Like Fish to Ginger

By Rashaan Meneses


Before I set out to make my mark in Los Angeles, I chased Sunee. We met in a steamy noodle house in the Dusit District of Bangkok where I elbowed my way from dishwasher to sous chef. Sunee worked as hostess. Both seventeen, she knew exactly what she wanted, and it wasn’t me. Like with a delicate soup, I had to know when to stir and when to let the ingredients meld on their own. For seven months I coaxed her to me, savoring every minute of it, the taste of falling in love. This was all ages ago when cooking was like breathing.

What they say about this city isn’t true. There are windows of time when you can fly, like now. The Santa Monica Freeway is as perfectly clear as the skies above, and the Pacific Ocean gleams in the distance. If I pay close attention, the 10 will rise in a sharp incline as I leave downtown behind, and, for a split second, all I’ll see is blue sky swallowing warmth and light. I hold my breath for this ascension, am lifted, and then it’s over soon as it began. I try to focus on the errand my wife has assigned me.

Thinking the sunlight has caught my gaze, I notice, almost before passing, a woman standing at the side of the freeway. Tall and lithe, she patiently waits, as if half of Los Angeles wasn’t roaring by at seventy-miles per hour. I park in front of her car then step onto the road to meet, at full force, the shudder of traffic. “Hi!” She shouts over the blare. “Thanks for stopping. It just died on me. Got any cables?” She squints. The sun shines bright above us, and her skin has already deepened from standing out too long. She follows me to my trunk. Her tread so fast, she steps on my heel. “Sorry,” she says with a shy smile and shakes her long blonde hair loose as if she’s just let it down. A nervous twitch I realize. I pull out a car kit. “Wow! You’re really organized.”

I shrug embarrassed. “Always be prepared.”

 “I’m guessing by your accent you probably didn’t learn that in the Boy Scouts.”

I laugh and shake my head.

 “I’m Elise.” She offers a sun-weathered hand.

“Pravat Tanawat.”

She takes mine in hers. “I really appreciate this, Pravat.” Her voice is throaty as if she’s spent a lot of time in a dry climate. Elise lifts the hood of her car. A constellation of freckles dots her bare neck and shoulders. She looks to be thirty-three, maybe thirty-five at most, much younger compared to my forty-nine. Her long skirt whips up from the force of the passing cars, and I watch a silver pendant dangle and twist from her neck as she helps me clamp the cables.

“So, how do you support your heroic acts, Pravat?”

 “I own a restaurant. Try Thai in Thai Town,”

“How fantastic! I always wanted to run my own business.”

“If you wait too long, you’ll never do it.” I don’t mean to, or even want to, not really, but I catch a glimpse of her breasts when she leans over. Her blouse hangs low, and I notice the distinction between tanned skin to soft pale flesh. “That should do it,” I say, securing the other end of the cable to the frame of her car. My hands are covered in dirt. Sunee will be mad.

A strand of hair falls across her face. She tucks it behind her ear and accidentally smudges grease across her cheek. I point to it. She smiles and rubs it off with the back of her hand. “Where in Thailand are you from?” She props herself against my car as I slip into the driver’s seat and start the engine.

“My parents were chefs in Bangkok. We’re a family of cooks.”

“I just moved from Colorado. Went through a nasty divorce and an even uglier custody battle. My daughter and her father are back in Colorado Springs. I couldn’t stay there.” She looks to the stream of cars racing past us. “I still can’t get used to this all.”

In her CRV, she sits next to me in the passenger seat and fumbles for her keys then shows me a picture of a toothy girl wearing braids. “That’s my Jenny.”

“You must miss her. How old?”

“Nine, and she actually owns a pony. Her father’s idea after we separated. What kind of a girl has a pony?” She laughs and tries to shake it off.

I’m not sure what to say, so I close my fingers around her keys. “Let’s give it a try.”

“I have to remember.” She looks to the road ahead. “Not all men are pricks.”
Her car starts with a choke and a sputter. “You did it!” She smiles. We hear brakes screech behind us and look to each other. Elise instinctively reaches an arm across to shield me. Metal crunches against metal at the rear. The airbags balloon, and we’re both swallowed by nylon. White powder burns my arms, my neck, and my face. We slam into my car in front of us. The toxic smell of plastic chemicals fills my head, and I can still feel her grip on me.

We find ourselves in an ambulance, lying side by side. Technicians check our vitals and flash lights into our eyes. My head is pounding, yet I can sense every part of my body. Soon as we come to a stop, the back doors swing open, and I watch as they wheel away Elise.
“When can I go home?” I ask one of the attendants who skirts by after a cursory glance at my chart. Sunee’s been notified. They’ve told me she’ll be on her way. My head, bandaged tight, feels like it’ll explode; the medication hasn’t kicked in yet. I have minor cuts and scrapes on my arms, neck, and hands, and my skin still burns from that powder. Lying here only intensifies the pain, so I drop my feet to the cold, laminated floor and search for her.

“Hey!” She greets me while a nurse draws blood from her arm. She looks tired. Her hair disheveled like she’s just woken from a fitful nap. She motions for me to sit in the chair next to her bed and smiles so sincerely any trace of worry or distress disappears. “Thought I’d donate while I’m here. You don’t look so hot. How you feelin’?”

“Like a Thai Frankenstein.”

She laughs. “I’m really sorry about all this. If you hadn’t stopped to help, you wouldn’t be here.”

“I’ll live. How about you?”

“A few scrapes, but OK. Can you believe it? That car hitting mine and then yours. My first accident and it turns out the driver doesn’t even have insurance. My ex is gonna kill me. It’s his car.”

“Well, now you’re an official Angeleno.” I point to her bandaged arm. “Welcome to L.A.” She laughs again, but there’s a strain to her look. Nearby, a machine starts to beep. Someone accidentally pulls Elise’s curtain open, and we see the patient next to us. She sleeps with her mouth open; an IV snakes its way from her arm to a bag of saline. The fluorescent lights above and an over-powering smell of rubbing alcohol suck what little energy I have, but Elise picks up where we left off, as if we hadn’t just faced death. “So, Pravat, tell me where is your restaurant exactly?”

I take in a breath and straighten myself. She looks at me with her bright blue eyes, and I feel like she could pull me together piece by piece. “Hollywood and St. Andrews. We’ve been renovating, but re-open next week.”

“Will you be okay to work?”

I nod, unthinkingly.

“I love Thai food, anything with fish and ginger. It’s like they were made for each other.”

I smile back, eager to invite her to the restaurant. I already want to make something special that would match her spirit, but, before I can respond, the same brunette who took my stats earlier appears out of nowhere. “Excuse me. You’re not supposed to be wandering.”

“I’m checking on my friend.”

“You’re a liability.” She reaches for me.

Elise sits up. “We’ve just been through a bad accident. I’m sure you can spare some kindness.”

The nurse purses her lips and grudgingly says, “You should get back to your bed. We’ll have your scan results soon.”

“Geez,” Elise snickers as the nurse stomps away. “I hope she doesn’t treat all her patients like that.”

For a small space of time we forget where we are and talk about anything that comes to mind: her weak attempts at growing a garden, my recipes for catfish, and how pickled jellyfish tastes, and, just as she’s telling me about her daughter, we hear my wife call. “Pravat, where are you?”

I jolt. “Sunee!”

“Pravat?” I can see her silhouette through the curtain. Elise gives a confused look, and there’s nothing I can do but shout back, “I’m here!” Sunee rushes to give me a hug so tight I can barely breathe. Her hair’s come undone from the tight bun she usually keeps it in, and she’s shimmied into some form-fitting black leggings. Her red blouse matches her heels, which clack against the linoleum. “You all right?”

“Everything’s fine, love.” I whisper, suddenly realizing just how tired and frayed my nerves are. My wife loosens her brace, so I can breathe again. Elise watches. I start to feel uncomfortable.

“Why don’t you both have a seat?” she offers. Sunee turns around.

“Hon’, this is Elise. She was in the accident with me.”

“You’re the one who hit my husband?” She arches an eyebrow.

“No, your husband and I were rear-ended. He was helping me jumpstart my car when it happened.”

Sunee looks to me, her gaze lingering on the cut slashed across my face and the scrapes on my arms and neck. Something shifts for her. She grabs hold of me, again. “Thank god, you’re okay,” then turns to Elise, forcing a smile. “I hope you’re all right, too?” Elise returns the gesture, but my wife’s already propping me to my feet. “Let’s see if we can get you home.” 

“Pravat,” Elise says, reaching out, “I wish it was under different circumstances, but I’m glad we met.” We clasp hands for a brief moment before Sunee leads me away.

 I know she’s anxious to get back to work, yet Sunee hasn’t left my side since I returned. A week before our re-opening and we still have so much to do.  Standing at our bedroom door, she wears a satin white nightie that hugs her so tightly I can see her taut waist and the firmness of her small breasts. “Need any special care?” She curls up next to me in bed. For fifteen years I’ve dipped from the same pot of chili paste. My wife is as familiar to me as my own skin. “How do you feel?” she asks.

 “Glad to be home.” I can trace the delicate lines of age just subtly etched near her eyes and at the corners of her soft pink lips. I kiss her, and she slides her hands up my chest. Just as I’m aroused, Sunee rests against the pillow next to me and closes her eyes. I try to settle in, but all I can do is imagine the smack of sun-freckled skin and the bite of pale, tender flesh.

 

In the morning, the sun cuts between the curtains and pierces my gaze. Sunee’s downstairs cooking. I smell fried rice, garlic, and shrimp paste. I’m thirsty and hungry, but take my time getting up. I feel like a piece of tenderized meat. In the bathroom, lights off, I wish I could piss the pain away, but it stays with me. I stumble down the hallway to the stairwell and take one step at a time. Sunee bounds through the kitchen with seemingly endless reserves of energy. She has a pot of soup simmering; rice steams in the cooker. Meanwhile, she starts to blend her morning concoction of fruits and vegetables in the VitaMixer. Dark circles give away her fatigue; otherwise, she wears a tight yellow dress that reveals her sculpted thighs. She is as fit and toned, maybe even more so, than the first day I met her. “Feeling better?” She wraps a strong arm around me and leads me to a barstool at the counter.

“Getting there.” I crack a smile.

“Eat,” she points to the food before she sips her juice blend. “Lots to do today. We have the liquor delivery. I’m expecting the proofs of the new menu, and I’ve gotta pick up the sconces you were supposed to get.” She doesn’t notice my frown. If it wasn’t for those damn sconces I might not have been in the accident. I wouldn’t be stuck here looking and feeling like a Zombie. I take a bitter bite of fried rice that scalds my tongue. When I swallow, my chest feels constricted like I’ve been pummeled by gorilla-sized fists. I had no idea this accident could take so much out of me. Sunee gathers her purse, her sunglasses, and a pile of paperwork.

“Want me to go with you?”

“Don’t be silly.” She stops for a split second and kisses me on the cheek. “You need your rest.”

I catch her in my arms and hold her for as long as I can. “You shouldn’t have to do this by yourself.”

Sunee wrenches herself free. “We don’t really have a choice. Call me if you need anything.” 

Soon as she leaves, the house is disturbingly quiet. Nestled at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains, in the outskirts of L.A., our place is much too big for a two-person family. Though I’d never admit it to Sunee, I wish we had kids running around, squealing in their little pip-squeak voices, reminding me I’m needed and wanted. I remember Elise’s picture of her awkward, smiling daughter. How would our lives be different if we had children? How would Sunee and I be as parents? For reasons I’ve forgotten we thought the restaurant would be enough. I turn the TV on.

Chef Chan crowds the screen. He used to be my favorite. Now he just seems sad and silly with his fake accent. Everyone knows he’s from Monterey Park. This week, he’s covering a special on Thai food, as if any Asian can cook it. “Look how golden, brown, and delicious these spring rolls are. Very nice!” He gives a cheeky grin to the camera. Chef Chan used to be an expert. Today, his fish sauce splatters across the counter. Lemongrass is chopped too rough, looking more fibrous than edible. I get hungry again and, out of restlessness, rummage through the cabinets. Most are empty except for some dusty packets of spices and grease-stained jars. We had our kitchen custom-modeled. Sunee and I thought we’d host elaborate dinner parties and barbeques. Six years later, our stainless steel grill goes unused, and the matching stove is strictly for boiling tea water.

From a back corner, I pull out my mother’s green and black-veined marble mortar and pestle, a gift to her from my father. It’s heavy and cold to the touch. Sunee’s been trying to get me to cook again. She wanted to go on one of those culinary tours: a week in Hong Kong crimping dim sum, two weeks hopping the Greek Isles playing with phyllo dough, or a month in the Yucatan, grinding corn and wrapping pork in banana leaves. These were only a few of her ruses to lure me back to the kitchen, but it all sounds like too much energy and effort.

Chef Chan goads me from behind. “Don’t be afraid to experiment. That’s what cooking is about.” He chops Thai basil and throws them into a clear, glass bowl filled with giant prawns, julienned red peppers, fish sauce, and mangos. My fingers start to twitch. Fifteen dishes spring to mind, but I resign myself to the couch with a bowl of instant noodles.

The next morning I never knew pain could take so many different forms. One moment it’s sharp and cuts; the next it’s blunt and deadening. Sunee says I’m in shock. The wound on my head throbs, but I dread spending another day trapped in this house. Chef Chan continues his special. Today is prik nam pri. I watch him make one mistake after another as I eat cold Beefaroni from the can.

“Oh my god, Pravat! Why are you eating that crap?” Sunee strides into the kitchen, turning on the lights. My eyes hurt, adjusting to the brightness. “Let me make you something,” she says.

“I’m OK.”

She picks up the remote and flips the channel to ESPN. Sunee loves Kobe and the Lakers. If she had her way, our restaurant would be painted in purple and gold. Fish makes a three-pointer in the re-cap against the Sonics, and Sunee, who missed the live airing, pumps her fist. “Why don’t you try one of my fruit blends?” She turns her attention back to me.

“I’m not hungry anymore.”

She eyes me, and I look back to the TV feeling guilty. I kept jerking myself awake last night dreaming of head-on collisions. Sunee must’ve been startled, too. The crash has taken its toll on us both. “How about I come to work with you today?”

“Too soon.” She flips the mixer on, and the machine whirs loud, threatening a full-blown headache, yet I wrap my arms around her. Soon as she turns off the mixer, I kiss her neck. “I want to go with you.”

“One more day.” She takes three gulps of her juice. When she leaves, I walk her to the car and kiss her before she gets in. We wave goodbye, and I’m struck by the fact we haven’t done this in a while.

Still in my pajamas, I linger in the garage with the door wide open. If Sunee were here, she’d shuffle me back to bed, but I putter around enjoying the numbing feel of cold concrete against my toes and heels. Pulling out an old dusty set of golf clubs, I practice a couple of shameful swings and feel how unforgiving my body is now. In the far corner, a BBQ set we should have given away is starting to rust. Some garden supplies, still in their original packaging, sit neatly arranged on the shelf, collecting cobwebs. Our garage looks like one of those model homes frozen in time. I run my finger along the dusty table bench, noting the layers of disuse. Inside, the phone rings, and I think it’s Sunee forgetting something or reminding me another thing, but it’s not.

“Hi, is this Pravat?” She waits for me to respond, and I take my time, as if Elise hadn’t been in the back of my mind since I met her.

“Yes, who is this?”

“Elise. So good to hear your voice.”

“Elise, how are you?”

“Well, I haven’t been able to teach my classes in the last couple days, but hopefully soon.”

“I didn’t know you were a teacher.”

“I give yoga lessons at different studios across the city. But I called to check on you. How’s my hero recovering?” My headache feels as if it’s easing up already. “Getting better. An old man like me just has to take things slowly.”

“I’m glad to hear that. What’s killing me now is the premium my insurance wants me to pay. Ouch!”

“Is there anything I can do?”

“You’re sweet. How’s your restaurant?”

“Still on schedule. We’re set to re-open this Friday, six o’clock. You should come.”

“Sounds great. Listen, Pravat, I’ve gotta go, but I’m glad you’re well, and I hope to stop by.”

“Take care, Elise.” I hear myself say as the other line goes dead.

For the rest of the day I keep the blinds open and the lights on. I shower and shave and even iron a week’s worth of shirts and pants, more anxious than ever to get back to work. By the time Sunee comes home, past midnight, I’m stuck to the sofa where I fell asleep earlier watching Chef Chan and dreaming of sun freckles. My wife yawns loudly as she lingers in the kitchen fixing a late snack. She joins me and surfs the channels while giving updates on the restaurant. I try to listen and keep from dozing off. 

Twenty years ago we moved to the States and haven’t stopped working since. From my first job bussing tables and Sunee hostessing, I’ll never forget when our business loan was approved and we were finally able to open Try Thai. I splurged on three bottles of Veuve Clicquot and drove Sunee to Venice Beach. We drank straight out of the bottle and watched the sunset as the Pacific lapped at our feet. There was sand in the bed for weeks. Nights like this, I can’t tell where Sunee ends and I begin.

I’ve convinced my wife to let me go to work today. It’s been awhile since we drove to the restaurant together. We started to keep different schedules, not for any particular reason; it just happened. The same way water disappears when you cook a pot of rice. The grains soak up all the liquid until they soften into a white fluff. You don’t quite notice the difference until its already taken effect. I pull the seatbelt on as she backs out the driveway. She starts to tick off her laundry list of things to do. Since I’ve been home, she’s managed to hire a four-piece jazz band, create a new cocktail menu, and had the sconces installed. “If we like, they can play Friday and Saturday nights. You like jazz don’t you?” My wife looks at me without really looking at me before she turns her gaze back to the road.

She’s kept the top up on her convertible, but all the windows are rolled down, and a cool breeze whips as she picks up speed. I don’t expect it, but my heart starts to race while she rattles off the new cocktails. “Saketini’s taste like cat piss.”

She wrinkles her nose like she’s just had a sip. We stop at a busy intersection. I’m completely damp with sweat and have a hard time keeping my breath steady. Any one of these cars could plow right into us. Someone could sideswipe us, and we’d be crushed before realizing what happened. I grip the edge of my seat. We haven’t even gotten to the freeway, and I’m remembering Elise, her warm hand against me. I start to burn up, aroused. Sunee glances at me. “Are you all right?” She asks. I don’t know how to answer.

We reach the restaurant and my wife wants to take me back home, but I refuse. I ignore the chills and my dampened shirt and try to focus. Try Thai is awash in sea-foam green. The tables and chairs look like they’ve been marinating in a swampy lagoon. Pastel seascapes hang from the walls, and I barely recognize our restaurant. The bar is lacquered in a nautical blue. Sunee’s intended high-end tropical chic is more like the Holiday Inn at Palm Beach. “Nice.” I nod and give a grin that hurts.

Kiet, my loyal sous chef, greets me. “How are you Mr. Tanawat?” Naturally his gaze lingers on my scar. The stitches have started to dissolve, but still poke out, unappealing.

“Glad to be here.” I pat him on the back.

“Would you like to see what we’ve been cooking in the kitchen?”

Sunee nudges me. “They might need your help.” With no other choice, I follow.

The kitchen is hot and humid. A line of cooks are busy at work, and I can smell new dishes being prepared. Kiet hands me a copy of the menu. Sunee’s added a catfish dish, a specialty my father perfected at his restaurant. She’s also included two of her personal favorites: lychee salad and frog legs. Niran’s been working on the kob chee cho. “We could really use your expertise.” He gestures for me to join him. Mounds of Thai chilies and coriander wait for me. I grab a knife and grip it tight, thinking it might be good to start with the basics and ease into it. I begin to chop. The knife rocks back and forth, and back and forth, against the board as I try to create a rhythm. The more I force it, the more I realize I’ve lost my beat. I slip. The knife cuts into my finger. Kiet rushes for the first aid kit just as Sunee bursts through the doors and sees me bleeding. “Oh, honey,” she sighs. Grabbing a clean dishrag, she leads me out. I look back to see Niran dump all the contaminated food into the garbage.

 

A hungry crowd of new clients waits on the sidewalk outside. Sunee is glowing. She wears a black dress that highlights her thighs and cleavage. She won’t open the doors until it’s six o’clock, exactly. The kitchen is already heavy with scents of curry, fish, pork, and salted duck. It’s enough to make my head spin. I had to insist I was well enough to work tonight. There was no way I was going to let Sunee keep me home. The stitches have finally dissolved, and the pain and aches have dulled. As soon as the doors open, the guests flood in, and the more people I seat, the more the line outside seems to grow. I watch the wait-staff as they tirelessly carry trays of satays, spring rolls, coconut rice, and steamed fish. For once, I’m glad I can respectfully resign myself to seating guests and checking on customers. When Niran comes to whisper, “Mr. Tanawat, we need you in the kitchen,” I’m annoyed.

At the grill, a wall of flames towers tall enough to scorch the ceiling. The cooks stand back, stunned. Kuo, our newest hire, nervously shakes a container of Morton’s at the blaze. The fire lashes back in orange and red flickers. I panic. My chest constricts. I want to turn and run, but I know I can’t.

“What should we do?” Kiet asks, stirring me from my fear.

I suck in a deep breath and say with a sudden calmness, “Get me the fire extinguisher.” I spray onto the flames until a billow of smoke mushrooms over the stove and disperses through the kitchen like the Valley smog. Everyone exhales a collective sigh of relief. The staff resumes their duties soon as Sunee rushes in. “Everything’s fine,” I say before she can utter a word.

She relaxes and grabs hold of my hands. “And you?”

Without thinking, I kiss her full on the lips, my heart beating madly. I return to my post with the taste of Sunee’s sweet-wine kiss. She’s been sampling some of the cocktails with the guests again.

I fall back into work, losing all sense of time until she arrives.

“Hi,” she says, her hair down and her gaze still seeming to carry the light of the sun from that first day we met. I was sure she wouldn’t come.

“Elise!” We hug like old friends. “Good to see you.” She’s paler than before and not as tall as I remembered, but she wears another long skirt and the same pendant dangles from her neck.

“My class got cancelled tonight. The heater broke in our studio.” I shake my head not understanding. “I teach Ashtanga,” she offers as explanation.

“Oh!” I fake it. “Well, lucky for us.”

“Pravat, this is my very good friend, Shelly.” Elise steps back, and a mousy woman, with an assortment of piercings and a shaved head, reaches out a pale, bony hand.

“Nice to meet you,” we say at the same time. Elise laughs.

“You’ve got quite a crowd,” Shelly says.

“Not to worry. I’ll get you seated.”

“We just got here. It doesn’t seem fair,” Elise protests.

“Please.” I lead a path through the packed tables to a corner spot and hand each a menu, but Elise promptly returns them.

“We’ll have whatever you recommend,” she says, and I feel like I could glide back to the kitchen.

“Kiet,” I say loudly over the din. “Prepare a spot for me. I need shitakes and champignons, two cups of vegetable stock, peanuts, and bean curd.” I list ingredients straight from memory. It’s a simple dish with a lot of flavor, one of my mother’s specialties.

I toss shitakes and dried champignons with galangal and ginger until a strong waft of their essence pinches my nose. “Someone,” I say. “Please, one whole, uncut cantaloupe.” A cantaloupe appears, and I murmur a “Thank you” without looking up. I slice the top off, gut the meat and pour the soup into the melon. The broth needs time to meld with the sweetness of the fruit. If sunlight had a taste, it would be cantaloupe, and the woody base of the mushroom is the earth touched by the sun. “Take this to table seven,” I say to one of my staff and turn back to the stove to start on another family recipe.

 I heat coconut milk until it boils then stir in curry. Adding sea bass, rubbed with salt and grated wild ginger, I wait for the pot to boil again before mixing in sweet basil and chili. Everything makes sense in this moment. I have purpose. I plate the dish with more wild ginger and basil leaves as garnish. Kiet returns, “Should I take this, too?” he asks. I shake my head and hold the dish close. I want Elise to know how life can be savored.

“Wild Ginger Fish Curry,” I announce setting the plate on the table. They both eye the dish. “How was the cantaloupe soup?” I ask as I serve each a plate.

“Extraordinary.” Elise answers.

“How long have you had this restaurant?” Shelly asks.

“Ten years this week.”

Elise samples the fish. “I can’t believe I’ve never been here before. Pravat, you are an artist. I wish I could take my daughter here.” Shelly gives a knowing nod.

“Thank you. I have to say L.A.’s been good. Me and this city, we’ve taken to each other like fish to ginger.” I add the last thought hoping she’ll remember that day our lives collided.

“You’ve definitely made something special,” Shelly says. She’s mawkish compared to Elise.

“How’s your wife?” she asks and motions behind me.

I falter, blood rushing to my face.

“Hi,” Sunee says with a smile that looks more forced than not.

“How are you?” Elise’s own smile seems to fade.

“Busy, but glad Pravat’s back. He should be resting.” My wife links her arm with mine and holds me to her.

“We both seem to be recovering well.” Elise looks to me. “He’s made this incredible food.”

Sunee turns, and I can’t bear to see the shock on her face. “You cooked?”

I’m hot with shame.

“He’s amazing,” Shelly adds.

My wife tightens her grip on me, her nails digging into my skin. “You’ll have to excuse us. Pravat’s needed in the kitchen.”

In the storeroom, we’re surrounded by shelves of canned oyster mushrooms, sacks of jasmine rice, and bottles of soy sauce. The kitchen is the busiest we’ve ever seen it. We should be proud, celebrating together. “Sun—" I say looking to her, but she presses her fingers to my lips, and I realize I’ve crossed her in the worst possible way.

“I know how terrible this accident’s been and that you aren’t happy, but honestly, what the hell is going on?”

I can only blink. “What do you mean?”

“Pravat! I could barely get you to prep, and now you’re cooking a five-course meal for some woman who almost got you killed.”

“It was an accident. You act like she was deliberately out to get me. Elise is a good person if you took the time to meet her.”

 

Sunee shakes her head, pulling her to me. She is tiny but strong. “Pravat, honey, you have to know you are shitting all over the best years of your life with me.” She kisses me so hard it hurts.

The door slams shut behind her, and I stand there while the lights automatically shut off. I count the seconds before I can get back to Elise. The kitchen is stifling when I step back out. I peek to the dining room and see her across the way talking and laughing with Shelly. Their hands touch across the table. Elise reaches over. Her blouse hangs loose again. She gives Shelly a soft, tender kiss on the lips. Waiters and waitresses scurry by, dodging me with their trays, and I feel like I should drown in all of this.

Out of the corner of my eye, I catch sight of Sunee. She swills conversation as she mixes drinks behind the bar then clinks glasses with some guy. He faintly looks familiar, probably a regular. For the first time in a long time, I try and will my wife to notice me. I hope against hope that she’ll look up and see me in this crowd, but she just takes a sip of her cocktail, and, despite everything we’ve been through, or maybe in spite of, she gives him a wide smile with her bright red lips. I take that first step towards her, my pulse racing. No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to get to her fast enough.

 

Rashaan Alexis Meneses studied English, Creative Writing at the University of California, Los Angeles and earned her MFA at Saint Mary’s College of California. Named a 2005-2006 Jacob K. Javits Fellow and a 2009 Finalist for A Room of Her Own Foundation’s Gift of Freedom Award, recent publications include the anthology Growing Up Filipino II: More Stories for Young Adults, The University of North Carolina’s Pembroke Magazine, and an upcoming issue of In the Grove. She teaches at Saint Mary’s College and Merritt College. More information can be found at her blog forum: http://ruelleelectrique.wordpress.com/.

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