In Sook Kim

The mother and daughter were still fidgeting with the pagoda music box, laughing it up as they stood close to one another, and what In Sook hated most about these two Americans was how relaxed they seemed.  They were the ones who should be out of place in this store full of oriental merchandise, but no, it was she who didn’t belong.

The mother was pretty in a way Korean women could never be.  Everything about her was long – legs, fingers, even her eyelashes – and she was tall, taller than most men.  The girl was also gangly, but it didn’t quite fit her, at least not yet.  In Sook could see how she might grow to look like her mother, but for now, her body was stretched beyond the limited boundaries of beauty.

American women were big, no doubt about it.  Apparently their vaginas were larger, too, because all the maxipads In Sook had bought – three different brands – were unnecessarily wide.  Back in Korea, her breasts had been considered normal, but here they were often dwarfed by girls her brother’s age.

Which made sense.  This country was all about glorious excess, super this, mega that, so why wouldn’t its people reflect its principles?

The mother and daughter approached the register with the girl holding the pagoda music box.

“Hello, Harry,” the woman said, and In Sook’s father greeted them with a ridiculous, clown-like grin.

“Did you hear that?” In Sook said to her brother.  “She called him Harry.”

“I think that means he has a lot of hair.”

For a second she imagined smacking him on the back of his head.  She could almost see it, her hand rearing back, her palm landing flat and loud, her brother furrowing his eyebrows and rubbing his head, looking up at her with his mean face, which wasn’t mean at all but just a younger version of Father’s: a bump for a nose, tiny bright eyes, ears that stuck out like handles.

“No, you idiot, that’s his American name.  Did you know that’s what it was?”

Dae Joon shook his head.

As her father rang up the sale, she heard snippets of their conversation.  He was giving the woman a discount, and she was saying something about another store.  Even though In Sook had taken two years of English in high school, she found that most people spoke way too fast.  And even when they slowed down, they used too many words she didn’t know or slangs that weren’t in the dictionary.

From the front counter, her father pointed to them, and now everybody was walking over to the showcases, including her mother, who’d been busy arranging the new stock of Chinese umbrellas at the far end of the store.

“Hi,” the woman said.  She held out her hand.  “I’m Sylvia.  And this is my daughter Mindy.”

It was irritating to have to say hello, but In Sook complied.  Sylvia then shook her brother’s hand, and then her mother’s, and still she wasn’t through.  She proceeded to hand out her business card to everyone.

ANIMAL ATTRACTION, the card read, silhouettes of a cat and a dog bookending the store’s name.

“Please stop by,” Sylvia said very slowly.  “We are just seven stores down.”

“Yes,” In Sook said.

“Do you like animals?  Dogs, cats?” Sylvia asked.  And when no one spoke, she proceeded to bark like a dog and meow like a cat, complete with faux scratching gesticulations to simulate a feline in action.

“Dog, cat, yes I know,” In Sook said.  She hadn’t meant to say it in such a derisive manner, but that’s the way it’d come out.

Excerpted from Everything Asian
Graphic by Dawn S. White

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