That morning when Soonhee’s alarm exploded into life on her phone and Tom got up to switch it off, she said, “I’m meeting some friends for lunch today. Remember?”
Tom didn’t, but he said, “Yes.” He went to use the bathroom, which gave him time to jar his memory.
Oh, yeah. We’re getting together with some of her church friends. But why did she say “I” instead of “we”? Does she think we’ve merged into one person? Maybe so. After all, that’s what the Bible says happens when two people get married. Sure, Bible, anything you say, babe.
Returning to the bedroom, Tom asked, “So what time are we supposed to meet your friends?”
That gave him time to have a tiny bowl of rice to eat so he could have some coffee.
“What are you doing?” Soonhee asked when she appeared in the kitchen.
“There’s no way I can socialize without coffee.”
She didn’t argue with him, which was strange. Usually Soonhee opposed almost everything Tom did or proposed. Evidently she saw it as her role. No wonder he felt so worn out so much of the time they were together (and so defensive). He was like a pair of faded jeans with a bunch of holes in it, the kind that were in fashion these days for Korean women. While Tom appreciated the flashes of flesh, he was partial to miniskirts, thank you very much.
After taking a shower to ensure maximum consciousness, then getting dressed, Tom decided not to bring his phone with him since he was already overweight enough without a tumor. He brushed and flossed his teeth while Soonhee put curlers in her hair, then gargled with mouthwash fortified with saccharine–cancer’s bosom buddy.
“I’m going to head down, all right?” he said, having put on a pair of dark slacks, a suit jacket, and a black shirt with navy blue stripes to camouflage his flabulousness. Since Tom was semi-left-handed, he wore his belt so the label on the buckle was upside down. It was just more comfortable that way. The logo was too small for anyone who wasn’t getting ready to blow him to notice–in other words, anyone.
Tom trotted to the convenience store across the street from the bus stop to buy a bottle of water from the cute young clerk.
“That’s too bad you have to work today,” he said.
It was Children’s Day, a Korean national holiday. (Tom later told Soonhee’s friends that in America, every day was children’s day, unless, of course, you were poor, in which case it was Rich People’s Day.)
The clerk concurred with Tom’s comment.
“Do you get tomorrow off?”
“Are you a student?”
“Is your teacher a robot?”
The girl laughed at Tom’s remark and he said goodbye and left.
Another foreigner stood waiting for the bus. Since the weather was nice and Tom was in a gregarious mood for a change, he said hello and praised the sunny day.
“And at least the air is clean,” Tom added. “We don’t have to inhale that damned dust anymore. So what do you do?”
“I teach English at a Christian high school.”
Nice work, thought Tom. You can always count on me for putting my foot in my mouth. Still, why should I have to censor myself just to accommodate other people’s superstitions?
“Yeah, I’m a teacher too.”
The guy boarded his bus, then another foreigner showed up, whom Tom also engaged in chit-chat.
Soonhee finally arrived, then ran over to the convenience store to buy a package of twenty-four rolls of toilet paper for their lunch hosts as a house gift. When she returned after making her purchase, Tom mentioned what the item was for to the foreigner, saying he and his wife had had some guests who’d given them the same thing a week ago.
“What goes around comes around,” he said before he and Soonhee hopped into a taxi.
When they arrived at their destination, she realized she couldn’t call their hosts for directions to their apartment since she’d forgotten her phone. Tom marveled to himself at her cluelessness, reflecting on how she often misplaced her keys and purse in the apartment, then threw a tantrum when she couldn’t find them. Sometimes she’d blame him for not doing enough to help her find them. More alarmingly, a few weeks ago she’d left a gas burner lit on the stove. Tom came home to find the stink of smoke. At first it smelled to him slightly of pot smoke, then he followed the trail to the walled off area next to the kitchen where the stove was and found a gray mass billowing from a literal pot whose plastic lid was melting. He shut off the burner and opened all the windows, closing the glass sliding door between the kitchen and the little room where the stove stood to prevent the stench from overwhelming the apartment.
Soonhee opted to go back to the apartment herself to retrieve her phone while Tom waited with the toilet paper.
Twenty minutes later she returned, summoning him to another convenience store so she could pick up a few snacks to present as additional gifts. She asked the clerk what kinds of food were suitable for “babies” to eat. (The hosts, as it turned out, had a two year old son.)
Finally, they went into the friends’ apartment building, rode the elevator to the fifth floor, and got out. They took their shoes off as their hosts greeted them. Mira was an attractive young mother in her early thirties with a shoulder-length wave and glittering warm eyes. Her husband Beomsuk was a friendly, reserved fellow in a sweater vest.
Tom and Soonhee sat down on the floor around the low table decked out with deokkboggi, deonjanchigae, and cabbage kimchi. Soonhee was frying up some duck to add to the feast, and a box of pizza stood between the table and the computer where anthropomorphic cars were talking to each other on the screen.
Binho, the son, rolled his toy police car across the plastic wooden floor so that it approached Tom.
“Nice car!” Binho ran back across the room and clung to his mother’s apron strings, unwittingly embodying an idiom.
Tom moved the toy car over next to the wall so that no one stepped on it and wound up with a fractured spine.
Beomsuk invited Tom to start eating, and he was about to, when Soonhee stopped him. He thought it best to heed her suggestion, so as not to appear too piggy.
Their hosts joined them and the conversation ensued in both languages. Tom couldn’t participate in the Korean portion of the exchange, and Beomsuk sat out most of what was said in English. So they were even.
Everything unfolded uneventfully until Soonhee unleashed her pet peeve, the Illuminati.
Uh-oh, here we go, thought Tom.
She also brought out her asinine theory that the Masons controlled the music industry and that every pop song contained an evil message if you played it backwards.
Who the hell plays songs backwards? Maybe some deejays who work in nightclubs when they reverse the record on the turntable, but who else?
“I wouldn’t say most of the pop music you hear on the radio is evil,” Tom said. “Just really, really bad.”
“The Freemasons want to take over the world,” said Soonhee. “They’re trying to create one world government.”
“That’s impossible,” Tom said. Not to mention bullshit. “It can’t be done. You could never get everyone in the world to agree to live the same way.”
Soonhee stood her ground.
“Besides,” Tom went on, “wouldn’t you like to have one world under Jesus?”
“I never said that.”
That’s a relief. And a surprise.
It was hard for Tom to discern how much their hosts agreed with Soonhee. They smiled politely and seemed to digest what she was saying as if it were true. Before they’d started eating, Beomsuk had told Mina that Tom had recently been baptized. She congratulated him, even though Tom had only done it to humor Soonhee. Maybe it was one of the reasons she was finally responding to him in bed, now that his dick was on vacation in accordance with Murphy’s Law.
(Tom was increasingly convinced that the acupuncturist who’d poked him hard in the butt with a needle was the culprit, unless the minister had put a curse on him when he laid his baptismal hand on Tom’s head. Luckily, when it came to male genitals, the acupuncturist claimed to have the ability to reanimate dead matter. Ah-ha, so that’s your game! Rope me in by hamstringing my natural ability to elevate my own wang. Say, wait a minute–are you working for Monsanto? Soonhee told Tom only God could help him in that department. Everybody’s got their own angle.)
That night, after buying a book by Jose Saramago, Tom was accosted at the bus stop by two young foreign guys who were so clean-cut Tom was convinced Christ himself must have sculpted them out of soap. Sure enough, they were Mormons. On the bus, they asked Tom what he did and how long he’d been in Korea. He was embarrassed that they spoke the language much better than he did. He said they taught Korean people English for free while making product plugs for “Our Lord Jesus Christ,” as he’s known to his friends. Even though one guy admitted they were still just kids (a wonderful understatement), they introduced themselves as Elder Hamilton and Elder Francesconi.
And learning about Jesus and Joseph Smith! Maybe I should introduce them to Soonhee and she can denounce them as heretics for promoting the wrong agenda.
A walk up the hill afterwards was enough to clear Tom’s head of all the God business. The thing he liked the most about nature was it was quiet. It didn’t go around telling other people what to do, think, or believe.
Unlike some people he knew.