We Hate Daddy’s Girlfriends by Swati Khurana
We hate Daddy’s girlfriends. They seem earnest—too earnest; Mommy is suspicious of earnestness. Mommy says the Buddha says that life is full of suffering, so earnestness is bullshit. Daddy says Mommy is not a Buddhist, and that Mommy curses too much. We like when Mommy curses.
We hate these girlfriends when Daddy’s is supposed to spend his “visitation” with just us. We hate these girlfriends, when they are boring like the first one, when we were 7 and 10, the one who wanted to flat-iron our hair whenever she came over.
Maybe we don’t hate all of Daddy’s girlfriends. When we were 8 and 11, we wanted to give our teachers homemade Christmas gifts. One girlfriend sewed velvet stockings that we decorated with felt cut-outs. She even made a pirate-themed one for herself with skulls, bones, parrots. We were sad when they broke up before Christmas. Daddy left it up on the fireplace. We took it to Mommy’s house. It’s in our closet.
When we were 5 and 8, when Mommy and Daddy were together, Grandma gave Mommy an embroidery kit. Mommy was so mad when she told Daddy, Your mother! This is the most aggressive thing she could have done. Mommy threw it out. We saved it. It’s in our closet.
That embroidery was a picture of a sunset, a beach, and a palm tree—it looked like the postcards we had from the Bahamas, the last trip we all took together, when we were 6 and 9. There was a postcard of a man and a woman holding hands across a palm tree. We imagined it was Mommy and Daddy. Even the people, they smiled big with perfect teeth in the postcards, and they smiled in real life too. Mommy said we were all assholes. Tourism exploits the native economy. All the smiley Bahamians actually hate us.
Mommy is a feminist. Daddy says he is a feminist too. Mommy says Daddy says that as part of his “game.” Mommy said she was going to be a better feminist, and not talk so much relationships with men. Daddy says Mommy needs a filter with her thoughts. Mommy says Daddy needs a filter with parading his girlfriends.
Balthazar, our fish, died because his tank needed a new filter. He got sick and then he floated to top. Mommy cried when she flushed him down the toilet, saying we deserved more from our childhood. Maybe we’ll get a puppy, we hoped. We scrubbed the castle that was in his tank and put it in our closet.
We asked our teachers if they could bring candles and play soft music during our parent-teacher meetings to make it a date for Mommy and Daddy. Mommy and Daddy would be extra nice to us after these conferences.
Now, we’re 9 and 12. Daddy has a new girlfriend. She doesn’t sew, but she makes us smoothies and teaches pilates. We ask her, “What is a pilate?” She smiles and tells us there is always more than one pilate. Daddy has a new blazer and he wears a scarf, like Harry Potter, and it’s not that cold.
Mommy, also, has a new boyfriend. She wears embroidered shirts and mirrorwork scarves that Grandma sent her from India. Why do divorced people wear so many scarves?
We asked Mommy if her boyfriend is a Buddhist. “No, he’s German.” She said. We haven’t met him. They met at Mommy’s office, as he works with their designer, “His style and design is very German, very clean, efficient.”
“Like Pina Bausch,” we said.
“Pina Bausch, the choreographer?” Mommy asked.
“Yeah,” we said.
Mommy’s face turned pale. “How do you know who Pina Bausch is?”
“We saw her show with Daddy last weekend.”
Mommy could smell the existence of Daddy’s newest girlfriend, the one who likes Pina Bausch so much and is so liquid (‘Divorce makes liquidity tough’) that she could buy four tickets for us. We waited. Mommy didn’t call anyone—Pina Bausch, Daddy, those dancers in those flowy dresses with no bras, or the girlfriend, or us—an asshole.
She stroked our hair. “Tell me, how was the show?” she asked. “I tried to get tickets, but it was sold out.”
We looked at each other. Our eyes asked—should we or shouldn’t we talk?—and our tongues, wild with plump details, unburdened themselves: “The women, who were sitting, they were facing the audience. (Were they looking at us?) They wore dresses with spaghetti straps, but no bras. One woman lit the bottom of a man’s shoe with a lighter! (But it didn’t catch on fire.) There was lots of running. (Did we tell you that they didn’t wear bras?) Remember the woman and the hoop, and man kissing her through the hoop? Then, there was this couple, filling each other’s glasses, but spilling water--on purpose! Then a man was rolling in the ground, a woman rolling in top of him. There was a bucket of water. A man dunked one man’s head in it. A woman dunked her own head. It was called Bamboo Blues. It was scary. Wonderful. You would have loved it, Mommy.“
“Yup. That sounds like Pina. I’m so glad you saw it,” said Mommy.
She stroked our hair. “Mommy” we asked, “Do you like the German?”
“Yes,” she paused, “I do.”
“Do you guys text?” we asked.
“Yes, I guess so.” She said, and the finally redness came back into her cheeks.
“Can we read one?”
Mommy looked at us. We didn’t know if we had gone too far. She pulled out her phone, and showed us one: “Can’t wait to see you later.” We knew he was not an asshole. Mommy hated it when people shorten “see” to “c” “you” to “u”, “to” to “2” and she would practically throw her phone out the window if anyone were to text “l8r”.
We looked at her, and we smiled. We stroked her hair. “Mommy,” we whispered, “you’re beautiful.”
© Swati Khurana, 2016
Swati Khurana was born in New Delhi, raised in the Hudson Valley, and lives in the Bronx. She has been published in The New York Times, Guernica, The Offing, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. She has exhibited at the DUMBO Arts Festival, Queens Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, and received awards from Jerome Foundation, Bronx Council of the Arts, Cooper Union, and Center for Book Arts. She is a graduate of Hunter Colleges’ MFA Fiction program and Kundiman fellow. As a 2016 Center for Fiction Emerging Writers Fellow, she will be working on her novel, The No.1 Printshop of Lahore.
We Hate Daddy’s Girlfriends was read by Amanda Erin Miller on 5th October 2016 for Truth & Consequences