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  • What Counts

    What Counts

    Finally, it was my time to read The God of Small Things, Mom’s paperback copy. So many times I have taken it off the shelf and added it to my stack of potential reads — once, even getting 51 pages in — only to abandon it, unable to finish. 

    Not ready, not yet. 

    Back on the shelf.

    I forced my own hand with it this time, having started it earlier in the week and, though still unsure about it, deliberately packed it and only it as my book in my carry-on bag for my flight — flights — to Monterey, California.

    I just finished it, up here on this plane, above snowcapped mountains in the clouds, somewhere between Denver and Monterey. How is it possible we are only 45 minutes away from California right now? 

    It’s hard to make sense of it. 

    That book was hard to make sense of, in some ways, yet blindingly clear and achingly direct in the ways that count.

    There’s a scene where Ammu, the mother and central figure in the story, is napping and having what her twins call an “afternoon-mare” — which leads to a lovely passage that questions things such as, “if you eat fish in a dream, did you actually eat fish?”


    The date of my mother’s inscription in the paperback reads “10-26-00” — a date that counts. 

    Her wedding anniversary. 

    One of her last.

    Had she any idea, as she wrote her name in the book, that there wouldn’t be many more? I don’t remember 10-26-00 or 10-26-01, but I remember 10-26-02.

    On 10-26-02, I spoke to my dad on the phone, sitting in my Dodge Neon outside the 7-11 by my dorm in Bloomington. He told me a few things that were hard to make sense of, like that Mom was losing oxygen to her brain. That it was not good.

    I still didn’t know. There would only be 3 more days.


    I wish I could recall my mother reading The God of    Small Things, but I can’t and I don’t. But I know a few things, and that’s what counts:

    My mother diligently wrote her name and the date in her books. 

    And she read books like these, that are hard to make sense of in some ways and achingly clear in others.

    On October 20, 2000, my mother went to Sam’s Club in Indianapolis and purchased three things: three books.

    It’s a funny thing, to go to a Sam’s Club and buy only three books.

    But my mom liked getting books there — you could find great deals. This, I remember well.

    One of those books was The God of Small Things, which, apparently, she started to read six days later, on her 23rd wedding anniversary to my father. I know this, because her Sam’s Club receipt was inside the paperback, tucked in the back pages.

    I took my mother’s copy of this book from my parents’ house sometime between 2006 and 2008, because I remembered it was a favorite of my friend Beth’s, and I wanted to know why. 

    Still, it took me until 2019 to read it, for reasons I don’t really know. But I do know that I timed it shortly after my brother and my niece Polly finished reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which, as it happens, was one of the three books my mother purchased on October 20, 2000. 


    If you eat fish in a dream, did you actually eat fish?


    The Sam’s Club receipt served as my bookmark. As I read, I kept checking for it, to make sure it was real, that I hadn’t imagined it. 

    It’s still there, tucked in the back pages.

    The thin paper felt like a secret: to an observer nothing special, a placeholder for lack of a true bookmark. But to me, it felt monumental.

    It was a small thing. And it counted.