If you haven’t yet met Jo, you are not from Tarapore. If your walk at sunrise is a not a voyage of discovery at your new neighborhood, people will suspect you’re faking it. So, you notice noodle-wrappers flooding dirt paths, merrily binging pigs at the dumping corner, greet random people. They tell you about Jo, intent on making you realize you haven’t already met her — woman of resources, always good humor about her, lies only to her mirror, and vocal supporter of madcap jamborees. They tell you she keeps monthly appointments with the palm-reader at the shack by the marketplace, as if you hadn’t already guessed it. Tell you, Jo is someone very happy with her life.
At nights, you are startled by noises from that house.
Jo having a loud dance party, her husband and she getting wild on the terrace, shouting drunk to their pets, you’re nothing, you are not loved, you loser!
The words echo in your ears, haunt you in your sleep. You remind yourself it’s five years on.
Tarapore, you were told, before you were here, is next only to a monastery. You’d think quite the opposite but for your new wife who says she’s had enough of house-hunting, it’s a closed story.
You understand, clench your fists, unfurl them to spread jam on toast while browsing the morning paper.
Of course, meadows at the far distance, framed by the window, are flushed, their inclines at strange angles, and when one day, Jo waves from her porch, you watering the grass, invites you to coffee, you go anyway, like a midget to a butterwort’s trap.
Jo and you sit across the table, she arranges the cookies, stirs coffee, babbles about Marie and Suzanna and Ronnie.
‘Ronnie’s never had it this bad. They are fitting radio antennas up the Manila Towers. Says it’s raining, and yellow too, can’t quite see how that’d look.’
You can’t decide which of your neighbors is doing what. She tells the story of someone washing dishes and discovering a banded-krait in the kitchen sink. Your muddled brain only registers the stories on the walls— Jo at school, Jo when she was nineteen, Jo in her scornful avatar. You know the look so well.
You doubt if she’s listening that you write, put in layers like cabbages, nothing at the core really, just a lot of shredded bits, as she turns and walks to the room on your left, telling you she’s expecting guests.
She begins to apply makeup.
You know makeup, you know its power, how it has transformed you from someone head-over-heels in love with Jo for a very long time whom Jo rebuffed regularly, hurled obscene abuses, to someone Jo doesn’t even recognize five years later.
You watch in wonder, her pet, like you were once.
When you pull the little trigger, making sure to muffle the shot with a cushion, you are ex-static!
Mandira Pattnaik’s writing has appeared most recently in Amsterdam Quarterly, ToastedCheese, Splonk, Bending Genres, Citron Review, Spelk, EllipsisZine and Heavy Feather Review, among other places. Tweets @MandiraPattnaik