Storyglossia Issue 20, June 2007.


by Shubha Venugopal


He believed in the mind-body split. He was a scientist—an astronomy and astrophysics professor—and an ascetic. Remove yourself from temptation, from desire, is what he sometimes said when he wanted to provoke her. He said: Practice self-restraint, not indulgence. He said: I'm not ruled by my senses.

When they'd make love, he'd watch her moan and carry on with a clinical gaze. He maintained that gaze when she acted on him, until he'd close his eyes when it was over. She tried her best to make him react, yell, sing a song for crying out loud! Do something! she'd say. You alive? she'd say. She'd say, you're not just a bump on a log, you're the log. Don't you like this?

It's fine, he'd say. What do you want me to do, pound the walls? You do enough for the both of us. I'll leave that part for you.



She felt drawn to the challenge. He acted stony; she blazed in response. For every action, an equal and opposite reaction. But were they equals, or only opposites?



When they fought, he'd punish her by keeping his distance. After a day, he'd talk to her again. After a few, he'd make a joke. After a week, he'd take her out—to a museum, planetarium, maybe to dinner. When she'd approach him that night after conversation, wine, he'd say: I'm still mad, you know. He'd turn to the wall, his back a craggy shadow-mountain.



He needed her to listen. He needed an audience; she pretended to be an apt one. He went out of his way to teach her the order, the workings, the origins of things. He'd explain string theory with a spool of thread, a guitar string, and if desperate, with spaghetti. He'd pull taut, saying strings needed to be stretched in order to be excited. She said, Why don't you use me to demonstrate?

When he told her about supersymmetry, she'd imagine him with her in bed. It became her private joke—he'd say luminosity, she'd envision her skin lit in after-glow. He'd say M-theory, she'd think G-spot. He'd say dimensions, she'd wonder if he knew hers, if he knew her density, her measurements. When he described how strings vibrate, she listened to his voice resonate, and imagined him calling for her, herself vibrating with want.

His words ran together when he theorized, but what she heard in their rhythms—music, the elegance of verse. He was, to her, a poet. She lost herself in the language of his cosmology, imagining him a sensualist.

As if an artist, he'd paint for her, examples of particle interactions, immersing her in subatomic depths—red for electrons, blue for protons, a rainbow array of quarks, bosons and gluons. As he painted, instructing her on the color force in hadrons, she'd marvel at his art that to him was science. She'd touch his raised brush strokes—running her hands over perfect shapes and arcs. When he finished, she cut mats to frame his vibrant displays, and then hung them on her walls.



She thought: Your brain won't work if you don't care for your body. That's where I come in.

He had no interest in food. She spent the day planning the meal that would make him come to life for her.

When she showered, and her hands skimmed over flesh, she dreamed about eggplants. When she paid his overdue bills, she imagined the perfect spice. Noodles consumed her when she washed his clothes; chilies enticed her when she dried. She could almost feel red chili heat prickling her lips, tickling her throat. Like baking bread, her body rose in anticipation.

At five, before he came home, she pulled out portabellas and roma tomatoes. She separated broccoli into symmetrical florets. Sweet peas naked and shelled, cilantro fine and green, semicircles of celery lined her cutting board. Her knife: blood-sharp, blade glistening.

She preheated her copper pot lined with stainless steel and re-hydrated the mushrooms and pasta with extra-virgin olive oil and a dash of sea salt. She composed thickening solution—butter melted and mixed with flour and milk. She smoothed lumps. In her frying pan in which her reflection glowed, she sautéed vegetables to a crisp and blended in sauces: sweet Hoisin, tangy Lemon Basil, a spattering of chili oil. Dark tamarind paste, hot as molasses. Cumin fried brown.

Her mixture simmered. When he entered, she served it in matching, smoking-red bowls.

When she called, he didn't come (reading Acta Astronomica). She called again. He said: Just one more minute. She felt her hands caress her shoulders. She dried her eyes, then willed herself to smile.



When he slouched beside her, she watched his face in anticipation. Darkness shaded his eyes. He sucked in his cheeks. His lips grew thin. He said nothing. Worn from twelve hours at work straining to accommodate the complexities of science, he reached for a telescope catalogue from which he had ordered her a telescope as a birthday gift. Maybe if you can see a part of what I study and teach, he said to her, you'd be more interested. He mouthed technicalities, tried to excite her with a new moon. He asked her which instrument she wanted.

Did you like the soup?

It's good.

I made up a brand new recipe.

Did you study today?

What does studying have to do with soup?

Studying has to do with studying. Someone has to care about your brain's progress and development. Why are we still on the soup?

So you like it?

It's good. I'm no connoisseur, but it's fine. Soup's soup.

It's different from just soup.

I can't tell the difference with soup. I'm going upstairs. I've got to prepare: There's a meteor shower expected tonight that I've assigned my students to monitor.

She listened to him say: Perseids, from the comet Swift-Tuttle. Cosmic debris. Fragments entering our atmosphere. Simple orbital mechanics. Electron relaxation following collisions. Ionization trail. Meteoroids the size of sand-grains. A hundred hurtling rocks.

He walked away to ready his equipment. She watched the window for flashes of light, prepared to wish on a hundred shooting stars.

Copyright©2007 Shubha Venugopal