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Along the Periphery by Hema Nataraju

You say you can’t bear to live with my parents anymore. I love them, but I choose you, so we move out of their warm basement and into an abandoned snail shell. It’s better than being homeless, you say. I try to make it a home; drag in a ratty futon and a pink plastic chair someone had dumped on the sidewalk and some wildflowers from the park which I place in a red disposable cup. But the futon, the chair, the vase, all zig and zag and slide and wheee along the shell’s periphery before falling into the dark void in the center of the shell. I haven’t figured out how to close it yet. I sometimes sit along the periphery and stare into it. It gives me goosebumps. Not sure if the void scares me or thrills me.

We hold each other when we sleep–even when we don’t want to. We have to, or else we’ll fall into this labyrinth and disappear like our furniture.

It’ll be okay, you say, I’m looking for a job, we’ll move out of here soon–it’ll be better, you say, but there are no jobs out there for you. Every employer is either a smug prick or an ignorant bastard who doesn’t know your worth, you say. I flip burgers, I clean other people’s toilets, and when you’re angry lightning and thunder, I tread carefully along the periphery.

Every night I dream that I’m falling, falling, falling down a spiral staircase, and just when my head’s about to go splat on the marble floor, I fly. I swoop and rise; I become the air itself--there’s no place I can’t go, nothing I cannot accomplish.

I only have to let myself fall.

Every day burger patties hiss on the hot griddle, bleach burns my nostrils, every night your voice is slurry and venomous, but when we hold each other to sleep, I choose you–over and over again, and put off jumping into the void until the next day.


Hema Nataraju is an Indian-American writer and mom, currently based in Singapore. Her work has most recently appeared in Bending Genres, Five South, Booth, Wigleaf, 100-word Story, and Ruby Literary, among others. She is a Submissions Editor at Smokelong Quarterly and she tweets as m_ixedbag.

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