Featured Fiction returns with “The Fight” by Chaya Bhuvaneswar, author of the collection White Elephants Dancing! “The Fight” is an examination of race, sexuality and power, et in the aftermath of the 1992 LA riots, muddied by Chip’s warped view of his own privilege, a white, legacy admit to Yale, whose grandparents owned a building on Science Hill.
Self-doubt, in his case never meager, settled on him heavily. Some days were like that; some weeks. The plus or minus rating of his personal greatness, his legacy. The B-minus on his Great Empires paper, because, he was convinced, he’d argued that empire was economical, a way to maximize profit and minimize risk, because if some venture on the ground went wrong there was in place a host of other people the risk-takers could place the burden on. It wasn’t any different, really, from the professor who’d been lecturing all term about how when empire declined, so did the national greatness. But the uppity TA had said Chip’s use of a long quotation, as a segue to the piece, from Kipling’s classic, “The White Man’s Burden”, had been “disturbing, proto-fascist, and serious cause for concern.” Geez, lighten up! he’d wanted to say to the skinny, light-haired, tightly-wound, Birkenstocks-wearing guy who looked both vegan and sexually repressed.
“It’s not just that he came into the room,” Mahisha said. They were walking to Clark’s Diner to get ice cream. A May afternoon near end of term.
“It’s you. It’s that you didn’t do anything when he just came in and talked to you and I was fucking naked in your bed.”
“We were not fucking. We were done by then,” Chip pointed out. They’d just gone running on Science Hill, Mahisha barely exerting and Chip quite out of breath, but as always when he passed those buildings, even when he was falling behind on their weekly run, Chip still got a satisfied feeling. It was 1992 and Bush was president, May and Rodney King was a few weeks behind them now, not that Mahisha stopped talking about him. Despite the potential for turmoil, both in LA and in their vexed relationship, dignified old money could be counted on, Chip often reminded himself.
Chip’s family owned one of Yale’s Science Hill lecture halls. It was a technical ownership—technical because the family had donated the money in such a way that they owned it, and Yale had no choice but to name it after them, but officially the entryway still also said “Yale”, and it wasn’t private property. So no one really knew Chip’s grandparents had a piece of Yale, even if they connected the name with Chip’s last name, unless he pointed the situation out to them, unless they took the time to stare up at a nearly-hidden, small name plaque in a backroom. Which was no problem for him; Chip liked being technical, like knowing what others didn’t. Charles Abernethy the Third was his full name; Chip was his name from Skull & Bones; “Chuck” his name before that, but during Rush they’d made him choose a brand-new nickname, “Chip” so it could be short for “Chippendale”. Chip supposed there was some parallel to something immigrants complained about—how they were pressured to assume new names. To serve some master’s agenda. But Mahisha wasn’t an immigrant; nor was she Indian Indian; Mahisha was born here, the daughter of a Harvard-trained orthopedic surgeon who lived in Hillsborough, New Jersey and belonged to a country club, the best one for Indian-Americans in the tristate area, she’d said. And Chip hadn’t gotten Mahisha pregnant; not technically. The pregnancy hadn’t lasted.
“Not only were we done by then, but you weren’t even making any sounds,” he continued, still being reasonable. “And we were on the top half of the bunk bed, so I doubt very much that he saw anything.”
“You doubt?” Mahisha yelled. “You doubt? That isn’t something you want to make sure? That your roommate didn’t see your fiancée naked?”
Chip winced. Mahisha could be technical too, using that word. Fiancée. When she’d had the miscarriage early on, he hadn’t asked for the ring back.
“He’s a tall guy,” Chip conceded. “Okay, he could have seen. If he wasn’t as hung-over as usual.” Chip’s roommate, an alcoholic ex-swimmer, recruited for the sheer, joyous length of his Norwegian-American body by a coach unfamiliar with the stigmata of chronic alcohol overuse, was socially raw and even intrusive at times. The guy had asked more than once what “Indian girls” were like, including rude questions about the color and feel of her private parts. Yet Chip gave him the benefit of many doubts. He believed the roommate’s glance at Mahisha was accidental, if it had even happened.
Mahisha pushed the door open to the diner and went through without him, not holding it open. But Chip made a positive moment out of her snub; that was another skill he had. He stood outside of Clark’s reading the menu, which he had never taken the time to really look at before. There were a lot of dishes there. Why ice cream? he asked himself. And why the same kind every time? This time a root beer float, he told himself, wiping sweat off his brow. Something different.
Hadn’t his dad said that having a mistress kept his marriage (before Chip’s mom discovered her) alive?
“And then he was playing Guns N’ Roses, of all things,” Mahisha said, suddenly in front of him, holding open the door expectantly. “Guns N’ Roses. Haven’t I told you a million times that Axl Rose is a racist? The band gets up on-stage and spews out racist rants. And you expect me, the woman you’ve said you’re planning to marry, to just lie there in your bed, naked, while you have a conversation with a despicable white man, no, boy, who wants to wear a bandanna and dance in his underwear to Axl Rose?”