Annam Manthiram

 

Annam Manthiram is the author of two novels, The Goju Story and After the Tsunami, and a short story collection (Dysfunction), which received Honorable Mention in Leapfrog Press’ 2010 fiction contest.  Her work has recently appeared in the Chicago Quarterly Review, the Cream City Review, the Concho River Review, Straylight, Blink | Ink, and the Grey Sparrow Journal and is forthcoming in Pank, Smokelong Quarterly, the Camroc Press Review, and the anthologies, Daily Flash: 365 Days of Flash Fiction (Pill Hill Press) and Caught by Darkness (Static Movement).  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, Ms. Manthiram resides in New Mexico with her husband, Alex, and son, Sathya.  Her website is AnnamManthiram.com.

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Cornucopia (July 20, 2010. Issue 19.)

I face him in Aisle 3 of the supermarket.

My opponent is white, washed with zits splattered Pollack style all over his face and arms. I notice black hair stuck underneath a cowboy hat a la James Arness and a brass belt reminiscent of the hicks in Dodge Shitty. Lanky, his arms dangle to the side like a puppet’s with its strings broken. His head-hat combo is too big for his body, and a quality about his eyes makes me nervous. They stare at me with pure, unfettered hatred.

Aisle 3 is the cereal aisle. It is morning, and I have run out of the good stuff. I’m not jonesing oatmeal, breakfast bars or that pop tart crap. I am talking the monarch, the caliph – the supreme being of cereals: Steadman’s Corn Pops. Born to corn. Unfortunately, the store has only one box left.

I cannot let it get away. That box is mine.

We assess each other; I try to find a weakness. He then taps his arm as if trying to find a vein. I cover one nostril and sniff with enthusiasm. We do a dance, our drug of choice on the shelf – so close, so close. Puppet man stops and looks at me long and hard, not the way a lover does, but the way Mr. Judge in district court looks when you try to post bail with your momma’s rent check.

Why doesn't he do something? At least if he tries to grab the box, I can karate chop him on the neck, execute a blitz in the groin, and run away with the cereal.

Poor Steadman's Corn Pops. It's all alone on the shelf, but I console myself with the belief that the lack of others proves the importance of its existence.

He starts to move again. My hands go up – he looks as though he might attack first. But instead, he slides his hand along the ridges of his petrified ass and pulls out a wallet in the shape of a whale. He drops it onto the ground, and I imagine it beached –
and groaning.

"It has a dollar in it. If you walk away from this box and never look back," he says. I am offended that he feels the box is worth so little. He is not a true apostle.

"Donate it to the World Wildlife Fund. I'm not leaving here without my pops," I answer.

A nubile thing from the produce section arrives on scene and asks if we need anything. I ask her if there are any more Corn Pops in storage. She says no, and then she points to the generic Corn Pops boxes, of which there are about fifteen. She explains that they taste just like the Steadman's brand, and that they are cheaper too.

Hasn't she ever seen a Steadman's Corn Pops commercial? People can function without a bowl of the generic brand of pops. People cannot without the real thing. Fucking Jesus, I am surrounded by non-believers!

"Please, go, leave," I say. She walks away, taking her cheap philosophy with her.

Nubile’s workhorse apron with the easy chest gives me an idea. I pull down my shirt, so that pellet head can get free view of my glands.

“Tit for that,” I say.

“Huh?” He asks.

He looks confused, and I shout, “Free sex for the box, idiot!” Men begin to form lines, carrying boxes of macaroni and cheese.

“I’m insulted,” he says, and I feel silly. How can I think my body is a fair exchange? I almost feel pity for this Pinocchio man.

"Attention, shoppers!" The intercom voice suddenly announces. Now is my chance. The guy is unwilling – I can see it in his eyes. He isn’t ready to engage, still stunned by my offer. Without pause, I rush in for the kill. I grab the box from the shelf and try to run. My aged legs don’t tread far; I feel my hair shamelessly gathered and then pulled, and he manages to put one of his arms around my neck. He tugs at the box, slowly working it out of my hold. Like a footballer, I scramble and confront him. With a jerk motion, I scratch his face with the nails from my right hand, and he is the first to bleed.

He kicks me in the stomach, and I gasp. The cowboy heels dig into my ribs. The air has been knocked out of me, and I kneel forward. He pushes me over to the side and grabs the cereal.

I feel the adrenaline pumping through my blood, making me feel like a martyr. I stand up and ram him like a bull on speed. He lets out some gas, which makes my eyes burn. I pull at the cereal and don't realize that he has a gun. He pulls it out and shoots me in the leg. I scream out in pain; lines of blood cover the linoleum.

I hear people's voices, footsteps. I pay no attention because gun smoke still has my box. He attempts to get up, but I pull my pen out of my purse and stab him repeatedly – fourteen times in the thigh. He convulses with each stab, but I don't stop. He still has the gun, and so I keep poking evenly, like a vengeful cop with a night stick.

"Stop her!" the nubile shrieks. By now, my arm is tired; so I do stop. I get up, leaning on my good leg, and stumble over to the cereal. The puppet is cradling it under his arm, hugging it with desire. I yank it out from under him, and I turn when another shot rings out. This time, the yellow belly gets me in the back. The bullet travels through my body and through the cereal box. The cardboard bursts and all the little corn pops, their abnormal shapes and all, explode like fireworks onto the floor.

"My Corn Pops! What have you done?" I scream, but no sound comes out. I watch helplessly as the individual kernels lay drowning in a pool of blood when they should be in a pool of milk.

"Born to corn!" I attempt to yell again, but my mouth doesn't want to move. My body is unresponsive.

I hear him whisper, “Born to corn,” and I am unsure if the puppet has heard me until I spot tears: mucous-coated wet ones. I see that he has taken off his lid and is holding it to his chest, mourning. He makes the sign of the cross and respectively shields the kernels with his hat.

I close my eyes. Who knew cereal could be so good.