The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing: A Novel

BOOK: The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing: A Novel
8.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2014 by Mira Jacob All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Random House, an imprint and division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.

and the H
colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.

Jacob, Mira.
The sleepwalker’s guide to dancing / by Mira Jacob.
pages cm
ISBN 978-0-8129-9478-0
eBook ISBN 978-0-8129-9479-7
1. Surgeons—Fiction. 2. Family secrets—Fiction. 3. Domestic fiction. I. Title.
PS3610.A356415S57 2014
813′.6—dc23     2013020098

Jacket design by Belina Huey
Jacket illustration by Brian Cronin



t was a fever, a hot rage of words. For three nights in a row Thomas Eapen sat on the porch, one side of a furious conversation rolling over his tongue to spill out the window screen. The neighbors heard him; his wife, Kamala, could not sleep. Prince Philip, their aging and arthritic Labrador, had taken to pacing the hallway and whining. Kamala told her daughter all of this over the phone one early June evening, her voice as smooth as a newscaster’s.

“I am thinking he’s on his way out,” Kamala concluded, and Amina pictured her father at the edge of the desert, waiting for a bus.


“Who knows. My judgment is impairing. I haven’t slept since Saturday.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Not kidding,” sniffed Kamala, whose ability to sleep through anything
that her insomniac husband could cook up (raccoon hunts, ditch fires, tractor mishaps) had long been a point of pride. Amina dropped her keys onto the kitchen counter.

“You are just now home from work?” Kamala asked.

“Yes.” Amina placed her mail and camera next to the keys. The answering machine blinked anxiously at her. She turned her back to it. “Three nights? Seriously?”

“How’s work?”

“Busy. Everyone in Seattle is getting married in the next month.”

“You’re not.”

Amina ignored her. “What do you mean talking? Talking about what?”

“Telling stories.”

“What kind of stories?”

“What kind of anything? Fits and nuts and now this man with his idiot yak-yak all the time!” Kamala said. “I told him his tongue would fall out and rot like a vegetable, and still he wouldn’t shut up.”

“You always say that.”

“No I don’t.”


“But this is different,
,” Kamala sighed. Night noises snaked through the phone line, pressing New Mexico right up to Amina’s ear—the hushed applause of the wind rolling through the cottonwoods, the hollow scritch of crickets echoing against the mesas, the click of the gate latch in the garden. Amina shut her eyes and felt herself in the darkening yard with the tickle of the wild grass at the back of her knees.

“You out in the garden?” she asked her mother.

“Mmm-hmm. You in the rain?”

“I’m in the kitchen.” Amina checked the linoleum under her boots. Its yellow edges spoke of a former life, one in which the Crown Hill Apartments had been envisioned as good starters for middle-income families, replete with real marble fireplaces and sunny-day kitchen floors. Now they were a thin piss color, pocked with air bubbles that snapped when stepped on.

“How’s the weather?” Kamala asked.

“It’s raining a little.”

“Nobody knows why you stay there.”

“You get used to it.”

“That’s not a good reason to stay somewhere. No wonder that dirty man shot himself—all that time without sun and this devil woman tearing her pantyhoses.”

“Kurt Cobain was a junkie, Ma.”

“Because he needed more sun!”

Amina sighed. Had she known that leaving her copy of
Rolling Stone
in the bathroom on her last visit would make Kamala a self-proclaimed expert on all things Seattle (“The grunges! The Starbucks! The start-ups!”), she might have been more careful, but then, it served a good-enough purpose, this disdain her mother held for Amina’s choice of residence. For one, it cut down on her visits. (“I never get warm here!” Kamala made a point of saying the few times she did come, rubbing her hands together and looking around suspiciously. Once, she told the very nice barista at Amina’s local coffee shop that he smelled funny from “too much damp.”)

“Did I tell you the mint is coming like one forest?” her mother asked now, her voice brightening. “Bigger than last year!”

“That’s great.” Amina opened her refrigerator. A collection of takeout boxes slumped together like old men in bad weather. She shut it.

“I made chutney and had the Ramakrishnas and the Kurians over last night, and they loved it! Bala wanted the recipe, of course.”

“What did you leave out?”

“Nothing. Cayenne and cilantro.”

Cooking was a talent of her mother’s that Amina often thought of as evolutionary, a way for Kamala to survive herself with friendships intact. Like plumage that expanded to rainbow an otherwise unremarkable bird, Kamala’s ability to transform raw ingredients into sumptuous meals brought her the kind of love her personality on its own might have repelled.

“So, what did they think about Dad?”

“What about Dad?”

“The talking or whatever.”

“I didn’t tell them! Don’t be stupid!”

“It’s a secret?” Amina marveled. “You’re not telling the family?”

A secret between the Ramakrishnas, the Kurians, and the Eapens only happened once every five years or so, and usually came out within months anyway, the keepers assuring the kept-from that it was nothing personal, just family business, the kept-from uttering comforting words about being
family in this country anyway
even though no blood relation existed among them.

“No secret!” Kamala said a bit too emphatically. She tucked her voice a few notches lower. “No big deals. Let’s not bother anyone about it, okay?”

“Well, did anyone else think he was acting funny?”

“He isn’t acting funny.”

“I thought you said—”

“No, not like that. He’s going to work and all; he’s fine with everyone else. All the nurses in the OR still follow him around like gaggling geese. It’s just late at night.”

It would have to be late. Thomas did his best to stay at the hospital until sundown, and his insomnia often kept him up between midnight and 6
. Those were the hours he would sit on the porch and tinker some unfathomable object—a cricket gun, a pet petter—into life.

“He’s probably just talking to the dog, Ma. He does that all the time.”

“No he’s not.”

“How do you know?”

“I just told you! The dog is stuck inside whining! And besides, I heard him.”


“He was talking to Ammachy.”

Amina stopped moving. Her grandmother had been dead for almost twenty years. “You mean praying to her?”

The sharp rip of weeds being yanked from the dirt came across the phone line with a small grunt. “No, I don’t. I mean talking. Telling stories.”


Kamala huffed.
Rip, rip, grunt


“Just stupid stories! How you won that photography award in the tenth grade! How I begged the man at the Hickory Farms to order some ginger pickle in 1982 and then that nuts goes and orders candied ginger!”

“Right in front of you? You were standing right there?”

BOOK: The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing: A Novel
8.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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