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Pillboxed 7 (16+)

by Hannah

“This is Gautam,” said Farah. Gautam had his finger stuck in his book, the bookmark flat on his thigh. Aaron’s arms were still crossed from his fit at the cafe, but he mumbled hello and sat down on Farah’s pillow.

“Gautam, this is Aaron.” She tilted her head down a little to look up at Gautam cautiously.

“I will talk to you tomorrow, alright?” she said quietly. Thoughts of a new life with this new child circled in only her head, but she wasn’t sure Gautam was ready for them, yet. Let them soak in and refine for her, first, before she tried to translate her plans to him, before she tried to coax him to love this boy, too. Gautam shook his head at her, sad eyes, but said,

“Okay, my love.” He passed a puzzle book to Aaron, but Aaron left it on the floor of the tent and looked up angrily at Farah.

“My mom would have let me have that cake,” he said.

“You said you didn’t have any parents.”

“My old mom,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” said Farah. “Let’s go to sleep for now so we can get up early in the morning.”

“I hate sleeping.”

“You can sleep in between me and Gautam, okay?” She tugged at the collar of the boy’s shirt, the habit of undressing a child flowing back into her fingertips. She remembered the very slight curves of her daughter’s body, and how Anjali felt warm against her back each night they fell asleep together. She was afraid to feel the skin of a strange boy, but told herself again to calm, to remember that this was what one did with a child. When Aaron resisted and kept his shirt pulled down, Gautam said,

“Leave him,” and finally slipped the bookmark back into his book. He rolled over to the very edge of the tent and faced the wall that flapped in sunset wind. Farah undressed as she did every night: camisole folded on top of khakis, mother’s pillbox nestled on top, shoes by the door, sleeping back pulled over the sheet pulled over her bare chest. She stayed awake for a long time, listening to Aaron’s stuffy breathing. He lay in between her and Gautam, touching neither of them. He was splayed out on his back; his arms took up most of the space. Farah pulled her arms in tighter toward herself and thought of Anjali until she fell asleep.

She dreamed in many places that night, but in every dream there were tiger eyes and shining silver circles. She felt again the warmth of her mother and daughter just behind her, maybe as close as to be just behind her eyes. They helped her steer herself between dreams. Brown arms reached out, delicate hands clasped to bridge Farah through the darkness between the moments of color.

The last dream before she woke was of a rustling in the underbrush. Something was moving and shaking leaves bigger than her head. She thought, in the dream, that it was Gautam, but she felt at the same moment her hand on his thick-furred back. And silver lightning shot through everything, waking her with a jolt.

A metal cart clattered by outside the tent. Gautam’s snore ripped through the air near Farah’s ear. But the boy was not between them. Farah looked for his shoes near the door, but they were gone. Dust and a clod of grass was left in their place. She pulled a blanket around herself and stepped outside to look, but in the light morning mist, everything felt like a packed-away carnival.

There was one gray figure moving in the stand where they’d eaten cake last night, but it was too tall to be the boy. The sky was wide and big and high: a high ceiling that Farah knew she’d never touch, but she felt the weight of it anyway. She slipped back into the tent to get away.

All that afternoon, Farah walked, but never too far away from the tent or from Gautam, in case the boy came back. She watched above the heads of people and looked for a small child running toward her, but everything was sleepy syrup moving forward, moving toward the dome at the end, sucking everything that way. Farah had planned to go the other way. She had planned to tell Gautam they were leaving, knowing he’d just close his book around his bookmark and stand up, ready, even if she hadn’t yet explained herself. But they couldn’t leave without the boy – the boy they’d just found. The boy she’d just found. Farah’s feet felt heavy and she found herself sitting on a high stool, ordering a hamburger.

Eventually, she had to walk again, but she could only go back to the tent. Gautam was not reading his book. He sat with his legs crossed, arms on his knees, and his dark eyes followed her as she came in through the zippered door. He’d pushed their sleeping bags and blankets off into one corner, rolled up, prepared.

“We need to leave,” he said. “I have to get back for work. Do you have everything?”

Farah nodded sadly, and reached into her pocket for her mother’s pillbox. She felt only grit in the lining of her pockets. She pulled her hand out and looked at the sand pieces underneath her fingernails as if they were pieces of magic. This was not right.

“Do you know–” She felt a catch in her throat. “Do you know where my mother’s box is?”


“The silver one?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Where I kept Anjali’s handkerchief.”

“I thought you took it with you when you went out.”

“No, I must not have.”

“Did you drop it?”

“I don’t remember it being here.”

“Did the boy take it?” Gautam faced Farah unperturbed. Farah felt the tent swim in front of her as she searched every corner. Gautam pushed his book into the front of their duffel bag.

“I think--”

“I’m sorry, darling,” said Gautam.

“No. No, just forget about it,” Farah said. She sat in the middle of the tent and closed her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Gautam said. He let his hand slide over the path of tears on Farah’s cheeks.

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541 Reviews

Points: 370
Reviews: 541

Sun Feb 03, 2013 2:13 pm
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Lauren2010 wrote a review...

Yes! More Pillboxed!

Another lovely chapter, of course. I like that the little boy didn't stay; it would have been so unnatural and strange for him to let Farah and Gautam become his parents. They can't take a child from the street who knows nothing about living in a home with a family; it just wouldn't be the same and would make Farah a different kind of mother from the loving one she is with Anjali.

I called that he was going to steal the pillbox from the moment Farah left it lying out on top of her clothes. The fact that she did that at all seemed kind of strange to me, actually. It's something so very precious to her, and I expected it to be something she kept near her at all times. I expected her to sleep with it grasped in her palm or hidden under her pillow. Leaving it out like that, I can totally see Gautam taking it himself so they can get out of there and go home already.

UNLESS Gautam is the one who took it, and he also sent the little boy away so they can get out of this camp and go back to their nice house. Which could make sense, considering I'm not sure why he even let them go there in the first place. Did he think it would make Farah love him? Did he think she would finally let him sleep with her if he let them go live in this camp? Did he know Farah wanted to be there with the purpose to find a child? Or does he think they're there for some other reason?

I like his fake sympathy at the end, and what it signals for Farah's ability to stand up to him or keep herself separate from him. Like Pengu said, I can see her falling only deeper into him now and that's going to be terribly dangerous for our Farah.

Can't wait to read the next part! :D

Keep writing!


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890 Reviews

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Reviews: 890

Sun Feb 03, 2013 12:26 pm
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PenguinAttack wrote a review...


You posted these as though a secret! I love it, again. I knew this boy was bad, I knew you were bad, Aaron! Oh Gautam, why can't you just be a good husband? Here you are so good and careful and kind. Except that I don't believe you at all, you don't care that Deepti's box is gone because it's just one of the things which was getting in your way. Who can think when there is such a thing in the way of you two? The constant reminder of Farah's mother and her child was just keeping them at bay.

The line break at "Gautam said" is awkward, because it seems to come from nowhere, but I like it stylistically. He's saying something so new that it needs to be separate even from him saying it. This might have just been an error and if so, ignore me!

I hate that Aaron stole her pillbox because now she has nothing to connect her to what was good for her. She's either going to fall into Gautam completely, or she's just going to fall apart, I can't see her pulling together. I don't think she's strong enough as a character to move away from him on her own, and he is bad for her in the end. If she did pull away she might just fail because she doesn't have the strength to keep herself standing yet. I want her to, desperately, but Aaron tells us she isn't stable. Gautam is going to pretend to be good but we know. Oh Hannah we know he isn't really good, so stop pretending, Gautam! I hate you, Gautam. I want you to be someone I can keep hating and I want you to be loved, but you are inherently bad, I can tell this, we all can. Bad Gautam.

You know I love your writing and this has a lovely even mix of imagery - the silver back - and the grounded - Gautam unperturbed - and together these make for a traditionally successful story. I don't think your story is traditional in any other sense, it is far too poetic and too smooth to be a traditional narrative, we're too fluid as readers, you as writer and Farah as character.

Always, thank you for posting this. It's wonderful to read an I enjoy it immensely. I'll see you at Part 8.

~ <3

The simple truth is that authors like making people squirm. If this weren't the case, all novels would be filled completely with cute bunnies having birthday parties.
— Brandon Sanderson, Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians