The only electric fan going in the café is shuddery, temperamental. It squeals to a stop and she sighs. She looks through her sticky fringe at her boyfriend, but he’s busy grappling with his sandwich. He doesn’t seem to notice how she’s sweltering, ripening really. Her hands start to slip on the cutlery and she sweats and squirms until finally she bursts out of her own skin. She splits in half, just like his sandwich. She tries to do it neatly, because that’s the kind of person she is, she always draws inside the lines, but this time the only lines she can think of are racial. She is half Asian and half white. Her Asian half is Japanese, but her white half is only a blur, Scandinavian maybe, English here or there, or Scottish, with a touch of Robert the Bruce. She worries for a second that her white half may split into thirds. She turns to her boyfriend for help but her tongue feels thick, foamy, like a sponge. She thinks of what her mother will say if she comes home like this. (Only her mother, because her parents split too, but in the way everybody understands.) I’ve snapped like a twig, she’ll have to say. And how will you go to university next year? Her mother will rail at her, like any good Japanese mother, except there isn’t any more her. She’s plural now – though, soon enough, her Asian half may go off and try to find a new half, one that matches. She knows her Asian half has always secretly wanted to belong to something, someplace, somepeople, fully. Her Asian half does a lot in secret, in shadow. Her white half is more outspoken, will probably go all dreamy at the idea of parting company, of independence, might start quoting things, but by this time next year it’ll be slumped over a park bench somewhere. It doesn’t even know what it is, after all. Scandinavian? English? Robert the Bruce? It only knows what it isn’t: her Asian half. It defines itself through another. Maybe it is not white at all, but transparent. It does not need to belong to one thing because it belongs a little bit to many things. In this country, it fits in, so it doesn’t understand why her Asian half would want to. She’s still sweating, sweating off skin by now, sweating off whatever used to keep everything else in place. Her boyfriend turns to her at last, but if he can’t handle the separate parts of his sandwich she can’t imagine what he’ll think of her separate parts. Is it just me or have they got the fan on again? He asks. She smiles and her lips taste salty. Her halves are half-heartedly trying to stitch themselves back together and maybe they’re thinking that she can be whole again, that it can be just like it was, but she already knows it is never going to be just like it was. From now on it is going to be uncomfortable forever. Her boyfriend says something about university applications. She’s the ethnicity question.
Kristen Loesch is an Asian-American writer based in the Pacific Northwest. Her work has won or been listed for numerous competitions, and has appeared or is forthcoming in Mslexia, Barren, SmokeLong Quarterly, FlashBack Fiction, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Retreat West, and Reflex Press. She is currently working on her first novel and is represented by Zeitgeist Agency. She lives with her husband and three children. Twitter: @KShaoling
Image via Unsplash.