He is insane, Alexei hissed, rubbing his throat.
One day in the future, the meaning of irie will move on, and it will become just another word with a long list of archaic or obsolete definitions. Is everything irie? someone will ask you in a perfect American accent. Everything’s irie, you will respond, meaning everything’s just okay, but you really don’t feel like talking about it. Neither of you will know about Abraham or the Rastafari religion or the Jamaican dialect. The word will be devoid of any history at all.We were born here, Mom. We were always soft.
She scoffs. What about interview? You ready? She looks me over and finds me lacking. You cut hair before interview. For months she’s been after me to get rid of my short ponytail. I make a noise that could be either agreement or disagreement. She puts a plate of mandu in front of me and I eat it in silence.Because of the big interview, my parents let me have the day off from school. It’s still only eight a.m., but no way am I staying in the house and having any more of these conversations. Before I can escape, she hands me a money pouch with deposit slips to take to my dad at the store.Appa forgot. You bring to him. I’m sure she meant to give it to Charlie before he left for the store but forgot because of their little incident in the kitchen.
I take the pouch, grab my notebook, and drag myself upstairs to get dressed. My bedroom is at the end of a long hallway. I pass by Charlie’s room (door closed as always) and my parents’ room. My mom’s got a couple of unopened blank canvases leaning against their doorframe. Today’s her day off from the store, and I bet she’s looking forward to spending the day alone painting. Lately she’s been working on roaches, flies, and beetles. I’ve been teasing her, saying that she’s in her Gross Insect Period, but I like it even more than her Abstract Orchid Period from a few months ago.I take a quick detour into the empty bedroom that she uses as her studio to see if she’s painted anything new. Sure enough, there’s one of an enormous beetle. The canvas is not especially large, but the beetle takes up the entire space. My mom’s paintings have always been brightly colored and beautiful, but something about applying all that color to her intricate, almost anatomical drawings of insects makes them something more than beautiful. This one’s painted in darkly pearlescent greens, blues, and blacks. Its carapace shimmers like spilled oil on water.
Three years ago for her birthday, my dad surprised her by hiring part-time help for the store so she wouldn’t have to go in every day. He also bought a starter set of oil paints and some canvases. I’d never seen her cry over a present before. She’s been painting ever since.
Back in my room I wonder for the ten thousandth time (give or take) what her life would be like if she never left Korea. What if she never met my dad? What if she never had Charlie and me? Would she be an artist now?No. You know me better than that. You don’t believe in it either, he reminds me.
Don’t I? Okay. Thanks. I’m about to hang up, but he stops me.Can I at least tell you that I’m sorry? he asks.
Okay, I say. Don’t cheat on Kelly.I won’t, he says. I think he means it while he’s saying it.