“Thorns” is inspired by real life incidents witnessed in the immediate and extended realms of my family. Within the complicity of our tight unit, acts of domestic abuse were often reduced to gossip or whispered folklore. With this story, I wanted to shine a spotlight on this ugly legacy: the social limitation of the victims, the presumed impunity of the perpetrators, and the absurd conditioning that permitted such violence to go unopposed, for generations.
I slink into the garden at midnight when the moon is high. My footsteps leave pendants of dew in the grass. Around the trunk of Grandpa’s lemon tree, I use my hands, then my arms. Embracing at first, then choking. How to asphyxiate the living thing? Twigs concede at my strength; the sound of shorn leaves, a ripple in my ears.
1. In my youth, I’m new as the tree I lie under. I glance up, and my grandmother falters from the portico into the garden with a strange expression on her face. Her knees make a brusque landing; her stretched palms mow the trimmed grass. Stalking after her is my grandfather, sturdy walking oak, under whose bower our many existences have bounded. Now, his hand rises.
The citrus leaves crumple soundlessly, and there’s no pleasure in that. So, I begin taking full branches in my hand. One by one, I tear from limb with limb. Teardrop fruit collapses onto the grassy bed with soft thuds. I snarl with satisfaction; I howl with pride. In the big house behind my shoulders, someone turns on the lights.
2. At dinner, Dad can’t sit still. Liquor turns his cheeks ripe, like a triumphant harvest. He rumbles to his feet and kicks the chair he’s sitting on. Crash, the joint splinters. At the sight, my mother doesn’t stir physically or emotionally—not anymore. She is nuanced in distress, cold to such sprouts of theatricality. Her resilience perturbs my father, who scowling and bedraggled, transfigures into a wooden obstinance. Sonorous and menacing, protected within the bark of his self-image. During our lunar stroll, walking hand in hand, he wolf-growls into my young ears. “The thing about your Mum…” he attempts, reeking frail desperation.
Footsteps approach in the near distance; caution is the chorus of their voices. Under the brunt of my forcible hands, dripping red, the innocent tree quivers. Slowly, we are losing our countenance.
3. The bloodwork says my grandfather and father and I are nearly identical. In the mirror, my lips draw that familiar grimace. Genetic crow’s feet perch under my eyes if I smile. My belly is a slow-gestating burl, if I ever stop running or continue drinking, like they did. If my father places his fingers on mine, we are foliage entwined. Decay festers on his skin, and what lies beneath? “The disposition is ingrained,” I tell my therapist. “No,” she replies. “It isn’t.”
I’m the terror in the garden, and the new owners’ screech sets my periphery ablaze. Arms attempt to deter me, but I lunge ahead, wrap myself definitively around the gaunt tree neck. With a sharp tug, I intend to dissect family history from its physical confine. All history ever needed, anyway, was a large and charged uprooting.
4. As an adult I marry to my liking and start a family, but spend nights haunted by my villains, exonerated without trial. In the lush afternoon, my husband squeezes the past into icy margaritas and pulls me into his embrace. “You’re different,” he urges, but I become adamant to uncover the gnarled twist in the path, where Eden turned to rot. “I’m going back there,” I insist, but my partner refuses to join. Sloughing off precedence, he takes the kid and leaves, slamming the door inexorably shut.
When the lemon tree budges from its foundation, I creep into a smile. All this time, the residents cloud my ears with warnings. “The police are on their way,” or “This isn’t your grandfather’s house anymore.” In my actions, they discern only the pit of every individual’s anger: a human outburst. They cannot comprehend as neatly the quiet crimes of the men of my family.
A siren flashes overhead at last, and my pupils glisten wide.
A fresh start reaped with violence, or the bitter consequent sap, can’t revoke my past in any measure. Felled by cognition—only a seed, tossed in the epic sunburst—I drop to both knees. The blood that streaks my face is mine alone to tend, and therein lies the wreath of regret, the final reaping—a very good comeuppance.
Armaan Kapur (he/him) is a writer and designer from New Delhi. His short prose has appeared or is forthcoming in Cutleaf Journal, The Reader Berlin, Apparition Lit, Mason Jar Press, and Helter Skelter Magazine. He is currently pursuing two full-length projects: a debut novel about existentialism, and a collection of speculative, queer novellas. Find him at armaankapur.com.