Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Generation 1: About a bed ...

Kim Chong awoke with the dawn to tend his plants, but Layla had managed to beat him outside. She was already writing busily. The scratching of her pencil was the only sound until she asked Kim Chong why he didn't have a house.

"Very poor," he explained briefly. "Grandfather die, cannot leave here. Must stay, work."

Layla absorbed that news in silence. The early morning noises continued without interruption until she spoke again. "You must buy toilet. Nowhere to go. And shower. We should not stink."

"… ah, yes." He had trained himself to go to the bathroom twice a day—when he went into town, and again before he returned home for the evening.  He normally took showers at the public gym. But it was only natural that a lady wouldn't tolerate that sort of arrangement. He would have to talk to Ginny about all of this. 

And he did, joining his neighbor on her wraparound porch just as the moon rose that evening. She grinned at him and offered him sweet tea. "Hey there. Heard you got yerself hitched."


"'Married,' sugar. Sit down." He sat. "You look kinda sad. What's up?"

He gestured to her large barn. "Must build. Wife want."

"What the hell does your wife want a barn for?"

After more blundering, he finally managed to make Ginny understand. "So right now you need a little bathroom, and eventually you're gonna need a house. Okay. I'll make sure you have the toilet by tomorrow morning. Find some good rocks for me and I'll front you the cash. And make sure to get your building permits so you don't get in trouble with City Hall."

Relieved, he thanked her and went away in search of Layla. He finally found his wife by the river bank, flipping small fish from the water with a makeshift rod. "Not eat meat," he said, pointing and laughing.

"Not for me," she said quickly. "For you, for plants."

"I teasing."

"I know."


Ginny was as good as her word and arrived the next morning with a pallet of cheap pine boards and a cheaper toilet. While she constructed a crude outhouse, her husband pounded stakes into the earth and nailed boards to the stakes. By the time the sun blazed down at noon, he had finished making an enclosure for the small orchard that Kim Chong had so carefully cultivated.

Layla watched the goings-on from a distance as she finished addressing a fat envelope for the outgoing mail. Her sisters had contacted a publisher on her behalf. Milton & Griffords, LLC, had shown considerable interest in the fragments of the novel that Mena and Aisha had sent to them. The story itself was no masterpiece, but it was an excellent effort for a 22-year-old woman who had almost no life experience, and they were interested in publishing. The elder Luftis had already sent the company Layla's first seven chapters electronically. Now it was up to Layla to send the remainder herself, handwritten.

She considered the ring on her finger. Despite doing her a kindness by furthering her literary ambitions, Mena and Aisha were infuriated with her, and called her weekly to remind her just in case she'd forgotten. Part of their anger stemmed from her rash decision to marry on a whim—at least, that was all they could call it. And of all the colossal nerve, to marry not only a complete stranger, but a foreigner at that! 

But Layla had big plans for herself, plans that extended far beyond her tiny hometown in the middle of nowhere. She intended to be a famous writer. And to do that, she needed to see the world. She had seen that opportunity lying with Kim Chong Shin Yi whether he was aware of it himself or not. And besides, she informed her sarcastic siblings, she loved her foreigner husband. His earnestness, his gentleness, his work ethic … and his body.

God, his body. 

He was no mere farmer, she knew that much. What he really was might be beyond her scope. He didn't talk about his past unless she really pushed, and he didn't seem to enjoy it when he did. Still, he seemed to be happy with her, and she was determined to happy with him. Aisha and Mena would just have to accept it.

The McDermotts waved goodbye as they packed their truck and left.  Shortly afterwards, Kim Chong returned. He roasted lunch over the coal pit while she watched. It was too warm to keeping wearing her linen jacket top, so close to the fire. She slipped out of it, watching him cook bell peppers. Her gaze wandered to the notebook, but she didn't feel like writing. Not at all. 

"How much more write?"

"Not sure, cannot rush …"

"No no, take time," he said in a reassuring voice. She felt a sweet feeling flood her chest. And a warmer feeling, lower down.

Once lunch was finished she stood at the garden gate and watched him plant some more seeds. "Good seeds," he said proudly. "Good plants, good to eat, sell for much." 

He turned to look at his wife and fell silent. The neck strap of her dress hung into two pieces. The top had begun to slide downwards.

"It broke," she said.

"Uh-oh," he answered, and smiled.

He woke up several times that night to the sound of the tent flap being unzipped, and the distant rumble of the new toilet being flushed repeatedly. In the back of his mind, he began to think of the names of all the little girls he had known from another lifetime ago, way far away in a little village in the north of China.


Layla did not discuss her pregnancy immediately. In fact, she continued on with some habits that her husband found quite alarming. When he finally, timidly, asked her if she wanted some new clothes, she shook her head. "House first, then we get clothes."

Kim Chong was nothing if not resourceful. He promptly made a trip to the local scrapyard and found a few discarded pieces of serviceable furniture. Then to the second-hand appliance store. Then he visited Ginny McDermott, who called a builder on his behalf. "They'll have a manufactured home up for you in three days."

"Home?" It was an odd word to say. After being a nomad for nearly four years, he would finally have a house?

"Yup, I'll show you some floor plans on their website if you want."

In the end, Ginny drew a rough sketch of what he could expect and told him to give it to the foreman. "Enclosed bathroom, open kitchen and dining. 'Bout as simple as it comes, and you can add on rooms later. Like a nursery," and she smiled. 

Ginny's estimate turned out to be quite accurate. The builders brought a quarter-home to the lot and had all utilities connected and inspected within three days. The foreman warned Kim Chong that without a front door, though, anyone could steal from him. At this notion, Kim Chong chuckled. Anyone who needed to steal his few items was worse off than he was!

He sat at the tiny table alone, staring up at a simple painting that he had found at the local consignment shop. It was a childish painting, but he liked it all the same. It made him think of quiet days on a hillside outside of Shang Simla. 

"Kim Chong!"

Layla was padding up the steps, holding the handrail. She looked around at the small space before going straight towards the only door. Once she opened the door, her posture immediately expressed disappointment, so he was prepared before she turned around. 

"Kim Chong!" she said again, and this time there was no smile. "What is this?"

"Bathroom, so we don't stink."

"But … no bed?"

"You ask for shower! Did not say bed!" He laughed, but Layla didn't seem amused. Not in the least. 

Finally he calmed down and sighed a bit. "Layla. I not mean make you sad. I just not think. So use always sleep on ground, forget that woman need different."

"You sleep on the ground? Even in China?" She looked a bit skeptical. 

"Yes. When grandfather alive, he take students out for training. Train for weeks, on hill or mountain. Sleep in rain, snow, whatever. Always on ground. Too hard for many people, too hard for women. They leave because too much hurt. I have no woman around, I not use soft. Forget. I not do to make sad. I get you bed."

"But … what about you?"

"I not need bed."

She watched him walk away and seat himself in front of the tent, and all of her anger disappeared. Almost shyly, she followed him and sat down next to him before reaching for his hand.

"I don't need one, either," she whispered. 


It was fortunate that Layla decided so easily that she didn't need a bed, because there was no money to buy one. Every cent the two of them earned from their small harvests went towards paying the brand-new mortgage, or buying a new notebook, or paying for the postage to mail a notebook full of writing to an overseas publisher. Even after Layla's first book was published ("His Truth," a tale of treachery and intrigue in a small town), the royalties all vanished like smoke once the Shin Yis added a nursery onto the back of the house. No matter how much money they earned bit by bit, by the time the bills came due again, there was none left. 

Despite the lack of money, Kim Chong was his usual, cheerful self, and that was good, because Layla was grouchy enough for both of them. He soon learned to ask regularly if she needed her back rubbed, and she always accepted. His touch was often the best part of her achy days.

They argued—briefly—about the color of the furniture. Layla was holding out for a boy, and Kim Chong was certain that she was going to have a girl. Not that either of their opinions mattered, since there was no money for a doctor and there was no way to be certain. 

In the end, a mistake dictated the baby's new room. The furniture that the movers brought was pastel pink, and the store couldn't accept returns on clearance furniture. So pink it was, then. 

Soon after the new furnishing arrived, the waiting came to an end, and one afternoon Layla found herself doubled over in pain, giving birth. There was no time to call a cab or an ambulance. She just endured it until there was a brand-new child wailing in her arms. Kim Chong was right; their first baby was a little girl. 

Even though he claimed a glaring lack of experience with all things soft, Kim Chong doted on his daughter, whom he promptly named "Xiu." The name, he said, meant 'beautiful.'

Layla, however, was disappointed; she had hoped desperately for a boy. The wish was perhaps influenced by a recent text from Aisha, who responded to the baby pictures with a single caustic sentence—

"So you wanted to rub it in our faces that you're still skinny even after you've been pregnant? Bitch."

... family. At least she was beginning a new one so she wouldn't be confined to her sisters forevermore.


Kim Chong was enchanted by the small pink bundle that he and his wife had made, and if he could have gotten his way, he would have taken the baby everywhere. Layla wouldn't hear of it, though, so he had to leave his daughter at home when he left. 

And lately, he was leaving quite a bit. He had not been able to create art or music since settling in Riverfront Meadows. An easel was a luxury beyond reach; a piano was not to be dreamed of. Almost in desperation, he began to perform the only art he could—martial arts. He smashed boards over and over, just the way that his grandfather had taught him all those years ago. If he couldn't walk in the Path of the Wind, at least he could re-affirm the beginning.

Layla didn't care for it in the least. "Why should you hit boards? What have the boards done to you?" she teased, but there was a bit of an edge to her voice. If he became obsessed with breaking wood, what was to stop him from deciding to just go back to Shang Simla and picking up the life that he had left behind?

"Just practice, Layla. Not learn new."

"Then why spend time to do it?"

"You like body, yes?"

… and she couldn't argue with that.

But eventually these practices caused real trouble. A local farmer had torn down his barn, and given Kim Chong the old timber to shatter into bits. Twenty barn beams made an enormous amount of planks, and he was determined to break them all. He stayed at the dojo late into the night. 

Layla had spent her afternoon and evening alone. Now it was deep into the night, and she was still alone. She stared at her empty notebook, tapping her pencil, fretting. Normally the quiet helped her write, but lately it just felt empty. With a sigh, she went out to the tent to lie down.

She didn't realize it when she'd fallen asleep, but she was completely aware of it when she jolted awake, heart thundering. She had heard noise. Specifically, the sound of quiet footsteps creeping over the big field behind their tiny house. 

If she had been the only one there, Layla would have stayed very still in hopes of not being noticed. But all she could think about was her daughter, alone in the back of the house. She darted out, startling the burglar who had just crossed the threshold of the garden gate. They stared at each other for a horrible moment before Layla ran by and locked herself into the nursery with Xiu.  She reached for her phone with a trembling hand and dialed 911.

"Emergency," an operator's voice drawled.

"We are being robbed," Layla whispered.

"What's your address, ma'am?"

Layla didn't answer right away. She could hear the thief scratching at the nursery door.

"… ma'am?"

"We are in a field, near the cemetery."

The operator hesitated, but quickly said, "I'll send a squad car by."

The officer came within 90 seconds. Layla held Xiu close as the sound of a scuffle echoed through the silent night. 

The struggle, while brief, was violent. Layla held her daughter in shaking arms. There was the sound of the officer's voice, and then silence. Still, she remained in the nursery, cowering behind the door, until she heard the distant call, "... Layla?"

She stumbled to her feet and came out. Kim Chong was standing there in confusion, looking at the police report that he couldn't read. She felt great relief at seeing him, but her anger came out first. She was a Lufti, after all.

 "Robber come, police come, me and daughter here, where have you been? At dojo? Breaking boards?"

"Layla, I—"

"Why learn to hit boards when not here to hit burglar! Stupid, Kim Chong! Very stupid!" 

She stormed down the block, hailed a distant cab, and vanished. With his daughter.


Kim Chong's night had quickly gone from confusing to horrible. He had no idea why the police were at his lot at 2 a.m. The police report in his hand told him nothing at all.  And now his wife had just taken his daughter from him, and he hardly even understood why.

He went to sleep confused and woke up later that day, 
still confused, still alone. At that point, he did what any reasonable person would do—he went straight to the local bar and got trashed. That wasn't particularly hard to do, as he had never touched alcohol in his life. He didn't even realize that he had spoken to the bartender, until the man took his glass away and replaced it with a fresh drink.

"Now look here, man," Johnny said. "I got four sisters, so I already been through everything you just told me. You wanna know how to get out of trouble? Go home, tell the woman that you sorry. That's it."

"But already she leave!"

"Man, come on. Women come back, it ain't nothing but a show. Let me 'splain somethin' to ya, cuz you green. You wanna know the best way to piss off a man? Mess with his stuff. You wanna know the best way to piss off a woman? Mess with her kids. That's why she's mad at you, man! She got scared."

"But police come—"

"Yeah, man, but you wuddna there. If you'da been there, she wouldna left, cuz there wouldna be no reason to leave. But you wuddna there, and now she scared, and it's all on you. I'm tellin' you, man. Just go on home and 'pologize. It'll blow over." 

He hoped so. As small as the house was, it was too big for just him.

He spent another hour looking around the town square for any sign of Layla or Xiu, but they weren't there. Or maybe he had just missed them. His eyes were swimming.

He returned home, tired and sad. The house still appeared empty, and he didn't want to be there alone. But there was nowhere else for him to go, so he had no choice. He stepped in hesitantly and sat at the table.

The nursery door opened almost instantly, and Layla came out. They looked at each other warily. Finally she asked, "… are you hungry?"

He nodded. 

Layla set down the empty baby bottle and made two bowls of pasta for them to eat, and they ate together for the first time in a while. The tension was deeply unpleasant. He wanted to say "I'm sorry," but the words died on his lips every time he looked at her face.

"I want a bed, Kim Chong," she said, finally.

Not another word was spoken for the rest of that night.


  1. It's such a pleasure to read this chapter. I enjoy it even more than before. You can tell already by her character how Layla will be when old.... *giggle*.

  2. *sigh* Don't remind me, arrgh! :D