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The Storm as It Passed

Every dollar I earned that summer went to pay for an Ypsilanti apartment in which I no longer lived. Due to a legal stipulation, it was impossible to sublet.

My ex-roommate’s name was Lee. His mother flew in from China to sleep in my bed when I moved. It made me happy, even though Lee hated his mother, because I could believe that I was helping, that my paying for the apartment wasn’t a total waste. Lee wanted to design games and banked on studying at a school near Tokyo, but his familial devotion kept him in Ypsi, reheating Subway sandwiches in his rice cooker, toying with suicide, becoming someone he didn’t want to. He’d lock himself in his room for days at a time after stuffing a crisp white towel under his door. I imagined finding him hanged beneath the creak of a taut rope as often as I didn’t.

Once, when we lived together, the power went out and Lee peeked around the corner to my room. His black hair melted in the darkness behind him.

“You do that every day?” he asked, Jupiter purring beneath his brush.

“Take some candles back to your room if you want,” I said, brushing the cat. The exposed pink gums stank.

Lee waved away my offer but sat down on the rug. Most of that evening was spent talking quietly and sipping tea, as we listened to the rumble of thunder from a storm that had already passed.


Tens and Twenties

Nothing in the world, no feeling I got from women, love, or yearning, compared with opening the woodstove door, waiting for the cloud of ash to settle, and admiring the stack of tens and twenties I received at the end of each month.

The woodstove awkwardly took up most of my bedroom, which could not really be called a bedroom—really, it was a hallway in which I slept. I could reach my arms out and touch the wall on one side and the window to the lean-to on the other. A sheet tacked between my hallway and the living room was my only door. The herbalist dragging a hose behind her, wanting to wet her seedlings, or even a tiny draft, exposed me to the commons. People came and went as they pleased, often forgetting to step over my sleeping body.

I tucked my money among the wood ash, because not even elbow deep in chicken shit did I feel dirty, let alone in a calcium-carbon compound, and I figured that the stove would be the last place anyone would look. I was right. Séraphine, the Mexican migrant who mailed his cash back to his wife and daughter, beat the shit out of his son when I caught the boy rifling through my stuff. That little thief unholstered every item from my wallet, bleaching them in the windowsill’s light. When I heard the boy’s yelps through the thin walls of their trailer, I wanted to feel bad, but I didn’t.

Before I left to live on the farm, my roommate Lee gave me a beautiful set of chopsticks. Two glass mallard ducks were included in the intricate box, upon which the chopsticks would lay when not in use. Lee was shy and stared at my rug when I thanked him.

I didn’t tell him that I’d watched him purchase this box the week before, after we attended a matinee of Miyazaki’s recent release. As Lee lay his items on the conveyor belt at Hua Xing, including the ornate box, I fingered a rolled up twenty in my hip pocket, thickened by its hamburger folds. I have my suspicions as to why I didn’t offer to pay, as he’d bought our movie tickets, but like the tens and twenties, I’ll keep them to myself.