Fiction / Vi Khi Nao
:: Not Capable of Giving Her Leprosy ::
The streets seem young to her.
Vegas was built overnight with poor plumbing .
She is wandering the streets again.
Over orange chicken at Panda Express, he tells her that the white professor needs to return to the United States. He needs to exercise a medical absence. He is white and he is having sex with his Korean students. He has been in Korea for about 1/5th of his life. His white dick hasn’t touched the vaginal sewage system of North America for about a decade now. And, although modern Western plumping doesn’t miss him, apple pies donate a large part of their de-tarted, but not re-tarted, pastry life to craving him. His grandmother’s nickname is PP (for Peach Pie), and his aunt’s name is Rhubarb. He works for Bulgogi University, one of the best universities in Korea. It’s where a female-dominated, English-curriculum-based education teaches female students how to learn English from sick, perverted, white faculty. It’s not an expensive education. But there is no psychotherapy there.
Professor Strawberry asks his young Korean student if she would have sex with him. She says, “No.” As if “no” were a stage 4 cancer that doesn’t know what lymph nodes or metastatic mean. The bold young Korean student doesn’t like strawberries in big batches. She prefers persimmons in boxes as gifts.
Professor Strawberry doesn’t want to leave Bulgogi. At Bulgogi he has vocational and sexual power and prowess. Here, he has a grip on the upper echelon of South Korea’s English literacy world. He is important. He is known. He has power. Certain female Korean students would want to have sex with him. If he returns to the United States, he will need to develop a new hobby for internet porn, the pedophiliac kind—not related to lilacs—and may have to attend the same school, perhaps downgraded, as Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey.
He leans over to tell her that although he has power, it’s sort of fake. Like Professor Strawberry is technically powerful, but his power is borrowed or lent to him because he has blue eyes and white skin. True power is raceless or faceless, she discovers. Or color-deaf. In her mind, she doesn’t think any of this is true. True power requires one to be dick-deaf. Is she dick-deaf? she asks herself while she tries to stuff broccoli and beef into her mouth. She isn’t hungry, but she is eating because it is easier to listen when one’s mouth is full.
Meanwhile, about 6,000 miles away, in Las Vegas, eight Korean women in their late fifties all huddle in a Starbucks franchise to discuss the importance of eating meat while reading Han Kang’s The Vegetarian. One woman turns to another woman, asking if it would be okay if she brought japchae to their next book club meeting.
“Ribeye fillet goes so well with glass noodle!”
“Yes, of course!”
Literature is predominately a female vocation in Korea. Writing would make men effeminate and Korean culture, like all other cultures, thrives on masculinity or bibimbap.
They walk to Ben and Jerry’s. After working at a law office accomplishing nothing, or so he tells her, he wants to treat himself to something sweet. She doesn’t want ice cream but she gives in. The last time, she watched him lick his ice cream and it was like watching a white man giving a blowjob to another white man and although blowing isn’t her thing, climate change, especially on the tongue, is her thing. She has a thing for licking things over. She reconsiders his offer to buy her ice cream. Maybe through the ice cream thing, he is offering her a free blowjob. Anyone would take it up, right? Thinking things over is her thing.
Her father’s girlfriend is bisexual.
Her bisexuality consists of two grapefruits and one rainbow trout. Frying fish is her thing. She likes her relationship with oil to be around 350 to 375 degrees.
She walks into Trader Joe’s. It’s a Saturday. It’s crowded. Walking there led her to 7,342 steps. Everyone looks like they are wearing diapers and holding each other’s hands and saying hello and kissing goodbye while waving their gluten-free potato chips at each other. Whenever they fart, the cushions on their diapers absorb the sound and smell and thus everyone at Trader’s Joe is happy with each other. Diapers make everyone socially safe. When she exited Smith’s just an hour ago, no adults were wearing diapers and they didn’t even know who they were shopping with, let alone waving expensive organic cocoa at another. Whenever a shopper farts at Smith’s, everyone knows who it is and if their last meal was at McDonald’s or Jack in the Box. But at Trader Joe’s, all pollution or inadvertent acts of social transgression are family-accepted and family-owned.
Before falling asleep, she tells herself: although she can’t commit suicide now, her biggest revenge on God is the ability to do it later, when she can. When she is permitted to.
When the barks of tall palm trees fall on the streets of Vegas by the heavy zephyr or breaths of tumbleweeds, they look like the backs of armadillos. When she saw the barks for the very first time, walking to Walmart late one night, they startled her. She thought the wind was so strong that even the hard shells of the nine-banded nocturnal omnivorous mammals were not impervious to the brutal dessert wind. But, upon closer inspection, she discovered that the bony plates of these evergreens were not capable of giving her leprosy. Walking to Walmart has a greater chance of giving her nerve damage.
From the writer
:: Account ::
As shown in my prose, I wrote this during a very desolate time in my life. I had begun a friendship with a kind fiction writer in Vegas who wanted to remove the isolation which has imbued my soul like the bony garment of an armadillo. During that friendship, I knew more about Korea than I ever did from all the books I was reading. It was interesting to me to hear what non-expatriate white men in the States thought of white men living abroad in Asia and Korean women residing in their native homeland, Korea. Some of the conversations between us were captured near verbatim. My perception of Korea altered after my hiking visits with him. I wrote this during the time in which Harvey Weinstein & the men who committed sexual crimes against women were ousted . We like fiction to not capture reality so much, but sometimes due to its heightened depth of form and its shameless realism, we are, as a culture, doomed to state the obvious. We think we can dress reality in deception or falsehood, but it’s really impossible to.
Vi Khi Nao is the author of three poetry collections, Sheep Machine (Black Sun Lit, 2018), Umbilical Hospital (Press 1913, 2017), and The Old Philosopher (winner of the Nightboat Books Prize for Poetry in 2014), and of the short stories collection, A Brief Alphabet of Torture (winner of the 2016 FC2’s Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize), and the novel, Fish in Exile (Coffee House Press, 2016). Her work includes poetry, fiction, film and cross-genre collaboration. Her stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in NOON, Ploughshares, Black Warrior Review, and BOMB, among others. Vi holds an MFA in fiction from Brown University.