The Weight of Silence

Sharda Mishra posted under Flash Fiction QuinTale-55 on 2023-09-17

Abha eyed the fading Polaroid of her and her husband Ram, stashed in her hidden drawer. But it was the adjacent envelope that gripped her. “What you lookin' at?” Ram startled her.  Abha almost broke her silence to Ram, hand hovering over the drawer, “Just reminiscing,” she said. Her every muscle urging to confide in Ram.  Not now. Only a week is left for our daughter to settle down in her hostel for her engineering college. "The ol' secret drawer, huh?" "Every woman has one," Abha said softly.  Ram missed the tremor in her voice while staring at the fridge calendar, now filled with Abha's cryptic 'errands.' *** Over dinner, eyeing her mom’s plate, Madhu looked puzzled, “No spice, Maa? You look zoned out." Abha felt her resolve cracking, desperate to release the weight crushing her chest, but Madhu's wary eyes stopped her. Why let sorrow overshadow Madhu's fresh start and education?  "Just tired," Abha forced out, swallowing the words that ached to break free. "Your maa’s head is full of secrets," Ram chuckled, not noticing the quick, burdened glance Abha shot him.  Abha prodded her Chapati, her appetite a distant memory. How could she eat when her stomach was already full of secrets? *** Two weeks later, they sat in Madhu's college dorm, surrounded by unpacked boxes and the bittersweet feeling of an emptying nest. "I'll be fine, Maa. Don’t worry," Madhu reassured Abha, arranging her textbooks meticulously on the shelf. "I want you settled, dear." This could be it—the moment to share her unspoken burden. But then Abha saw the enthusiasm in Madhu's eyes, the hopefulness of her untarnished future.  A revelation like this could throw Madhu’s career off balance, make her question everything she's working towards. She doesn't deserve this burden. Not now. "Maa, what is it?"  Abha’s lips trembled, but she pulled back, "I’ll miss you a lot." *** Back home, Abha found herself in front of her secret drawer again. Her hand trembled as she reached for it. She exchanged a glance with Ram, as if telepathically debating whether it was time to break the silence.  Why am I keeping this from the people who have a right to know? She wanted to say it, to tear down the invisible secret wall, because Ram looked up to her as the rock of the family.  Could Ram handle this crushing truth? He’ll break, just as he did when he lost his job years ago. He's strong but fragile in his own way. Abha’s mouth parted, a hushed whisper of confession on her lips. But then she noticed a fleeting look in Ram's eyes—fear, perhaps? "Alright. Keep your secrets," Ram sighed, rolling over in bed. With a tear she couldn't hold back, she touched the envelope—the one with her medical diagnosis—Terminal Cancer of the Thyroid Gland. Abha clicked the drawer shut, sealing her secret struggle. I can't be the reason everything crumbles. I might be on borrowed time, but my family’s happiness isn't.   Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!