Body/Paragraph [NSFW: graphic images]
On the night that Han-soo and Caroline Kang’s movie theater on the West Side of Houston was burned to the ground, the films playing were:
By the time they drove out to the theater, the building, along with the closet full of rare film prints they had collected over the past seven years, was engulfed in an enormous blaze. As they held each other and watched the bulbous black smoke rise, Han-soo and Caroline could think only in titles. Chan Is Missing, gone. Better Luck Tomorrow, obliterated. Ang Lee’s films all in one molten clump, Wedding Banquet dissolving into Crouching Tiger.
They agreed that the man to blame was Sean McLendon, the hairy, loud-bellied man who lived a few blocks down. This was on account of several pieces of evidence that they had gathered:
This, however, didn’t quite cut it for the Houston Police Department, and while the insurance covered the destroyed building, the Kangs learned that there would be no way to replace all the films, which prompted a series of arguments in which they said things such as:
“But they were priceless artifacts of ethnic-American art history!”
“No, Idylls of the Deep South is a priceless artifact of ethnic-American art history.”
“Those honky-ass cops aren’t going to help us. We need to take shit into our own hands.”
“Since when do you use the word ‘honky’?”
“Amy Tan can go screw herself.”
“Exactly— that’s why ‘The Joy Fuck Club’ is such a good name for a porno.”
Finally, they resorted to
“Let me get this straight,” said Han-soo’s brother Young-soo on the phone. “You’re going from screening and archiving quality films made by serious Asian American directors… to making porn?”
“Okay, first of all, they weren’t all Asian-directed,” said Han-soo as he walked into the kitchen.
“Who’s that?” said Caroline, looking up from her crossword.
“A lot of times we just ended up screening some bullshit B-movie because an Asian guy played the sidekick,” Han-soo continued. He dropped an armful of grocery bags onto the table.
“Who are you talking to?” repeated Caroline.
“Second of all— It’s Young-soo— Second of all—”
“Tell him I say hi.”
“Caroline says hi. Second of all, Asian American porn!”
“So? Every other video online is some fucking geisha-lady rape fantasy.”
“Exactly,” said Han-soo. “There are
Anyway, can we keep the kid at your place or not?”
After Han-soo hung up, he looked up to see Caroline holding up the US Weekly he’d just purchased.
“Catching up on your Lindsay gossip?” she said.
“It’s to cut letters out of,” he explained. “For, you know–”
“What— a ransom note? Oh, honey, that’s such a cliché.” Caroline poked through the bags. “Is— is this a ski mask? What are we, bank robbers in an eighties comedy?”
“Christ, you know, we’d get this job done sooner if you weren’t always bitching about how unfashionable our criminal activities were,” said Han-soo.
Upon seeing the look on Caroline’s face, Han-soo realized that they were four steps towards one of their fights, which usually started when
“I’m sorry,” said Han-soo. “That was an asshole thing to say.”
“It’s okay,” said Caroline. She fingered the hem of her shirt.
“Am I really being cliché?” said Han-soo.
“Just a little.”
“Well, if it helps, I really did buy the magazine for the celeb gossip,” said Han-soo. Caroline smiled despite herself. “Did you know that Cameron Diaz was not wearing makeup coming back from yogarobics?”
Caroline laughed. Han-soo put his arms around her, and she kissed him.
“Hey,” he said, running his thumb along her jaw. “I have a surprise for you.”
“A surprise?” she said, a smile winking from the corner of her mouth. Han-soo rummaged through a bag on the table behind him, pulled something out, and turned around.
“Holy fuck!” said Caroline, leaping back and throwing her hands in the air. “You bought a gun?”
Han-soo weighed the gun limply in his hands. “You said we should do this right…”
“I meant write out an itinerary, not buy a gun!” said Caroline, gawking at the thing.
“It’ll help when we—”
“Do you know how to shoot it?”
“Yes! I mean, I’ve— yeah.”
“Where’s the safety?”
“What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“Okay, sweetie, we really need to move past the whole gun thing,” said Han-soo. “Because, like, bottom line, we have a gun now.” He turned around and aimed it at the fridge.
Caroline dropped to the floor, hands over her head.
At 3:30 in the afternoon of the following Tuesday (about three weeks after the night that the movie theater on the West Side of Houston was burned to the ground), Han-soo and Caroline sat in their clunky sedan behind Sean McLendon’s house and waited for his daughter Julie to emerge. Caroline had chosen this spot because of the clear line of sight it provided through the hedges to the tire swing in the backyard (
) and Han-soo had agreed, though only on the condition that he could wear one of the fake mustaches that Caroline had vetoed the night before (
), which Caroline was fine with as long as the trench coat stayed at home. They sat, waiting, wondering what Julie looked like and what they were doing sitting in a car in cheap disguises, waiting to steal a little girl they’d never seen and sell her back to her parents, most likely for much more than she was worth.
“Oh god,” said Caroline. “I’m a slave trader.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” Han-soo replied, peeking over his sunglasses through the gate. “We aren’t asking for anything unreasonable. Look at that house— it’s a goddamn castle.”
“This is a human life we’re profiting off of,” said Caroline. “A human body, Han-soo.”
“Think of all the black and brown and yellow bodies that whites have profited from over the centuries.”
“I’d rather not. It makes me sick.”
“A lot more good than bad is going to come out of this. What we’re going to put into the world…”
“I know, I know.”
They looked back at the house just in time to see the back door open.
“Shit, there she is!” Han-soo whispered furiously, ducking low behind the steering wheel.
Julie McLendon was young, slender-limbed, with stringy camel-colored hair hanging almost to her waist. It swung from hip to hip as she walked to the tire swing and sat down, dragging her bare toes in the dirt below. She leaned back, the fabric of her yellow dress falling lazily around her.
“Ready?” said Han-soo.
Caroline just stared back, wide-eyed.
“How do you feel?” he asked, looking carefully into her face.
HOW DID CAROLINE FEEL?
“Good,” said Han-soo, and nodded toward the passenger door. Caroline took a deep breath, checked her reflection in the mirror, and opened it.
Julie McLendon threw herself at the back window of Han-soo and Caroline’s sedan, tearing at the locked door handle and wailing in a language that occasionally sounded like English but seemed to consist mostly of wet vowels.
“Okay! Okay!” Caroline shouted, half to herself, from the passenger seat. “Calm down!”
Julie turned up the volume on the hysterics and began to attack Han-soo’s face, scratching with her dirty nails. The car swerved, just barely missing a brick mailbox.
“Fucking— fuck!” yelled Han-soo. It didn’t make sense, but it was the best he could come up with, what with the ninety pounds of pre-pubescent fury that had latched onto his face like a giant bat.
“Stop it!” said Caroline. The car swerved again, this time into the road. She tore open the glove box, pulled out the gun, and held it above her head as squarely as she could. “OKAY. THAT’S ENOUGH.”
Julie released her grip on Han-soo, her face dirty with tears. Caroline gasped heavily.
“Put on your seatbelt,” she managed to say.
Julie just sat, her legs tucked up under her, sobbing. Clumsily, she smoothed her hair from her face and pressed herself into the corner of the car, against the thin line of chill whipping past the crack of the door, willing herself to flatten and seep back out into her neighborhood, into Julie as she had always been. She felt as if she’d been lifted out of a trajectory:
“Who are you?” Julie demanded, still crying. “What are you going to do to me?”
Han-soo and Caroline exchanged a glance. Han-soo removed his fake mustache and sunglasses.
“We’re not going to hurt you, dear,” said Caroline, turning around in her seat.
“WHO ARE YOU?” Julie wailed. “HOO-AHH- HAHHH-HRR-HRRRR…”
“Oh, dear lord,” said Caroline, lowering the gun to massage her forehead. Julie took the opportunity to launch herself back onto Han-soo’s face.
“FUCKING—” Han-soo yelled, riding up onto the curb. “씨팔!”
Over the next hour and a half,
Finally, with the car speeding west on a darkening highway toward Laredo, Julie received the first answer to her almost continuous barrage of questions.
“We’re kidnapping you,” said Caroline, “because your father destroyed everything important to us.”
“What’d he do to you?” said Julie.
“He burned down our theater,” said Han-soo.
“Oh, y’all the ones who own that Chinese movie place?”
“It’s an Asian and Asian American movie theater,” said Han-soo, “and we’re not Chinese.”
“What are you, Japanese?”
“Jesus, why is that always the order?” said Han-soo. “Here, I’ll show you. Give me one more guess.”
“I don’t know, Korean?” said Julie.
“Exactly,” said Han-soo. “Everyone guesses
“Jeez,” said Julie. “I was just curious.”
“Everyone’s fucking curious!” insisted Han-soo. “Everyone wants to know what species I am!”
The three traveled on in silence for a while, each one’s head spinning with the story they’d landed in. They thought about
A few hours later, a sign advertising the word “FOOD” rose up out of the blue flatness ahead. Julie’s stomach growled, and Han-soo took this as a sign to pull off the interstate. After the couple discussed strategy briefly in hushed Korean, Caroline turned around in her seat to face Julie, gun back in her hand
“Okay, sweetie,” she said. “Here’s what’s going to happen–”
“Listen, if you try anything really stupid, Caroline’s not afraid to use that gun.” said Han-soo.
Caroline blanched. “Well,” she said.
“So if you don’t want anyone to get hurt—”
“No one’s going to get hurt, dear,” Caroline told Julie reassuringly.
“Honey,” Han-soo said to Caroline, low.
“Well, just behave yourself, and everything will be all right,” Caroline conceded. As they pulled into the fast-food restaurant, she tried a smile at Julie and got nothing in return. Caroline wondered (not for the first time) what it was about this girl’s body that made her think about
but somehow it made her sad.
When they pulled up to the window, Julie tried to tell the cashier with her eyes that she did not know these two strange yellow people, to notify the police immediately. The cashier, for her part, didn’t look at Julie at all, just passed Han-soo the bags of food with a sullen “Seventeen ninety-six.”
Caroline passed Julie her burger with a smile.
“Help!” she shouted, banging at the window. Han-soo and Caroline froze. “I’ve been kidnapped! I’ve been kidnapped! My name is Julie McLendon and I live on 89—”
“HA! HA!” said Han-soo. “Julie— honey— don’t BOTHER the nice LADY!”
The cashier eyed the family, finally interested.
“She’s adopted!” said Caroline, her voice pitched a little too high. “She loves to JOKE!“ She tightened her grip on the gun under her jacket. The cashier noticed and opened her mouth.
“그냥 가!” said Caroline. Han-soo gunned it, and they ripped out of the parking lot, over the curb.
“씨팔! 씨팔!” Han-soo swore. He turned around dangerously to look at Julie, his knuckles white-hot on the steering wheel. “What the hell is wrong with you?! You could have gotten us all killed!”
Julie pressed her face against the window, gasping emptily at the restaurant as it shrank into the distance, the cashier still staring out at them.
Caroline was crying messily, holding the gun in her fingers like a piece of raw meat. “Oh— god— ” she said. “What are we doing?” She tried to shove the gun out of sight, but her shaking hands sent a flurry of insurance papers and emergency manuals flying out of the glove compartment.
“Han-soo—” Caroline sobbed as all the just-in-cases drifted to the floor around her. “Han-soo, what are we doing?”