2841 words


Only a select few phone numbers were set to break her phone’s silence. These numbers belonged to three distinct parties. One was direct family, of which there were few. The other were new and old clients whose demands knew no limits or concern for being appropriate. The third was her best and only real friend, Alyn. The familiar digital marimba ringtone of her phone set her tiny single-room apartment ablaze, and the phone read 02:06 AM.


It was her father.


As she picked up, Priya heard no voice on the other line, just shuffling and occasional heavy breathing. Drowsy and unprepared to merely exist, she made her way out of her apartment building and into her inherited Jaguar. This relic of a car was a window into her life when it was simpler. It represented her single father as the strong male role model in her life. Back when he struck fear into the eyes of business competitors and of her many failed boyfriends. It was a reminder of when she could move through the world with a fair degree of carelessness.


It took a single crank of the key, and the XJ’s twenty-year-old V8 roared to life, and along with it, only about half of the instruments in front of her. The engine’s roar was matched by the beating of the dense tread of the winter tires, which were installed year-round, and she made the trek westbound on the city’s busiest highway.


Approaching her childhood home, she saw no lights. None outside and none inside were turned on. Too exhausted to let out a sigh of grief over her lost night of sleep, she cast aside her thoughts pertaining to the appointments that were to come and focused on the task at hand.

“Dad,” Priya said as she knocked on the door. “It’s me. Are you there?” She logged into the house’s alarm system through her cell phone, punched in the four-digit passcode and disabled the alarm.


These visits used to be more frequent when his health first started failing four years ago. His digestive system, which she inherited, had suddenly deteriorated on many fronts, leading to repeated hospital visits. These visits had dire consequences. The lack of sleep and months of discomfort accelerated his hidden dementia. He was not even sixty, for fuck’s sake. At first, the loss of his mental capacity was unnoticeable, even to those who cared for him deeply. The books of the family business, however, told the exacting and detailed tale of when he started to lose it. After his third hospital stay, he was taken off the board of the company, and she was placed at its head. Only figuratively, though. By way of a recommendation from an old friend, now an acquaintance, who was far more successful than her, she hired a consultant to come in and salvage what there was to salvage.


“Well, he didn’t sink the entire fleet, thankfully,” said the consultant who specialized in cases like her family’s. “We can gracefully bring the business to a close, ensure that everyone gets paid and that you are not left with any debt or inventory to speak of. If we are prudent, we can even use these funds to take care of your father better and improve your quality of life.”


That was two months ago. Now, as she slid the key into her family home, all she could think about was going back home and leaving her father to call her by mistake time and again. The nagging notion that he may have hurt himself pulled on her conscience, and she ultimately opened the door.


The air inside smelled of overbearing department store lavender candles. Priya had removed them many times in the past out of fear that her father would burn the house down, but he always managed to buy more.


By memory, she turned to the light switch to her left, just beside the wall-mounted coat rack, and the next thing she knew, she was airborne. Priya couldn’t make sense as to why she was lifted above the crooked wooden flooring, but she was quickly moving towards the stairs just a few steps from the entrance. She caught a glimpse of her father’s silhouette behind her as she turned, and he had a cricket bat in his right hand. Just as she realized that her father had hit her with the bat at the base of her spine, the base of her skull went crashing into the first stair, briefly blinding her for a few heart beats after the second impact.


“Dad! It’s me! Stop!”


She pleaded silently as the wind was knocked out of her lungs, and her father lunged towards her before coming to a halt. His eyes were quivering with rage that quickly dissipated, resulting in him dropping to his knees by her side.


Staring at her father, who was easily a foot taller and more than a hundred and thirty pounds heavier than her, he looked lifeless.


“I’m sorry,” he whimpered. “I’m sorry…” he kept repeating.


An hour passed, and she nursed the wound at the back of her head and made sure that her father was back in bed. Moving slowly, Priya went to the car in the cover of darkness and retrieved her computer. All she wanted to do was log into work and try her best to avoid thinking about being assaulted by her father. Standing at the kitchen island was the only real option, for the pain in her lower back made sitting unbearable. She was convinced that she was not concussed, even though she was nauseous and the light from her laptop screen caused a distinct sharp pain that she never felt before.


He had never struck anyone in his life. Or so she was told. Later in the morning, he had no recollection of the incident and was happy to see her and the breakfast she had prepared. Uncomfortable thoughts about it being the time to get him into a long-term care facility started filling her mind, and this line of thinking upset her greatly. To put him into a home felt like a betrayal. It also felt like an early death sentence. Even if there is another pandemic, risking him dying due to a viral infection was now something she was considering.




“Jesus, you look like utter shit,” said Alyn with her southern drawl. Alyn was the last of her friends to remain. She had grown tired of the endless gossiping and worries about the banal that their old group of friends provided. Alyn was the only person who could talk about nothing while covering everything that made her feel whole and comforted. Alyn, too, had drifted from their core group of friends. Together, they were all that they needed. And both secretly deemed themselves either too unattractive or undeserving of happiness to start dating. In another life, she would have asked for Alyn’s hand in marriage. If, in this other life, she was a man, or if sex was not a part of the equation.


“Well, my father beat the living shit out of me with his cricket bat while having an episode. I’m pretty sure he thought I was an intruder.”




Alyn’s yelp visibly upset the tables around them in the food court, but Priya was too tired and throbbing in pain to care, and Alyn was on the verge of being livid. Alyn was tall and broad but also heavy. She commanded sidewalks and narrow food court aisles with her presence, and her voice, when called upon, further made her environment hers and hers alone. She did not move like a typical fat girl. She moved through the world like a linebacker. Swift and steady, and always determined.


“Once he saw my face, he stopped and broke down. I have to put him into a home. I’m meeting the consultant after this to finalize everything and shut the god-forsaken rug business down. I’m going to ask him what to do.”


“You should ask him out after, by the way,” Alyn’s teasing smirk had dinosaur extinction level meteor grain of salt of truth behind it.


“No fucking way. He’s seeing someone, and from what I can tell, he would never date or see a client.”


“So,” not skipping a beat, Alyn moved the conversation on. “Have you figured out what you are going to do with all of the money yet? Please tell me you are going to go somewhere warm,” a quick pause and her right hand embracing Priya’s left hand from across the table, “after you take care of your dad, of course.”


“Of course.”


After their lunch, which consisted of a shared box of chicken McNuggets, two kid-sized orange juices and an apple pie each, they hugged and were off to their next obligations. Alyn, off to her degrading office job where her post-graduate degree in psychology was being wasted into never-ending filing, and Priya went up the escalators to the restaurant on the upper floor of the mall.


It was here that Priya saw him, the consultant, waiting at the first table. Sitting with the posture of a concert pianist, she realized that she knew nothing about his life other than he was once a concert clarinetist and that he was seeing a yoga instructor nearly twice his age. What a fucking enigma.


“Let me guess,” he stated as his eyes met hers. “You stayed over at your father’s.”


“Yeah,” she said sheepishly. Priya couldn’t help smiling, though. Even though he kept most of his own life from her, he basically knew everything about Priya. He not only knew about her irritable bowls but accommodated them with seats near the washroom and random homemade yogurt parfaits that he innately knew would settle her stomach. Oh, how she would miss those parfaits.


“So, all is in order, and the lawyer has everything she needs. All you need to,” his pause was unexpected and longer than three heartbeats. “We have to put your father into a home. Did he assault you?”


“Fuck. Yeah, how can you tell?” Funnily enough, Priya did not feel ashamed, sad, or angry that he noticed; she was half expecting that he would and half hoping that he would.


“You have dried blood in your hair, and you have a slight gait favouring your left side as you walk. Priya, I’ll help you with this tomorrow. I have some experience navigating the hell that is elder care in this province. And don’t worry, we’ll go through the paces as friends and not in a working capacity.”


“Thanks,” Priya said as she felt my stomach turning. “Do you mind if we cut this short? I just want to get this day over with and go home.”


A few minutes of comforting words and a further extension of an unexpected friendship were sealed, with him handing her a bottle of Advil for her pain. Reaching into his giant workbag, he always had a solution or remedy in that bag in the time that she had known him. As they parted ways for the day, Priya texted Alyn, “fuck it, I’m asking him out tomorrow.”


“Good. I’m coming over tonight to make sure that you don’t do something stupid like destroy his washroom or something,” she responded. Priya could feel Alyn’s smirk from behind the phone’s screen, and she kissed the top of her phone before putting it away in her ragged purse.




Priya’s first thought as she closed her laptop was, fuck these clients. Second was, fuck daylight savings time. It was 06:00 PM, and it was pitch black outside. Turning to her phone, she sent Alyn a text reading, “Can we meet at your place tonight? I’m in no mood to clean up my washroom after myself after dinner… winky face emoji. I’ll bring sushi!”


Immediately, her phone buzzed, and it was Alyn. “Oh God, please come over and stay over tonight. If your dad calls again, this time, I’ll be your backup.”


Out of all things, this was what brought her to tears on this day. Not getting physically destroyed. Not getting concussed. Not having to face the humiliation of the family business closing, not having to close its doors due to a broken mind. Not to the fact that she and her useless humanities degree could not save it. Though that was a big part of it, being so small and having to rely on someone for physical backup was not something she was prepared to think about that evening. At just over five feet tall, her feet hung uncomfortably on most chairs and sofas, and tonight, the additional strain of her outstretched legs on her lower back was becoming unbearable. She did not need to be reminded about her diminutive physicality through pain, and it was just amplifying her insecurity about her life choices. When she had chosen her major, her dad did not voice his disappointment verbally. His forehead flattened as his ears were pulled backwards in fierce dismay before quietly leaving the room. He was right. But he also is responsible for her aching back and searing migraine.


Priya then decided to walk to Alyn’s and pick up dinner along the way just to avoid sitting in the car. That and finding parking in Alyn’s fancy condo parking lot was always a pain in the ass. It was not a city block from her place that she immediately regretted her decision to walk. She felt a sharp itching sensation in her rear, which meant that she was leaking and had been for some time and did not notice.


Oh, how she will miss those yogurt parfaits.


Instead of turning back, she doubled her pace even though it made her want to vomit. The sushi joint, which was equidistant from her place and Alyn’s, was open and as easygoing as ever. She admired the small family-run business where the recently immigrated Korean parents worked side-by-side. The children ran around serving customers, often sitting beside lonely diners with a colouring book and a set of crayons. They never talked to the customers but simply liked keeping them company. Something about the two daughters always gave her the impression that they would be doctors in thirty years. Priya had no idea why, but she was confident in the collected future of this family.

Making her way up to Alyn’s was becoming more painful even though she had used the restaurant’s washroom to clean up. Upon entering Alyn’s ground-floor condo, she immediately felt faint and, like her father earlier in the day, dropped to her knees.


Dizzy, disorientated, and only concerned for the well-being of the dropped meal by her side, everything faded to black.

When Priya came to, she was seated on the toilet, and hunched over her knees. Alyn was cleaning her, just as Priya had watched the nurses clean her father when he was at the hospital. Priya could feel Alyn’s calm breathing as she reached around and above her as she was being dried with a soft white towel.


“Hey there, welcome back,” Alyn’s voice was soft, but raspier than she had ever heard. It was evident that Alyn had cried at some point, and later, Alyn would confess that it was when she was trying to move Priya to the washroom as her bowels were emptying themselves onto Alyn’s brand-new tiles.


Just like her father before her, she could only repeat the words “I’m sorry” as she slowly started to become fully aware of her surroundings. As Alyn set off to find her a clean outfit, she turned and promised that she would be back.


Fully clothed and expertly cleaned, Priya sat beside Alyn on her couch even though it caused her back to stiffen as if it was preparing to be hit again. “Alyn,” she started.


“Don’t even start. Priya, I want you to move in with me. At least for a little bit until you get all this shit sorted,” before she could protest, Alyn raised her muscular left index finger. “Also, tomorrow, you are not asking that guy out, and we are going to get your head checked for a concussion. I am not going to let you out of my sight, and yes, that means I am not going to work for the remainder of the week. Fuck them.”


Priya smiled and nodded, and she rested her head on Alyn’s soft, plump, yet muscular shoulder. “Are you sure?”


“Yes, you could move in, for like, forever as well. I fucking love you, and we both cannot afford to live alone in this city.”


“I love you too,” she said, realizing that her phone was missing. Somewhere along her hurried route to Alyn’s, she had dropped her phone. It was probably, no, most definitely in the washroom of the sushi restaurant and in reliable, good hands. To her surprise, she did not care. Nothing else mattered but this moment and who she was sharing it with.