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Have You Seen Me? by Annam Manthiram | Word Riot
Short Stories

October 15, 2010      

Have You Seen Me? by Annam Manthiram

Daniel
     Angelenos are masters of fabrication; transient dancers.
     Living in LA was easy. I knew what I was dealing with. Artificiality is easier to swallow when the capsules’ contents are clearly marked. People wore their delusions as plain as the smog in the sky.
     When we moved to New Mexico, I discovered a subverted world where the people are obfuscators, spinning a world so believable that you begin to think that you are the one who is untrue. And as you peel back each layer of murk, you find that the underlings are darker, and more clouded. People create the world they live in instead of living in the world that was created for them. New Mexico is a beautiful lie.
     I thought I was smart because I had come from the land of deception. But somehow I became a victim in someone else’s playground.
     My wife was depressed after we relocated. Her friends, the hip life that she’d envisioned for herself, were all gone. Instead, she was stuck in a suburban housing complex cluttered with same-style houses and xeriscape landscaping. The neighbors were polite, but had blue-collar ambitions. She was unable to find work and though I told her it was fine for her to be unemployed, my job paid enough for both of us, she resented the assumption that I was the breadwinner. She was not used to sharing the pants, and her legs were caught up in the crotch.
     A woman at work entered the picture. She told me she was not married, and I believed her. She said she was born and raised in Las Cruces and spoke several languages. But when a man asked her for directions in Spanish, she stuttered, and then later told me she had been caught off guard; men usually didn’t come to her asking for directions. They wanted other things, and she was smart to introduce jealousy into the sticky, buttery, cholesterol-laden cake mix because it distracted me. Other men always distract other men.
     The night I discovered that the woman was married to a handsome, overweight plumber was also the night that my wife discovered my affair. She found us at the same time as he did. He was holding a gun, my wife was clutching at her neck, the bathrobe she wore barely able to enclose her emaciated frame. The story would be easy if he had shot me, then my wife, his wife, and finally himself. Death factorial. But that’s not what happened. The plumber asked me who he should shoot – he gave me a choice. So I told him to shoot himself, and he did. And I was left with two women, neither of whom I was in love with. My wife stayed silent; the woman yelled and screamed, blaming me for his death, saying he had been a good husband. He hadn’t been that good of a husband. Neither had I.
     I have since left New Mexico. I am headed to Los Angeles, where I know I can hide among others who are also hiding. Where a woman will not pretend to be married or love you. She will just ask you how much money you make and tell you that she likes your car. That is home for me.

Carlotta
     Back then, I had to wet the bed for attention. “You’re a teenager, why are you STILL wetting the bed?” Sometimes I wouldn’t tell anyone, and let it fester until Mom did the laundry and then she could tell. I placed bets with myself to see if she would ever say anything. Five times out of ten she never did. When she divorced Dad and met Mr. Dad, life got better for a while. We went to Applebee’s every Saturday night like a normal family. He took an interest in the scars on my hands, and together we named them after constellations in the sky. Gemini. Orion. Perseus. Canis Major and Minor.
     There’s a playground near where I live. After dark, when no one is around, I get up on the seesaw. Up and down, up and down I go. I try to remember what it felt like to be a kid, but I can’t. All I can see is the way I am now. Going up and down on that seesaw, having all the time in the world.

Janaki
     I was born an Indian, but I now live as a Pakistani.
     When my mother arranged for our union, the matchmaker told us that in the seventh year we would face some troubles, but that many marriages were often displaced by precipitous events and that was the way in which Hanuman and Lakshmi and all of the several hundred deities distanced themselves from the mortals that they were beginning to love. When our sixth year was about to expire, my husband began questioning my dowry. He told me that we had nothing left. He forced me to sell my gold, my jewelry – the trousseau that had belonged to my maternal grandmother. Even then, after it was all traded and money was received, we still had nothing left; I was forced to sell even more.
     Eventually, I killed myself. But not really. I pretended.
     I do not consider myself an imaginative woman. I learned much from watching American television and its inventions. Laura Burney became my hero. I watched “Sleeping with the Enemy,” and I saw what could be done. Laura Burney. I liked her name, and I liked her strength. She gave me hope.
     My husband despises Pakistanis; he will never believe that I have become one of them.

Jimmy
     I used to play scratchers when I had the money. Every month, when the government sent me my disability check, I went to Corner Joe’s and picked ’em up. The owner, he was a good guy. He never told me to beat it or harped on me to buy a drink. I became a local celebrity – those were his words, not mine. I was the fool with the habit. That’s what they all said, but they watched. They cheered when I won, maybe five or ten bucks. They felt sorry for me when I lost. Those days were aplenty.
     I met a gaggle of girls this way too. They’d cozy on up to me, feelin’ like I needed some comfort ’cause why else would I waste my disability money? I let ’em think what they wanted to think. Thighs spread, I’d be anything you wanted me to be. That’s a damn fact. One girl in particular, oh she was real sweet. She had red hair, haircolor box red. Her lips were always open – talkin’, eatin’, or smokin’. She was real sweet. Always talkin’ about her mom, her dog, never said a bad word about nobody. I wanted to marry this girl, I did.
     But then she wanted me to stop turnin’ over my disability check for tickets. She said I could invest it, maybe do somethin’ real with it. Like what? But she never had an answer. I told her I had a six sense, but she never listened. She talked a lot but listened de nada. Then one day I did it. I hit it – big. I mean big time. Corner Joe’s never seen a day like it before in its history. People were hootin’ and hollerin’. I paid for drinks all round.
     I told her I had a six sense, but she never listened. But after I won, and I told her, her mouth closed. I never seen her mouth closed before. And I knew, because I had a six sense, that she was going to kill me, or was going to try to. So I beat her to it.
     You’d be amazed at what money can buy you. I have more than one girl now, and they’re all real pretty, with hair that same box color red. But these girls – they don’t talk. Nope, not at all. They only talk when I tell ’em to.

Annam Manthiram

About the author:

Annam Manthiram is the author of two novels, The Goju Story and After the Tsunami, and a short story collection (Dysfunction), which was a Finalist in the 2010 Elixir Press Fiction Award and received Honorable Mention in Leapfrog Press’ 2010 fiction contest.

Annam’s fiction has also been nominated for the PEN/O’Henry Prize and inclusion in the Best American Short Stories anthology. A graduate of the M.A. Writing program at the University of Southern California and a 2010 Squaw Valley Writers Conference scholar, Ms. Manthiram resides in New Mexico with her husband, Alex, and son, Sathya. So far, she is quite enchanted. You can visit her online at AnnamManthiram.com.

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