Sam's mother used to pull me close to her and weave her fingers in my hair. "Those boys," she would say to my mother, "they are better friends than we are."
Sam found himself standing on the showroom floor of Newbury Street Audio. In his shirt pocket was a phono cartridge alignment protractor and in his coat pocket, a personal data assistant beating a metronomic signal to remind him of a home installation on Beacon Hillmaybe a trouble-shooting call for a home theater in Wayland. "Newbury Street Audio, We reserve the finest in music reproduction for you." These are the words across the tops of their receipts. And under that, "We do house calls."
"When people spend ten grand on an audio-only system, they want to feel it's been professionally done," Sam told me. "It's the security that money brings."
Sometimes I visit Sam's house, even though he is not there any more. On the way to work, I'll find myself rolling off the Turnpike at the Newtonville exit. My arms find the motion of turns comfortably familiar, like the rhythm of a songa sweet and delicious, Cannonball Adderly melody that pulses subconsciously in all its permutations. And then I am there. I am parked on a side street staring at the drawn curtains wondering if May will step out and yell a curse at the paperboy, stop and smell the dry leaves, catch me stealing a glance like William Carlos Williams in his silent automobile.
I reach up and knock the knocker through the missing screen in the storm door. May opens, gives me a smile and with her arm draws me into the house.
"How's the kid?" That's what she says.
"You got love?" It was something we used to say to each other after a late round of vodka tonics. I take off my shoes.
"Yeah, I got love." She kisses me gentle on the cheek. "He's downstairs, and you better not let him ask."
I watch her walk away, coy steps, a glance back as she steps into the kitchen. I hear the newspaper rustle, a sip of coffee.
The basement is all concrete and fluorescence, small pockets of daylight. The smell of fresh solder stains the air even with the windows open. Dry leaves and solder. Over the bench is the swing-arm incandescent, and Sam, on his stool, crouched over the chassis of his latest project, a baby blue Weller soldering iron in his hand.
Sam is constantly building and modifying his own audio projects. Single-ended transformer gear, 2A3 vacuum tube amplifiers that put out three or four watts into high-efficiency speakers, a phono stage that runs off a bank of nine volt batteries to avoid AC line hum. His preamplifier has just one knob. The man is deadly with a roll of silver solder and a handful of oil-filled capacitors. He has the ability to make Billie Holiday sing.
"Bobby Kim!" He calls out without turning to look. "You must stay for dinner so you can lend me your ears. I've got a new cartridge I've been breaking in." He gestures toward the turntable, the infinitely repeating machine, one of his mutations of unsold trade-in audio gearin this case, an early-seventies Kenwood automatic player. "The I.R.P. been going for five days now and it should be hot to trot." Sam won't listen to a phono cartridge until it has had the proper burn-in period and settled into its mature sound. After a month of listening, the cartridge goes back to the store, sold discounted as a demo. "A phono cartridge is like a can of Coke, all fizz and pop when you open it. But give it some time and it becomes thick and smooth, not so much insolence." He'd punctuate with a wink.
Sam and I used to take rolled up, dry rhododendron leaves and light the ends with pilfered matches so we could pretend we were smoking big cigars. We puffed out our chests, two skinny Asian Bugsy Malones with plastic Tommy guns. We stood back to back with yard sale fedoras and smoke stung eyes and dared the federal agents to bust our gang. They always did, and we always died in dramatic fusillades of bullets, slow motion falls to our well-deserved deaths.
In the first year of high school we began to drift apart. I tried out for wrestling and he took physics. I started reading poetry, and he carried his lab goggles in his backpack. After ninth grade, his parents moved across town to the new Oak View Estates Development, and I waved to him in the halls.
It was May's idea for him to get in touch with me. He had been floundering in his job at Newbury Street Audio, and was beginning to stop at bars after work. He would get home just in time to read the kids a story out of Grimm's Fairy Tales, his breath reeking of the night's micro brew. There were messages from the credit card companies on the answering machine.
I wasn't doing much better. My academic pursuit of English gave me a career in advertising, and while I was never able to show anyone a single poem, I became an adept ad man. I now have my own small crew who turn pencil sketches and tape recorded brainstorms into glossy mat prints with color and captions that might get HTML encoded, or possibly given a voiceover for radio. At the end of the day, we all move down the block to Mike's Billiards to wait out rush hour traffic. We drink a few Sam Adams, take turns slipping into the bathroom to take a bullet hit of coke. He-yun stopped bothering to cook me dinner, and sometimes I'd miss Sameh's bedtime. But driving home was always smooth sailing.
Sameh is a flower petal dropped by God. She is a finely tuned ballerina of life, always gentle, soothing, forgiving. And yet, for all her grace, she is hard to hold. She is sinuous and wiry, and having her sit on my lap for extended periods of time is a test of endurance and sacrifice. When I miss her bedtime I feel ill, as if I have lost something irreplaceable or committed a mortal sin. But, in the morning, Sameh climbs into my lap as He-yun mixes oatmeal into boiling water. Sameh rests her head against my collarbone and sighs contentedly. She is a dramatist, too.
I wonder if I thought about Sam when we named Sameh, if deep down in my subconscious, something grabbed at Sam, drew him to the surface; the way May reached back into the past and found my name in the phone book, circled it in blue ballpoint pen, and told Sam, "Call him, or I will leave you."
He-yun never told me anything that explicit, but she had long since removed herself from our marriage. Our days were mutually exclusive. We knew nothing about the other except that I was an ad man who woke his daughter up and got her dressed, and she was an agent for the Shoemaker Gallery downtown who read stories to her daughter at night because her husband was tied up-working late, winding down, playing pool, and snorting coke in the men's room.
Our first gathering was awkward. How can you even pretend to catch up on lost time? Instead, we glossed over the superficials, took the tour of the house. The kids played together; Sameh liked the bunk beds. He-yun and May were comfortable in their unfamiliarity, sitting in the sunken living room talking about schools and the kids.
Sam showed me the bar, a 70's relic with Eames era stools molded out of curvaceous red plastic. Came with the house, he told me. The bar condiments looked like things from the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sam dropped some ice cubes into a glass and soaked them in Dewars. I nodded for the same.
That first night we never got to his stereo, didn't even listen to any music. It was all snippets of memory, things that stood out after all those years. We used to take baths together. His parents had this big tub and we would bring in an armada of plastic ships, aircraft carriers, destroyers, battleshipsall held together with Testors' Cement. It is strange how, like our parents, some of our earliest memories are those of war, only our memories are of the large whirlpool bath of a suburban condominium, or out in the grass lawn that bordered the Shoeman's yard. Memories of war, even before knowing Korea as a place, the rendering of history.
I used to carry an old Scherade pocket knife and we would pull out the long, sharp tipped blade and practice tossing it through the air, watching the steel stab into the earth with a satisfying sureness. Sam had Bionic Man stickers on his bike, so his went faster, in slow motion. Our mothers used to sit together on Wednesdays and drink three cups of tea, crack the shells of nuts, and trade stories about their week's exploits. I sat fascinated, listening to moments so vividly recreated in words that I wanted to submit my own moments for approval, fill in the gaps of cognizance, recall what exactly it was that I was thinking in that particular moment. Our mothers spoke in Korean as we stumbled hot and sweating into the room, the sound of our running still pounding through the hall. Our mothers continued on uninterrupted.
The kids all fell asleep in various frozen poses of play, and Sam and I stayed too long at the bar and tears were coming out of my eyes when I yawned. He-yun and May got up and stretched. Outside, the air was still and thick, ripe for an electrical storm, and sure enough, once we were all safely buckled into the car, there was a flash of lightning.
We were taken with the idea of having an old best friend; it seemed so comfortable. Our families harmonized well and we began doing weekend outings. We drove out to Salisbury Beach and fished off the piers like our fathers used to. We picnicked in the White Mountains and pulled Korean-Vietnamese cuisine and Miller beers from the great Coleman cooler. Francis was just one year older than Sameh and standing together they looked like brother and sister. They ate peanut butter sandwiches and drank orange soda, played go fish, and built tide pools in the ocean sand.
Towards the end of the summer we drove out to Tanglewood for a Sunday afternoon concert. Beethoven's Violin Concerto with Isaac Stern and Shostakovitch's Fifth Symphony, an unbalanced-feeling program. Sam and He-yun fell asleep on the picnic blanket, and the kids were running behind the pines by the concession building. At intermission, as the crowd moved into the low rumble of conversation, May asked if I would like to take a walk in the gardens.
He-yun and Sam sleep, drugged by the warmth of the sun and a bottle of wine in a lightly fed stomach. Even as the crowd bursts into motion and sound, He-yun and Sam still sleep. The kids' laughter dissipates as they race the crowds to the opening doors of the cafeteria.
May gestures, "You want to walk in the gardens?"
I nod, pat He-yun on the back.
"Leave them be, they look so peaceful."
We join the masses of motion, feeling for currents to carry us in the right direction. We merge onto a pebbled walkway that directs us with the speed and meandering direction of an interstate highway. May is speaking but I cannot hear her. Past the old Glasshouse, the Main House, eventually out to the gardens where people walk glossily with coats over their shoulders, a drink in hand. They look at shoes, their spouses and partners, walk without witnessing the gentle maze-like gestures of the shrubs, the hints of former fountains left in mortared stone geometry. A circle here, rectangle there, and, far in the back, a grape trellis. Everyone is Gatsby or Daisy for a day. The crowd dissipates. I can hear May's voice again, soft and warm, like sunlight.
I pass solitary in my car, continually drawn to this house, as if it is mere habit, something to be brushed off like a nervous itch on the neck. But it is more than that.
"It has to be, if you can imagine it to be," Sam calls out from inside the dumpster. He is looking for what I could not find. I found plenty of cans, but they weren't right.
"They have to have the numbers stamped on the bottom," he said with absolute certainty. "Can't do it without the numbers."
So now he's in there and I'm out watching in case the dump truck comes to collect the garbage. The air smells like sour milk and over-ripe fruit, banana maybe.
Finally, Sam calls out, "Got one!" He climbs out of the dumpster, a spelunker emerging from a cave, hand on brow shielding eyes from the sun, a tenuous straightening, then a sure-footed parachute leap to the ground. He shows me the Tab can with some sort of factory tracking number printed on the bottom of the aluminum. He places it carefully against the curb and presses down on it with the toe of his shoe so that the can is gently crushed in the middle, then he holds it up for inspection. "There it is, a space station."
"It's better in the dark. You have to imagine it's dark."
There was a time that I would have climbed into a dumpster for Sam, and I did. We stood shoulder to shoulder in our soccer shorts and stuck out our chests. Back when nobody was embarrassed or unnerved, we made faces into my father's camera; we dried our hands, sticky with Popsicle juice, on the hot asphalt of driveways.
The ad business is getting more challenging. There isn't as much new technology as there is adaptation of existing technology. We have ads with wireless Palm Pilots in bathroom stalls, "Finally, something to read." Just the other day we landed an account with Prometheus, a company whose new product utilizes the common motion detectors attached to exterior floodlights, but brings them indoors. Instant-on kitchen lighting. Bedroom lamps that turn themselves off once you've been asleep for half an hour. I'm still working on that one. At times it seems as if every conceivable idea has been produced, packaged, and sold. And then a dozen more arrive the next morning. I am already existing in a world where there is constant lighting, every room exists with its own ambience, and darkness is something of which I am unaware.
I used to think I would leave advertising, that once Sameh was grown, I would leave He-yun, that my mid-life crisis would become this phoenix rising out of the ashes. A predetermined period of chaos carefully choreographed into vibrant renewal. But in the Tanglewood gardens May asked me, "Don't you wish you had a glass of wine?" and then, "All these people, are they putting on an act for the weekend? Are these all real people or are they just pretending to be literate, musically elite, wine drinkers? Maybe they're all the people who played an instrument in their high school orchestras. And what about us?"
I shrugged, pretended to not comprehend.
"The truth? A masquerade?" Her smile is sad as she leans in against my chest and pats me as she might a horsesolid, open palm slaps.
"When Sam and I were kids, we played secret agent man. We had an old briefcase filled with Monopoly money, encrypted messages, and we each had a Walther P-38 duct-taped to our ankles. Once we infiltrated the enemy headquarters, nobody could see the truth."
"So we're spies."
"I think so." This tincture bleeds into the bleached, Sunday afternoon light. "I used to play viola."
"Nobody notices we're here." May pretends to smile and I feel the rip and tear of bullets hitting my body as I stagger between trellises, grapes falling all around me, tight and green, not yet ripe, more like seed or nut than berry. I am feeling the grass between the paving stones with my face. I think I feel tears.
May pushes me away, "No secrets. There's no evil; only our lives, and the kids." Always, May remembers the kids.
There is a group of couples walking through the trellis and May leans close and says, "I've often wanted to sit here under the grapes and whisper truths."
I have been smiling too much, acting a role I am ill-suited for. I am a character actor, my strengths are all ephemeral, they leave me in weakness, captured within my own tangle of fabrications. The couples are walking closer and talking loudly about the dinner at the Red Lion Inn. I lean closer to May and let my nose part her hair and listen to her breathing. "Must a phoenix burn before it rises?"
She does not move away and watches as the dinner friends stroll by. Her hands are folded like napkins on her skirt and she sits upright. She breathes like a warm lioness, deep, inhaling more than I can perceive. In fact, I have stopped perception; there is the talk of pork loin, I am aware of that, but my lips are moving without resonance. She is moving her head in gentle turns and her eyes have closed. May's lips are parted, and her body loosens and rolls itself into an Oher legs pulled up onto the bench, her head pressed into her knees. A kind balance within this arbor, the sky filled with the orbs of glistening fruit. Too much natural incandescence and the film bleaches out into the ghostly images of raceless imprints, negative and positive canceling definition so that May, the bench, the gravel path, the white columns, the grape vines, all becomes a shade of varying lightness.
I smooth the crease between her shoulders and hear the bell tolling across the grounds, calling us back. And when we return to the blanket Sam and He-yun are awake and looking like lovers.
Sam was never a yard person and now May has a service that comes out once every two weeks. A big GMC truck with trailer pulls up and a team of four guys drops out of the cab and attack the yard. And then they pack up their equipment and drive two houses down the street. The air smells like burnt gasoline and cut grass, dry leaves. On the side of their truck, on one of those magnetic signs, Whale Road Yard Maintenance, the cartoon of a Moby Dick resting under the shade of a tree and the phone number. Very clumsy. I find it unsettling, feels like indigestion.
A season later, I talk with Sam about that Sunday in the garden. I say, "Do you remember how we used to sit on the bumper of your parents' car and suck on tubes of Fla-vor-ice?"
"Yeah," he says as a wisp of smoke rises from a solder joint. "Opening it. I remember the plastic pulling through my teeth. Trying to get them open. Spitting out flecks of plastic. My teeth." Sam holds out his hand and I pass the coffee mug scotch.
"I've been spitting out a lot of plastic lately, not getting much Fla-vor-ice." I don't like drinking in basements, makes me feel dangerously clumsy, the hardness of walls and floor, joist posts and exposed pipe. I stick my hands in my pockets and keep to a slight stoop. He passes back the coffee cup and I take another sip.
"I have a dream that one day, I know exactly what to fucking do. And the thing that always amazes me is the complete and utterly serene sensation it is to find a perfect solution, solve a problem." He has put down the iron, is hitting the mug. "I have fifteen fingers and they are all stirring separate pots, I have three pairs of arms shifting away all the sets of blinders over my third eye, and it is like seeing the sky with the clouds removed. Nothing but atmosphere. The perfect amplifier, straight wire with gain, no coloration, no atmosphere, just clarity, and beautiful sound. Cool darkness. There are no capacitors, no resistors, no transformers, and no knobs to turn. I could disappear in a place like that."
I look Sam right in the eye and say, "I've got to quit the drink."
He looks at me kinda funny and says, "I think I am in love with your wife."
In the gardens with May, there was a moment when we were so close my lips brazed her ear. Too many people talking, she could not hear. I pressed my lips into her hair and said something to her. I enjoyed it, the warmth of her head, hearing her breathing in a reply. I relished this closeness, stretched my sentences into intoxicated odes. "May," I said, "come home with me," and she said, "The tempo in the second movement was sublime."
"I dream too, Sam." I'm not telling him anything. Stop in mid-presentation. "'Saint James Infirmary,'" I say. Jack Teagarden I think.
He nods, closes his eyes. "Yeah."
The tip of Sam's soldering iron turns color as it oxidizes, the coffee mug rests on the workbench, and I don't know how to express myself, not anger or despair, but utter uncertainty. I reach out and touch the rim of the mug and pat it gently, like it is an instrument that only I can hear.
In fifth grade Sam became a sales representative for Stabilo pencils. He had a small case full of sample pencil sets. If you buy the eighty dollar set, your kid is guaranteed all A's, one hundred percent, he used to say. He let me open the packages and click the leads on the mechanical pencils until they dropped out into the palm of my hand. I was always seduced by the rich thickness of the brightly colored pastels, but Sam never let me try them out. Sam's father was a salesman, and every time anyone visited the house he called Sam out to show his wares and run through his sales pitch, which Sam had written and memorized, a monologue running from the lowly 1001 mechanical pencil with case, to the 9889 Artisan Scholar Set. That was the one with the guarantee.
I don't know when Sam became interested in music, I suppose while he was at MIT. He apparently won a small box, low cost, speaker building competition. Sam explained it to me once, "Mathematics and physics can not explain the sensation of an auditory experience. The finest oscilloscopes and tone generators cannot measure what the human ear can analyze. The trick to high fidelity audio is to use mathematics and physics as a tool, and then do something surprising, something that elevates music beyond decibel level graphs and gives it humanity." And yet, when I ask, "What do you think May will do?" there is unmeasurable silence.
I think he imagined sitting out in the backyard of my parents' house, kicking out our legs on the wood garden swing made out of great big timbers, pieces of stockade, a thing of dangerous mass. I have a photograph and there we are. I look concerned, and he looks at ease, we're both looking at different corners of the sky.
"How fast do you think you'd have to swim to out do an alligator?" Sam looks down into the grass and it heaves in a gentle marshland roll.
I am feeling the terror of an alligator right behind me, the sensation of teeth coming down upon a leg. I have thin ankles. All at once the sensation is upon me. I am drowning, but I have resigned myself to it. I have consciously decided to allow the pain, fear, and struggle for oxygen to cancel each other out, and the moment that I open my mouth and take in a breath of water, there is total calm.
After a while, once we were in high school, I began to dodge Sam. It was not something I consciously set out to do, but something eased between us like the root of a sugar maple working its way into the crack of a sewer line and breaking it open. It was all the same sort of thing. I said I thought I was drinking too much and he said he was in love with my wife, and then we didn't ride bikes together into town and I thought fifteen-dollar pencils were products of an obscenely corrupt capitalist system.
I look back at the stairs and wonder if the door is open. My dad used to exhale and say, "Big problem," as if stating the obvious might aid in overcoming the obstacle. If the problem involved plumbing it was, "Uh-oh, big problem." I am pulled up the stairs and down the hall, out the door. All in a smooth easy manner, like nothing, out the door and home. My feet never touch the ground, and when I reach home I realize that I left behind my shoes.
What would you have me do? Perhaps get angry? Say, Hey! That isn't allowed. No, I fell back on my professional talents. I know how to sell myself. On the way home I stopped in an antique shop and picked out a pillbox for her collection, picked up a bag of winter vegetables at the farm stand, and surprised Sameh by arriving home early.
That night, after Sameh was in bed, I told He-yun what Sam had said.
"I know." She was silent for a while, then quick, "And you love May."
"Something more gentle."
She poked me in the ribs, a little hard. "Sam's an idiot."
We laughed and He-yun asked how many more dinners she could count on this week, and I said that I was quitting drinking. And just like that she got up from the bed and pulled the scotch from the cabinet and it was going down the kitchen drain. The wine in the fridge, and the small mixed drinks bar for guests. I followed her like a heavy shadow, and then we climbed back in to bed and she said, "You're sure about this?"
"I took off a week of work. They'll manage." They always do. We always do. "I have a week's menu to prepare. I've always wanted to make an apple pie from scratch."
He-yun pulled herself closer, touched my cheek, and kissed my lips, warm and familiar. She had washed her hands, but there was the smell, still, of alcohol evaporating from under her nails.
Years ago, going though my mother's things, I found a manuscript for a cookbook. It was titled, Cooking with Garlic: A guide to the use of divine bulbs for mortals. It was hammered out on crisp typing paper, the consistency of rice paper, yellowed where the edges had touched the cardboard box, where acids had stained the paper with color and weakened it with brittleness. I tried to remember her old Smith-Corona in the molded case. Deep, deep in my memory I can recall the hollow clackety-clack snapping from the dining room table, leaping through the kitchen, down the hall, into my nearly sleeping head. The mid-breath pause of the shift key lifting the carriage. I slice cloves of garlic into gentle transparent cross sections, place one in my mouth. To know what I did not know, it burns. Smooth, like meditation, the knife passes through succulence in concentrated rhythmic subconsciousness. "To be there, and not there. The bulb slicer must prepare the fruit with utmost care. One must not pollute a dish with violence or wanton abuse. Prepare your garlic with gentle intensity."
The oil is hot, maybe too hot. There is a hint of smoke. Wild mushrooms, Chinese spinach, onions, scallions, the garlic. I can smell the rice cooker, it is almost done, a stain of steam rising against the door of the mug cabinet. Our mothers used to cook together. They took turns scolding each other over the sauces, over the degrees a wrist turned to disseminate sesame oil, red pepper, over the freshness of fish. How could we have turned out differently, it was all set out before us in heavy swaths of Cliniqué make-up and French perfumes. The antiquities they collected, the noise in the back of their throats when they expressed dismay, disappointment, utter astonishment. Waving us away after the meal had been served, and they were still talking, picking at what we had left on our plates, mothers and sons. Our shouts of British espionage over the rolling backdrop of Korean moving mouth to mouth, never stopping, like breathing.
Sameh shouts, "Smoke!" The fire alarm is screeching. I have blackened the tofu. The air is thick with over done oil and the pan is dry. I open the sliding door to the outside, crisp October air, like fresh drawn well water. Sameh runs out onto the deck and dances around in a circle, then back inside under my arm, through the kitchen and back into the living room where she was coloring. Markers scatter under her feet, my chest shakes and I brace myself in the frame of the door. The sound of dragons erupts from my throat.
When Sam's father left, the first things to go were the great vases. Taller than a child and large enough that when standing on a chair and peering over the lip into the gaping mouth, there was only darkness. The porcelain was glazed with mountain crags and twisted trees. The knotted patterns of dynasties, the long sinuous body of a dragon, its head always hiding so that I had to follow body over mountains and lakes, houses, and buffalo. We took turns perched on a dining room chair, leaning over the top and shouting tones into it until we found the right resonance and the vase came to life and we could feel it vibrate in our hands. Our freakish laughter alerted our mothers who chased us away admonishing, "Ten year old boys cannot break two hundred year-old vases." I returned to the house when they were having a moving sale. Almost all the antiques were gone. My mother bought an electric lawnmower and forced twenty-five dollars into Sam's mother's hand. She would not take it and my mother had to leave it on a side table by the door. Sam's mother made a show of finding it and running after the car and trying to throw it in the window. Both of them were crying.
I want to go back and tell Sam it is futile. His ridiculous search is meaningless. He will never be able to recreate sound as beautiful as his mind sees it. The world is too full of spurious resonances, hard reflective surfaces, and insurmountable compromises. And I want to hug him and kiss him, and hit him on the nose, the way he hit me when we were kids and my father tied boxing gloves on our hands in the basement, slapped his palms together and danced us around the joist posts, some perverse form of cock fighting.
I want to run back to Sam's house and sing Korean lullabies that we both recognize but have forgotten the meaning of. I want to throw seasonings into the air, things that represent our mothers and their ways. To yell so that the top of my chest aches, "Heineken and wharf fishing!" But not that. Yell, "Chicken leg, crab traps!" And fall down weeping, let the door open, and May, stroking my hair as if it were raining, if only it were raining and I was soaked and could smell the wet earth. And May says, "The children are sleeping. Come inside."
And May is ginger, different tastes. Gives me tea, sets me a place. I smell fish, maybe shells. Scallops. Warm green tea steam. I wish I wore glasses so that they would fog up and I could draw them off and wipe the lenses on the sleeve of my shirt.
May sits down next to me with her cup and says, "You got love."
"I wish it were raining."
"It is still October. It will come." She blows the surface of her tea and the leaves that didn't get caught in the sieve spin in cosmic entropy. "You know, through all the junk you and Sam fooled with, 300B tubes, direct heated cathodes, full range drives. All that time and money wasted, when really there is nothing like silence where one can listen to the earth. And that can't be recreated."
"Is Sam still here?"
"Something as simple as your rain, two-thousand dollar speaker drivers can't touch it."
"He isn't, is he."
"No." She sips even though the tea is still hot, and I can tell she burned her lips.
I reach out and caress her tea-warm hand. We hold her cup together, watch the tea leaves settle, smell the aroma of things that have steeped too long.
My car breathes hot, dry air that stings my eyes, makes it uncomfortable to see. I shift out of park and let it all just roll away. A glance into the rear view mirror, as if a glance might capture a restoration of something. But a glance into the mirror is the first spring moth bumping against glass on a night when snow is in the forecast. I pass solitary in my car with a crackling sound over the fallen leaves.
Leo Hwang received his M.F.A. from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Fiction, Gulf Coast, The Vermont Literary Review, and The Dickinson Review. He was the recipient of the Rosselli/de Filippis Scholarship at the 2002 Napa Valley Writers' Conference and has been awarded three work-study scholarships to the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. Mr. Hwang currently teaches English at Greenfield Community College.