Gone Lawn
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Gone Lawn 48
spring equinox, 2023

Featured artwork, Elephant 1, by Neila Mezynski

New Works

Anu Kandikuppa

1, 2, 3, 4: A Puzzle

There are four siblings, 1, 2, 3, and 4, and their aging father. Using the information provided, answer the questions below.
  • 1 and 2 have not gotten along with each other since they were children. They no longer talk to each other.

  • 2 has always gotten along with 4 and sometimes with 3.

  • 2 worships the aging father.

  • 4 has always gotten along with 1, 2, 3, and the aging father.

  • 1 and 3 neglect the aging father. They never phone him. They make excuses like, "the phone keeps ringing," or, "I always get an engaged tone."

  • 2 and the aging father pool money and build a house on a lake.

  • The aging father, who isn't good with technology—he once emailed 2 the same bad photo of a pineapple one hundred thirteen times—dials 1's number by mistake. They start talking. He tells her about the house on the lake. She invites herself there.

  • The aging father goes to 1's house in a different city and escorts her to the house on the lake (italics 2's, on the phone with 4, who lives far away). As if, sniffs 2, the poor little princess can't go anywhere alone.

  • On the same call, 2 says the aging father's mis-dialing is a Freudian slip: he wanted to call 1.

  • On the same (lengthy) call, 2 sniffles and says, would you believe it, 3's going to the lake house too? She, 2, does everything for the aging father—taxes, travel plans, purchases of seeds and non-slip bath mats and tubes upon tubes of oil of wintergreen ointment for his aching knees—yet he chases 1 and 3. Neither would dream of visiting the father's squalid house in the village, yet they run to the heavenly house on the lake.

  • There are mice in the house on the lake. The roof leaks. A cheetah roams nearby.

  • On the same call to 4, 2 retells the story of how 1 didn't invite 2 to her son's wedding because she thinks 2 is unlucky. 3, too! At 3's son's wedding, 3 told 2 to get off the wedding mandap.

  • And when 2 graciously invited 1 and 3 to the engagement party of her daughter, the high school athlete who won a national tennis championship despite suffering a severe episode of nausea days before because she had used too much of an ointment containing (coincidentally) oil of wintergreen, they didn't bother to come.

  • And at the time of the accident, they accused 2 of negligence even though she couldn't possibly have known that oil of wintergreen can be poisonous (she knows now, of course).

  • And what's more, neither 1 nor 3 asked 2's permission to visit the house on the lake even though half of it belongs to 2. 1 and 3 have spoiled the idyllic lake house forever. 2 will never go there again. She will disappear forever. See if she doesn't! She has a plan.

  • The water supply to the house on the lake is erratic. The toilets clog. The approach is rocky.

  • 2 makes many lengthy phone calls to 4 and often cries, pitiful snuffling sounds. During the calls 4 puts 2 on speaker and goes about her day, saying "Hmmm" and "Really?" at regular intervals.

  • On 2's latest call, which clocks in at three hours, 4 rolls her eyes when she hears the word "disappear" and mouths "I wish," but says into the phone, "Sounds good!"

  1. Draw a grid with five rows and five columns labeled 1, 2, 3, 4, and Aging Father. For each pair, write "Y" if the pair gets along always, "N" if never, and S if they get along sometimes.

  2. Now draw a grid for your family and compare the two. Which grid has more Ys? Ns? Ss? Do you believe your family to be better off than this one? If yes, why?

  3. List five reasons people stop talking to each other. Have you ever stopped talking to someone? If yes, why? Would you be able to call that person today? Now?

  4. It is better to be like a goldfish and remember things, including grudges, for only eight seconds. Agree or disagree? Explain.

  5. Given the water shortage, cheetah, leaky roof, toilets, rocky approach, and mice, is 2 wrong in thinking that the lake house is a haven that 1 and 3 want to invade? Do you think 1 and 3 simply want to see the father?

  6. Answer this question if you answered "Yes" to the previous question: according to you what percentage of the information provided is fact and what percentage is a product of 2's mind?

  7. Assume that 2 lost her husband when she was not yet thirty and has suffered money troubles, health troubles, and relationship troubles ever since. Would you still invite her to your child's wedding if you knew her?

  8. Are you superstitious? What if every time you sneezed and stepped out without waiting for ten seconds, you fell and broke a bone? Would you become superstitious?

  9. Assume that three days after 2's lengthy phone call to 4, 2's maid finds her inert in her unmade bed, smelling strongly of oil of wintergreen, eight mangled tubes strewn around her. Autopsy reveals two hundred milligrams of the ointment in 2's stomach, more than lethal. If you were 4, would you be able to live with yourself? Would you wonder into your grave what 2 had said before and after the word "disappear"? Would you tell anyone about the call?

  10. If you knew these people, would you tell the story at a party? Who is the most to blame? Is there any other information you need to answer this question? How does it help to know the answer? Do you have other questions?

Anu Kandikuppa's essays, flash fiction, and short stories have appeared in Gone Lawn, Atticus Review, Colorado Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Cincinnati Review, The Rumpus and other journals, and have been recognized by the Pushcart and other prizes. Anu worked as an economics consultant in a former life and lives in Boston. Her website is www.anukandikuppa.com