Someone Else Besides You
A Storyby Viet Thanh Nguyen
My father’s girlfriend lived in a condo complex designed as a village, the stucco barracks scattered around a flat lawn spotted with barbecue pits, black with soot. Behind one of the barracks a leaf blower whined as I followed my father along a winding brick path, past a swimming pool that smelled of chlorine, and up an echoing stairway. We stopped on the second floor, and my father used a key linked on the chain of his Swiss Army knife to unlock a condo door. When he called out her name—Mimi—it was the first time I’d heard it.
Mimi was sitting on a white leather couch in the living room, using a remote control to dial down the volume on the television backed into one corner. She stood up, and if she was surprised to see me, she didn’t show it. Her plum velour tracksuit fit snugly on her slender body. Photographs of my mother before she was married show that she was once slim too, but by the end of her life everything about her had thickened and sagged, except for her fading hair. When she died, she was wearing the wig I’d given to her for a birthday present, woven from real human hair. Mimi’s perm resembled the wig, except that Mimi’s hair was naturally rich and abundant, rooted to her head in auburn waves, the style of a woman in her fifties.
“I’ve been waiting to meet you for so long!” she said, clasping both my hands in hers. The skin of her face was beige and unnaturally smooth, like nylon stockings.