Anjali Deshmukh
Lightning Conductor


"I need to tell you something. I should have told you sooner, but I didn't see the point."

"Right now? It's 3 o'clock in the morning. Can't this wait?"

"Don't give me a chance to change my mind… I've been working myself up to do this for months. I need to get this done."

"Fine, all right, tell me. But can we hurry up? I have to get up in three hours… tomorrow's going to be a long day."

"I was there when he died."


"We'd gone to the bank, and I was waiting in the car. He was walking across the street toward me…"

"… what? Why didn't you tell me… You said he left…"

"You didn't want to see him like that. Everything happened at once. You were in so much pain after your accident, the decay of it was everywhere, seeping from both of us, changing our natures, replacing memories with ugly things… I wanted to give you time before pouring more into the misery pile."

"Well, why now?"

"Because… I kept thinking, things will get better, that you would get better. But if anything, it keeps getting worse. You barely talk to me any more….”

"Just tell me."

"Another ugly thing…

"We're going to the bank. You remember the bank downtown. It's right on the corner with that bed of irises flaunting Spring. That corner, it's a lightning conductor for accidents. Every year, they plant the same thing. Cursed."

"Don't be so superstitious… They're just flowers. Blame the traffic lights."

"Just flowers? No….there’s no such thing…

“We're late, it's just before the bank is closing, and the sun's making long shadows. It's dead quiet down there, a Sunday evening, so humid, I'm sitting there in the car, sticking to my seat trying to ignore the pool of sweat forming in my lap. It was so hot that day, I swear I could see steam rising from my own body.

“He’d parked across the intersection, on the opposite side of the street. There was no one around, all the other shops were shut because of the heat that day. We were in a brownout. It was just me and the irises wilting. I’m on edge as usual, waiting for him to come back. I was listening to the radio. There was only one station that managed to come through here, the static sound of a harp. I was staring at the door of the bank. And then he pushes that door open, is rushing back across the street, right across the intersection in a clean diagonal.

"I don't know why he always, always had to run. Rushing back to yell at me, that's why. Always upset about something. Always saying to the world, 'me, me! Look at me!'"

"Please don't remind me."

"He's in the middle of the street when a little rickshaw comes tearing down the road. It's swaying under its own weight. It was a raggedly sewn Frankenstein of recycled materials, a makeshift mobile stuffed with so many bags, boxes, and just all kinds of unidentifiable things crammed from floor to ceiling, piled on the roof, spilling from the back. So I can't see the driver. There's smoke coming from its tailpipe, and a smell of hot rubber that swam through the humidity. The irises are shivering.

"The rickshaw crashes into him, head on, nearly bending his body in half at the waist as his legs folder underneath the fender. Snap. I heard the sounds, of squeeling tires, cracking bones retracting like a rubberband releasing tension. His upper body presses into the plastic wind shield. Such force from such a little car. It's aiming right for him. I don't understand it. I mean, the light's green, but I just can't see how the driver could miss him.

“He's wearing a bright yellow t-shirt that turns his powdery skin a purple shade, just like he’s made of irises.

"I was just stunned… I didn't move, I couldn't open the door, I just sat there. He was only a few feet away. I just stared at his face and his wide open eyes. His last expression—anger and surprise, pursed lips torn, anger dominating everything, even death. What will be my last thought before I die? Did he even realize that he was dying?

"There was a dark and long vertical gash on his chest, and I could see exposed bone, pale and frayed like his skin."

"Could you please spare me the details?"

"No, I can’t.

“He looks at me. He can see me…. He looks at the driver, nothing but anger on his face. For me, too. I tried to look past the boxes piled high in the passenger seat, but there was just no way for me to see who the driver was. All I have to remember of him or her was a tower of boxes.

"The driver stops for a second, shook off the body, backed up, moved forward, back up again, and raced away. Ran a red light, swerving down the road. There must have been blood on the windshield. Did the driver stop to wipe it off? I thought, how did all the boxes, all those precarious things, stay in tact through it all? Where does one get a car like that?

“He was dead just like that... That's it. It was so… incredibly… easy, simple, fast…."

"What did you do?"

"I sat there for a few minutes in my pool of sweat, leaning with my chin on the frame of the car window, and looked at his body, his open eyes. I got out of the car, and put my head down next to his, and looked up into the sky. The bank flags rise like they’re horns coming from his head. I'm scared. He looks so angry and so dead.

"And then someone from the bank came out and called the police I guess. I don’t know. There were police there all of a sudden, and I was confused. I thought about lying, you know. I thought maybe I would lie to the police."


"Because, that intersection was cursed. And I wasn’t as sad as I should have been. It seemed like the right thing to do. I was scared. Staring at the oranges and reds seeping their way down his shirt. It got in my hair as I lay there on the ground, looking up at the sky, pretending to hear his breathing. I had no idea that we had so much blood in us. They kept asking me why I hadn’t called the police myself, why I had just sat there in the intersection."

“What did you say?”

“I shrugged, that’s all, I just shrugged and told the truth. The more I think about it, maybe I was more honest than I’ve ever been.”

“Than you’ll ever be?”


"Did they look for the driver?"

"They looked for the car. That rickshaw was one-of-a-kind. It was more art than function- it couldn't go too far, and it couldn't hide either. So a few weeks go by, and they find it, abandoned on a farm. When it was found, all the boxes were gone, along with the wheels. But it was definitely that same stitched up thing.

“They tell me that there were chickens nesting in it. Chickens, can you believe it? Just like the ones you grew you up around—you know, the ones branded with dyed feathers and punctured wings…. They’d set up a new home for themselves in less than a week… If only it had been as easy for us….

"Did they let you see it?"

"Not in person, but they asked me to see pictures. Its usable parts had been stripped, and all that was left of the driver was a little blood here and there. They asked if it was the car that had hit him, but I kept my mouth shut. I wasn’t going to talk to them."

"So you didn’t identify the car?”

"No… what was the point?"

"Did they look for the driver?"

"Well, I'm sure they did. But I don't think they cared that much to look. Neither did I…"

"And they didn't find anyone?"


"Are they still looking?"

"Why do you care so much all of a sudden? I don't know, does it even matter any more? "


"No, it doesn't…"

"Not to them, but to me, to you, it matters."

"Why? Why would it matter? Dead is dead. I stopped mourning a long time ago. For him, for me, for you, I stopped."

"Because… it matters…”


“It was me."


"Did you hear me? It was me. It was me. It was me. I hit him. It wasn't on purpose, but I don't know, maybe it was, maybe I was aiming straight for him, with his yellow shirt, with his angry eyes, waving arms. Don't you ever wonder how I got hurt? It never occurred to you what a coincidence it was that you found me in the hospital with both legs broken, broken ribs, bruises? It’s like you didn’t even care, like you thought it was the most normal, everyday thing in the world."

"But you told me…"

"I didn't tell you anything. And you never even asked. You just looked at me with those eyes, those glazed eyes, and let yourself be led away, like always."

"So now you’re going to hold it over me that I couldn’t stay and watch your broken bones heal? Do you think I had a choice? And there was the past, it wasn't the first time—"

"First time what, that I'd gotten in trouble? Been in the hospital? Screwed up my life?"

"That's not fair, you've trained me to not ask, you've trained me to accept, to accept, to accept you as you are, just as I've asked the same of you, and now you're blaming me, it's not fair."

"I’m not blaming you. I’m way passed that. I’m telling you that, whether you realized it or not, you must have known all these years… You must have known it was me…”

"No…. how could I have known? That car? Those boxes? Nothing screamed your name. I hadn’t seen you in years anyway, how could I have known what your life was like."

“…Well, now you know. I was going to leave. Leave everything. Instead, I hit him, I bled reds, I crashed into a tree, I wrapped myself around a tree."

"Tell me."

"Tell you what."

"Just tell me what you saw…"

"I was tired, I’d been packing all night, and my muscles were on fire. It was junk, all of it. But still, I couldn’t let it go. It was a late start, and the western sun was glaring down on my eyes. I’d been trying to make up my mind for days about this, how to leave, where to go.  Don’t think, don’t think, just put your brain on auto pilot…”

"You weren’t even going to say goodbye…”

“I was driving fast, I thought, the only way I could pass the boundary of this place was to tear right through it. No stopping. And there was the purple, there was his faded yellow shirt. He runs out of the bank waving a gun in one hand, aiming to miss. He had a look of adrenaline rush that convinced me he’d shot someone. I remember that his shoelaces were untied… they were a bright orange, and they streaked around his feet in that way that almost made you want to believe that he harbored some childhood innocence somewhere inside him….

“I saw his wide eyes—angry eyes—turn to stone at the sight of me. Shiny gun in one hand and black velvet bags in the other. Not just any old bags of money— bags of freshly minted, globally legitimized beads, recycled remnants of the Game, universal currency, the only way that he could ever be let back into the Game room. I knew it right away when I saw them. How I hated the Game. I hated it more than I hated him.

“I don’t know if I thought of all this at the time, his addiction, how I wanted it to be over. I so wanted it to be over. And just like that, he and I were eye to eye, and the life drained out, all over my windshield, with nothing but a little bit of reinforced plastic separating his bloody forehead from my bloody forehead. My own riot shield. Only I don’t know whether I’m playing or watching.

“He must have died thinking that I did it on purpose. But even then, his last gaze was saved for black velvet. I saw that, and I ran over it on purpose. I wanted to hear it crunch into dust under the wheel of my broken rickshaw….”

“You didn’t change anything… They were just melted again, and re-made, with the light of infamy making them worth more than ever.”

“It changed something for me. And now, here we are. Two years into your sentence, you paying for the crimes of the dead, you calling me across the world."

"It wasn't just any Game. 2001. Do you realize how much that would go for on the black market? They were worth millions. Hidden away in a little bank in a little village in the middle of nowhere, lost, doing no one any good. He and I were the only two people alive in the world that knew where those beads were."

"I see, so you weren't just a bystander, after all."

"No, it wasn't about the money for me. It was because I couldn't stand to hear him talk about the Game any more. He couldn't get the idea out of his head, that he'd lost his chance at paradise, or maybe even just human agency.

“I was convinced that, once he had those beads, he wouldn’t be able to give them up. They’d be our secret, his prize possession. I thought they might actually be the cure to his addiction. That maybe they would be able to numb the loss of the Game itself."

"He's numb all right."

"Yeah. And so am I."