Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Summer 2021    poetry    all issues

Cover of Fiction Summer 2021


Diana Akhmetianova

Michael Kozart

Emily Hancock
Catching Tadpoles

Anastasia Carrow

Ronita Sinha
Leaving Behind

Travis Lee
A Mermaid's Garden

Broderick Eaton
Ann, Without

Olivier FitzGerald
The Woodfall Home

D.E. Hardy
Media Studies

Ashleigh Catsos
Black Beans

Parker Fendler
Three Dollar Ticket to Happiness

Elizabeth Lyvers

Jeffrey S. Chapman
The Bikini

Mary Tharin

Joey Porcelli
Parachute Drop

Writer's Site

Ronita Sinha

Leaving Behind

It wasn’t easy to pigeonhole a life of some forty years into cardboard boxes and have them shipped off to Godknowswhere. Every day Binita went about taking stuff down—pictures from walls, clothes from closets, books from shelves. Often, when the past came knocking on her door, she teared up like an idiot and that tidy little secret, buried deep inside the unspoken memories of her house, came bubbling to the surface. She caught her breath and sat awhile nursing that morsel of knowledge until her heart quietened, and she was able to move on to the next wall or closet or shelf.

Through the mist in her eyes, the boxes appeared blurred and unreal, pudgy clouds that never drifted away; they only brought a shower to her eyes. She wiped her tears and the magnolia tree outside brightened. The faint hum of an aeroplane floated in the air, and Binita wondered if it were a seven-forty-seven like the one that brought her to Toronto all those decades ago.

A smiling Mrs Dutt, Shuvo’s Bengali co-worker at the hospital, had been waiting to welcome Binita and Shuvo, the new bride and groom, home from the airport,. From a silver plate, she raised a piece of homemade sweetmeat to Binita’s lips and then some tepid milk from a crystal shot glass. Her daughter, Ina, blew into a conch shell and its auspicious bass, marked by Mrs Dutt’s high-pitched ululation, sliced the frigid air into two neat halves. Mrs Dutt threw a handful of rice over the couple’s heads signalling to Shuvo who swept his bride in his arms and carried her over the threshold as if it were no less the ocean they had just crossed.

No, day-dreaming wouldn’t do. Binita had to get things done before she forgot them. Forgetting was her new enemy. She needed to take down the stacks of plates, serving bowls, platters, dishes, from a chestnut cabinet, all languishing unused since Shuvo died a year ago from an aneurysm. Or was it his heart that gave in? She couldn’t always remember these details anymore. She jimmied open the door of the cabinet. Instantly, the startled air from inside escaped in a wispy plume of dust. The smell was stale, musty. Of course, Shuvo had no right to die and leave her alone. But who cared anymore about what’s right and what’s wrong? In the end, we each had to go our own way into the thickets of eternity, alone and empty-handed.

She taped the box and stepping outside, sat on the front steps where she and Shuvo had sat for a lifetime of a marriage, their dreams blooming like stars in a darkening sky. They had listened to their silent soirée and made the most momentous plans of their lives; the parties they threw, the vacations they took, the cars they bought. Their son’s future.

Binita is seventy-one, not old. She told herself, if seventy-one is old then what is eighty-three or ninety-four? Until a few months ago she jogged around Silverhill Park three times a week, her iPod in her ear, listening to old Bengali songs. She probably would have jogged in that park for the rest of her life if one day she hadn’t forgotten her way back home. She wandered around, confused, the side streets familiar yet not so. In the gathering twilight, a police cruiser stopped and the policeman at the wheel asked if she needed help. She said everything was alright. He did not believe her. He got out and stood rooted like the blue spruce next to him and asked her name, his words clipped as if he were dicing potatoes with his tongue.

“Binita Roy.”


“Sixty-nine.” Good sign, she still remembered to lie about her age.


That’s where he got her. She thought of flowers over an arbour but nothing else would come to her. She fumbled in her belt bag and retrieved her phone. The policeman took it from her and called the last number. It was her son, Jay’s.

There is something inglorious about a mother arriving at her son’s in a police car. Jay and Rina were waiting for her on their porch, all the lights in their house turned on as if it were Christmas. That night, Binita saw in advance the expressions Jay and Rina would wear at her funeral.

They wouldn’t let her return home that night, although by then she remembered her address and wanted to call that nice policeman and give it to him.

The next day, after Jay dropped her home, she picked up the reins of her life as if nothing untoward had occurred. Then, she made the terrible mistake of inviting Jay and Rina to dinner. Binita usually took them out to a fancy place where she couldn’t go alone anymore because it seemed the waiters gave her strange stares and took an awfully long time to serve her, making her feel lonelier than ever. This time, she wanted to cook something special for her children.

Rina was setting the table. Binita swept the pan free of all the vegetables she had just sautéed into a serving dish and, instead of snapping the oven off, she blew into the gas flame as if it were a candle. The red On/Off markings on the knobs eyed her expectantly but for the life of her she could not figure out what to do with them. She blew again, harder, and the circle of flickering flames thought it was some sort of game and changed their shape, dancing a Will-o’-the-Wisp dance.

That was it. Binita had played with fire. Rina made an appointment with her family GP, and Dr Nandi diagnosed Binita with early onset of dementia. She argued that she remembered plenty of things from her past, it was only some of the immediate tasks that she was having trouble with.

“Classic dementia symptom,” Dr Nandi confirmed. “It might be years before your long-term memory is affected.”

“But it will be, at some point, right?” Anxiety buzzed in her ears as she hoped he’d say no.

“At some point, yes, but meanwhile try to keep yourself engaged, Mrs Roy. Read, talk to friends, start a hobby. These things could delay it.” The kindness in his voice filled Binita with dismay.

While he wrote out some vitamins and chatted with Rina, Binita dreaded what it would be like when she forgot Shuvo and the secret they shared. Sitting in Dr Nandi’s chamber, in a band of caramel sunlight, she shivered.

Overnight, from a perfectly normal woman, she became an invalid. Jay and Rina asked her to move in with them, which she flatly refused. They insisted. She still refused, politely, with deep care for feelings. Then, they started a weekend ritual of taking her around to places where Binita could retire in comfort with her independence safe in her pocket.

The last place, Jay said, was a place that his dad would have liked to see Binita in. She could furnish it with whatever furniture she chose. There was a kitchenette with a fridge but no stove; only a microwave.

“You could move in here on the first of July.” A slight pause like the synapse in an addled brain, then, “If you like.” Jay’s tone was cautious like feet on soapy floor tiles.

“To this place, with an apology for a kitchen, you mean?” She spat out, a fire snarling inside her.

“Ma, you can just rest, you don’t need to cook or clean, there is onsite service for all of that.” He opened cupboards, twisted on faucets, checked the electric panel.

“Ah! Great west-facing window, the evening sun will warm your bed nicely.”

Binita hated the setting sun. It reminded her of the evening Shuvo died. Why do sons know so little about their mothers? This son she bore and birthed and brought up. Does he know what her favourite colour is? If she preferred a bath to a shower, an apple to a pear? Yet here he was, wielding the baton, directing her life.

Jay smiled tightly at her silence. Binita couldn’t locate her son in that smile.

“This won’t do, I need at least two bedrooms.”


“In case your uncle visits from Calcutta, or a friend drops by and wants to spend the night.”

Jay’s smile wiped itself off his face, his eyes becoming impatient, hostile. But Binita dug her heels in. Her independence was not a cheap thing sold in a roadside kiosk. She wasn’t going to make it easy for him to wrest it from her.

“We’ll discuss this later.” He started to walk towards the car park.

She screamed in silence at his taut back; what do you know about being old, and alone, and heartbroken? Binita wanted to warn him, prepare him. But then, some things are best learnt on your own.

She sat in the car in sullen silence, her mind winging to the time when Jay was just a hum in her belly. Her mother’s weekly letters from Calcutta had been anxious and peppered with things Binita should do and not do. Do not eat anything sour, the baby will be cranky. Eat an apple every day, the baby will be fair. No matter what you do, do not eat pineapple, it’s a prescription for miscarriage. And the question of paramount importance—in which direction was the feathery line leading down from under the navel bending, right or left? Left for boy, right for girl. Binita tried to see but it was impossible to peek over the growing mound of her belly and determine its trajectory. In any case, it was no use to her. In her heart, she knew it was a girl. It had to be a girl. Binita yearned for a girl.

“It’s a boy!” The pretty nurse handed her an angry, slimy bundle.

Jay made his entry into the world, fist in the air, bawling. That was thirty-seven years ago.

She got out of the car and, holding her back straight, walked up to her front door. Jay let her in, hung the keys in the foyer, and left. Binita stood alone in the living room, in the womb of a terrifying silence.

She pretended to hold hands with Shuvo and wandered around the house. She sat in the garden under the night sky with a bowl of cubed melon on her lap, spearing the stars with her fork and carrying them to her lips. Memories flashed around her. The roll of the garage door signalling Shuvo’s return from late-night surgery. She’d take his coat, smooth his hair, get him a drink. And listen. Sundays, when the sweet fuzzy smell of pancakes clung to their clothes all day. The two of them at a creamery on a summer evening, gobbling ice-creams before the heat gobbled them. At a picnic table with Jay on the grass, the birds wheeling above, hopeful, and Binita licking the sandwich crumbs off her fingers to spite them.

Moving implied an egregious theft of life as Binita knew it, and the secret that’s planted in her house. A secret that couldn’t move with her. It was hidden in the weft and warp of 132 Blossom Street, nestling in the tangles of the cedars, in the beam of the porchlight, and in the filigree of sunlight on her bedroom floor. The plan was for her to die in this house with her secret intact, but her own traitorous mind had turned upon her, and thrown all her plans into a box of jumbled-up puzzle pieces.

The day Binita loaded the dishwasher with her laundry, she gave in. She let Jay win.

She avoided looking at the “For Sale” sign on the front lawn like one would a bloody head on a platter. Instead, she concentrated on filling those boxes. Miraculously, one day, they were all done, and suddenly, she had nothing to do. She walked out to the garden, the yellow sun splattered in a white sky, and sat on the wrought-iron bench by the magnolia tree.

Under that tree lay their baby girl.

Just as her mind was betraying her now, her body had betrayed her once. It had shown no respect for the new life brewing inside her, giving her hair its sheen, her breasts their fullness, and her heart a joy she could barely contain. It had let the tiny life slip away from her on that spring night two years before Jay was born. Memories swam in Binita’s head—of Shuvo fetching his surgical bag and severing the umbilical cord, of blood and more blood on the white bathroom floor. The unbearable anguish of becoming unpregnant.

Shuvo laid the foetus on the bed. She was still and cold; a luminescent moonbeam. An unspoken sentence quote marked by parents curled on either side afraid to speak in case they woke the baby up. Although that’s what they desperately wanted; to wake the baby up.

In the pallid dark, Binita’s hand rested on the baby’s chest, as white and still as she.

When dawn trembled on the horizon, Shuvo stood by her bedside, his face shrivelled like a walnut, bits of leaves and clay clinging to him. They read each other’s thoughts like they always did.

From the bottom drawer of the armoire, Binita took out her sandalwood jewellery case and removed the top tray. She flipped the case over and a tangle of bangles, necklaces, earrings, and brooches tumbled out. She grazed her shaking fingertips on the red velvet lining, checking for bumps, sharp points, anything that could hurt her baby. She picked her up; her sealed eyes crisscrossed by tiny mauve tributaries, her body like gentle glass through which no organs throbbed. They gazed at her hungrily, drinking her in, trying to write every minutia of that beloved face into their hearts. Binita touched her lips to her cheek and they came away with an appalling iciness. Draping her in a silk scarf, they laid her in the jewellery box. White against the red. Tiny and flawless. A muffled snap as Shuvo closed the lid. She reached for her tailoring chalk and on the top, over the mother-of-pearl inlay Shuvo, in his calligraphic hand, wrote Baby Jewel. Binita didn’t want her tears to smudge the words so she averted her face.

Together, they plodded through the house made unfamiliar by silver shadows. Outside, they shuddered in the dark breeze that wrapped around them. Under the magnolia tree, Shuvo had dug a hole and Binita filled it with the fallen petals and her tears before he lowered their baby into the earth.

With tired arms, they piled the sod, damp and black, over the grave. After, they fell back on the dew-drenched grass, their unimaginable sorrow holding up the cavernous sky.

Shuvo called and wrote letters to inform all those that mattered; parents, close friends, but they never discussed that night. It remained embalmed and entombed in the jewellery boxes of their hearts, in the solitariness of truth, lonely but never forgotten. It hovered like an iceberg under the surface of their daily lives, sharp and glinting, ready to shipwreck them and allow grief and unspeakable pain to pour through every crack, every crevice until they thrashed and wallowed and eventually drowned in them. The silence was a kindness they owed each other. Over time, there came to be an intimacy about sharing their secret. They felt her presence often; in the first snow glazing the yard or when colour returned to the magnolia tree, but she came to them most in other people’s baby girls, in pink ribbons and princess shoes. They would then turn to each other, their unspoken words morphing into smiles. Sad, shy smiles. A shyness that years of marriage could not banish.

Someone was shaking Binita hard as if trying to shake out tiny butterflies from the wrinkles of her skin.

“Ma, Ma, are you okay?”

Binita gazed into the eyes of her son. Her living child. She reached out to hold his hand but fear was already holding it.

“What are you doing in the garden at this time? I couldn’t find you in the house, and that scared me.” Jay helped her to her feet and clasped her tight for a few seconds.

“The sun made me a little drowsy,” she whispered to the wind, over his shoulder.

“I’m taking you home for a few days until the house closes and your new unit is ready.” Jay’s old smile had returned to his eyes.

Binita did not resist and Jay looked relieved, happy almost.

He packed her into his car, slammed the door shut, snapped his seatbelt in, and revved the engine. The For Sale sign was gone from the lawn. Maybe this was right, she thought. It’s better to sell the house than to burn it down. Her memories, precious and sacred, were for her to hold as long as she could.

As Jay drove off, Binita steeled herself to not look back, but she had this sudden, insane desire to know who would move into her house. Who would cook in her kitchen, make love in her bedroom, stand naked in her shower, watch her magnolias bloom, and do the many things that were meant for Shuvo and her to do. Who, who?

“Jay, do you know anything about the people . . . ?” A lump of tears in her throat wouldn’t let her finish.

“Yes, a young couple. Both architects.”

“Do they have any children?”

“A baby girl.”

Ronita Sinha resides in Toronto, Canada. She is a traveller, recipe experimenter and gardener, tilling her soul for words and images. She holds an M. Phil degree in English Literature from Calcutta, India. Her work has been published or forthcoming in Cicada, East of the Web, The Academy of the Heart and Mind, Lemonspouting and The Literary Yard. She was awarded “Storyteller of the Month” by The Magic Diary. She writes her personal stories on her blog

Dotted Line