind him, more in love with his moth­er than ever. That was just the way it worked. He looked back down at his text­book and read the line over for the twen­ty-eighth time.

Filed under Fiction on August 1st, 2008

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