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The Amnesia Academy by Marko Fong

The Amnesia Academy by Marko Fong

Fiction, Vol. 4.4, Dec. 2010

I wait for the bus at the outfield fringe of my two-man baseball field, the corner in front of my house. The neighbor kids come up to ask, “Lucky, where are you going? Why do you get on a Greyhound bus every night? What’s inside that box?”

I press the cigar box between my arm and my side. “Nothing,” I tell them, “Nothing’s inside. I’m not going anywhere.” Am I talking about the box or something else?

After kindergarten I started going to the private school twelve miles on the other side of town. Each school year the neighbors know less about me.

“Where are you going?” they ask again.

“School,” I murmur.

“At night?”

“It’s a really hard school. We do algebra in fifth grade in Latin.”

I imply that it’s the same school that I go to during the day, the one with all the doctors’ children who belong to the golf club with the guard at the front gate. My classmates hang out there on Wednesday afternoons as their fathers make deals to re-develop Sacramento while choosing three wood or two iron. No one at my daytime school, even Jeff Feinstein, knows that I go to this second school.

“Just show them what’s in the box and they’ll leave you alone,” Gary Allen whispers. Gary’s the last neighbor I still play with.

“Cigars,” I announce, “What else would anyone keep in a cigar box?”

“They let us have them since we have to go to school at night.”

“Can I have one?”

“Not this time.”

“You don’t really have cigars in there.”

My box is edged with gold paper. Dad kept these cigars for four years. The top has a picture of Trujillo, the president of the country that makes the best cigars still available in the United States now that Cuba has fallen off the map. Dad explained the difference to me once: Castro is a dictator and Trujillo was president for life. The inside top is a picture of a woman who’s supposed to be the mother of all Dominicans. I heard my father once tell someone at the restaurant that she’s one of Trujillo’s mistresses. Her father was foolish enough to let his daughter enter the Miss Universe pageant. I find this very exciting so I remember it.

The neighbor kids get on their bikes to play some sort of racing game. They press baseball cards against the spokes with clothespins. If you listen a certain way, the bike sounds like a motorcycle.

I reach inside without completely opening the cigar box and pull out an empty tube. “See?”

“Let’s see you smoke it.”

“Well, I don’t really smoke myself. I just bring them to trade for stuff.”

“What stuff?”

I close my box and clutch it to my side as if it were James Bond’s attaché case. These are the items inside they must not see: comic book-style primers from the Chinese Nationalist press with Kuomintang party seal, calligraphy books, a party youth membership card (Chiang borrowed the idea from Hitler), a jar of black ink, and a pair of bamboo brushes. They’ll give away the fact that my night school isn’t a regular private school.

Dad gives me the boxes and tubes after he finishes smoking the cigars. The best ones are glass and look like test tubes, but I don’t take those to Chinese School. I keep my brushes in a cedar-lined aluminum tube that I painted to look like a fifty-caliber-machine-gun bullet.

I welcome the rumble of the bus. Even if I hadn’t lost two months of little league, I would do anything to get out of going to Chinese school in Paperson. As the door of the bus whooshes open, I know that the neighbor kids can’t see through its dark-glazed windows.

Yeh-Yeh made a deal with moonlighting Greyhound drivers and mechanics. The drivers sneak the sceni-cruisers out of the yard to “test” for mechanical problems. The money Yeh-Yeh pays for these excursions comes back anyway. The gambling house is the only Paperson business open on weeknights. There’s a diner out front where the bus driver first gets a free meal, sees customers use the bathroom, and never come back to eat.

Once inside the sceni-cruiser, I pretend it’s a spaceship. I look for an empty row near the middle. If someone sits next to me, I don’t talk. Girls never sit with boys unless the driver makes them. My pickup is first because we live the farthest from Paperson. The early stop kids dress like me—jeans, sneakers, colored T-shirts. The girls wear pants or short dresses. By the middle of the route the clothes shift as the bus stops for the kids who live in the public apartments at the edge of what’s left of Sacramento’s Chinatown. These kids have noticeable Chinese accents. I’m not sure why they have to go to Chinese school. Shouldn’t they be learning English instead? Apparently, they work on something called “Citizenship” instead of language, though most of them don’t know any more written Chinese than we do.

The Fresh off the Boat crowd, together in the back, sneak cigarettes and talk about fast cars in Chinese interspersed with English words like hemi, four-barrel, and gottamatch. They comb their hair straight back and wear cotton pants and T-shirts with rolled-up sleeves.

A few weeks ago, I was reading the latest car magazine—all color photographs and graphs of road tests. One of the FOB boys sat down next to me. I had watched them pass outdated copies of the same magazines. Theirs looked like they’d come from barber shops or the offices of gas stations. He pulled out his own copy, thumb prints across the cover, pages ripped out, mustaches drawn on the models in the advertisements. After a few minutes, I noticed that he kept eyeing my magazine.

“You want to take a look?”

He grabbed it and pointed to a dragster engine, all chrome manifolds and pipes. “Wow,” he kept saying. “That’s cool.” For some reason he could say that one phrase just like Ed Kookie Byrnes from ’77 Sunset Strip.

I preferred sports cars, the ones with Italian names and impossibly high list prices.

“Pretty fast,” he whispered, while I wondered if he was reading the numbers printed in the road tests or the swirling dust airbrushed into the photo.

Moments later, he offered me a copy of one of his magazines. I flipped through it as quickly as possible while through the corner of my eye I saw the lazy pleasure he took from the glossiness of the pages of mine, and I felt jealous and disdainful all at once. A few minutes from Paperson he started to return my copy of Car and Driver.

“Keep it,” I whispered.

He shook his head.

“No really,” I said, “I’ve already read it.”

“Here, you take mine…trade.”

I looked at the dog eared magazine rolled in his hands.

“No, thanks.”

“We trade,” he repeated.

“No, no, you can have it.”

Our exchange had gone wrong. He made a spitting sound through his teeth, stuck his own magazine in his back pocket, and pushed mine back at me. When the bus stopped, he got out without looking at me. I left my issue of Car and Driver with its Ferrari Dino cover on the seat next to me. I found his on top of a garbage can just in front of the steps to the school.

After that, I read other sorts of things on the bus—sports biographies, stories about hard work and determination as told to the same three Jewish men: Shapiro, Hano, Stambler. Sometimes the other American-born kids would bring comic books and we’d trade, until the Chinese School teachers caught two older kids bickering over whether one Fantastic Four was worth two old Supermans. They declared, Chinese school is the place to learn and speak Chinese. No American reading is allowed, even on bus. Before the ban, I left one more copy of a car magazine on my bus seat.

I then tried to bring my homework from regular school. If I kept repeating algebra problems to myself, I wouldn’t grow a Chinese accent. I wouldn’t start rolling up my T-shirts, slicking back my hair, and I wouldn’t try to say “Cool” just like some guy on a TV show that no one watched anymore.

My parents say, “Don’t worry about learning Chinese. The important thing is to make Chinese friends, be with your own people.”

I get home and they ask me if I played with anyone. I shake my head. How do I explain that the older kids hog all the good walls to throw balls against? Most of the time I stand in the schoolyard and watch, keeping score of the other kids’ games in my head, wondering how Arnold Hano would describe it.

Sometimes other American-borns come up to me and ask, “Which school do you go to?”

I tell them the name of my private school and they shrug. They’ve never heard of it. Most tell me they go to Sam Brannan.

I say, “Sam Brannan was a Gold Rush profiteer who hired General Sherman to survey what became Sacramento.”

They walk away. Sometimes, I just name kids I play little league with who go to Sam Brannan, but the Chinese school kids only seem to know other Chinese kids.

“Where is your school?”

“It’s a private school.”

“You must be rich.”

“No, we’re not, really.”

“Then where do you get the money?”

“They have scholarships sometimes.”

They never ask if I have a scholarship.

“You must be smart.”

They don’t come up to talk much after that.

When I first found out that I had to go to the Chinese School, I insisted that my parents give me a reason why and they told me, Because it’s part of who you are.

Every evening that I am here, I look around and ask myself the question, “How is this me?”

Another time, Dad told me, “You go to Chinese school to learn to be successful.”

“Is Chinese success different from American success?”

“To be successful in China, if you carry out your responsibilities to your family and yourself, you’re successful.”

“I can do my homework and chores without going to Chinese school.”

“It’s more than that.”

“So what’s it mean to be successful in America?”

“In America, you do whatever it takes to get what you want, then don’t let anyone else ask too many questions. You can be successful in both ways.”

Dad looks away, which means that I shouldn’t ask him to explain more.

In Chinese school, we recite from textbooks printed on comic-book paper. Memory is everything here, understanding nothing. The seal of the Chinese Nationalist press is stamped on the back. On the front, pictures of modern office buildings and automobiles compete with smiling children. Inside, the children in the pictures wear suspenders, shorts, and white-pressed shirts with buttons and collars. The girls wear plaid skirts and sweaters. Fathers carry briefcases to match blue business suits and mothers wear aprons. There are no pictures of peasants in coolie hats. Instead, farmers drive shiny tractors and talk to scientists who wear lab smocks. China, this China, is or at least will be as modern and rich as America.

Each day, we listen to a book about Sun Yat Sen. We learn how the Chinese revolution of 1911 was like the American revolution and how the Chinese communists are vicious bandits. If you say Mao’s name, you get in trouble. A big map of China hangs in every classroom. The mainland is the same color as the island of Formosa.

The rest of the time we recite words from the text. We learn the different words for members of the family, for studying, for brushing teeth, and washing your face. There are two different words for grandfather—one for your father’s father and one for your mother’s father. There are separate words for older and younger brother. It was so confusing that for two weeks I thought chat-chat (brushing teeth) and sai-sai (washing face) were yet more members of the family who only live in the bathroom.

We recite the words in unison. As we recite, the teacher walks the room and holds a piece of paper in front of selected students to make sure that they are not just moving their lips.

Mom tried to help with my recitation as I struggled with the tones. I had no ear for my ancestral language. One day she got frustrated, “Your memory in your other school is so good. Why do you have so much trouble with this?”

At regular school, the parents sometimes whisper about the kids with the learning disabilities who clog up the public schools and slow down the smart ones. In American school, I’m not one of those kids. In Chinese school, I’m not so sure. Everyone else recites much better than I do. Everyone else keeps their brush marks inside the lines when they write their names or the characters for Dr. Sun’s three people’s principles. Can you be smart in English and dumb in Chinese?

Sometimes I know the words, other times I mumble. You don’t want to be caught by the teacher. Sin San is a middle-aged man who wears the same gray suit every day. He greases his hair and wears glasses with wire rims. His posture is chopstick straight, but the first thing everyone sees is the mole on the right side of his face. Some of the kids talk about counting the hairs coming out of his mole.

If you make a recitation mistake, Sin San makes you say the phrase three times in front of everyone. If you giggle from nervousness, he hits the tips of your fingers with a ruler. I know that it is just a matter of time before I get caught forgetting. If it doesn’t happen with recitals, I know it is unavoidable in calligraphy. Even when we trace, Chinese characters tumble around for me. Somehow though, my turn never comes. Most of the time, he only punishes the FOBs. He’s extra mean to Kookie Byrnes. Once Sin San pulled Kookie by his ear just because he didn’t recite right away, even though Kookie always seems to be staring straight at him.

A few months into Chinese School, I asked my parents for a better reason why I had to go.

“Your Grandfather built the school. He raised the funds.”

“So?”

“So, how would it look if his own grandson didn’t go there? “

“But Yeh-Yeh says he never went to school.”

“You get to go to two schools. Your grandfather helped to make sure you and all the other Chinese children here not only get the chance he didn’t get, but twice what American kids get.”

I wonder what Yeh-Yeh will think when he finds out his grandson is retarded in Chinese.

This evening it changes. In the middle of recess, I am walking around the end of the school where nobody goes. I figure walking is better than standing around and not talking or playing with anyone. The classroom has a back door, but only Sin San uses it. Kookie is by the door doing something to the knob, but I can’t see what.

He sees me. His eyes get big and he turns away from the door with hands behind his back. “Shit,” he says. When the FOBs swear, they somehow never have an accent.

“What are you doing to the doorknob?” I ask.

Kookie ignores my question. I point to a piece of metal in his hand.

“Please, you not tell anyone.”

“Are you being a spy?”

“Yeah, spy.”

I’m not sure he knows what a spy is, but I like the idea of being a spy.

“For the good side?”

“Good side?”

“The American side.”

Kookie nods his head.

“You not say anything?”

I nod. “Promise.”

Kookie runs toward the playground and I walk in the other direction.

The next week, I find Kookie by the back door again and I still don’t say anything. A few days later, it’s the same. After that, Kookie’s there every recess. In the meantime, Sin San keeps getting meaner to Kookie, calling on him to recite the really hard passages, finding little mistakes in calligraphy that looks way better than mine, accusing Kookie of not listening at the right times even though Kookie often seems to be looking straight at Sin San. Actually, a lot of the times Sin San gets maddest when Kookie is clearly staring straight at his face. I’ve never seen Kookie actually do anything wrong in class.

The other kids say that Sin San hates Kookie because he’s so greasy. It’s funny because I’ve noticed that Kookie is the FOB kid who doesn’t smoke cigarettes. He also does homework on the bus sometimes.

One evening, I’m walking in the playground and Kookie says “Hi, Rucky.”

I have no idea how he knows my name. I say hi back, but I don’t know his name.

“You still like fast car?”

I nod.

“I help cousin in body shop. They got real fast car there.”

“Great,” I say.

“I show you some time.”

I shrug.

“You not believe me?”

“I believe you. What kind of car is it?”

“Chevy Corvee.”

“You mean a Corvette?”

“Corvee.”

“I’d go see a Lamborghini.”

Kookie spits.

“This Chevy faster than Rambo-genie.”

“No way.”

I don’t talk to Kookie for three more recesses, then one evening I see him coming out the back door of the classroom. I look around to make sure no one else sees us.

“How?”

Suddenly, we hear footsteps. Kookie pulls something from his back pocket and tosses it to me. It’s bright red and looks like a felt pen.

“You take.”

I don’t know what to say, but I hear adult voices just around the corner of the building.

“You not tell, not get caught. He never call on you.”

The voices fade and never make it around the corner. I slip the red pen into the fifty-caliber cigar tube in my pocket. Kookie runs towards the playground. The bell rings. At the beginning of class, I stick the tube in my cigar box of Chinese school stuff. I don’t even notice until I hear giggles and tongue clicks. Sin San isn’t in the classroom. We’re supposed to come in, take our seats, and wait for him in silence. A drawing of the Chinese Communist flag, a star flanked by a sickle of four smaller stars, against a field of red appears in the left corner of the blackboard. I look in Kookie’s direction, but try not to make it obvious.

Sin San comes in and he doesn’t seem to notice. No one’s going to tell him. For a few moments Sin San teaches the words for brushing teeth, washing your face, then he’s on to the different members of the family. We’ve reviewed this same lesson for four weeks.

He stops. He wants us to be louder, less tentative. He turns away from us and towards the board to show his disappointment then sees it. “Ee yah!” he yells. We say nothing.

Sin San takes the big eraser and swipes violently at the flag drawing. Then just as suddenly he turns his face red, “What’s wrong with you children?”

He says it in Chinese and it just happens to be one of the few phrases I do know. He reverts to thickly-accented English, “I want who did this come forward. The rest of you put heads on desk.”

Someone giggles nervously, but no one confesses. He begins to walk down the aisle stopping at each desk “Did you do this?”

He comes to my desk, “Did you do it?”

I don’t dare look back out of fear that he’ll see the wrong thing in my face. I rub my fingertips with my thumbs. Before I get a chance to answer, he sends me outside.

“But!” I mutter. I tremble as I fight back tears.

“Go in hallway now.”

His hands crack together. I first make sure that I grab my cigar box before I slump against the cold blue cinder blocks of the hallway. What has Sin San figured out already? I would normally never touch the linoleum floors—the FOBs spit in the hallways sometimes. I slip my fingers beneath my thighs to keep them still. Will the principal come for me? Will they send the police?

But just before I crack, a girl joins me in the hall. Seconds later it’s another girl whose clothes come from Macy’s, followed by a boy smaller and even more timid than I. At least a third of the class lines the hallway. If Sin San is sorting suspects from non-suspects, I’m safe.

We don’t speak to one other at first, until the boy turns to me, “What’s going on?”

“I don’t think we’re in trouble,” someone whispers back.

We can hear Sin San yelling at the FOB kids, then searching their desks and school boxes for red chalk. At one point, I hear Sin San say, “You come here again. You show me your box one more time,” and I just know he’s talking to Kookie.

He makes some of the boys take all their clothes off except their underwear as we American-borns wait outside and listen.

“Why’s he so upset?”

“It’s the Communist flag. Don’t you know anything?”

“But it’s just a flag,“ the boy next to me, Jerry Jang, continues. “So it’s a Communist flag. You think they’re really any worse?”

No one answers. Uncle Nelson, my mother’s beatnik brother who makes me call him by his first name, says that sort of thing from time to time, but never in front of strangers. Over the summer there was a Taiwanese student who worked as a bus boy at my Dad’s restaurant who said things like that every now and then. He disappeared one Friday and never picked up his paycheck. They sent it to his mother’s address in Taipei and it came back. The kids in the hallway stare at Jerry.

Eventually one of the Chinese-born boys comes out into the hallway and motions us back. Sin San stands next to his desk. Two of the FOBs rub the board with a felt eraser that’s longer than their forearms. An old woman who apparently entered through the back door lectures us about her life, “Mao killed my family, slit their throats, then hung their headless bodies from a tree. The heads they fed to the pigs. Until I escaped three years later, they made me feed and clean after those same pigs.”

A man tells us, “The communists they keep everything for themselves, they say it’s all equal, but the insiders get rich in secret. No such thing as everything shared.”

Where did these people come from on such short notice? Is there some sort of anti-communist response team in Paperson?

We listen in silence. When the two finish, it’s not clear if we’re supposed to applaud or just sit. Again, I try to look at Kookie, but he’s looking straight at the man who’s talking and seems to be listening very carefully. When the recess bell rings, no one dares rush the door the way we normally do. Behind the speakers, the Communist flag, erased thirty times over, refuses to fade. Sin San tries paper towels, a wet sponge, and heavier erasers. All night they scrub, cover it over with chalk, and scrub again.

For days, the outline of the communist flag defies the resources of Paperson’s Chinese School. The school hires a chemist to analyze the offending chalk marks. After the first week, a Nationalist flag hangs over that section of the chalkboard, but we can still see the communist stars. When the light is just right, they penetrate the single white star of the Nationalist flag. At the end of the month, they replace the entire chalk board and fix the lock to the back door. Kookie keeps coming to school and Sin San is just as mean to Kookie. I don’t see Kookie by the back door at recess again though.

At recess one evening, I see one of the girls head to the principal’s office. The principal walks into the gym with the girl. She points at Jerry Jang. After recess, Jerry disappears. He must have left in a hurry. His textbooks stayed stacked in a neat pile on top of his cigar box. Sin San says nothing about why Jerry’s desk sits empty. I say nothing about Kookie.

The next week I overhear a group of girls whisper, “The Jangs support the Communists. They even get the People’s Daily, a big picture of Mao every week right in the mail.”

The others know this is something bad, but it’s not clear why. “They might even be arrested…or deported.”

A mandatory silence follows the second word.

I break it, “You can’t get arrested for that. We have free speech.”

“How do you know?”

“American school.”

“You can so be deported for being a communist. My Ah Ma told me so. It’s not just the Americans; it’s the law in Taiwan too.”

I lean against the rough cinder block wall. Boys don’t normally talk to girls at the Chinese school just like the American school. I don’t really want to talk to them about the Bill of Rights; I want to tell someone that Jerry Jang is innocent, whether or not his parents are communist sympathizers. It’s just that I don’t.

After Jerry’s expulsion, a strange thing happens. Parents start telling one another, “Learning Chinese is good, but all this indoctrination is too much for young kids. American-born kids say things sometimes, they just don’t know better.”

Fewer American-born kids get on the bus each week. One day at the zoo, I see Jerry Jang with a cub scout pack. He has lots of friends. He never talked much at Chinese school; here he’s one of the loudest. He looks right at me, but we don’t acknowledge one another.

One evening, Kookie comes up to me at recess. “Rucky, you want come see car?”

“Now?”

“No, not now. You come cousin garage. I show you. We trade.”

Mom and Dad are more than happy when I ask them to take me there, but they want to talk to Kookie’s mom first. I don’t know Kookie’s real name. I just have the name and address of a body shop.

“How can you not know his name?”

“Mom, I really want to see this car. He’s my friend.”

I see Mom do the math in her head. She agrees, but isn’t real sure. When we drive up to the body shop, she’s even less sure, especially after she sees Kookie, who’s in a dirty T-shirt and faded jeans. Kookie’s cousin Sam is smoking a cigarette and he has less of an accent than his younger cousin. I learn that Kookie’s American name is “Richard.”

“Richard, how old are you?” she asks.

“Fourteen.”

When he says it, I can tell that Mom is thinking about Way Lan and wondering why I want to be friends with these older boys and why they want to be friends with me. I’d tell her if she asked. I’m more Americanized than they are, yet somehow these FOBs are more American than I am.

Mom looks around the body shop and makes a face at the girlie calendars and the empty bottles of beer, but agrees to come back for me in thirty minutes.

The car is a purple Corvair with a 427 cubic inch V8 jammed in the back. It’s not a Lamborghini, but it’s beautiful. Kookie shows me the tolerances of the cylinder heads with a plastic ruler. He talks spark plug gaps and the tweaks his cousin did to force more air to the carburetor.

“Pretty cool,” he says.

“Very cool,” I say.

Inside of three minutes, Kookie loses me. He has me touch the different parts of the engine. Eventually, he makes me sit in the driver seat and has me turn the key and step on the gas pedal to hear the Corvair rev.

He tells me not to be scared.

“I don’t want to break anything.”

“No worry, Rucky. I trust you.”

I feel my heart beat as the Corvair revs. It’s the noisiest thing I’ve ever heard. It’s what a dragon’s roar must sound like.

We’ve been in the garage for ten minutes.

Kookie’s cousin gets me a Coke, looks me straight in the eye and says, “You’re all right.”

I turn to Richard, “Why did you draw the flag on the blackboard?”

“Why didn’t you tell on me?” Kookie answers with a question. “I thought you were going to save Jerry Jang. He one of you.”

I don’t have an answer right away, but after a few seconds I say, “Sin San is too mean to you. It isn’t right.”

Kookie nods and his cousin says, “He’s all right,” a second time.

“Why’s he so mean to you?”

Kookie drops his head, “I come to school and I keep look at Sin San. I know he not like, but I keep look. Don’t know why. One day, Sin San make me stay after bell and say Whykeep look at me? I say, you face maybe I see in Toisan. Sin San say, Where from? I tell him Pao Bao and he say, Don’t know Pao Bao. I still look. After that, Sin San he hate me.”

“I don’t get it, “ I murmur.

Sam cuts in, “Our family comes from a little village, Pao Bao. No one in Sacramento much comes from there. Richard’s family owned a farm. Richard’s too young to remember. In Pao Bao, Sin San had a different name, but he was the school teacher there. When the communists came, he was the one who told the communists who all the landlords were and where they hiding. He wasn’t a communist, he just wanted to be on their good side. The communists round up the landlords and punish them. The teacher gets assigned to do re-education in Canton.”

“How do you know it was Sin San?”

Sam points to the right side of his own face, “Richard told me about the mole.”

“Sin San tell everyone that me cai-dai (bastard), then if I say anything he can say that I lie.”

I get an idea.

“I’m going to tell my Yeh-Yeh. He’ll fix this.”

“Don’t tell your Yeh-Yeh…Sin San was just doing what it took to get what he wanted. He just doesn’t want people asking questions. This stuff should stay in the past. We learned that in China.”

“But.”

“Lucky, promise us that you won’t say anything. Richard’s fine, thanks to you. It’s time for us to forget China stuff and be Americans. You tell on Sin San and Richard would still get in trouble.”

“I don’t get it.”

“You might in a few years. My brother and I are your friends.”

Richard interrupts,”You our American friend.”

I hold my hand out to shake.

“Lucky, you wanna go for a ride?”

“I don’t think my mom would like it.”

“Your Ma doesn’t need to know.”

It’s the first time I’ve ever been in a car going over 100 miles an hour. We get back five minutes before Mom picks me up. Kookie’s cousin does the talking and he’s a good talker. Besides, Corvairs are safe at any speed, as long as you use your seatbelt.

Weeks later, I tell my parents I’m worried about my classes in regular school. I don’t have time for both. How can I go to Princeton if I don’t? It works.

By the next school year, the Chinese School in Paperson closed for a lack of students. I remember none of the words I recited all those nights at the amnesia academy. I lost the brush and ink, the comic book paper texts from the Nationalist Children’s Press. For years, I couldn’t even remember the faces of the other kids, just the empty desk, the sound of screaming at recess, Sin San’s blue suit with the Kuomintang party pin, and the blackboard drawing of the communist flag. I never saw Kookie or his cousin again. When I’d ask to go to Kookie’s body shop, Mom kept telling me it wasn’t a good time. I heard that Kookie’s cousin got a job crewing for Don Garlits and took Kookie with him. I tell myself that Kookie painted the swamp rat on Don Garlits’ dragster. A couple months later, I found the auto-body scratch repair pen in a cigar tube. I held it to my ear like a sea shell and the roar of hot rods drowned out everything.

Suitable Poetic Subjects by Bonnie Auslander

Study Abroad by Regina Faunes

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