"Why don't you sleep with Dad?" I kept asking. "Or at least with me, like Mallika's mother does? Don't you love us?"
She was quiet for so long, I was about to ask again. But then she said, "I do love you." I could hear the reluctance in her voice, like rust, making it brittle. "I don't sleep with you or your father because my work is to dream. I can't do it if someone is in bed with me."
My work is to dream. I turned the words over and over in my mind, intrigued. I didn't understand them, but I was in love with them already. I wanted to be able to say them to someone someday. At the same time, they frightened me. They seemed to move her out of my reach.
"What do you mean?" I asked, making my voice angry.
There was a look on her face--I would have called it despair, if I had known to do so. "I dream the dreams of other people," she said. "So I can help them live their lives."
I still didn't understand, but her face was pale and tight, like a cocoon, and her hands were clenched in her lap. I didn't have the heart to badger her further. Hadn't she admitted to the most important thing, that she loved us? I nodded my head as though I were satisfied with her explanation.
Her smile was laced with relief. She gave me a hug. I could feel the remnants of stiffness in her shoulders.
"Why don't you decide what you want for dinner?" she said. "You can help me cook it, if you like."
I allowed myself to be diverted and asked for ravioli. I'd had it for the first time on that fateful afternoon in my classmate's house. At home we rarely ate anything but Indian; that was the one way in which my mother kept her culture. She had never made ravioli before, but she looked it up in a cookbook. We spent the rest of the afternoon rolling, crimping, stuffing dough with cheese. The ravioli turned out lumpy, and the kitchen was a disaster, sauce smeared everywhere and shreds of cheese underfoot, but we were delighted with ourselves.
In the middle of boiling the ravioli my mother turned to me and said--though I hadn't shared my classmate's words with her--"Rakhi, remember this: being different doesn't mean that you're weird." She startled me in this manner from time to time, referring to things she couldn't possibly know. But her clairvoyance was erratic. It would create problems for us over the years, making her ignorant of events I expected her to know, secrets I longed to tell her but couldn't bear to speak of.
For example: the reason why I left Sonny.
At dinner Father admired the creative shapes we'd made and said it was a meal at once delicious and instructive. He cleaned up the kitchen afterward, humming a Hindi song as he scrubbed the sink with Comet, his hands encased in neon yellow rubber gloves. He was the tidy one in our household, the methodical one, always kind, the one with music. My mother--secretive, stubborn, unreliable--couldn't hold a tune to save her life. I wanted to be just like her.
Years later, after she died, my father would say, "Not true. She didn't love me, not really. She never let me get that close. The place right at the center of her--that was reserved for her dream gods or demons, whoever they were. She never shared that with anyone. Not even you."
And I would be forced to admit that he, too, was right.
Excerpted from Queen of Dreams by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, pages 1-9 of the hardcover edition. Copyright© 2004 by Chitra Divakaruni. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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