Before Neil asks her to marry him, she rips her horoscope with the astrologer’s prediction into shreds, flings the scraps from the balcony.
Before her love wraps her in his arms, she knocks on his door, silver dish in her hands, fragrance of halva—decadent with nuts and ghee—escaping from under the loose lid.
Before her in-laws hear the rumors and banish her from the family, her grown children accuse her of heaping shame on them.
Before her children tell her the neighborhood ladies call her the “husband-less prowling woman,” his smile warms her like sunshine, conveys a galloping suffusion of awareness into her cells.
Before Neil, the new neighbor, introduces himself, she bites her lower lip because the sight of him sends a surge into her heartbeat along with a hitherto unknown emotion.
Before her cantankerous in-laws blame her for their heart-rending loss, they load her with punishing, endless domestic tasks.
Before her parents wail about her plight as a hapless widow, the police find her husband’s charred body at the scene of the car accident.
Before she endures aching breasts and endless, sleepless nights, she births a boy and a girl after enduring intense, protracted labor.
Before she surrenders her body to her husband, she knows she shares nothing but a surname with him.
Before she meets an uncommunicative man who will become her husband, her parents convince her goddess fortune is offering her bountiful blessings.
Before the astrologer hands them her future husband’s contact information, her parents convince her that’s how perfect matches are made in their family.
Before the astrologer predicts a stellar marriage for her, he spreads out his charts, advises the family not to question that which is ordained by the stars.
Hear Sudha Balagopal read her piece
Sudha Balagopal’s short fiction appears in CRAFT, Split Lip Magazine, and SmokeLong Quarterly, among other journals. Her highly commended novella-in-flash, Things I Can’t Tell Amma, was published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2021. Her work is included in both Best Microfiction and Best Small Fictions, 2022. More at www.sudhabalagopal.com.