Her Real Name
by William Michaelian

I was only a few minutes late, but she was still mad. She took my coat and tossed it into the entry closet. Take off your hat, she said. Iíve got something on the stove. She stomped into the kitchen. I followed her. What are you making? I said. It smells good. Ouch! she said. Do you have to sneak up on me? Iím sorry, I said. I didnít mean to startle you. Did you burn yourself? Slightly, she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. She went to the sink, put her right hand under the faucet, and turned on the cold water. When she was drying off, she looked at me and said, Will you please take off your hat? You look like a salesman, not a dinner guest. Uh, Iíd rather not, I said. She threw her towel on the counter and yanked off my hat. What in the world? she said, looking at the top of my head. What are those? Antlers? I grabbed my hat. Bad hair day, I said, putting it on again. Iíd rather not talk about it.

While she was busy studying my face, I remembered the bag I was holding, and what it contained. I hope you donít mind, I said. I brought us some wine. Instead of saying thank you, she looked past me. I turned around. On the dining table was a bottle of wine, a cork screw, and two glasses. I put the bag on the counter and took out the bottle Iíd brought. Oh, well, I said. Iím sure this one will come in handy sometime. Whatís that supposed to mean? she said. Whatís the matter with my wine? Nothing, I said. Nothing at all. I was only suggesting ó Never mind, she said. I know what you were suggesting. And if you think youíre going to get me drunk and take advantage of me, well, forget it. I have to work tomorrow. Yes, I said. Of course you do. Believe me, I had no intention of ó Can it, she said.

Banished from the kitchen, I went to sit in the living room. Her newspaper was on the couch, so I picked it up and turned on the lamp on the end table. The headlines were appalling, full of death and murder and talk of impending war. There was a picture of a man everyone calls the president, in which he was standing at a podium, looking grim. There were several other men huddled around him, looking absolutely miserable. It was a color picture, but their faces were cold and gray, as if death had invaded their bodies but not yet reached their brains. Feeling sick to my stomach, I hunted through the other sections, looking for the comics.

The roast will be a little while, she said when she joined me about fifteen minutes later. Sorry dinnerís late. Thatís okay, I said. Iím in no hurry. No, she said, I donít suppose you are. She was barely settled when she suddenly sprang up off the couch. I donít know about you, she said, but I need some wine. Good idea, I said. I put the newspaper down and stood up. Let me open the bottle for you.

I followed her to the table. While I was taking out the cork, she eyed me suspiciously and said, Youíre certainly full of energy this evening. Of course, then again, your schedule isnít that demanding, is it. I mean, since youíre unemployed and all. You are still unemployed, arenít you? She held up her glass. I filled it, and then filled my own. Unemployed? I said. I donít understand. Work, she said. You know, that grand little four-letter word. Oh, I said. Work. No, on the contrary. Iíve been working very hard. She took a sip of wine, then smiled. Really? she said. Thatís wonderful. I didnít know youíd gotten a job. Tell me ó when did this happen? Job? I said. Oh, yes! Job. Where they pay you, right? All at once, a dark cloud passed over her face. Again, she raised her glass to her lips. This time, she didnít lower it until more than half the wine was gone. Iíd prefer not to be mocked, she said finally. That is, if itís all the same to you. Iíve had a very long day, and ó I know you have, I said. Iím sorry. But please believe me, I wasnít trying to mock you. Itís just that Iím new here, and ó No one is that new, she said. Although, I must admit, this isnít the first strange thing Iíve noticed about you. For instance, why do you insist on wearing that silly hat all the time? Youíre not on the subway, youíre a guest in my home. How can I relax when you look like youíre going to leave at any moment? Is it your hair? If it is, donít worry. I can help you with that. I still cut my sisterís hair. Believe me, if I can cut hers, I can cut yours. To help drive the point home, she raised her glass and emptied it.

Hoping it wasnít the wrong decision, I took off my hat. Once again, she was amazed by what she had referred to earlier as my antlers. When she finally got over the shock, she said, Yes, I think I can do something with this. Your hair certainly grows differently, doesnít it. Hmm. A little here, and a little here, and then some of my shampoo, and maybe weíll ó oh! my God, what on earth is this? She pulled her hand away in horror. What? I said. Did you find something? What is it? Whatís wrong? Afraid she might faint, I took her by the hand and led her to the couch. Here, I said. Youíd better sit down. There we are. Now, just try to relax. Let me get your wine. Okay, now, go on, take a little sip. Good. Iím really sorry. I never should have done that. She looked up at me, confused. As I was about to put my hat on again, she said, No, donít. Are you sure? I said. Because I donít want to frighten you. No, she said. Iím all right. Iím not frightened. Not anymore. You just surprised me, thatís all. I mean, you really surprised me.

I sat down beside her. You were so angry with me, I said. I thought maybe if you knew more about me, then youíd understand. Youíve been so kind to me. I know I should have told you earlier, but I was afraid Iíd never see you again ó or worse ó that you would turn me in. But now I know, that could never happen. Youíre too kind. Samantha. Listen. I know youíre unhappy. Iím not sure I understand it all completely. But you are unhappy. You spend so many hours away, then you come home angry. Itís your job, isnít it? I think Iím beginning to see. Since Iíve been here, Iíve seen so many sad, worried faces. So much unhappiness. No wonder you thought I was making fun of you. That I was lazy. But in my world, work is a wonderful, happy thing. In my world, we pursue what is meaningful to us. From the time we are born, our parentsí one big goal is helping us find our natural talents. No one tells us who or what we have to be.

Samantha let her head rest on my shoulder. What is your work, Matthew? she said. Tell me. Why are you here?

This is my work, I said. I came here to find out. To see you. To see your world. Your beautiful, melancholy earth.

She sighed. How long will you stay? she said.

I can stay as long as I like.

Do you want to stay?

Yes. I think so. When I first arrived, I was sure I wanted to leave. But then I met you. Now I want to stay. I want to see what happens. I want to find out about this hunger Iím feeling. Not just the hunger in my stomach, but the hunger that is in me, in my mind. Do you understand?

Instead of answering me with words, Samantha touched my face with the tips of her fingers. Then she kissed me. While we were kissing, my stomach growled.

Samantha laughed. Men, she said.

The roast was finally ready. After dinner, we opened the other bottle of wine and talked. What is your real name? she said after Iíd told her a little more about where I was from.

My name? I said. Is that important?

It is to me, she said.

Okay, I said. If itís important, Iíll tell you. My name is, I think I love you.

Samantha laughed. Thatís a beautiful name, she said. Thank you for telling me. Then, much to my surprise, she said I think I love you was her real name as well.

William Michaelianís newest releases are two poetry collections, Winter Poems and Another Song I Know, published in paperback by Cosmopsis Books in San Francisco. His short stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in many literary magazines and newspapers. His novel,
A Listening Thing, is published here in its first complete online edition. For information on Michaelianís other books and links to this siteís other sections, please go to the Main Page or visit Flippantly Answered Questions.

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