Dr. Reddy begins his day early, rising before the sun is up, his body equipped with a natural alarm clock set to the opening of the free market: 6:30 a.m. Pacific Time (9:30 Eastern).
He walks to the living room, turns the light on and searches for the remote control. He turns the television on and changes the channel from MTV or HBO (his daughters are always watching some late night shit) to the news network.
On the top of the screen, the news anchor talks of terrorist explosions, murder trials involving famous actors, and ethnic cleansing in Third World nations, and below her desk, letters and numbers encoding the state of the financial market quickly scroll across the screen from left to right.
Dr. Reddy has always found it difficult to multitask. He is amazed at how his daughters can type so fast on their computers and, at the same time, talk on the phone with their friends. “Phenomenal,” he laughs to himself. But for Dr. Reddy, his brain can only handle one task at a time. Eat dinner. Stop. Fill out medical charts. Stop. Answer stupid question from daughter. Stop. Watch television. Stop. Feed the dogs. Stop.
So every morning he has to make a choice: listen to the morning news or watch the scrolling stock prices and determine the state of his investments. This morning, like most, he chooses finance over politics. The numbers are disappointing. “Shit!” exclaims Dr. Reddy, “These corporate bastards!”
After the fourth or fifth time the stock prices repeat themselves, Dr. Reddy goes out the front door, saunters down the driveway plucking a stray weed on his way, picks up the newspaper, and walks back into the house. He goes into the kitchen where he lazily tosses the newspaper on the kitchen table.
If there is one characteristic that defines Dr. Reddy, it is this—his tossing of things. He tosses a twenty-dollar bill at his daughters when they ask for money, he tosses the bag of onions his wife asks him to buy onto the kitchen counter, he tosses his shoes into the closet after coming home from work. He believes this lethargic tossing of things shows his detachment from material objects and general laid-back nature. His family believes that it shows he is irritating. “Why can’t you just set things down nicely?” they ask with genuine confusion. But Dr. Reddy knows it has nothing to do with niceness. It has more to do with performing niceness. And that would be redundant because Dr. Reddy already thinks himself to be a very nice person.
He takes a seat at the kitchen table. Ripping open the plastic wrap, Dr. Reddy takes out the newspaper. He purposefully tosses the front page, calendar, classifieds, sports, and local news onto the floor, pulling out only the business section. The discarded papers hit the tile floor with a sharp slap. He quickly turns the pages to the stock listings, eager to view the condition of smaller businesses, such as up-and-coming bio-tech and IT firms, which do not have the stature to make it onto television. He pulls out his magnifying glass and searches the endless columns for familiar names. It is his own sort of Vietnam memorial, especially when the market is bearish.
It is 7 a.m. now, and Mrs. Reddy shuffles through the living room, arms folded and resting on her round belly, white socks gliding across the wood floor, making her way to the kitchen to prepare her first cup of morning coffee (with milk, not water). Dr. Reddy hands her a paper on which he has scribbled some notes down in a doctor’s scrawl.
“Hey, today was bad. I need you to go on the internet and trade some stocks for me,” he says.
“First thing in the morning when I wake up it is work! Why the hell can’t you learn how to use the computer?” she exclaims.
“Just do it,” he says dismissively.
She snatches the paper from his hand and throws it onto the kitchen counter; her way of saying that she will do it, but not with a good attitude.
It is at this point when financial matters have been taken care of that Dr. Reddy picks up the front page of The Los Angeles Times and finds out just what is going on in the world, reading only the titles of all the articles. He generally tries to not read any more than he has to.
Today the headline reads, “EXPLOSIONS IN BAGHDAD; 15 U.S. SOLDIERS, 50 CIVILIANS KILLED.”
“This idiot president is ruining the whole damn world! Just leave those people alone. He is screwing himself and everyone else involved!” Dr. Reddy exclaims angrily.
“I don’t want to hear your stupid political opinions this early in the morning,” Mrs. Reddy snaps back.
This is their morning routine—long moments of silence marked by bursts of color, like the sporadic explosions of fireworks that slowly lead up to a rapid, deafening, awe-inspiring finale.
* * * * *
It is during the rapid, deafening, awe-inspiring finale that Dr. Reddy genuinely questions his marriage to Mrs. Reddy. As she goes on with her inevitable shouting soliloquy, he imagines himself living alone in a small house in some isolated desert landscape; the only noise pounding his head is the distant desert thunder, not the demands of an irritable wife.
Does she really love him? He honestly doesn’t know. The better question to ask might be if he needs to know that she loves him. Most of the time, he thinks he doesn’t. A defense mechanism he developed years ago.
“Look at this sink! There’s water everywhere! Why can’t you wash your cup normally? I just cleaned the sink last night! Now I have to clean it again, like I have nothing better to do. I’m sick of this!” cries Mrs. Reddy.
Dr. Reddy tries to diffuse the situation by exhibiting, through example, how a civilized argument should take place. He slowly and calmly asks Mrs. Reddy a mostly rhetorical question. “What … is … your … problem?”
From here, the argument usually proceeds in one of two ways:
Mrs. Reddy gives up because her simple and unimaginative husband is unable to comprehend the obvious problem she has with him.
Mrs. Reddy becomes further enraged because her simple and unimaginative husband cannot comprehend the obvious problem she has with him.
Today, Dr. Reddy is fortunate.
“Idiot,” she mutters, wiping the sink clean with a sponge.
Dr. Reddy shakes his head in disbelief and shrugs his shoulders. What do you do with a woman like this?
* * * * *
Better yet, what does a man like this do with a woman like this? What does any man do with any woman?
The problem is that he feels like he really can’t really do anything with her. He feels that she has always been this way. Her brain has been hardwired to produce this type of behavior since she came out of her mother’s womb. She is unbending, unrelenting, set in stone. She’s a done deal. Case closed. The verdict: Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity.
“Do you want coffee?”
“Umm, yeah. Just half cup.”
She pours milk into a small pot and turns on the stove. Peering under the pot, she sees that the flame is too high, and lowers it. As the milk is heating, Mrs. Reddy sweeps the kitchen floor. She, unlike her husband, is capable of multitasking.
Minutes pass and she becomes a clock, the stroke of her broom a swinging pendulum marking time.
The milk comes to a boil. Froth builds and is at the brink of overflow.
“Hey, hey, HEY! The milk!” he exclaims.
She rushes over to the stove, turns off the flame with her left hand while simultaneously raising the pot off the heat with her right. The white froth retreats and a tragic mess is narrowly averted. Mrs. Reddy’s face shows relief.
She puts dark coffee crystals into two porcelain cups and then pours the hot milk. One cup is plain white (Mrs. Reddy’s), the other (Dr. Reddy’s) is painted with the face of Queen Elizabeth. Dr. Reddy insists on drinking from this particular cup every day— he enjoys the irony: an Indian sipping coffee out of the head of British royalty. A post-colonial revenge so subtle it almost does not make any sense.
“Here,” says Mrs. Reddy, handing Dr. Reddy his half cup of coffee. She walks off to the living room.
Dr. Reddy takes a horrendously loud slurp and is momentarily confused by the taste. Too bitter.
“Did you put sugar?”
“No. I forgot.”
Forgot? Suddenly, she is forgetting? He gets up with his cup of coffee and walks to the kitchen counter, opens the sugar bowl and scoops one spoonful of sugar into his cup. He stirs.
* * * * *
Dr. Reddy joins Mrs. Reddy in the living room. Even after adding sugar, there was still something strange about his coffee.
“Did you do something different with the coffee?” he asks.
She ignores him, sipping her morning brew, lying on the chaise sofa.
He clears his throat, blows dust off the top of the television, and tries to change the topic.
“My practice might be in trouble,” he begins, “I just can’t compete with all of these young goddamn doctors. They are much more aggressive than we were.”
She was reluctantly waiting all morning for this speech to begin. Without fail, at least once a week, Dr. Reddy brings up the saga of his supposedly failing medical practice, the beacon of hope for the poor and suffering being assailed by the dark forces of greed and ruthlessness.
“For these young guys it’s all about money, not patient care,” he continues, “And I just can’t do that.”
She looks out the window and notices water stains on the glass. If it didn’t rain, she would wash them tomorrow after work. Or maybe she should just wait a few weeks to clean them after the rain had gone once and for all.
“Maybe I should move my practice out to the desert. Apple Valley,” he says.
“Or maybe we could go back to India. I don’t know, I am just not happy here.”
Twenty years in Los Angeles and Dr. Reddy has moved his medical practice eight times. He is a professional tumbleweed, Mrs. Reddy thinks to herself. When will he ever be satisfied? She looks at him but beyond him at the same time, trying to focus her energies on a distant horizon that is much less annoying than he is. She is doing her best to prevent another outburst of emotion. After all, it’s not like she enjoys yelling at him.
For Mrs. Reddy, her life is divided into two parts marked by the fateful day she wed Dr. Reddy: Before Idiot (B.I.) and After Idiot (A.I.) and as far as she can remember, every moment from 21 B.I. to 0 B.I. was only full of hope, imagination, and peace. A clear, quiet, uplifting peace.
Sometimes her mind goes back to the day of her wedding and she thinks of possible escape plans. One scenario involves hiding a razor blade under her tongue and waiting quietly until the moment when she and Dr. Reddy, tied together by a cloth, walk slowly around a fire—a Hindu ritual symbolizing how they are both now tied together for eternity. At this moment, Mrs. Reddy would take out the razor blade and, in one swift, precise motion, cut herself free from Dr. Reddy, slice his jugular, and run off to freedom.
Dr. Reddy continues, “Things are just too competitive here, and I am not going to go around and try to be friends with these …”
“I can’t do this,” Mrs. Reddy interrupts.
“Can’t do what?” asks Dr. Reddy, flustered by the disruption.
“I cannot have this same stupid shitty conversation about your practice, your peers, your stocks every day,” she says matter-of-factly.
“You either change something in your life or shut up. Choose one,” she says simply and firmly.
Dr. Reddy is caught off guard. Sure, she yells at him to keep things clean or to not walk in the house with dirty shoes on, but she has never shut him down like this. Not so precisely and coolly. Not so confidently. Not so … scientifically. He senses that his wife has hardened to him in a new way.
“Stupid woman,” mutters Dr. Reddy, waving her away like some bad-smelling thing.
Mrs. Reddy shifts her weight on the sofa and sips her coffee. She turns to watch the television and finds her view obstructed by the back of Dr. Reddy’s lanky askew body.
“Do you think you are a ghost? Move out of the way! I can’t see anything!” she cries.
He moves to the side and they watch the news together, he staring at the fast-moving ticker symbols at the bottom of the screen, she listening to the news anchor talk of terrorist explosions, murder trials involving famous actors, and ethnic cleansing in Third World nations.
Meghana Reddy is from Southern California and is entering graduate school at University of California, Berkeley.