Bride, Knife, Flaming Horse

~5,000 words, approx. 30 min reading time

To Kalavati, it was well known that if one reached marriageable age, parents and aunties and cousins thrice-removed would clump themselves into anthills of worry. Missiles of relationship managers and matrimonial websites would then be launched to nab a match. It would be a process of adjustments—of settling and tucking and hiding. Of second-rate suitors with second-rate mustaches and identical beige shirts. That was what Kala had always believed, had always known to be proper and true as an oft-repeated lie.  

Until she met the man that was a ghoul, but also a knife. Until she met the woman that was a deity, but also a mare. 


Kala had recently turned twenty-six and, just like that, it was time for her to be married. 

At least, her parents seemed to think so. In their household, mornings were filled with her father’s grunts that smeared the walls with the embers of his dissatisfaction, with her mother’s unceasing intonations that gusted through every room, tugging at her ears.

“Don’t go out into the sun when it knocks you over the head Kala, your forehead is one color, your upper arms are another, your neck is a third color, please make a pigmentation appointment, did you go to the fetus goddess temple and circumambulate it with your entire body, you didn’t, of course not, she’ll get angry so take lemons and bael leaves next time, please when you go throw spare change on the ground for the beggars in front of the temple, avoid the one on the left, he is a rogue who smokes beedis, can you believe him, can you believe, did you thread your eyebrows, have you been brushing your tongue for optimal candidiasis defense, stop eating Tirunelveli halwa, it will make your hips spongy, stop singing those cheap film songs, it makes you look like a porriki, like those boys at Elliots beach who smile with all their teeth but not their eyes and whistle from the sides of their mouths at anything, people will talk, they always talk, Lalitha aunty did, stop wearing your father’s shirts, stop driving his Pulsar motorbike, are you still stealing rum from his cabinet, are you drinking hooch or varnish, what will happen to your skin and liver, I smell ganja on your clothes, how can you be a software technician, are you working or roaming the streets, think about your father who wears valplast dentures and has hypertension, let us do our duty, let us, then you can be a loose girl with your spouse in Muscat or Dallas or Kuala Lumpur or even Chennai right here, but not with us, okay, okay leave all that, please come home at 6.00 p.m. at least, please, please, please.”

And one morning, with drapes of exhaustion hanging from her eyelids, Kala said to her mother,fine amma, okay fine.”

Filled with worry-laced happiness lest she change her mind, Kala’s parents quickly uploaded a profile on a matrimonial website.

Hello. We are creating this profile on behalf of our one-and-only daughter. She is 5’1” of curvy build. Wheatish. She holds a B. Tech from a prestigious college and also an MBA. She is interested in rain, Carnatic music, poems and many cuisines. She believes in family members and ethical values. She is a gem of a girl, our Kalavati.

They waited with technicolor aspirations for a bridegroom with a midsize car, a 100-cc scooter, or even an oxcart drawn by morose bullocks or goats. Almost immediately, a knot of potential suitors flung themselves at Kala’s profile. 

  • Hai
  • How r u
  • I am 30 years of age and muscular build, government office employee
  • I like lemon rice, what abt u?
  • I have elderly mother in elderly house, u take care of her, I take care of u
  • I like wheatish girls only, fair girls are too arrogant and adamant 

Finally, after a profusion of similar messages that crumbled into a series of phone, credit-card and hotel-room numbers, her parents almost resigned themselves to their daughter’s cheerful unmarriageable status until this message arrived. 

Time: 15:30:33 IST

Subject: Response to Kalavati’s Matrimonial Biodata

Respected Sir and/or Madam,

I would love to meet and get to know your daughter better, with your esteemed permission, of course. Please let me know what date and time works for you, if you are still interested. 

They stared agape at the computer screen for what seemed like a week, but it was only about thirty seconds or so. 

On a Saturday, the Kaateri visited their home. He arrived as a charcoal-grey blotch that coalesced into a sunken-eyed and sunken-cheeked man, only the merest suggestion of flesh and skin with a stubbly outline around it. 

He surprised Kala with deft politeness, as he carefully sidestepped her mother’s well-intentioned offers of filter coffee and thattai, with jokes that made everyone laugh and blush in unison. He countered her parents’ questions with humble, yet thoughtful responses that turned her father’s grunts more rhythmically sonorous and joyful as the evening wore on.

But above all, when she managed to catch a glimpse of his knife-teeth that seemed to hold promises of a disquieting violence, Kala could feel a thrill that prickled at her scalp and cascaded down her back, her arms, the soles of her feet. She could not take her eyes off him. She wanted to feel the metal of his mouth on the swell of her calves, on the soft concave of her inner-elbows. She wanted to press into the blade of him again and again and again—

“I’d like to speak to Kala alone aunty, if that’s okay.” His gaze, steadily holding, centering the form of her. 

“Of course,” her mother trilled. 

Kala reached for him, and his wrist slipped into the space between her thumb and forefinger. 

Somehow this felt like an omen. 

As they stepped—wrist in fingers—across the living room, across the kitchen that was actually a corridor, across the alcove holding the washing machine that shuddered with gusto, he wrapped himself around the swell of her, until her breath constricted and sputtered, until his eyes dilated. 

She kissed him then, unexpectedly. His razorblade canines scored her lips, the flesh under her nose. 

They let go of each other as quickly as they had crumpled into one another. As he made a show of nonchalantly walking back into the living room—his voice fizzing and spilling over her parents, Kala slumped against the washing machine in an unsteady heap. The rust and iron-tang of blood filled her mouth. 

Somehow it tasted like an indulgence. 

After he left, Kala tumbled headlong into the murky recesses of the internet. She pushed stale Milk Bikis’ and lukewarm tea into her throat at even intervals for sustenance. She learned that, contrary to popular opinion, Kaateris were not irritable flesh-eating seaside goddesses or B-Grade movie plots from a miasma of TV producers, cocaine, arrack, Chicken 65 and statuesque Eastern European models whose bodies were mostly made up of varicose-veined thighs. From the scraps of information that she could piece together, Kala understood that Kaateris preferred roads with sharp turns. Their feeding schedules were agonizingly complex; involving a lunar eclipse, two or more visible planets in the sky, an errant asteroid or a coconut husk resembling an asteroid in a pinch, custard-apples, and several fresh bodies. 

Kala pictured herself fitting into the hairpin-bend of him. 

Finding newly dead corpses for the Kaateri to feed on wouldn’t necessarily be a challenge, she surmised. Especially if he lived on the busy, helical intersection—as he had loftily claimed in his profile—that was a constant scream across newspaper headlines about wayward trucks and lorries pulping people on pavements. Besides, Kala was not entirely concerned about her survivability in extreme circumstances. Once, she had barricaded herself in her own (secret) sublet for two weeks, subsisting only on sour curd rice and hooch to meet a project deadline. Her mouth stank with the aftertaste of corrugated tin and her stomach had felt distended, but she had been fine otherwise. But she was her mother’s daughter above all else, so she decided to meet the Kaateri for lunch instead. 

Suddenly, a shout from the kitchen. There was another suitor. 

Time: 18:45:36 IST

Subject: Some Doubts 

To Whomsoever It May Concern or Kalavati’s Parents,

I hope this finds you well. I am intrigued by your daughter’s passions. Is she studying to be a meteorologist or a chef? Please do not answer this question through email, I would like to find out in-person.

On a Tuesday, the Muniandi appeared. 

She couldn’t quite fit through the doorway of Kala’s house, so she gamely made herself comfortable in their sometimes-courtyard that was a rainwater harvesting pit and also a weedy cricket strip for the boisterous kids in their colony. What it was on any given day was entirely reliant on the weather. 

Kala found her breathtaking. 

She watched the Muniandi as she delicately ate rusks from her mother’s outstretched palms, as she attentively answered her parents’ questions with soft, acquiescing neighs that were measured and serious. 

During their time alone, the flaming plumes of the Muniandi’s mane and tail singed the air around them. Her beauty was that of the sun at its zenith; relentlessly harsh and impossible to perceive directly. Kala’s head started to balloon into a helium-edged lightheadedness. Whether from the flames, from the overwhelming consideration of the Muniandi, or from the disarray of her own feelings, she could not say. 

The Muniandi pushed her muzzle against Kala’s neck, her breath condensing on her shoulders. She took Kala’s hair between her teeth and gnawed on it with careful deliberation. Kala didn’t seem to notice that her head was mildly on fire. 

At that very moment, it dawned on her that she could inhabit this scaffolding of flame and woman and equine grace with considerable ease. 


Lunch with the Kaateri was a 3:30 a.m. jaunt to the morgue. Kala’s mother pressed a bag of custard-apples into her hands and sent her off with fears folded into reassurances folded into entreaties folded into parental dreams about monetary responsibilities and squalling grandchildren. 

The Kaateri tried to kiss her when she arrived, but he blushed in and out of focus, his corporeality an elusive aspiration at best. He struggled to hold his edges together. Kala tried to grab his wrist, but it dispersed into vapor between her fingers. 

Concern foamed up her throat. “Saapadalaama? Why don’t we eat?”

“But there’s nothing for you here,” the Kaateri mumbled apologetically. 

Kala gestured at her mother’s bag. “Right. I don’t eat lunch around three in the morning, but I brought fruit.” 

As the Kaateri fed on a freshly minted corpse that might have been an old woman, Kala arranged herself in a broken wheelchair and chewed on a lumpy segment of the custard-apple. A restful silence unraveled between them. 

He didn’t seem so disconcertingly charming anymore. She watched him masticate on each of the woman’s knuckles until his outline ultimately emerged into focus. 

Mid meal, the Kaateri paused and stood upright. “Please. Don’t look at me.” 

“Chee, don’t be ridiculous.” Kala stepped forward and seized his elbow. It felt solid in her hand. She tugged the Kaateri towards her for a kiss, but licked the keen edge of his teeth instead. She tasted phenyle, strawberry jam, raw eggs, and an acrid, sulfuric hint of isolation. It might have been the old woman, but Kala was mostly sure that it was him. 

“Come. I want to show you something.” The Kaateri took her by the wrist past a sweaty bank of tiered freezers housing the newly dead—the unnamed, the unclaimed, the unwanted, and the untethered—drowsing in their cooling racks, past a paint-flaked sign in Tamil that read “அமரர் அறை” or the “Immortal Room”, past an embalming lab that reeked of cavity fluid and formaldehyde, and up a winding staircase that opened out to a verandah packed with the appendages of forgotten stretchers. 

“This is what I wanted you to see.” He wrapped his arms around Kala’s waist as he nudged her towards the railing. “Look.” 

Kala was overwhelmed by the expanse of the Egmore Railway Station looming before her, its colonnades and domes awash in sheets of light that flowed out of its passageways in greens and purples and golds. She felt giddy somehow, unspooling into the warm iron of the railing, into the station’s many-hued radiance, into the Kaateri’s new heft, into the murk of the night and this moment in time that felt almost full. 

“Have you been here long?” she finally asked.  

“Long enough.” He placed his chin on her shoulder. “When I first got here, Egmore was called Ezhumbur, you know.” 

“Seems like Ezhumbur’s consonants were a bit too slippery for our British dorais.”

The Kaateri coughed up a laugh in response, his mirth softening into the curve of Kala’s neck. “You should have seen them.”

 “Did you have a name back then? You don’t have to say anything if you don’t—”

“Let me think.” He kissed her earlobe gently, as if to reassure her. Kala could scarcely hear herself breathe. 

“I used to be called Ramesh. Maybe.”

“That’s a fine name. But aren’t you sure?”

“Well, I don’t remember if Ramesh was some fellow I once ate, or you know, who I was before I—before I turned into this.”

Kala twisted around and held his face between her hands until the craters of his eyes were level with hers. “Okay then, it’s decided. I’m going to call you Once-Ramesh.”

He started to protest, but she hushed him with her finger. 

“See, it’s simple. Maybe you were Ramesh, or maybe you ate a Ramesh or many Rameshes. Either way, there’s a Ramesh somewhere that’s a part of you. You wouldn’t mention that name otherwise, I’m certain.”

Kala’s earnest forcefulness untied a faint skein of hope that ran along the fractured arcs of his deaths and lives and all the thresholds in between, eddying around them.

“Seri. Once-Ramesh it is,” he agreed, smiling. The light from the station caught against his billhook incisors, rippling across its carbon-steel edges in a deluge of color. 


At exactly 11:55 a.m., Kala arrived at the Connemara Public Library for lunch. As part of an elaborate building complex in the Indo-Saracenic style with an accumulation of bulbous domes, voussoirs in contrasting colors, and horseshoe arches marking corridors at odd recesses, it was at once deeply elegant and deeply mystifying.

When not a mare, the Muniandi appeared to be an archivist in her thirties who only donned crisp dress shirts under loosely draped silk-organza sarees in muted colors. She wore no makeup or jewelry, save a single nath that ringed her left nostril in a crescent-moon of saltwater pearls. 

When she spoke, her voice unfurled in a slow, meditative husk. The effect she had on Kala was no less startling than her equine self.

“Do you—do you want to take a walk? Maybe I could show you my archival work on Kaaval Deivams later,” the Muniandi offered, after they had gorged themselves on lacy idiyappams, root-vegetable stew, and conversations about metrological phenomena.

“Sure, yeah, I would love to.” 

Kala’s stomach knotted into braids of anticipation for something, for nothing at all. 

Their fingers strung together as they walked around a pond cloaked in an algal scrim of colloidal green. A mottled eel broke the water’s surface in quick, slippery bursts.

At the far edge of the pond, a fanged goddess sheathed in silks and garlands of plumeria buds sat in a cement grotto. To her right, a terracotta horse in lapis hues stood calmly as sphagnum moss whorled across its back in yellowed clumps. Banded geckos slipped through the horse’s ears and darted down the length of its hind legs. 

They paused to remove their sandals before walking up to the goddess. Kala couldn’t help but observe that the heavy-lidded eyes of the deity and her horse were identical—bulging, ferocious, and unspeakably beautiful. She gently squeezed the Muniandi’s hand. 

The Muniandi stood entranced, her face an opaque monolith.

As Kala waited by her side in an agreeable silence, she was drawn into a memory of spending summers as a child in her grandparents’ house at the mouth of a thinning forest. Every day, she would cross a latticework of paddy fields to the village shrine with her mother, sunlight pinpricking their skin in bright globules of sweat. When the afternoons sunk under the damp balminess of evenings, they would fold themselves within a magenta-hued grove of frangipani trees surrounding the temple. They would then leave pods of overripe jackfruit as an offering for the beings that sentineled the area in a bas-relief of stone and shadow. Kala’s mother would regale her with stories—of the scorpion-garlanded goddess that sat askance inside the sanctum-sanctorum, of each of the temple guardians in turn with their vigilant eyes and vigilant mounts of horse, dog, and elephant.

Be nice, and they’ll take care of you too, her mother had said.

But amma, who should I be nice to?

Her mother had explained that while there were hierarchies, it didn’t quite matter in the grand scheme of things, because the deities and their steeds and the people and their teeming abodes were wholly entwined in a mutual yoke of need.

So, all of them. Kala’s tiny face had puckered in a frown, this Enterprise of Niceness already irritating her six-year-old self.

Yes, all of them, her mother had laughed. But, don’t disturb the guardians when they walk along their boundaries. They take their duties very seriously.

A few minutes passed. Kala hauled herself into the present and circled the Muniandi’s waist with her arm, keeping her close. “It must have been tough to cover so much ground on foot. Given how huge Chennai is.”

The Muniandi looked thoughtful. “What would actually be an edge of this city? The sea? Then I’d be swimming, no.”

 “So many lives lived and that’s all you’ve got by way of a joke. Seri ma, podhum.” Kala poked her rib, playfully.

The Muniandi gasped and made a move to jab her in mock-retaliation, but draped her arm around Kala instead, resting her head on her shoulder. 

Neither of them wanted to extricate themselves from the other. 

It slowly occurred to Kala that she could just exist in this teaspoonful of time, in the sweep of this deity that had found her through a dubious matrimonial website and a timely happenstance, and it would all be okay because the Muniandi was here, she really was, and that was enough, that was more than enough.

“Ellaiamma,” the Muniandi suddenly whispered, almost inaudibly. 

Kala pressed her lips into her hair. “Can I call you that?” 

“Ellai is fine, for the time being.” The Muniandi’s face twisted upwards into a smile. “But that name is only for your ears, for your mouth.”

“Oh? Careful, or I’ll start addressing you as ‘sanctified mother’ then.” 

Kala lurched and arced her body forward, bringing her hands together in an exaggerated curtsy. “Thaaye!”

“Stop that.” A peal of laughter escaped the Muniandi, and she collapsed on the ground to catch her breath, yanking Kala down with her. 

The laughter that continued to ring across the pond soon surged into fevered kisses, into promises that pooled in the hollows of their necks. Flames licked at Kala’s throat. They whistled through her mouth and dissipated into her stomach with a resolute hiss. 


With the emergence of her two suitors, Kala’s relationship with her parents kneaded itself into a calming disinterest. But on this morning, she sought out her mother over milky coffee and burnt triangles of toast.   

“Amma, I like them.” 

Her mother scanned her daughter over the tabloid she was pretending to read.

“What does that mean?” 

Kala added a tablespoon of decoction to her coffee to undercut its chalkiness. She took a sip and realized that it tasted worse than before.   

“I like them both. Equally, I think.” 

“Enna di, how is that possible? Pick the one you like more.” Apprehension seamed into her mother’s voice. 

Kala took another sip of her foul-tasting drink. “That is the problem. I don’t.”

“Seri. Pick the one you find less boring.” 

“Less boring?”

“Yes, less boring! Kala, you are not a trading goods outpost, where you are the sum value of items and services weighed against each other.”

“Amma, I—”

“Listen to me. You are my daughter, mine, with choices and mistakes that are yours alone, that will always be only yours. Now think carefully. How do you really feel?”

Her mother’s words thudded against her eardrums, bouncing off the dining table. Kala’s coffee sat untouched. At long last, something dislodged in her chest. 


Kala’s apartment complex was overrun with a bougainvillea vine that violently spewed papery-white blossoms from the cracks in its façade. Crammed between a TV-antenna’s limb and a water tank, her (secret) sublet was a detached room on the terrace of the building. On this afternoon, a bulbul with its black crest and black eyes peered at her from under a clay roof-tile. 

“What do you want? I’m trying to clean, you know.” 

She shooed away the bird and resumed wading through the thickets of clutter that swelled into larger and still larger piles. Heaps of newspapers, Tamil weeklies and office folders coiled around a peeling rexine sofa that sat in the middle of the sublet, taking up too much space. From the floor, discarded components of PC builds glowered accusingly at her.  

“I can help.” 

Kala spun around and dropped a stack of numbered files, igniting a cloud of dust. “You’re already here! Hah, we’re well past that point, Once-Ramesh.” 

She plopped onto a mound of dishtowels and gestured for him to do the same. The Kaateri folded himself between Kala’s knees instead, laying his head on her thigh. Smoke-grey plumes roiled under the gauze of his skin.  

“You don’t have to clean for me.”

Kala’s fingers stiffened in his hair. “Actually, I—”

“Enna ithu, what’s all this?” 

At the entrance to the terrace, the Muniandi stood immobile. Draped in a saree tinted with the opalescent pinks of a conch shell, she glimmered against the crests of sunlight that rolled down her shoulders.

“If you were going to have company, perhaps I should come at a later time.” The Muniandi’s face was wiped clean of all emotion; a measured, precise blankness. 

As distractingly lovely as the Muniandi’s appearance was, Kala was still seized by a panic, the ground heaving underfoot. Wobbling on the brink of collapse, her afternoon threatened to implode and knot itself into a gnarled snare that she did not have the patience or the ability to disentangle. In any case, Kala greatly preferred a battering-ram approach to solutions, as her mother always liked to point out. She had to wrench back control somehow.

“Great, everyone’s here! Let’s sit inside, no? It’s so hot.”

The Kaateri had already vaporized into a thin haze, emerging discreetly within the sublet. He pretended to examine a broken CPU tower while Kala urged the Muniandi towards the sofa. She shoved the Kaateri into the sofa as well, sitting cross-legged on the floor before them. 

Apropos of nothing, the Muniandi threw a sidelong glance at the Kaateri. 

“You look fine.” 

“Thanks. You look different, as always. But I see you.”

“I’m sure you do.”

Feeling disoriented, Kala pushed the pads of her fingers into her temples. “I’m sorry, but do the both of you know each other?”

“Somewhat. I was called to—to hunt him. There’s a small town on the edge of Dindigul taluk that was having a bit of trouble.” 

The Kaateri shifted in his seat. “A bit of trouble, sure. That’s exactly it.”

Back then, the Muniandi’s skin was a glaucous blue, her sickle flashing copper in the late evening sun. He had flung himself at her feet and begged clemency for all the killings—as he was but freshly birthed, a laughable idiot, a starving ghoul. She sat stock-still through his histrionics, the ritual cymbals of the townsfolk occasionally interrupting his fervor with a resounding boom. 

Finally, she had spoken, uttering only a single word.


He did not wait for her to speak again. 

“She should have slain me, all those years ago. I deserved it,” the Kaateri admitted. 

“You were so young and screaming so energetically. See, you’ve grown now, done good for yourself.” The Muniandi reached over and patted his arm. The edge of his shirt-sleeve crisped under the scorch of her fingers. 

The Kaateri had heeded her words and never returned, not once. 

She wanted to tell him about the resiliency and the fear and the heart, that giant pounding heart of the townsfolk, of how they now revered an entirely new being that metastasized from that event, of a demigoddess with collyrium-ringed eyes who was both a part of her and a part of him, of how they planted a loop of moringa trees around this fledgling deity to protect her, of how they addressed her as Pidari amma, the fierce specter who was also their mother, leaving her gifts of flower and fowl and fruit when the moon waxed into fullness. 

Maybe the three of them could visit Pidari and say hello as a nice surprise. Maybe they could even make a trip of it, one day. 

The Muniandi sat upright as Kala’s voice snapped her back into focus. 

“I’m not good at these sorts of things, so I’m just going to come right out and say it. I like you, and by you, I mean you both.” Kala cleared her throat. “I’m glad that you’re able to put your differences past each other, and I’m sorry, but I can’t, actually I won’t choose, so don’t make me pick—”

“Aiyo, what’s all this about picking? He’s very frail. You have nothing to fear,” the Muniandi said, matter-of-factly. 

The Kaateri pointed to his sleeve. “And she’ll protect you like no other. That’s good.” 

Kala looked incredulous. 

“I don’t understand.”

The Muniandi stepped forward and gripped Kala’s wrists, pulling her up from the floor, having her comfortably fit between them on the sofa. Their bodies nestled close together. 

“We know how you feel ma, we already do.” The Kaateri took her feet in his lap. 

“You’re not worried at all?”

He seemed pensive. “If you’re ditching us for a coworker with vehicle insurance, a haircut, and functional teeth, then I would worry.”

The Muniandi tucked a loose strand of Kala’s hair behind her ear. “Or a toothpaste mogul’s scion with a private helicopter and an attractive grudge. Irresistible,” she added. 

In response, Kala took each of their hands in hers, grasping them tightly. Joy seethed over the plate-metal of her emotional armor, rendering it malleable, liquid. Sans armor, she was adrift—out at sea on a rolling tide of ease and happiness, of longing and being longed for in return, the cast-off spirit of seclusion gnawing at the edges of her existence. Fear lurked beneath the inflow of these new feelings, of feelings she had once stifled under the wafer-thin pretexts of academic and professional goals cocooned snugly within parental obligations. It festered in her lower intestines, filling her mouth with bile-laced saliva. 

She swallowed hard. 

“Seri, now that’s all sorted, let’s go deal with my parents.”


It’s almost nightfall, and the blue floor of dusk spreads across the courtyard of her parents’ house. 

Kala, pulling them by their wrists through the entryway. 

Kala, saying trust me, just trust me.  

Them, saying okay in near-unison—the woman who was sometimes a deity and sometimes a mare, and the murmur of a man who was not a man at all but sometimes a knife.

Their hesitant laughter bouncing off the walls, melting into the ceiling, the rain-streaked stairwell. Their laughter, melting into an easy silence that trickled in streamlets down their skin, down their hides, down the metal-glint of them. 

Kala, so startlingly real, crystallized in their faces, in their arms, in the way they reached out and held onto her, onto the trembling edges of her possibility, unsure of anything, sure of everything.


M.L. Krishnan originally hails from the coastal shores of Tamil Nadu, India. She is a 2019 graduate of the Clarion West Writers’ Workshop, and her work has appeared, or is forthcoming in Paper Darts, Baffling Magazine, The Minnesota Review, Quarterly West, Zócalo Public Square and elsewhere. You can find her on Twitter as @emelkrishnan


Featured image by River61

Creator Spotlight:

M.L. Krishnan
Author of “Bride, Knife, Flaming Horse”

What inspired you to write this story? 

I set two challenges for myself: write a narrative that’s more or less linear, and most importantly, have loads of fun while doing it! I wrote this piece in a single, feverish burst during the final week of Clarion West in 2019. The previous weekend, I had a long conversation with my cousin in Chennai who regaled me with their dating woes, and as we talked, I could feel a loose outline of this story develop in my mind. An earlier version had a human suitor, but I scrapped that idea almost immediately, because Kala’s voice was so distinct and so unrelenting, that I basically knew that a run-of-the-mill person just wouldn’t work for her.

What do you hope readers take from this story? 

Joy, first and foremost! I don’t usually write joyful stories, and I wanted to do my part to remedy that by creating a narrative filled with unabashed, queer, BIPOC joy with zero qualifiers. I wanted to show that my characters contain multitudes, that they are not just a loose amalgam of pain and suffering. I also wanted to unravel conventional notions of what a love triangle entailed, so Kala ends up with both her suitors without relinquishing her true desires or her happiness. 

To give other writers hope, would you mind sharing with us how many edits and/or submissions this story has been through?

This story got a total of five rejections. After the first couple of form rejections, I rewrote the opening scene to make it sharper and more distinct. It turned out to be the right decision, because I immediately started getting personal notes with my rejections. But on the flip side, one of the notes I received mentioned the lack of intense drama, and I completely disregarded that advice because the conflict in this story was never meant to be action-packed or grand.

So, I would say that writing and submitting short fiction is usually an excursion in feeling your way through a story and its iterations, at least in my experience. Give yourself the gift of time, space, and persistence. And as this process chugs along, you start to develop a better sense of the shape of your narrative and what works for your characters, for the beating heart of your piece.

Recommend something to us! This could be a book, a short story, a video game, a project you’ve heard about, something you’re working on, etc. Anything that has you excited and that you want people to know about.

I’m currently obsessed with Dai Dark, a manga by Q Hayashida (of Dorohedoro fame). It’s a dizzying sci-fi fever dream that revolves around a cursed protagonist, found families, and unlikely partners blundering through the universe. It’s intensely sweet, intensely funny, and intensely horrific. One would assume that these elements don’t really work together, but in this series, they coalesce in brilliant, wondrous ways! Word of warning though, Dai Dark is not for the squeamish.

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