Fragile Monsters - Catherine Menon

Fragile Monsters
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Название: Fragile Monsters
Автор: Catherine Menon
Добавлено: 23 июнь 2022
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Catherine Menon

FRAGILE MONSTERS

Contents

Prologue

1. Thursday, 7 p.m.: 1985

2. Once Upon a Time: 1922

3. Thursday, 9 p.m.

4. A Prince and Two Princesses: 1924

5. Friday, 5 a.m.

6. The Princesses Set to War: 1926

7. Friday, 11 a.m.

8. The King and Queen Have Their Say: 1927

9. Saturday, 8 a.m.

10. The Faithful Nun: 1930

11. Sunday, 12 p.m.

12. A Servant’s Tale: 1930

13. Monday, 4 p.m.

14. 1970

15. Monday, 11 p.m.

16. And One Princess Remains: 1934

17. Tuesday, 8 a.m.

18. A Prince and Princess Marry: 1935

19. Tuesday, 3 p.m.

20. The Princess Lost: 1941

21. Tuesday, 4 p.m.

22. The Princess’s Sacrifice: 1943

23. Tuesday, 5 p.m.

24. And Another Princess is Born (A Tale)

25. Wednesday, 1 a.m.

26. The Princess Returns: 1947

27. Wednesday, 10 a.m.

28. A Princess For Ever: 1985

29. Wednesday, midday

Acknowledgements

About the Author

Catherine Menon has Malaysian heritage and lives in London. She is a lecturer in computer science at the University of Hertfordshire and also holds an MA in Creative Writing. Fragile Monsters is her first book.

To my grandmothers, Kitty and Goury Amma

Prologue

A slap. A cry. Distress, which seems a poor enough start to things. Or perhaps it’s only temper. Mary, who will one day be my grandmother, is a little too young to distinguish yet.

In a year or so Mary will begin to talk. She’ll master words quickly, unlike her brother, but she’ll never enjoy his flights of fancy. She’ll want to keep her feet on the ground – unwise here in Malaya, where you never know if a dredging pit will give way or a swamp will open its jaws. Still, for the next seventy years Mary will travel cautiously, keeping a tight hold of what she knows.

To deal with Mary – to pin her stories down and get at the bones beneath – I’ll need something definite. Some rules that explain her, some axioms that strip away all those half-truths and quarter-lies and never-happened-at-alls. I’ll need something mathematical, incontrovertible as a proof from first principles. And if it goes wrong, I’ve only got myself to blame.

1. Thursday, 7 p.m.: 1985

‘Aiyoh, Durga, you went to Letchumani for fireworks?’

Ammuma glares at the bright red bag I’m lifting out of my car. The trip’s only taken me an hour, but she’s already moved her rattan chair to the verandah’s edge to watch for me driving back into the compound yard. Her white widow’s sari is immaculate and clean-starched, and her skinny thighs make a shallow, mounded lap. She spends nearly all her time on the verandah now, rocking back and forwards in the sleepy heat. That was the first shock about returning to Malaysia: somewhere in the last decade my grandmother’s become old.

‘Kill us all,’ she adds, ‘these crazy ideas of yours, getting fireworks from the washer-man.’

Or perhaps not that old. She likes proper fireworks, I remember. All noise and glare, with a spice of danger if you stick your nose in too far.

It’s raining, and my sandals slip on the limestone steps as I carry the bag up to her. Sweat trickles down under my nylon shirt; I’ve been back two months but still can’t remember to dress for the climate here.

‘I was going to drive to Kuala Lipis, Ammuma,’ I say, ‘but Letchumani had a sign advertising fireworks and I thought …’

‘Thought, hanh! Covered market in Lipis for good fireworks only, you should know that, Durga.

‘This mathematics rubbish you study,’ she mutters not quite under her breath, ‘all thinking and never common-sense.’

She’s fetched a plate of pandan cakes while I’ve been out and she pushes them across the table towards me with a not-to-be-argued frown. I left home a decade ago and Ammuma’s convinced I haven’t eaten since. Granddaughters, she thinks, ought to stay where they’ve been put.

‘Too late to change fireworks now also.’ She looks up at the evening sky. ‘Have to manage.’ She’s relishing this, like she does all small crises; running out of onions can last her all day.

‘Diwali puja will do now,’ she tells me briskly. ‘Prayer first, then play fireworks, ah?’

‘What, light the fireworks now? Ammuma, it’s pelting down.’

I sit next to her, on a small wooden bench that she ordered Karthika to move from the front room. I drove up from Kuala Lumpur four days ago, and the house still feels familiar and strange at once. My childhood home, but I can’t quite manage to be sentimental about it. It’s the wrong sort of home, or perhaps I was the wrong sort of child.

Just like on the day I left, the compound yard’s flooding. There are puddles under the stone walls and a few dry patches near the biggest trees. The angsanas have lost most of their blossom in the rain, and the scatter of yellow petals makes me catch my breath. Another memory, one I hadn’t even realized I’d forgotten: crouching behind those trees playing five-stones with Peony after school. Her laugh, her tangled hair, her ballpoint tattoos. In Canada I pushed her out of my head, but back here in Pahang she’s everywhere I look. Friends for ever, Durga, she whispers, and for a second I’m fifteen again and everything is about to go wrong.

I take a deep breath, clenching my fists. Of all people, I should know Peony’s gone. Dead and gone; drowned in the banyan swamp fifteen years ago and nothing to be done about it. She’s a null object. She’s a zero module. She’s the limit of an empty diagram.

I unclench my hands and look

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