When my placid younger brother scalded himself on his sixth birthday, the first time he ever cried, my mother declared it was inevitable and cultivated a hobby of having accidents. She could no longer touch a newspaper or our dog-eared copy of 1001 Nights without a papercut that rendered her helpless and table legs drew themselves to her ankles. She curled herself around whichever body part had let her down, and we replaced the hazards with softer, kinder things.
Weekends, we covered up the table legs and door edges in silky cotton wool, and smoothed silvery foil over mirrors in case they broke. The feel made us shiver, a cool breeze trickling down the spine. We could still see ourselves in the troughs if we peered hard enough. We went out into the garden less; the concealing took time. Mother breathed less shallowly when we were indoors. We were still invited to other people’s houses, other people’s gardens and sometimes we went. Until the third time mother audibly choked on a sandwich or a samosa. We packed invitations into dabbas and stacked them under the stairs.
At first the misfortunes stayed at home. Then her heel broke on her way to take me to my first taekwondo lesson, and I waited with my teacher in the book-corner and helped her tidy the shelves. Mother limped in with bare feet and slumped shoulders. Miss Fletcher showed her to the most comfortable chair and brought her a cup of sweet milky tea with her soft smile that crinkled her eyes. We didn’t talk about taekwondo again.
We stopped watching the news, so many floods, hurricanes, explosions that we could feel storms flowing through our veins. We became skilled at uncovering potential disasters. The park where the ball could spill out into the road, the pool where breath could give out too soon. Daal could easily bubble up, rice cookers explode. We ate from packets that tore themselves open, delivered to the door we opened just a crack. We’d sold the oven months before, burnt fingers were difficult to hold. After every damage to herself, mother liked to know that we were still intact. She’d gently stroke the tops of our heads or the edge of our wrists, because skin had its own electricity and hair could cut like wire.
Miss Fletcher helped safeguard school, book-corner tidying instead of playtime, practicing chess instead of football. The other children stared or giggled, but I’d started to breathe more easily when they weren’t too close. I didn’t miss the team sports, they all seemed to move so fast. I took time to memorize poems from Miss Fletcher’s book of famous poets, I know why the caged bird sings, and Hope is a thing with feathers. I was asked to read at the school concert, but mother sprained her ankle and I was needed to look after my brother. Miss Fletcher’s smile didn’t crinkle her eyes any more, that didn’t hurt as much as I thought it could. But a typhoon roared in my ears all the way home.
Brother and I taped up the windows then, aware of the vortex howling outside, how it took on many forms, how it could be relentless, how it sought out the fissures. We taped up all the cracks, walls and doors, piled up together inside. Together, soft and warm. Preserved.
Mini-interview with Anita Goveas
HFR: Can you share a moment that has shaped you as a writer (or continues to)?
AG: The first time I discovered hermit crab flash (thanks Kathy Fish and Fast Flash).
HFR: What are you reading?
AG: Mrs Pinto Drives to Happiness, a collection of short stories by Reshma Ruia.
HFR: Can you tell us what prompted “Causality”?
AG: I started this the last time I went to an in-person writing workshop, by Mary-Jane Holmes at the Flash Fiction Festival. It was a workshop about beginnings in flash fiction, about how they should put pressure on the ending, and this is what came out.
HFR: What’s next? What are you working on?
AG: I’m attempting to edit a coming-of-age story novella and putting together a hybrid fiction/nonfiction collection on the themes of women in science.
HFR: Take the floor. Be political. Be fanatical. Be anything. What do you want to share?
AG: Since lockdown, there’s been a spike in the cases of domestic abuse and concerns about children reported. Trauma can take many forms and have long lasting effects. There are places that might be able to help: in the UK there’s the Refuge helpline and website: www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk and 0808 200 247.
And Childline 0800 1111.
We still don’t talk enough about this, and I hope if you’re concerned about someone, you reach out.
Anita Goveas is British-Asian, London-based, and fueled by strong coffee and paneer jalfrezi. She was first published in the 2016 London Short Story Prize anthology, most recently by Stanchion Zine and Arachne Press. She’s on the editorial team at Flashback Fiction, an editor at Mythic Picnic’s Twitter zine, and tweets erratically @coffeeandpaneer. Her debut flash collection, Families and Other Natural Disasters, is available from Reflex Press, and links to her stories are at coffeeandpaneer.wordpress.com.