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Selvi’s dad dunked her frostbitten feet into a pot of hot water and held them down, even when she started screaming. Selvi’s brother kicked the wall and shouted, “You’re supposed to use warm water for frostbite, you stupid fuck! You crazy, stupid fuck!" His father yelled back at him in Tamil, blaming him for being born, for Selvi’s frostbitten feet and for the fact that she had waited 2 hours in the snow in dress shoes. Selvi’s brother kicked the pot of hot water over and ran out of the house. He caught a bus to the library and cried quietly in the geology section until it was closing time. When he got home, he helped his father clean up the mess in the kitchen.

“I used warm water after you left," his father said. “I think she’ll be all right."

Selvi’s brother said she would be fine, and it probably wasn’t frostbite anyway.

***

On Saturday afternoon, Selvi’s father took them to the Canadian Space Science Centre, bought them root beer and gave them each a quarter to spend on the candy machines. When they got home, he told them he had lost his job.

“So what’s going to happen?" asked Selvi’s brother.

“Nothing. We will cut the cable connection," said his father. “And sell the coffee table."

Selvi and her brother watched strangers come to their house and take away their stereo system, their living room furniture and the TV set. Their father stayed home all day and vacuumed the carpet in slow, straight lines. Selvi’s brother started stealing books from the school library and hiding them under his bed. When Selvi’s friends came home and asked if she was moving, she would say yes and promised to show them pictures of the new house because it had two garages and her room was totally massive and had a window seat.

***

POEMS THAT NEVER RHYMED

“I spoke to your father," said Mrs Pawluski, tapping Selvi’s journal with a thin, bony finger. “He thinks you did this because you were upset that he sold the TV. Is that true?"

“No," said Selvi.

“You want to tell me why you wrote these?"

“Can I have them back?"

“No."

Selvi was given her second warning of the year and one month’s detention. This was increased to two months when she was caught circulating a poem about Mrs Pawluski, which contained the phrases “fucking bitchski" and “sucks dickski".

***

Selvi’s father discovered the stolen library books while vacuuming under his son’s bed. When Selvi came home, she found him sitting on the floor, surrounded by outdated math textbooks, Sweet Valley High paperbacks, French-English dictionaries and an illustrated encyclopaedia of fairies. He looked small and smudged among the strong, sharp angles of the books.

“My son is a thief," he said quietly in Tamil. “My daughter writes filth in school and my son is a thief."

Selvi sat beside him and listened to the cars carve noisily through the slush in the streets. She looked at the furniture marks on the carpet. She could still see thick circles from where the sofa used to be. The marks from the coffee table had almost disappeared.

“I think we may have to sell the house," said her father.

“When?"

“Maybe after we sell the dining table."

Selvi carried the books back upstairs and thought about frostbite. She thought about her father holding her feet down in the pot of hot water and her brother kicking the wall. She thought of how her skin felt like it was going to explode, and how hot the sides of the pot were. As she piled the books under her brother’s bed she thought of how quiet the ceiling had looked when she had thrown her head back and screamed.

To submit a prompt (a word, phrase, quote or brief idea), mail Kuzhali at kuzhali.stories@gmail.com or tweet it using the hashtag #kuzhalistories

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