The Pictures in the Frames

by Annam Manthiram

The Pictures in the Frames

She found it odd that whenever she cared enough to look, the photographs in the frames along the walls and shelves of the house changed. 

The Cherub

Most often, a man with an angelic orangutan face and rose-colored spectacles and a dimpled smile would wave at her from behind whatever was in the picture. 

When she had been sick and bedridden, the cherub stood next to the photo of her old dog, Mabel, who had vanished running after an ice cream truck; his hands stretched in a manner that suggested he wished to pet Mabel.  He smiled, but then again, he always smiled.  He was never mean.  She had smiled back.  She liked him. 

The Prim Lady

Sometimes, a young lady would appear with an outdated umbrella at her side.  She was prim and wore her hair in a ponytail that curled around like a pig's tail.  She usually frowned.

The Sailor and His Animals

While she gardened, she would take down several of the frames from the wall and bring them outside, arranging the pictures on the patio so that they could watch her. 

Always, while she combed for weeds or watered the African daises that were so full of lemon shine they were almost too bright to be seen, the pictures would change.  A small child with a sailor hat would emerge.  Sometimes he saluted her, other times he would just laugh--a big open-mouthed laugh--and she could see his teeth. 

She liked when the animals came with him.  Once in a while, the child would be holding a leash that led to a dog his height, white and bushy like a royal powder brush.  Or he'd have a grey alley cat bunched under one of his thin arms. 

Occasionally the animals sat on the laps of her husband and son in the photos.  That was her favorite, especially since her husband had hated dogs and cats of any kind.

The Indian with the Turban

Only once did she see a handsome Indian man with a turban.  He occupied the picture of her and her son when he had only been a few days old.  The Indian man, stoic, held his hand over the baby's skull as if he knew what was going to happen and was trying to shield him from it.  She had cried then.

The Gypsy

Another time she saw an older woman wearing a long black gypsy skirt inside the picture of just her husband.  She had been unsteady with the camera then, so his outline was skewed to the left, exposing a large white emptiness to the right.  The gypsy settled into that vanilla space, not smiling, but not frowning either.  Just waiting.

The Mother

Sometimes she tried to speak to them.  She would say hello, ask if they wanted coffee or tea or even one of the buttery bristly biscuits she'd special-ordered from England.  Their guises never shifted; they stayed static until the next morning when they would have either disappeared or reappeared in another frame and with another pose.

A woman who strangely resembled her own mother surfaced a few times in one of the photos on the mantelpiece.  In unusual moments of abandon, she always spilled her unhappy secrets to this nurturing woman, who only gazed back, a slight smile like a tic on the side of her face. 

The Clown with the Big Red Boots

After an argument with her daughter, she had come home to find a clown with a yellow bulb nose and big red boots hiding within the frame containing her granddaughter's picture.  In his left hand he carried a golden horn, his lips in a smirk as though he were mocking her.

In a rage, she went through the entire house, slamming the picture people onto their faces and onto the tiled floors, suppressing their free view of her.

The Family

A few days passed, and she missed them.  She lifted the frames and attempted to reconstruct their places in her house; after she was done, she looked at all of them, one by one for a long time, but none of the photos changed.  All that stared back was her weepy reflection and her own family, smiling of a life long gone.

BIO: 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, the Grey Sparrow Journal, and the Camroc Press Review, and is forthcoming in Pank, Smokelong Quarterly, 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.  So far, she is quite enchanted. You can visit her online at AnnamManthiram.com.