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TOE Short Story :: The Compact – Ch 1


by Michael Davidson

Chapter One

Inside the loop, south of downtown, live husband and wife, both from South Korea. Houston is their new home, and, understandably so, English isn’t easy. They talk at night, before sleeping they speak in their native tongue, breath redolent of kimchi and sticky rice as they exchange words, ideas, sentiments for one another, for this strange place they’re living in. In this way, their love coats itself. Becomes resilient.

I’m only aware of the façade, the cleanliness. The way husband and wife appear. There’s more going on underneath, a kind of suffering, the same suffering that comes with visas and periods-of-stay. I’m certain of this daily struggle even though I’ve visited their nest dozens of times and haven’t so much as gotten a glimpse into their private chamber. Their bedroom behind closed door. I’ve only seen their immaculate common area. Never changed, no signs of life. No creases on their sofa or crumbs on their table. Their bedroom can’t be so sterile, so clean. Their bedroom is where they live.

What’s in there, I sometimes ask myself. I ask, Are they keeping something from me. Pictures of family maybe. Relatives precious to them, too far away to see except through photos. Do they have any books in there, I ask. Korean characters etched into their pages: familiar, comforting, a reminder of where they came from, who they are. Will always be. What about recordings of them graduating, the husband being whisked off to serve in the military, compulsory, despite his big head, an easy target? What about videos of their marriage, couple leaning against each other, leaning and not knowing where they’d be in a year? What’s in there, I ask. I ask, Will they ever let me see.

They haven’t just yet. All I’ve been privy to is their living room and kitchen. Their dining room outfitted with table, salt and pepper shakers, calendar from the cleaners. All I’ve been privy to is the unblemished exterior, their mask, so to speak. But maybe this has more to do with me. Truth is, I haven’t tried to gain access into more of their nest, at least nothing beyond the common area, nothing behind the white doors in their hallway. I don’t even know how many rooms are back there. I could find out easy enough. Just ask if I could use their bathroom. I really have to go.

But no, I’ve been the perfect guest as far as I’m concerned. Knocking softly, smiling and saying how are you upon entering, saying yes please when the husband offers spring water, sitting down at the table when he points with his hand – palm facing me, fingers together – and leaving an hour and twenty minutes later with a twenty-dollar bill in a University of Houston envelope. Payment for my services.

Come spring, Devin promises me, all this’ll change.

May 21, 2009 7:17 am

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