Toward an Unfinished Work IV (from “Daughters of Sarkhan”)

Mia Ayumi Malhotra

Two sisters, birthed from the fissure where land twists violently into a muddy, wet gash. The first, a ragged form, watching from the trees.

So hard to see, in this light. The glimmer of an unfinished face.

Haunting. What a strange word.

Old haunts: river, rice paddy. The mangrove forest on the outskirts of the village.

Who haunts whom? Who cannot quit the other, returns haunt-like, seeking that which she cannot have?

Perhaps she has never forgiven her sister for slipping away without her.

Perhaps she has never forgiven herself. Is this why she does not speak?

Pity the small, foreign child stealing through the dark.

Her dread, knowing what lies ahead. What damage an endlessly opened mouth can do. With what ruthless savagery a mother, even a most bountiful Mother, destroys the child who disobeys.

At the center of this story, two small mouths: one closed, one opened. Around them both, the one true Mouth—broad, yawning—that swallows without mercy.

What does a child say if she has nothing left to speak?

If, when she opens her mouth, nothing is heard but the sound of rushing water. If her voice is the scream no longer heard after her sister has disappeared beneath the surface; when all that remains, for an instant, are two pale hands held above the water, flailing noiselessly.

This story is a pair of mute ciphers.

Who will read them but I? Who indeed?

About the Work

Mia Ayumi Malhotra

Mia Ayumi Malhotra is a Kundiman and VONA/Voices Fellow from the San Francisco Bay Area. She holds an MFA from the University of Washington and serves as the Associate Editor of Lantern Review. Read more at:

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