Summer nights. That term brings up vivid images, memories, and associations in our collective imagination. And yet in this week’s collection, we have four stories that diverge from the traditional and present what might be the true nature of a summer night: the unexpected twists and climaxes that seem only possible in summer, when our inhibitions melt away.
The four stories were written by returning contributors Deb Felio, Sunil Sharma, Tim Clark, and myself. I hope you enjoy reading them.
A summer night and butterflies
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.
Summer nights are magical. This being one. That familiar smell: Raat Rani!
Startled, he becomes fully awake. No Queen of Night in the Mumbai home!
Odd! The fragrance lingers strongly… triggering a sensation.
A crevice opens up:
…Ma grew the night-blooming jasmine that rendered long summer nights aromatic. He would fall asleep by the scent wafting up to the roof where the family slept, watching the moon-uncle and the stars, the divine bodies so near, yet so far; the experience, almost other-worldly.
… father talking of fairies, Puck, enchanted forest… to a pale and diffident kid…with a stammer and low self-esteem; a dreamer, academically poor during those magical hot nights under a North Indian sky; often, in the distance, thunder and light, creating regions fantastic…now lost forever.
Restive, he gets up and throws open the windows on the smoggy city.
Urban sounds rush in.
…a long train-whistle: Instantly, taking him back to a provincial town. Elder brother leaving for an army post in Kashmir; a tearful good-bye…the dreadful news…killed in action…
Something died that day along with the martyr.
Subsequently, he left for Mumbai and forgot the delightful summers that kept them awake as a family and enjoy the bounties of sky and earth. Folks talking into mid-night, lying down on the stringed cots, fanned by a hot breeze, contented, simple, un-complaining, working very hard, believing in a just God. Cool mornings would come as a pleasant surprise.
The whole neighbourhood slept in the open—the way passengers still sleep on the platform of a railway terminus, long lines of people with hands and legs tucked in, like packed statues—a community of underdogs united by adversity and finer values and empathy.
They were all one extended family—localities, communities and cities—all one. That innocence is lost in 2018.
As the night advances, he hears other sounds— The Nepali cook stir-frying noodles in the corner joint; the thud-thud amplified by the comparative quiet of street, getting emptier.
Crescendo of harsh decibels: ear-splitting horns; strays barking madly; a siren in a distant alley; somebody talking loudly on phone.
As the silvery light brightens the jagged skyline, he remembers another sepia-tinted scene, from a different age.
The catching of fireflies on the special summer nights—an interesting activity:
…they would go with nets and jars. The gloom would be illuminated by these fascinating creatures. A strange glow in the dark fields; dots punctuating the sheet of liquid blackness. Kids and adults catching the moths in jars and nets in fields and forests. The nightly expedition, liberating, exhilarating, giving a high; an encounter with nature outdoors, so re-vitalizing!
As Raghav, the busy screen-play writer, stares at the unwinding streets, he smiles at the childhood and early youth coming back and reviving the clogged arteries and innards, due to heavy schedule.
I wish I could chase butterflies in Mumbai, every summer night!
Sunil Sharma is Mumbai-based senior academic, critic, literary editor and author with 19 published books: Six collections of poetry; two of short fiction; one novel; a critical study of the novel, and, eight joint anthologies on prose, poetry and criticism, and, one joint poetry collection. He is a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award—2012. His poems were published in the prestigious UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree: An Anthology of Contemporary International Poetry, in the year 2015.
Sunil edits the English section of the monthly bilingual journal Setu published from Pittsburgh, USA:
For more details, please visit the blog:
Saved by a summer night
The sun had been burning across the day with a ferocious anger, burning bright and unforgiving. It had traversed the world as far as we knew it from east to west leaving people tired, mean and vengeful.
“Can I get a large unsweetened tea with extra ice?” The man asked with an edge to his voice. He glared with unconcealed contempt at me, looking over the top of his square, wire rimmed glasses. Resting on his jet black, curly hair was a pair of sunglasses. Together the temples from both pairs pushed the tops of ears out making them look misshapen and comical.
I thought he looked ridiculous. His sleeveless shirt had broad stripes of red and blue running in circles around his chest and mid-section and his left carried a tattoo of a pirate.
I thought “screw that guy” and hardly gave him any ice and added sugar to his tea.
He took one drink and exploded, throwing the cup at my head. I ducked and it hit a display filled with sugary fruit pastries.
As he scrambled over the counter I grabbed the basket from the fryer and swung it as hard as I could. Unfortunately he stumbled and fell. With nothing to stop my momentum I twisted all the way around knocking the cash register off the counter.
It landed with a terrifying crash just inches from his foot. There was an explosion of small change and coins rolled and skidded everywhere. The pennies caused him to slip as he lunged viciously toward me and it was more of a sloppy embrace between distant, drunken cousins at a reunion than the painful body check he had planned.
Some loose coins and what small amount ice there was from his sweetened tea undermined my footing and we squirmed, and twisted past the soft serve machine, the counter where orders landed as they were finished and past the startled, staring drive through attendant. She stepped aside and watched us roll out the small window through which cars were served.
With a thud we landed on the roof of a small black Chevy with aluminum wheels, power windows and red stripes. Rolling down the windshield we left a large dent in the hood and tore off the antenna and one of the windshield wipers. The owner leaped out and began smashing us both with her purse as we rolled across the parking lot toward the highway.
It looked like the whole thing was going to go terribly wrong. Then the sun dropped behind the horizon. A cool breeze with a slight hint of ocean salt and pine forests rolled gently across us. A small shower passed over and we stopped. Our faces were inches from each other and we were only a few feet from the roaring traffic of Highway 61.
“You know, sweetened tea isn’t so bad.” He said, standing, reaching down to help me up.
“The next one is on me.” I replied.
Tiffany Key (who was rather inebriated when writing this)
The frog danced with the toad. All the lesser goblins wore masks to hide their shame. The bonfire flames rose higher, licking the lower limbs of pine trees. The ghouls and gods sat on their pedestals off to one side, pouring each other sake and feeling smug. Round and round the dancers went, circling the fire that was hotter on this summer’s eve than the midday sun. In between the dancers’ legs dashed nine-tailed foxes and racoon-dogs shifting into naked men, human men who would have been killed had they stumbled upon their party. Luckily they still smelled like racoon-dogs which meant the lion-dogs standing guard did not mistake them, even if they were disgusted by the sight. Sparks shot high and fell onto the straw roof of the makeshift pavilion but the ogre just reached over and tossed the smoldering mess onto the bonfire, not minding the little demons trapped inside, knowing that they would escape the heat as little dark snakes until they were safe and regained their shape. Round and round the dancers went, drunk from gold-flaked sake, drunk from the merriment of being hot and together, drunk from Mars and Venus and the full yellow moon hanging sultry and plump in the indigo sky.
And I, who sat in the boughs of my favorite camphor tree, had I been spied I would have been torn apart and shared amongst the party, for a six-year-old girl made for tasty morsels. Perhaps I would have begged for mercy, would have sworn that I would not tell anyone of their annual gathering. I would have been honest because I did not need to tell anyone, the whole village already knew of their private forest festival. Tattling would have only made trouble for me as I had been told over and over to stay away from the woods after nightfall. But who can resist the red lanterns, the laughter of friends and enemies reunited, the sake making them forget their old grievances, the drum pounding, the shamisen played by a faceless woman in twelve layers of kimono like royalty, not seeming to mind the heat that made sweat roll down my forehead, stinging my eyes?
All around me fireflies blinked, the rhythm of their flashing signals lulling me to sleep. In the morning when my mother and grandfather found me, unharmed and sound asleep in the shrine’s sprawling tree, they decided to leave me there so I could find my own way home.
About the author:
Tiffany Key is a linguistic navigator and amateur anthropologist who lives in a decent-sized closet with four fierce contenders near a shallow sea. Her work as appears and disappears here and there. She records cognitive flights of fancy at: