The Apartment in the Shadows

Submitted into Contest #45 in response to: Write a story about change.... view prompt



I have names for different days. They used to come to me in dreams, wisps of words, or flashes of stories. Today is anticipation. Today is fear. Today is courage.

I can’t decide on one.

A fat, shining sun hangs in the deep, mysterious shades of cerulean sky. Its warmth winks and disappears, soon coming back with a dazzling Christmas-tree lights brightness.

The sun is unsure of what mood it is today.

Just like me.

On days when I’m unsure, days like these, I close my eyes, let color wash over and into my head, and pick the first word that comes to mind.

But today, no colors appear, and my words wither away into panic.

There is no word to save the day, no small piece of hope or reliable

comfort I can cling on to.

The days have become like this ever since my parents decided our life had to be torn apart and stitched back together.

I don’t bear any resentment towards them.

This is their life. Their choice.

I can’t deny that their choice will have an inevitable impact on my life. My brother’s life.

But those are thoughts for the future, thoughts for days with real words to describe them.

So I shove the thoughts into the forgotten parts of my scalp and climb into our Toyota.

The drive is slow and torturous.

Green and brown meld together as scenery hurtles by.

Silence fills the air and hangs like an uncomfortable weight on my chest.

Soon, we arrive.

The lady inside smiles when we come inside the lonely, furniture-bereft office. Her lipstick is bright red.

Aai and Maushi walk towards her, whereas I make a beeline to the tiny, black machine in the corner. I’ve seen these things in car wash waiting rooms; they always have coffee or some type of free drink.

The cups are sorted in Styrofoam and plastic towers. I choose plastic.

I let steaming chocolate heaven trickle into my cup. The hot liquid almost singes my fingertips and I drop it on the counter. Little droplets of angry brown spill everywhere.

My mother turns around and whispers to me in heated, rapid Konkani, “Ami bhikhaaree nhee.”

We aren’t beggars.

Maushi rubs tight circles on her sister’s back, all while giving me a smile that promises trouble. I watch my aunt, always the strong one and first to comfort my mother, feeling like an unwelcome stranger.

In Maushi’s mind, I am the evil spawn of her sister’s husband. In Maushi’s mind, I only exist to serve one purpose—to torture my mother.

I gulp down the remnants of hot cocoa, relishing the burn that spreads down my throat. The fire burns through feeling. The pain makes me forget, if only for a moment.

I hurl the remaining white, disfigured skeleton as hard as I can. The sharp clang of the plastic cup in the garbage dispenser earns me a tired, motherly look from Aai.

Time blurs by and eddies away into boredom.

The lady with the bright red lips comes with us to our new home.

She tells us her name is Sarah. I hate the way she smacks her spearmint gum.

She opens the doors wide and I’m secretly relieved my brother isn’t there. I would have elbowed past him to get inside and explore.

It has two side-by-side-bedrooms, and a little kitchen with an empty dining space. The lady walks in with her brown, mud-caked boots on and I stifle the urge to tell her that we have a no-shoes-policy.

Instead, I focus on my new home—the home I’ll be sharing with my mom and brother for a chunk of time every week. It’s just so…small.

Our drama room at school is bigger than the entire perimeter.

A whiff of something sharp caresses my nostrils.

The reek leans toward slightly putrid, though I can’t identify what it is.

I shake my head. Focus on the fucking positive.

I heard that word when my dad was arguing with Maushi. It sounds fun and quirky in my head.

So I do exactly that.

And the positive is nice—a serene lake burbles outside quietly, filled with obnoxious, quacking ducks.

I can imagine days where the sunset dips low enough to touch the lake and my palms, days where I'm bathed in golds and reds.

I can imagine tossing crumbs of bread to ducks, skipping them on the lakewater like one would stones.

I can imagine leaving the same crumbs of bread in a trail to our doorstep, waiting for the crowd of ducks to come chorus in tandem, "We're here, we're here, we're here."

I smile. Softly.

That makes the apartment a little better.

I dig my toes into the carpet—it’s soft and crinkly in all the right places.

My foot stumbles upon a dried, flaky patch of mold and all notions of livability vanish.

Horrified, I scamper out of the hallway and into the kitchen.

It’s much better here. Clean wooden cabinets, marble countertop, tile floor. Unmarred white walls.

Hope rushes in me, heavy and overpowering.

Sarah beams at me from the doorway and a sense of ease envelops my quaking, half-child, half-adult mind.

“How old are you?” Her voice peals through the almost-empty room, bright and shiny.

“Eight,” I answer shyly and turn away.

I’m toggling with the screen door when voices float from one of

the bedrooms.

“Chalis-Satthis.” Maushi’s voice is unyielding.


I know that they’re talking about the time split. I speak “Kinglish,” so my aunt thinks I can’t understand my mother tongue. Maushi is pushing Aai to have us for eighty percent of the time, but my mother is determined to stick to 50-50.

They need their father,” she’s said before, saying it once more now.

They need their father and mother.”

But Maushi doesn’t understand. Whereas my mother’s marriage was arranged, hers was a love marriage and it failed. Her kids have met their father three times after he left. She thinks having a father in our lives isn’t necessary.

But Maushi forgets that Aai doesn’t have Aaji and Baba—my grandparents—to help raise us like she does in India. She forgets that my mother hasn’t worked since before I was born. She forgets that a single mother in America faces unfathomable struggles.

So we have this apartment now. We have its mottled looking carpet and dank smell and two kids to take care of and an aunt who’ll be here for three more months, then poof.

And “30-70” or “50-50” to determine our future.

June 08, 2020 21:16

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Neha Dubhashi
21:18 Jun 08, 2020

It's been a month since I've written anything creative--that's mostly because of finals and studying. Now that summer is here, I can finally go back to doing what I love. :)


06:23 Jun 15, 2020

WOW...great story Neha! Loved it! 😁 Glad to know that you're back! Keep writing and have a great day Neha!❤️️


Neha Dubhashi
06:41 Jun 15, 2020

Ah this made my day! Thank you, Harshini. :)


07:02 Jun 15, 2020

No problem Neha! I'm glad to have help you!😊


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