Authors: Susan Gloss
Naveen had returned to Madison by bus after the conference on Sunday evening, and though he called her from the bus station to apologize for everything that had happened, Amithi refused to pick him up from the station. Since then, they’d hardly spoken to one another, even though they were living in the same house. They passed each other in the hallways of their two-story Colonial like strangers on a crowded city sidewalk—except that the house was empty, but for the two of them. And silent.
Amithi didn’t want to talk about what had led to their rift, though, not even with Jayana. So she shifted the focus of the phone conversation to her daughter instead.
“Have you thought any more about when you and Jack will go to India to see your grandparents?” Amithi asked. “They are disappointed that they have not yet had a chance to meet him.”
“They could have come to our wedding if they’d really wanted to,” Jayana said.
Amithi was not surprised when her parents declined her offer to pay for their plane tickets to come to Jayana’s wedding. She tried to picture her mother and father, both in their eighties, at O’Hare airport—first shuffling their way through customs, then boarding a tram to take them to their connecting gate, all with a crippling case of jet lag. She then tried to imagine their expressions if they’d seen the location of Jayana and Jack’s wedding ceremony—a peeling red barn in the middle of an overgrown meadow. Jayana had called the setting “simple” and “intimate.” Amithi had thought “insulting” was a better word. Her husband had worked hard all his life, and for what? To see his daughter get married under the beams of a hayloft, in a dress that looked like a nightgown.
“You do not understand,” Amithi said. “Even if Nana and Nani had made it to the wedding here, it would still be important for you to go to visit them, and the rest of the family, too. It is the least you can do, since you decided not to have the wedding in India.”
“I’m not sure I want to drag Jack from temple to temple all over Rajasthan,” Jayana said. “I know Nana and Nani don’t approve of me being married to a non-Indian man, anyway. Just like you and Dad don’t.”
It was true that Amithi and Naveen would have preferred for their daughter to marry an Indian boy with roots near Jaipur, where they’d grown up and still had family. They’d spent years bringing their daughter to their Indian friends’ parties and
hoping she would hit it off with a potential match. But that was the most they could do. They had learned long ago that their daughter made her own decisions—a fact that was both a source of pride for Amithi and an endless well of frustration.
She did not know when the sea between her and Jayana had begun to swell. They’d had so many differences in recent years. First, there had been the fact that Jayana had chosen to move to the West Coast for college, rather than attending the local university where Naveen taught. When Jayana had moved back home for graduate school, again taking up residence in the room where she’d grown up, Amithi had rejoiced to have her daughter under her roof again—that is, until Jayana announced that she was getting a PhD in art history.
Amithi had tried to point out why she was worried about Jayana’s choice of academic focus—that she wanted the girl to have a good job so that she could be financially independent. Amithi herself had never had the freedom that came along with making one’s own money. As a young woman in India, she’d begun coursework for a BA but left school when she moved to the U.S. and never reenrolled. And though Amithi never complained—she was grateful for her health and the prosperous life she and Naveen had built—she had the sense that Jayana was all too aware of the fact that her mother’s choices in life had been limited. All through her twenties and into her early thirties, Jayana had repeatedly told her parents she had no intention of getting married. Then she met Jack, and within a matter of months, she had not only gotten married but also had bought a condo with him and moved across town.
“What does Jack think?” asked Amithi. “Does he want to make a trip to India?”
“Oh, he’s all for it,” said Jayana. “He sees it as a great opportunity to do some research. I told him there won’t be any time for research because he’ll be too busy getting introduced to relatives
don’t even know. He thinks I’m exaggerating.”
Amithi thought it was strange that Jack, a graduate student in political science, was doing his master’s thesis on the rule of Warren Hastings, the first British governor-general of colonial India. When Naveen and Amithi were still on speaking terms, Naveen used to joke sometimes that Jack was trying to colonize their daughter.
Amithi didn’t think it was funny. She’d been protective of her only child since she was born, more than three decades earlier, through a premature and difficulty delivery that the doctors said would have to be Amithi’s last. Though Jayana later grew strong and healthy, catching up to her peers at a miraculous pace, Amithi never ceased to picture her as she came into the world—as a tiny, blue-faced baby, wheezing for life.
“All I’m asking is that you respect your grandparents’ wishes,” she said. “You do not know how much longer they will be around.”
“I know,” Jayana said. “But that doesn’t mean I have to let them dictate my life from halfway around the world.”
Furious, Amithi banged a hand on the steering wheel and accidentally set off the horn.
“Mom, what are you doing?”
Amithi took a deep breath. “I did not bring you up to speak that way about your grandparents. Call me when you are ready to have some respect for your family.”
She hung up, thinking about how cell phones were not nearly as satisfying as older phones had been for ending angry conversations. She used to be able to slam down a receiver. Now all she could do was press a tiny, glowing button.
According to the clock on her dashboard, Amithi had been sitting in front of the boutique for fifteen minutes. She realized that her car, a silver Honda, looked similar to the car of the process server from the other day. Amithi hoped her being parked here for the last quarter of an hour hadn’t caused Violet any unnecessary alarm.
In the bicycle lane next to Amithi’s parked car, a girl whizzed by with her bike basket full of vegetables and flowers, probably on her way back from the Saturday morning farmer’s market on the Capitol Square. The Prius parked in front of Amithi had a bumper sticker that said
IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A SIGN FROM THE UNIVERSE, THIS IS IT
Amithi picked up a shopping bag from the passenger seat and went inside the boutique.
Violet was helping a customer, a woman in a belted trench coat, but smiled when she saw Amithi.
The lady in the trench coat held up a red dress. “Are all of your items
?” she asked.
Amithi cringed when she heard this.
“I prefer to say pre-loved,” Violet said. “We take beautiful, high-quality items and give them new life. We save them from neglect in someone’s basement or, worse, a landfill.”
The woman dropped the dress she’d been holding as if it were crawling with lice. She hurried past Amithi without making eye contact.
“That was quite rude,” Amithi said after the woman had left.
“She didn’t even bother looking at the label.” Violet picked the dress up and cradled it for a moment before hanging it back on the rack. “I mean, this is a 1970s Diane von Furstenberg wrap, for God’s sake. It’s probably one of the first ones she ever designed. It’s not exactly something you throw on the floor. Go into any department store, even now, and you’ll see half a dozen knockoffs of this very same style.”
“Some people only pay attention to something if it is new and flashy,” Amithi said. “I think they overlook a lot of beauty in the world that way.”
Violet smiled. “I’m glad you came back in. I was hoping I could talk to you about what happened the other day.”
“I have not mentioned it to anyone, if that is what you are wondering.”
“I appreciate that.” Violet tipped her head to one side. “What did you hear, exactly?”
The polite thing to do, thought Amithi, would be to say she heard nothing. But Violet did not seem like the type of person who would be satisfied with that answer, so she said, “I heard you say it had something to do with your lease. Something about eviction.”
“Oh, Jesus.” Violet paced the wood floors in her red heels. She put a hand over her mouth. “Sorry, that was probably really unprofessional. It’s just that, well, the shop is my life.”
Amithi nodded, even though she’d never had a business. She had never even had a paying job, for that matter. But she knew what it was like to put her whole heart into something and not have it turn out the way she’d expected.
Violet stopped pacing. “I hope you won’t mention this to anyone else. My reputation in the community is everything to me. When I first moved here a few years ago, no one knew who I was. I’ve had to work hard to build up a name for myself and my business.”
“Of course. I will not say anything.” Amithi tugged at the folds of her tunic top. She’d made it from some floral fabric her sister sent from India, and though she’d designed it to fit loosely, today it seemed to stretch around her middle. She made a mental note to stop snacking as a way to pass the time at home.
“Thank you,” Violet said.
“It is nothing. Is there anything I can do to help?”
“I don’t think so. Unfortunately, it’s one of those things I need to handle on my own,” Violet said. “So what brings you in today?”
Amithi lifted up her shopping bag. “I brought in some more things I thought you might be interested in for the store.”
“You really must be doing quite a bit of cleaning and organizing, to come in twice in one week,” Violet said.
“Ah. Yes,” Amithi said. Though it was true that she
been culling items from her closets, one of the main reasons she’d come back into the shop was that she needed someone to talk to, something to do to give her day some structure. Amithi remembered feeling exhausted every night when Jayana was young, wishing for just a few more hours in the day. Now she felt there were far too many, and she often longed for evening simply because it came with a set of concrete duties: prepare dinner, eat, clean up, and go to bed. Today, Naveen had gone into the office before the sun came up. Amithi felt relieved to have him—and the hushed tension between them—out of the house. Yet she wasn’t sure how to fill the long, lonely hours of the day.
“Let’s see what you brought,” Violet said.
“If you cannot use these things, then please do tell me. I will not be offended.” Amithi emptied the bag onto the counter with care.
Violet unfolded a swath of orange fabric about six feet long.
“It’s a sari,” Amithi said. “I have so many, and I hardly ever wear them anymore, so I brought in several. That one has a small stain on it, though.”
Violet examined a spot near the hem. “You can barely see it.” She refolded the fabric and picked up another item—this one a short, sleeveless blouse.
“That’s the shirt that goes under it. It’s called a
“These are gorgeous,” Violet said. “I’ll buy this orange one from you, but I’ll have to pass on the others for now. I’ll have to see how this one sells first. I’ve never carried anything like this in the shop before.”
“What if I made them into something else?” asked Amithi. “A shorter skirt or dress?”
“You know how to do that?”
“Sure,” Amithi said. “I like to sew.”
“That might work,” Violet said. “But I can’t guarantee I’d be able to buy whatever you make. What sort of inventory I take depends on what’s selling well in the store at any given moment.”
Amithi didn’t care as much about the money as she did about having a project to keep her occupied. “Maybe I’ll make one or two and bring them in for you to see. If you are not able to buy them, I will not be offended.”
“That sounds fine, as long as it’s not too much trouble for you.”
“Not at all. It will be good for me to have something creative to do. Oh, and I almost forgot. I brought something else, too.” Amithi put her hand inside her purse and felt around for the small velvet box she’d been carrying with her for the last few days. She took it out and flipped it open to reveal a pair of gold, dangly earrings. A sizable red stone in the center of each piece glittered under the overhead lights.
“They are real this time,” Amithi said. “Not costume jewelry like the bangle bracelets.”
“I see that.” Violet’s eyes widened. “Are those rubies?”
“Yes. I brought in the appraisal, if you’d like to see it.” She searched for it in her purse.
Violet held up her hand. “That’s okay. I don’t need to see what they’re worth to know I can’t pay you anything close to a fair price. You’d probably be better off taking them to a jeweler.”
“Do you know of any that take vintage jewelry?”
“Sure.” Violet scribbled the name of a jeweler on the back of a business card. “This place on the west side deals in a lot of vintage pieces. If you’d like, I can call ahead to let them know you’re coming. But before I call, I have to ask—are you sure you want to sell these?”
Amithi nodded. She’d been debating selling the earrings ever since her daughter said she didn’t want to wear them for her wedding. Amithi had offered to give them to her anyway, but Jayana had refused, claiming they were gaudy. She’d told her mother that, rather than jewelry she’d never wear, she’d prefer to have money to buy furniture for her and Jack’s new condo. Amithi thought of her conversation with her daughter earlier that day. She decided she would sell the earrings to the jeweler and give her daughter the money, like she wanted.
June 20, 1968
Last week at this time, Amithi had sat on the patio of her mother and father’s house, chattering in the humid shade with her aunties and drinking mint tea to calm the anxiety fluttering around inside her. Now she sat on an air-conditioned plane next to a man she barely knew, but for the few, short conversations they’d exchanged before the wedding, the touch of one another’s hands as they’d circled the sacred fire during their Hindu ceremony, and the shy but urgent lovemaking the night before.