'How Mom Became Immortal' by Sudha Balagopal
Dad callsmorning. “Come have lunch with me.”
His ebullience alarms me. I can't decline. “I'll bring something. Or, we can go out.”
“I'm cooking,” he says.
“You don't know how.” I'm gentle, wary of his emotions.
“No problem. I'll ask Mom.”
My breath canters through me.
“What's our son's favorite lunch?” I hear.
Mom answers, “Lasagna.”
“What ingredients do I need?” He asks.
“Lasagna noodles, spaghetti sauce, spinach, ricotta cheese, mozzarella . . .” she continues.
Mom had a booming voice. Now, it comes across the line with a tonal quality I wish would be poorer.
“Are you ready for this?” I ask Dad.
I mean his new life.
“Mom will guide me. Just come.?”
When I ring Dad's doorbell, he doesn't answer immediately.
“Sorry, I was talking to Mom.”
He hasn't run out of questions—yet.
The rich aroma of tomato sauce and garlic bread fills the apartment. Pain knots my intestines, I want to double over. Instead, I breathe, swallow.
There's nobody. No body.
Her voice issues from the Mombot, a machine disguised as a ceramic woman in pink, the hair dark like mom's used to be. No higher than a six-inch vase, the machine sits in the middle of the dining table.
No sooner does Mom finish her long-drawn-out answer than Dad asks the machine another question. While the ten-minute response continues, Dad takes the lasagna out of the oven. When he straightens, I notice the buttons on his shirt are misaligned.
Superior electronics are faithful to the timbre of Mom's voice. There's no hint of the illness she endured. She narrates the story of her high school graduation, how she nearly missed it. “Never should have kissed that silly Roy who gave me mono. Thank God I recovered, and thank God I met you that first day of college.”
When she was alive and healthy, Dad wanted peace and quiet. “Allow me to read,” he'd grumble. Or, he'd snap, “Will you let me balance the checkbook in peace? Go water your flowers or something.”
She'd walk away in a huff and complain to her plants.
“Can we turn this off ?” I suggest.
I want to say, it's a machine to record personal history for posterity. Someday, my children will know their grandmother.
Dad spent days asking her questions, recording the answers into the machine. The engineer who created the marvel said Dad could ask a thousand questions. He did.
“What's the best dessert to serve after lasagna, ice-cream or chocolate cake?” he asks Mom.
The lasagna tastes like Mom's; I cannot swallow more than a few morsels. I don't want dessert.
“The machine needs a break,” I say.
I decide he cannot be well.
I look at the balcony. The plants need sustenance. I pick up the watering can and sprinkle like Mom used to.
When I walk back inside, I notice the flowers are facing indoors, toward the Mombot.
Mom believed in talking to her plants.