The listener

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[Flash fiction is an umbrella term used to describe any fictional work of extreme brevity, including the Six-Word Story, 140-character stories, also known as twitterature, the dribble (50 words), the drabble (100 words), and sudden fiction (750 words)]

Dinner over, I am in my room, looking through the collection of books on my bedside table. Which one shall I pick up today? I am excited. The process of choosing my next read always fills me with exhilaration. I go through the back cover of one that looks interesting. Historical fiction is a weakness of mine. The other one is a real story set in the modern times. Past or present, I ask myself when I hear the phone ring, startling me. Who could it be at this hour? I let it ring for a while before I finally get up and walk over to the table where I had dropped the cell phone when I entered the room.

The number on the screen is ‘unknown’. I hesitate. Should I take the call? Curiosity trumps and I find myself saying a cautious hello. “Mom, what took you so long to answer?” asks my daughter impatiently.

“Why are you calling so late?” I ask ignoring her question. “Is everything okay?”

“This is my new number” she says, not answering me. “Save it, okay, Mom?”

We are a nice pair, I think to myself. Not answering the other, but asking a question in return. I walk to the chair next to the window which overlooks the lake in the distance. In the night the lake is just a huge black blob. But during the day it is piece of shimmering blue marvel surrounded by green grass and leafy trees. I love the view, and this is my favorite spot, on my favorite chair. I push the cushions around making myself comfortable. When my daughter calls, it is going to be a long haul, so I better be prepared.

“….and so he wants us to move.”

Move where? I suddenly realize I have lost the initial part of her conversation while my mind wandered to lakes and trees. Dare I ask her what this is all about and risk a lecture? More whining, that’s what I’d have to hear. Beautiful child of mine she is, but she whines a bit too much for my liking. Or maybe I am too old and find everything tedious these days. I force my mind back before it can go too far and concentrate on what she is saying. I have not yet decided if I must ask for the missing parts to be repeated. Maybe not. I can piece things together as I go along.

“…as if it is easy!” I catch another bit.

“What’s not easy?” I ask in spite of myself.

“Mom, you have not been listening!”

I protest feebly, guilt-ridden. She is right. But I am not about to admit it.

“Only that last bit! Mr. Black jumped on me and I dropped the phone on my lap.” I lie shamelessly, but convincingly.

I have laid the blame squarely on my cat. Mr. Black was named by my grandson. He found the coal black kitten on the walk home from the park. He and his sister had brought the scrawny thing home. Impulsively I had agreed to take him in. My granddaughter wanted to name the cat Attila the Hun. But she had to withdraw when her brother threw a royal tantrum. He had found the cat, so he would name it. She agreed reluctantly on the condition that she would name the cat she found. Future tense. I fervently hoped they would not find another one till their vacation got over and they left.

“Can you imagine?” I heard my daughter say and gave a start. I have lost the thread of the conversation again. The excuse about Mr. Black had set my mind off on a tangent. I make appropriate sympathetic noises. Those are a win any day. Nobody can fault them, especially not those who are looking to vent. It soothes them immensely I have found.

“He wants to pull them out of their school in the middle of the year! How am I going to manage everything? Easy for him. He’d leave for office in the morning and come home late. It is I who will have to put in hours of hard work to bring the children up to par with the syllabus in the new school. And they have to learn a new language too!

Hmm… Has son-in-law been transferred to a new place? is he resigning this one and joining a new firm? Last time my daughter called she had said something on the lines. I curse myself for not paying attention. This is all too much for me. Why can’t she lead her own life and stop burdening me with her stuff, I think petulantly and immediately blame myself for not being more of an involved mother. Sigh, all I want at the end of the day is to read a good book, with Mr. Black purring contentedly in my lap. Or go off wherever my reveries take me.

“…Gita never returned that book, you know. She says she lost it. She is so careless. I had to buy a new one to replace it at the library. “

Oh. So we are on Gita now? Gita is my daughter’s now-friend-now-goe neighbor. I want to ask her why she gave the library book to her when she knew the woman to be careless. But that would only bring another tirade of how I never understood. She was being a good friend wasn’t she? Mr. Black now enters the room and with a throaty meow moves towards me. Soon he is rubbing against my legs with his tail up in the air. I pat my lap and he jumps up, settling himself down comfortably and purring contentedly.

“Are you listening, mom? Or fallen asleep?”

“Of course, I am listening!” I reply a trifle indignantly.

She doesn’t appear to have heard my reply or the perfectly managed indignation in my tone. She is already on to another of her favorite topics, the house-help who had taken yet another day off. I listen, making more of the appropriate sympathetic noises. That is all she needs, a listening ear at the other end. I settle down deeper in my chair. The book I chose lies open on the bed at a random page. Its pages flutter invitingly in the breeze from the ceiling fan.

© Shail Mohan 2021