text by Shane Jones
On Saturday mornings Maneesh tells Sarah things. They have lived together for six months. Sarah refuses to define their relationship, so Sarah is just Sarah and she lives her life saying she has a cold. Maneesh doesn’t understand why Sarah always has a cold, but she says she does and she likes to talk about it. Once a week Sarah works for a veterinarian who makes house calls. The only reason he makes house calls is to put dogs to sleep. The only reason he employs Sarah is to have someone in the house if the dog is too big.
Maneesh wants to marry Sarah. He feels embarrassed that he desperately wants to marry a woman named Sarah who has a cold all the time and puts dogs to sleep. Back home his parentsquestion their non-arrangement. They call Sarah “The Sahara” and when Maneesh asks what that means exactly they go silent. Regardless, they send money every month and are happy to do so. His mother places dried flowers, from their backyard, intothe envelope, and during the trip they become dust. His father sketches clouds in pencil across the top of the envelope and the mailman once used a black pen and drew some slanted rain.
The worst thing Sarah has ever said to Maneesh he has written on a purple post-it note. This one mean thing, so heartless, he holds onto, and before taking a shower, he unfolds the purple post-it note, reads the question, and tries to answer it. What the mean thing is never seems as mean as when he first heard it. They were arguing about money. They always argue about money because money is the most important thing in the world. Sarah said that he could never make it alone because he had no friends in LA. She narrowed her eyes and said, “When was the last time someone asked you how you were?”
Maneesh is on a job interview at The Dick Motel. His resume is completely blank, there is absolutely nothing on it. The man sitting behind the desk, Mr. Dick, feels required to interview a person with a name like Maneesh. Mr. Dick has a framed picture of his five children. All five children are dressed in North Face jackets and Under Armour pants. Maneesh looks at the picture and sighs.
“Tell me about yourself,” says Mr. Dick.
Maneesh describes the field of flowers back home and the spice market and the golden temple and the cows that produce toxic milk because they eat street garbage. To some of the people who interview him his life seems exotic. Sometimes the interviewers talk about Cancun and Maneesh smiles and nods.
“But who are you really,” says Mr. Dick.
This has never happened before. Such a question! Maneesh lists off adjectives, none of which accurately describe him, most of which he’s not sure the definition of. Still, it sounds pretty good.
Mr. Dick doesn’t speak for five minutes. Finally, Mr. Dick says, “What’s your favorite animal?”
“Dog,” says Maneesh. “Simple and noble and they give you everything.”
“Let me clarify. Any animal in the world. That includes jungle.”
“Definitely dog,” says Maneesh.
By the end of the interview Maneesh isn’t sure he has the job. A salary is discussed, so it seems like he has the job. He’s not even sure what the job is. But Maneesh will return the next day at 8 a.m. and see what happens. He needs a job so he can marry Sarah and be happy.
It is raining outside and too dark for a summer evening. Waiting at the bus stop Maneesh isn’t sure if he should celebrate or look for more jobs. He sits on the metal bench inside the bus stop and with both hands he holds the purple post-it note.
“Doctor’s are now saying you should squat on the toilet,” says Sarah. “To get your shit out.”
“What?” says Maneesh, amazed. “Is that news?”
“Maybe it would make me have fewer colds,” says Sarah. “Seems kind of funny though, squatting on the toilet and not sitting, like a normal person.”
“Right,” says Maneesh.
Sarah is in the suburbs at the Dick’s house. She is with the veterinarian and the dying dog’s owner, Mrs. Dick, who can’t stop crying. She is going through a divorce and now this. The Dick’s dog is so large Sarah is startled every time she leaves the room and comes back into the room. The reason she leaves the room so many times is to text Maneesh. She says things like, “God, I am so sick today, not sure I can make it,” and “My cold is so bad I think I might pass out.” Nothing Maneesh texts back is good enough.
The veterinarian likes doing mushrooms and reading horoscopes. Putting dogs to sleep has made him into a weirdo. He used to wear a hemp necklace until Sarah told him to stop. On many occasions he has refused to put down any other animal besides a dog because he believes other animals aren’t as close to God. He said this years ago while on mushrooms, but even sober, he believes it.
When he’s on mushrooms he tells Sarah by texting a picture of a palm tree. This was a mistake the first time, but it was funny, so now the palm tree is a running joke. Today the veterinarian is not on mushrooms. Sarah’s job is to hold the back quarters of the dog still while he injects the dog with the chemicals that will kill it.
“It’s a nice dog,” says Sarah. “I’m sure you gave him a wonderful life.”
Mrs. Dick is on the living room floor, about ten feet from Sarah and the vet. She looks like she is praying but she is crying so much.
Once, Sarah and the vet had to put down a German shepherd named Brutus. Brutus hadn’t been groomed in ten years and his tongue never stopped bleeding. For Halloween, the owner’s daughter went as Little Red Riding Hood with Brutus. On first entering the house Sarah had hated the dog. When Brutus was injected with the poison he swept his paw down and on top of Sarah’s hand.
Once, the veterinarian called Sarah for an emergency job, it had been a few weeks, and when she hung up she said, “I love you.” She didn’t mean it. She only said it because she had a fear of saying “I love you” on the phone to a stranger. And now, it had happened. After the emergency job – two dogs in one visit – the vet texted Sarah a palm tree and a purple heart.
When all the poison is inside Mrs. Dick’s dog the vet has Sarah hold the needle so he can get more poison. Some dogs are so big they need more poison to put them to sleep forever. Sarah feels the need to keep talking to Mrs. Dick who is now flat on the carpet with her face pressed into the carpet. She’s not that upset about the dog. “You gave him everything,” says Sarah. “A life of love.”
Sarah and the vet place the dog inside a purple bag. It’s purple because black is too morbid. This is the vet’s idea and he is proud of it. Even in the driveway Sarah hears Mrs. Dick crying. The vet needs his money. Before he comes out and gets into the car he texts Sarah “j/k” and a palm tree. A second later he sends a heart.
They began having sex several times a day shortly after their first date. Maneesh was surprised by this. It was a lot of sex! The only other girlfriend he had ever had while living in LA was a woman who liked sex on Thursday only, which she deemed, “Sophie’s Day.” But Sarah was different. Sarah was insatiable because she couldn’t love anyone. Maneesh was a careful lover and for cologne he wore rosewater which Sarah liked to smell off his shoulders. Sarah enjoyed fast humping. Maneesh increased his humps per minute and felt ridiculous. He wanted to be married so he humped until it hurt. Sarah told Maneesh to put a hand on her throat. He refused. Maneesh loved Sarah by telling her everything he would accomplish in his life. Sarah thought that a person who does this accomplishes nothing.
For ten days Maneesh goes to his job. He’s not sure he has the job because he hasn’t been paid. When he showed up the following morning after the interview, Mr. Dick seemed surprised.
“You came back,” said Mr. Dick.
“Ready to work,” Maneesh said.
Mr. Dick waited a while then smiled. “Favorite animal is a dog.”
“We had discussed money, so I assumed,” said Maneesh.
The job is guarding a small swimming pool behind the motel. Maneesh is not a lifeguard. He has no such training. He just makes sure no one is to go swimming. Mr. Dick doesn’t want anyone in the water. The Dick Motel is performing poorly on the financial spectrum. A boy drowned last month. He went down the slide and became so shocked by the cold water that he had an anxiety attack in the deep end. So Maneesh, from sunrise to sunset, watches the pool and points people away from the water.
At the end of his tenth day Mr. Dick hands Maneesh five hundred dollars in cash. It is much less than employing a lifeguard and letting people have fun. The motel now charges 35 cents for a bucket of ice. In the future the motel will have one resident and it will be Mr. Dick.
Sarah can’t sleep because it’s too hot. The air-conditioner is on but it’s not strong enough. Their bed is a mattress on the floor. Next to her on the floor Sarah keeps her phone and when it goes off a little light blooms in the room.
She gets a text from the veterinarian. This has been happening more frequently. Sarah rolls onto her side and squints into the light. The screen is all palm trees and hearts. She doesn’t respond. He sends more.
They are out drinking coffee at Sarah’s favorite coffee place. It’s called Starbucks and Sarah likes to sit outside under the green umbrellas so people can see her. She has a headache and says she can barely open her eyes. Her throat is raw but the coffee soothes. It’s a very bad cold this time around and she needs to take time off work.
“But you only work once a week,” says Maneesh. “For an hour.”
“Exactly,” says Sarah. “I need to clear my schedule. I need Sarah time.”
“I’ve been saving money,” says Maneesh, smiling.
“Don’t smile,” says Sarah. “You look pervy.”
Maneesh lowers his chin and bites his bottom lip.
“Men shouldn’t smile so much at women. It’s oppressive.”
“I’m saving for our future,” says Maneesh, not smiling. “I have great plans.”
"A Sarah day,” says Sarah. “Once a week where I get to do whatever I want.”
“Hm,” Maneesh says.
“Today’s good,” she says and finishes her coffee. “Now let’s go home and do fast humps.”
“You can’t act this way when we’re married,” saysManeesh. “Back home they won’t allow such behavior.”
“What are you talking about?”
“This is my proposal,” says Maneesh and he falls to one knee. There is a five hundred dollar ring in his open palm. It is beautiful.
“I thought this would happen,” says Sarah.
Maneesh is unpopular at the motel where there is a guy who says he designs airplanes so he spends all day writing mechanical equations on his body. There is a woman who hides beer in the ice machine. There is a guy who calls himself Morphine Man who spends more time in his van than his motel room. There is a stray dog named George that everyone loves but no one will take responsibility for. They all dislike Maneesh. They don’t care that a boy drowned. Visible water you can’t enter in LA is torture.
Maneesh sits inside the gate at a patio table next to the pool. A car pulls into a parking spot. A woman is inside. Ten minutes later a pick-up truck parks three spots from her. A man gets out, walks to the front desk, and enters the motel room closest to where the woman’s car is parked. Five more minutes pass until the woman leaves her car and opens the motel room door, which is unlocked and left slightly open. An hour later the man leaves. The woman leaves ten minutes after. Maneesh holds his face with his hands.
Every night before it becomes dark and the little yellow motel lights come on outside each room, Mr. Dick appears in his Chevy Cruze. He parks on the side of the motel where there is an entrance. From his trunk he unloads a dozen black trash bags. A woman, much older than Mr. Dick, helps him bring the bags inside. They are huge bags, and the old woman is very small but very strong and she takes three bags in each hand and she can barely fit through the door. One night, Mr. Dick left his car right there and in the morning his car was still there. But most nights, Mr. Dick leaves. He comes back in the morning to work the front desk because he has fired everyone but Maneesh and a maid who is into heroin and skinny dipping in the dark.
If he’s in a good mood Mr. Dick brings Maneesh a coffee in the morning. He hands him a clipboard and paper where Maneesh writes down when and who tries to swim in the pool. Soon, he will have enough for the plane tickets back home.
“Do you like America,” says Mr. Dick.
“You are going to have to be more specific,” Maneesh says.
“Our way of life, our food, our manner of moving through the world.”
At the ice machine is the woman who hides beer inside the machine. She has the flap open and is kneeling in front of it. Her eyes are closed. “Doctor Franks,” she says. “You are needed in the recovery room.”
“I like the flag,” says Maneesh.
Eventually, Sarah agrees to marry Maneesh. She stops complaining about her colds. She’s not even sure she had a cold before, she just liked talking about having a cold. It’s a way to complain and get sympathy for a while until the other person has nothing to say and then she can still keep talking. Sarah realizes she just really likes to talk and have no one talk back to her. She doesn’t necessarily like this about herself, but she accepts it.
The engagement is a great success for Maneesh. He looks at the purple post-it note with the mean thing on it and puts it back in his pants. His parents seem thrilled. They stop calling Sarah “The Sahara” which is a nice thing to do. They will have the wedding there. They will invite one hundred people.
It is all so strange and exotic. Sarah spends less time looking at her friends on her phone. None of them have children so they have dogs they take pictures with. Sarah has to like each picture. But now Sarah thinks about being married and having a child. She doesn’t tell Maneesh this. Her likes on her friend’s dog photos become random. Her friends are offended and happy for her. The colors of the wedding will be white and turquoise and long beads will be on every neck and wrist. Rose petals will lead them everywhere. Marble, thinks Sarah, is a nice name for a baby girl.
Maneesh collects his last five hundred dollars and lets everyone into the pool. Mr. Dick is furious. It’s a small pool to begin with and there are too many people in it. They fill the pool shoulder-to-shoulder and on the slide are half a dozen people drinking Bud Light. One person wears a clown wig.
“Why are you doing this?” says Mr. Dick.
“To make the people happy,” says Maneesh. “I am embarking on the most joyful part of my life and I want to share it with everyone.”
“Half of these people are child molesters,” says Mr. Dick.
“I am in love and you are not,” says Maneesh. “So we see the world differently. I couldn’t be more happier than I am now.”
Mr. Dick waves hello at a motel resident slapping his belly, seemingly, in his direction. “I didn’t ask how you were feeling,” says Mr. Dick.
“On top of the world,” says Maneesh.
They are back at Starbucks drinking coffee. The ring on her finger is perfect and a passing man in all gray sweatpants and shirt gives them a thumbs up. Maneesh tells Sarah that the flight is 17 hours.
“Oh my God,” says Sarah.
“We can play games,” says Maneesh.
“On our phones,” says Maneesh. “Like this.” He shows her his phone with a squirrel running from one side of the screen to the other side of the screen catching falling acorns from an autumnal tree.
“Maybe this isn’t such a good idea after all,” says Sarah.
Maneesh does the pervert face. “I am King Love. You are Queen Bee.
“For the wedding,” says Sarah. “How many elephants can we have?”
Maneesh stares at Sarah.
Sarah quits her job and the veterinarian has a coughing fit. He wants her to stay. He has never directly confessed his feelings so he will destroy everything around him. They are outside in his car. They have just finished putting down a Doberman Pincher. Sarah feels nothing. It is her least favorite dog in the world. The owner is a physical therapist who showed her an entire room filled with Bruce Springsteen memorabilia.
“I’ll be gone for a month, maybe more,” says Sarah. “I’ll come back a married woman.”
“I’m on mushrooms,” says the vet.
Through the windshield Sarah sees the physical therapist filling out the paperwork at his dining room table. His forehead is supported by his index finger and thumb. Sarah imagines him listening to depressing Bruce Springsteen songs.
“Can you see me,” says Sarah, “being a wife?”
“Not really,” says the vet. “How about some mushrooms.”
“But isn’t that a bad sign?” says Sarah. “You’re into astrology. Doesn’t my horoscope say what I should do?”
“Sarah,” says the vet. “I’m afraid we have come to the closing chapter in our shared experience. We came together in death, laughed together in death, and now, we leave together in death.”
“But I’m getting married,” says Sarah. “In India.”
“The stars are overrated,” says the vet.
The day before the 17 hour flight Maneesh buys a coffee for everyone at the motel. He knocks on each door, leaves the coffee on the ground, and then moves to the next door.
“What is this about,” says Morphine Man.
“Victory,” says Maneesh.
A few residents open their door, look at the coffee, then close the door. Mr. Dick is asleep in his Chevy Cruze with the old woman knitting in the passenger seat.
“From lottery winnings,” says Morphine Man.
“No, not at all,” says Maneesh, smiling. “I’m going back home to get married. I’ve met a woman and we are going to have a life together.”
Morphine Man drinks his coffee. He stops drinking his coffee but keeps the coffee cup against his mouth and nose while looking at Maneesh. Then he lowers the cup and says, “Talk about a dream and try to make it real.”
Sarah isn’t sure how she got everything so wrong in her imagination but the wedding ceremony isn’t in a church but at the home of Maneesh’s parents. It is lovely. They have decorated for weeks. There are two chairs colored gold in the living room on a riser. Maneesh wears a perfect white suit that is so soft that Sarah cries when she touches it. There is the backyard full of flowers. She looks at the backyard full of flowers and they are married.
There is cake. On the cake are one hundred candles. This is a tradition. Every person at the wedding takes a candle and walks outside where they form a circle with Maneesh and Sarah in the center. She knows no one. Everyone has a dog sitting next to them as they stand. Everyone makes their wish for the couple. They don’t blow the candle out. Rather, they put the candle out with their fingertips, nod at Maneesh and Sarah, and then, the next person goes. The ring of light dials down to dark. The sky is a light blue, almost white, with both the sun and moon visible. Sarah believes she can smell sand in the breeze. Then it’s just Maneesh and Sarah standing in the center with their candles. They make a wish for each other.
There is great applause and cheering. The dogs sit still. A weeping man hugs Maneesh around his thighs that Sarah is pretty sure is his father. Another person holds a small dog against his chest while spinning and looking at the sky with his eyes closed. Maneesh and Sarah run into the house so people can throw things into the air.
“Tell me,” says Sarah, in Maneesh’s childhood bedroom. “Come on, tell me what you wished for.”
“It’s sacred,” says Maneesh. “You wouldn’t tell me your birthday wish at Applebee’s last year.”
“We should do fast humps,” says Sarah.
“My family is outside,” says Maneesh. He points out the window and his uncle nods his drink at him. The dogs haven’t moved an inch. They remain in a circle.
Sarah pushes Maneesh against the door and kisses his neck. Maneesh puts a hand on her throat. She feels scared so she laughs. Then she tells him to keep going. He squeezes her throat and kisses her on the mouth. He kisses her forehead. She coughs. Everyone outside is happy. But they are not as happy as Maneesh and Sarah. How could they be? He lifts her dress. There really are flowers everywhere. He slides his fist across her stomach. “What the hell are you doing?” says Sarah. He slides his fist into his pocket. The purple post-it note remains because they are in love.
Shane Jones (b. 1980) lives in upstate New York. His first novel, Light Boxes, was originally published by Publishing Genius Press in a print run of 500 copies in 2009. The novel was reviewed widely, the film option purchased by Spike Jonze (Where The Wild Things Are, Adaptation), and the book was reprinted by Penguin Group in 2010. Light Boxes has been translated in eight languages and was named an NPR best book of the year. In August of 2012 Penguin released a new novel, Daniel Fights a Hurricane. Shane is also the author of the novella The Failure Six.