Little Things I Hug Huge by Sudha Balagopal
As her title “Little Things I Hug Huge” suggests, Sudha Balagopal’s poignant nonfiction microflash combines tiny things with the immensity of love between a daughter and her late father. T. S. Eliot coined the term “objective correlative” for “a set of objects” containing the “particular emotions” the writer wants to convey. Each memory here focuses on the objective correlative of shoes: the writer’s father polishing her white canvas shoes, his feet in chappals when he drove, her loose-fitting black shoes, her unstable high-heeled sandals, the flip-flops he wore as slippers. “The way he smiled at his first pair of sneakers, my gift when he visited me in the US. The way he’d slap together the bottoms of the shoes after his walk, releasing debris, before he nestled the shoes inside the box.” The narrator and her father come alive through active verbs (“lashed,” “stomped,” “threw an arm out,” “scooted,” “slap”), musical alliteration (“sat snug,” “teeter-tottered,” “shuff-shuffled”), and precisely observed details. Words such as “hug,” “snug,” “nestled,” and “nested” recreate their intimacy, evoking their mutual love and care. Balagopal also builds emotion through lyric repetition—every sentence opens with “the way he” did things from adulthood through old age or “the way I” reacted, from childhood in India through adulthood in the US. Instead of being directly stated, her father’s death is indicated by “the way the slippers stayed while they took him away,” and the way she treasures them after he’s gone. See Balagopal’s author’s note on how love is shown through actions, and how grief can find expression through memories. —CRAFT
The way Appa held the sponge-tipped brush of white shoe polish. The way he ran the snowy viscosity over my scuffed canvas shoes, on top of the laces, around the eyelets. The way he placed my shoes under the ceiling fan to dry because rain lashed outside.
The way I wore my brilliant pair to school on race day.
The way he stomped on the brake pedal with his big toe enclosed in the chappal’s leather loop. The way he threw an arm out so I wouldn’t hit the dashboard. The way the chappal’s strap dug into his skin. The way I scooted all the way back in the passenger-side seat.
The way he frowned because my black shoes fit loose. The way he used a pair of scissors to pierce an extra hole on the buckle strap. The way he rubbed cooking oil on the shoes to soften them―the leather abraded my ankle.
The way my footwear sat snug.
The way I nagged him for high-heeled sandals from New Delhi. The way I wore them every waking moment to appear taller. The way he asked, shoulders in a wiggle, if he should nail the sandals to my feet. The way he shook his head when a heel fell off.
The way I ignored him, teeter-tottered on the cobbler’s feeble repair.
The way he smiled at his first pair of sneakers, my gift when he visited me in the US. The way he’d slap together the bottoms of the shoes after his walk, releasing debris, before he nestled the shoes inside the box.
The way I clicked my tongue at his saved box.
The way he struggled to tie shoelaces. The way he loved Velcro. The way he mailed me the outline of his shoe on paper. The way I’d take him a pair each time I returned home—gray not white, as instructed, to obscure grime and stains.
The way I watched him test shoes, rocking heel-toe-heel-toe-heel-toe.
The way his breath hiccuped when he saw the newest pair. The way the sneakers stayed in the box, balled-up paper stuffed inside the shoes to help hold shape. The way he shuff-shuffled inside the house in his flip-flops. The way he placed them, next to each other, facing the bed. The way the slippers stayed while they took him away.
The way I nested them, with the shoes, inside the box.
SUDHA BALAGOPAL’s recent work appears in Flash Frog, Fractured Lit, Monkeybicycle, and Hypertext, among other journals. Her novella-in-flash, Things I Can’t Tell Amma, was published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2021. She has a story in Best Microfiction 2021 and is listed in the Wigleaf Top 50 for both 2019 and 2021. Her work has also been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions.
Featured image by Jakob Owens courtesy of Unsplash