Years later, Su-Bin will be sure to brush her hair off her face in a way that will draw his eyes towards her wedding ring. A shadow of sorrow will pass over his face, but he’ll ask about Hana.
Su-Bin will smile warmly and say, “She’s off in Montreal, pursuing her music and a psychology degree. How about Adam?”
Another shadow will pass over Theo’s face and he’ll stumble for words. In the end he will simply say, “We’ve been going through rocky times lately. He’s had a spill with drugs.”
They will frown and look away from one another.
Her shoulders will relax and she’ll pay for her gas before exiting the cubicle-sized gas station. She won’t hear his last words over the tinkle of the bells as the door opens and she exhales, but she’ll feel the familiar pulse between her legs.
Theo Royston Clay is waiting for her, hovering near the door. She recognizes him from the green- and red-striped scarf he’s chosen for the occasion. She is surprised by his height. Her knees become as gelatinous as the tofu in the sun-du-bu she made for lunch. Su-Bin’s vision blurs, and she wants more than anything else to run all the way back to her tiny house, jump in the frozen car and drive towards Hana’s piano teacher’s house where she can sit quietly on the uncomfortable chesterfield, as she usually does.
But Hana’s been complaining that Su-Bin should change her name to Susan. Hana wants Su-Bin to act more Canadian. Hana wants her mother to be like all the other mothers who get on with their lives. Like the mothers who let their children explore the world. Hana is tired of being coddled—of having a “helicopter parent,” a term Hana learned at school it. And Hana refuses to speak Korean at home because she chooses to be one hundred percent Canadian.
Su-Bin and Theo meet in the neighbourhood café she’s never been to. He seems to know her area better than she does. But then again, Su-Bin has just moved to the neighbourhood. Everything is new. Meeting men is new. Su-Bin isn’t sure she knows what she is doing, but as soon as Theo reaches across the table for her hand, she feels electricity pump from his long fingers into her fine bones. The electricity centres and hums between her legs. She feels a blush rise to her face. She’s never had such a strong reaction to a man before. Not even Hana’s father.
Theo talks about his son, “I worry so much that I’m not being the man he needs me to be, but I’m doing my best. The road is bumpy right now, but I think it’ll get better.” Su-Bin feels the warmth seep from his fiery palm into her fear-frozen fingertips. She is startled to see tears glistening in his pale grey eyes. A few droplets have gathered in his long blond eyelashes and have darkened them. Su-Bin feels she could swim in those eyes. They are the same colour as the sea along the eastern coast, near the fishing village where her parents still live. No, she corrects herself, I could drown in those eyes. What does she know about swimming anyway? What does she know about the ocean or all the fish who swim there?
Su-Bin cautiously stammers, “Tee-o,” her cheeks redden—even though she has practised his name sixty times, her tongue has proven untrainable—“we have a phrase: at the end of hardship comes happiness. But, you must take caution not to forget yourself.” She puts the emotion into her fingers and it is enough to cause the tears to trickle down Theo’s narrow cheeks.
“The easy things in life are never worth as much as the difficult, are they?”
“Yes, they aren’t,” she responds so softly he barely hears her.
“I’m a mess,” he confesses.
Su-Bin wishes they didn’t have to talk.
A week later, Su-Bin and Theo plan to meet at the same coffee shop. This time, Su-Bin wears a brighter lipstick and pencils in her eyebrows.
“Do I look okay?” Su-Bin asks Hana, “I’m going out with some ajumas from work. I think I am starting to fit in now.” Su-Bin nervously pats at her thick shoulder-length bob.
“Mom, you look really pretty. I’m glad you’re making friends. Melissa’s asked me to spend the night,” Hana undoes the top button of Su-Bin’s blouse and fetches one of her sparkly teardrop necklaces. “It makes you look more Canadian.” Hana winks at her mother and pins her hair up into a loose chignon. “And lose the sweater. No one in Canada wears mustard yellow cardigans.”
Su-Bin drops Hanna off at the piano teacher’s house. This time Su-Bin is not tempted to listen to her daughter’s fingers dance over the keys. Su-Bin easily slips the wedding ring from her finger and drops it into the little fish-shaped change purse attached to her keychain.
Theo is in better form than last week as well. This time, Theo picks Su-Bin up at the tiny two-bedroom house four blocks from the coffee shop. Su-Bin insists she’ll walk, but Theo says a lady should never have to walk in the rain. She notes the meticulous upholstery and fresh smell as soon as she opens to car door. She tries not to get mud on the floor mat.
There are no tears during coffee this time. The energy pulsates even more strongly between them. Adam is at his mother’s for the evening. Hana was right: Theo’s eyes light up when he sees the hint of feminine flesh at Su-Bin’s throat.
“Su-Bin, you look absolutely lovely,” Theo says in a voice that betrays his desire. Su-Bin feels the unfamiliar throbbing pleasure between her legs again. It makes her feel hot and faint at the same time. Her hands tremble. Woo-Jin has never made her feel like this.
Su-Bin manages to speak with less reticence through coffee. The energy builds in her core until she is sure Theo must see her glowing like the red-hot coals that roast the chestnuts in the vendors’ street carts. But Theo remains a gentleman. She sees his eyes wander towards the necklace and the graceful slope of her neck when she looks out the window, but he does not make any advances.
Theo pulls up in front of her house. He walks around the car to let her out, holding his umbrella over her. She fumbles with her keys and drops them on the rain-soaked steps.
Theo must see how nervous she is. He unlocks the door for her and swoops down to kiss her cheek. She wonders if he can feel the energy glowing between her legs.
“Would you like some persimmon?” she blurts out as he turns away from her. She likes that he doesn’t presume anything. She likes that she is in control of this situation.
Theo hesitates a moment, checks his watch, and says, “I don’t think I’ve ever had persimmon before. It wouldn’t hurt to taste something new.”
Su-Bin places her shoes on the mat next to his. His shoes are at least twice as long as hers. He is like a tall pine, and she is a feathery sapling. Theo reaches down to brush a strand of hair away from his face. Somehow the pulsations take over her and she brings his long fingers to her mouth and sucks on them one by one.
Later, Su-Bin watches Theo pull threadbare socks onto his long feet. She notes that her nipples stand out like the buds on the maple tree beyond her window. She sits up and runs her hands over Theo’s pale hairy back and kisses his thick neck. She pushes her tiny breasts into his back and soon they are tangled together in the sheets.
Later, Theo will pull on his socks and she will let him.
“I should have told you,” she says to his back now glowing in the moonlight, “my husband comes to Canada tomorrow.”
Theo slowly turns towards Su-Bin, “Husband?”
“It was my last chance to taste the persimmon,” Su-Bin responds, knowing she’s been selfish.
# # #
Rachel Laverdiere currently writes and teaches in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. She has worked as a language teacher in South Korea, Quebec and Saskatchewan. So far in 2016, Rachel’s poetry and short fiction have appeared in Soliloquies Anthology, Sulphur Magazine, The Quilliad and Untethered Magazine. Her first CNF piece is forthcoming with Filling Station. Rachel’s flash fiction was shortlisted for the Geist 2015 Short Long-Distance Writing Contest.
Photo credit: Terri Malone