White for Mourning

His eyes only ever looked that color when he was lying or when she was on speed. He told her that she was sober when it last happened, he swears. Lie.

He’d rub her knuckles when the earth scorched and cracked into dust — whisper something into her ear that made the corners of her mouth lift until her stomach ached. When the moon no longer glowed in technicolor and their pupils contracted, he felt her palms and told her that nothing about this routine screamed “destructive.” The corners of her mouth would lift again and she’d throw her hair onto his shoulder. Lie.

Her mother couldn’t know enough about her if she ever had to identify her daughter on the table at the morgue. She never had to. A shock. Her daughter’s features were always shifting, broadening, elongating. It was a shame that she came out looking more like her father because how was she supposed to recognize a face that she forgot so often to remember.

When he finally broke it off with her, he promised that he, too, would never cross paths with her mother’s habits and forget her. His eyes glassed over. The drugs.

When her pottu¹ was nothing more than a smear, all the women of the temple shaved their heads and lit an incense to mourn the loss of her innocence. White robes are for death, for the rebirth and renaissance of a wilted soul². White skin is a prize, a reimbursement free of the tallies of sin and covet.

 Her dinner was simple: peas, rice, a dialect, lentils. Ragi roti. Potatoes. White is for innocence, white robes are for death.

Her dinner was pink chicken, juice, cheese. Crunchy rice. Black is for death. Black is for funeral. They asked her, “What did you even see in that boy?” with oiled tongues. They should have asked, “Was it worth all this?” because that would have given the same answer.

They opened his casket, his face sallow and sunken until the hollows of his cheeks were plastic. She covered her mauve lips with her brown hand and was hit in her brown stomach with a blue sleeve and a white arm when she tried to leap across the burgundy rope into the black casket and hug the boy in the navy suit with purple veins and gray skin. Maybe if he had some color in his cheeks he would breathe again.

They prayed for her “death” just like his. It was only fair, as the balance tipped in greater favor of her tragedy over his. Her mother used up all seven of the prayers she had prided herself in memorizing into asking for her daughter’s forgiveness, but all her daughter wanted was for her to pray that she could forgive him.

She pandered to his parents by baking more White sweets and entering their White house without a dot between her feathery eyebrows and saying her own name with two syllables instead of three. And his mother sobbed and dabbed her eyes and yet could only ask her about things she found exotic. Some leopard or iguana dated her deceased son and was sitting in her living room, thick hair messy for her own rebellion. How did it know so much? Did it have time to read something of weight and matter in its garden that it called a house, or did it only learn how to cook with clove and ginger? How did it speak so well? Was it allowed to speak so much? Did it really want to speak so little? How much dirt did it remove from its clothes before slipping under its sticky covers at night? Did it really breathe? What was it doing dating her son? Did it give her a thrill?

Her mother was a botanist. She lectured yuppie young adults about fauna and its properties and came home to adorn her daughter’s hair with leaves. There. Don’t cry. She bawled louder. Did crying mark the end of adolescence into adulthood? Fuck his mother. What did she know. She sprinted up the stairs, plowing through the barricade her small mother tried to make with her arms, stumbling over the last crooked step, locking herself into the bathroom, and reaching for the sharp end of the scissors in the cup with such a speed that it left a scar on her palm. But it didn’t hurt at all. Not as much as seeing petals and strands of black hair drop around her in a ring. There. She stared at a her jagged creation in the mirror for less than a minute before dropping to the floor on a pile of hair and wet stems.

She was never serious throughout the drama, when he stopped their relationship with more of his fallacies nor when he stopped his heart with drugs. She had stretched her lips into a smile so thin that they were White and had forgotten how to pronounce “regret” in her mother language. She had drank the bitter and drank milk in reconciliation in the face of worship. She had cracked her lips and curdled her stomach and bleached her skin and dried her eyes until she had no more left to she give.

Fuck him. Fuck his mother. Fuck what he’d made her do. Fuck what he’d done to her.

She pulled on molten rattlesnake skin. She opened her mouth and watched her tongue fork like a lizard. Her skin grew mahogany; her skin grew fur and her eyes spun until they were slanted like a goats and under her scalp she could feel with her scarred palm the base of her horns. Smooth, smooth over. She could measure her menses in gallons and her heart would no longer murmur when she was screaming. She drew further from the questions and their beholders because her ancestry drew answers, and she fed from them, she clung to them so. And after she lost eight of her nine lives she promised herself that she was still human, that the bumps under her hair weren’t the sign of the devil and that she would live to see the next morning and the next morning and the next mourning.

¹Pottu – a word in South Indian languages to mean a forehead dot/bindi

²In many South Asian cultures and even religious practices, women wear white instead of black after a death.

VRIDDHI VINAY is a writer and social activist born in 2000 and living in Pennsylvania. A South Indian femme, they write fiction, nonfiction, and poetry surrounding topics of feminism, LGBTQIP, mental illness, leftism, and the Asian-American identity. They are also a staff writer for Affinity Magazine and has been featured in publications like Rookie Magazine. More of their work can be found at vriddhivinay.wordpress.com for published writing, and feel free to follow any of their social media accounts: Twitter (@scaryammu), Instagram (@scaryammu), and personal Tumblr (@criesincurry.tumblr.com). https://medium.com/@Vriddhi.Vinay. Want Vriddhi to write for you? Contact them via their email: vriddhi.vinay@gmail.com!