I can't cram this much into a summary, so here's a notice of my own:

This will be a serialized novel, and it's to get me back into the swing of large projects. (I successfully finished a few shorter ones recently.) I want it to be a little lighter than the work I'd finished, which was gory and sexy to the point of being almost gratuitous.

It's got a darker side, but there's that sense of longing which I miss that comes only from writing about romance, and this is how I'm going to get back into the swing of things again. After all, a kiss is much more powerful on paper than getting stabbed.

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I turned seven a week before my world was blown open, magma leaking out in gasps and sputters.

Ma dragged me along with her to the Savidis' picnic, supposedly held in honor of my birthday, but I knew there were going to be a ton of people there who didn't even know me by name. And even though it was my birthday, pre-picnic preparation was always the same, tooth-gnashing process: my reluctant hair was pulled into rope-thick braids by Ma's too-cold hands, my face was washed until my cheeks were taut and raw, and a particularly itchy dress was forced down my neck, forcing me to squeeze through the sleeves. I cried out as the clasps dug into my shoulder blades with a particular vengeance. I didn't have the time to work Ma grabbed me by her ultra-bangled hands and dragged me down the carpeted stairs, out the front door and into the car.

The blouse clung to my chest from the intense summer humidity and the swamp smell was a million daggers in my nostrils, teetering me on the edge of a perpetual sneeze. Somewhere in the distance, the sun was a flashing yellow coin.

We took the into the garage a week ago to have the transmission fixed, and for the few moments that Ma went in to fix her eye makeup (not enough green on one lid) I got a pleasant high off the humid newness, the suddenly soft velour seats--though I didn't know what seats had to do with the transmission!--and when my very perfumed mother slammed the car door shut after her, she slapped my head away from the vinyl door handles.

"Come to the front," she said, finishing her lips with a sultry shade of plum. She blotted the excess with her finger and wiped it on the steering wheel.

I groaned.

"I'm not your chauffeur," she said, and bent over, her lithe arm finding the door handle.

When I clambered out of the car, a label stitched to the hem of my deep purple skirt caught in the door and, after many minutes of pulling, there was a small tear. Smoothing it and, I hoped, hiding it from view would deflect an impending lecture. It turned out my mother didn't have the energy to lecture me and we pulled out into the fog in silence.

Pa was in India, and my arms still felt the cramps from that mega-tantrum before he left four days ago. I jumped and nearly smashed the seventeen year-old cherry wood futon my parents dragged down from the Village and into Hamilton and therefore the middle of Jersey. I left my food untouched, and it killed me to see the Kraft macaroni cheese uneaten to the tune of a deafening tummy roar. It wasn't making a difference.

"Sony," he just said, "we need a new couch, anyway."

Pa called me Sony, after a pair of broken, beloved earphones I crushed from the weight of my head on the pillow. Kamala didn't sound as endearing. It sounded bland, though it evoked the exotic lotus, it had nothing to do with the excitable headphones-plugged-into-nothing me. Invisible air traffic controller me. Oversized headphones with the whip-trailing jack me. And so on.

In the end, I just sat next to my father as he packed, the morning scent of Old Spice and turmeric scented sweat strong in the living room. Pa wore his cotton sarong across his waist and a thin undershirt that exposed the cotton thread across his chest. It'd been a year since he gave up the old shaving custom with the sandalwood scented brush, but he still packed it among his things in the dented puce plastic shell suitcase he smuggled from Hyderabad four years ago.

("Just this once, Nidhi," he told Ma, "I'll buy a new suitcase in India and chuck this one."

"You'd better.")

He went on to inventory everything, from tidy-whities to starched slacks and Allen Solly collared shirts and folded them into the confines of his luggage. Everything was a size small; he wasn't a big man. In fact, he was a few inches shorter than my mother, and when we took the requisite family pictures years ago, he told the photographer that he refused to stand on a box.

(Ma hated him forever afterwards, saying that the pictures made her look like a sore middle finger in the innocuous cloud canvas background.)

He then tucked an scratched golden watch with a note wrapped around it between the shirts. ("They want everything in writing," he said, before repacking the shirts.) And he looked at me, his dark nose crooked in the light of the dimming Tiffany lamp.

"Maybe you can come in my suitcase," Pa suggested, running his hands through his thinning hair. He rubbed oil on his head pre-bath, and his scalp was luminescent and smelled of luscious coconut. We didn't close the blinds to the patio door, so the neighbors had a full view of my father's thinness, amplified by the sarong and the feeble chest-hairs from within his undershirt.

Just don't go! I wanted to scream, but I was weak from jumping for the past hour and a half or so and merely sucked on my carpet-tasting fingers, wanting to stop him from going upstairs to take a bath. He'd be gone for two weeks, and not nearly enough compensatory Dairy Queen vanilla soft serve ice creams would make me feel better.

Though he wouldn't leave for more than two hours, he piled his suitcases along the wall next to the front door. I watched them, sitting on the futon and pretending not to cry. I could taste the fresh and routine departure tears on the periphery of my tongue.