by Soojin Lee
Winner of the 2017 Amendment Literary Award
No one really noticed how much you looked like dad until you got your growth spurt. Our family would go from pinching our cheeks to making us share our food. Your cheekbones are high and exposed now. Our faces and bodies are the architecture of our father’s youth. The leylines of this vanished state on our knees and thighs and your back. The depths of his shallows are on our cheeks.
The varnished plywood ceiling-fan blades turn and I let my eyes alternate between a singular blade and an endless circle. All the notes of our door click and bang and squeak. You are home and the symphony ends before it begins. Quiet. You are limping and your face is sweat-polished with stoicism. Two-a-days. Right hand holds an ice pack to your knee but you keep all of your gear on. You don’t sit down. You tower over me in your white plastic armor, ready for your second daily manhood mass. We share this masochism but we express it differently. Maybe this will make you feel more whole the way my runs will make me a woman. Cut you up and carve you out the way my one grapefruit, one avocado, and two miles do.
Ten stories up in Seoul you’re more handsome than ever. There are two large mirrors in the elevator facing each other and facing the security camera. You make silly faces and pretend that the infinite reflections are novel but you are not amusing yourself. You are just ashamed to openly look at yourself. This is before the idea of fitness being equated to sex appeal has found much of a foothold in Korea so there aren’t any gyms. It’s lots of white steamed rice and fat-marbled beef and svelte men in sharp outfits you don’t understand. The fat you are looking for isn’t there when you press your finger and thumb together demarcating it as your last barrier to satisfaction. Your plane leaves two weeks before mine and you’re back in the gym. You wish you had stayed with me and dad. Colder. Colder. Ice cold. He was right there and you got on that plane looking for him.
There is a bright pink dress with cream polka dots the size of 500 won coins and shoulder straps fastened with hot pink clear acetate. Walking through the hot fetid steam maze of back alleys and open sewers that leads to dad’s Suyu office, I pass the shop window every morning. I am 12. I think that dress will solve my problems. I will look good and someone will like me enough to relieve my left hand of its duties to my right hand, holding it at night so I can pretend it is someone else. It takes me a month to work up the courage one night on our walk home to ask dad and you to wait a minute. My Korean is as clumsy and undeveloped as my body but I ask the ahjumma if I can try on the dress. My dad pushes his phone through the curtain. I cry and cry and run home in the dark because my mom is right. I run like I’m running away from every beautiful woman I see on the subway that my mom wishes I looked like: statuesque Korean women whose thighs don’t chafe and bone structures don’t compel their moms to ask if they want to get their cheekbones shaved down.
You don’t know I’m coming. I tell you I can’t get off work. Cook’s hours- you know- they are just crazy. Come in anyways. I will send you some food. I see you in the back near the bathroom. If I was working, you’d be right next to me on the other side of my line. Table 20- jade green walls the color of algae. Distressed brown wood and dim lighting but I got my 100 watts on and our dad’s dimples burrow deep while we embrace. I did it! I surprised you! A ticket chain is pouring out of the printer a mile long while Hosea works my station by ear. Sharon is there and I want to get on all fours with my palms down. I want to stand up and get back down over and over. Pray to her like dad showed me in all those temples. Mom thinks she’s ugly but mom is a fucking bitch sometimes and if she opened her eyes for a second she would take a knee. You are talking. You are engaged. I feel you love me and it’s because of her and her love. No more looking for daddy. Maybe you’ll be a dad soon and you’ll have ten kids so you can play basketball with them like you talked about.