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Keep Your Fingers Lost
Jenie Pak

He calls to me every night from the street beneath my window. It's almost as if he's singing a song full of the mantra of my name. Yoon Ni. Yoon Ni. Yoon Ni Yah.

The strange thing is, I don't go by my Korean name anymore. Not since the third grade, when I had finally had enough of the mispronunciations, the bastardizations of my name.

Yoon Ni Yah, he calls to me nightly like a loon who has grown tired of wearing its moonlit feathers and rose one morning in the form of a man. You would think I would call the police, maybe. Help! Come over quick! A man is calling out my name.

But the thing is, I look forward to it. I rush through my dinner, unplug the phone, position myself by the huge picture window that looks out onto the street an hour before he's scheduled to appear. I turn the lights off and sit on my zafu cushion with my eyes closed.

He's coming. He'll be here soon. Won't disappoint you. Never.

I live on the F Market line. Every twenty minutes or so, the streetcar comes by, announcing itself with a bang. They come in various colors and shapes. But the orange one, so rickety I expect its wheels to pop off any day now, is the one I wait for most. It assaults my nerves but I've grown used to it, how it makes my blood grow brighter. And crisscrossed wires undulate outside my window -- a web of thick black lines that will not compromise anything. I have the urge to disconnect them, let them free. But someone, I suppose, would notice. At the very least, I might rearrange them -- a new order, a slightly altered composition.

And people. Always people getting on, people getting off. Where do they all go? There aren't enough rooms and windows in this city for them all. Some nights, I get out my mini dv camcorder and shoot without them knowing. I shoot in super nightshot mode, and slow shutter speed so that every motion seems exaggerated. Every step taken, like some monumental thing.

And I wait, always, for someone to catch me in the act. A look of surprise, a finger pointing, a shout. Hey you, what do you think you're doing? Who do you think you are? But no one ever notices. Everyone's too wrapped up in a haze of to-do lists and busy moving one foot in front of the other. Later, I rewind my tapes and play them. Because you never know. There's something I may not have noticed the first time.

She could never remember my real name. What is it again? She'd ask every two months or so. And how do you say, I love you?

Sahranghae. Yoon Ni Yah, nuh sahranghae. Almost like those Korean soap opera videos.

The boy and the girl sitting on a bench at night. Cherry blossom petals drifting onto their shoulders and laps, a warm breeze brushing their cheeks. The boy turning to the girl, saying, Sahranghae. The girl looking not at him, but instead at a lamppost, the falling honey-colored light.

Except we were always in real life, and we were two girls sitting on a twin-sized bed with too many pillows scattered around us. And don't forget, I never had the luxury of a lighted storefront or a passerby on his bicycle to feign distraction. So I looked at her.

I looked right into her and beyond the lines of her smile. I looked and looked into where it was bright pink and orange and warm, so warm like a big pot boiling over with oxtail bones, and though I kept going, and though I waited, in the end, there was nothing behind the voice, the stumbling words, the sound of my name about to become something unbearable.

I watch TV with the sound turned off. But I make good use of the special caption feature. White-lettered words scrolling up within a black background. I only watch the news. Because I care about what's happening in the world? Not really. I like to fixate on the words. How they come out all messed-up sometimes. I'll be sitting there, reading the story of a six year-old kidnapped girl being reunited with her mother. There will be close-ups of happy tears and shots of relatives flocked around the little girl. Then, all of a sudden, the sentence will read something like this: The unarmed girl is crappy, now wrestling safely at comb. And an error like that, once you read the sentence over again, doesn't really seem in any way wrong. And the words somehow become like small pieces of the world, every combination you can come up with equally plausible.

Last night, for instance, there was a story about conjoined twins. They had just undergone a surgery that had separated them at the head. I watched clips of doctors in gowns, the twins before and after, and the mother whose only words, as the camera slowly zoomed in on her, were: Please bray for them. Keep your fingers lost.

In the end, it came down to sorting out CDs and books, returning clothes to their rightful owner. What's mine is mine, what's yours, yours. How had we accumulated so many things? And why had I bought so much unnecessary junk? Do you want this, I'd ask her, holding up an ice shaver in the shape of a polar bear. And she did. She wanted everything, anything I offered her. A juicer with carrot bits still stuck in the grater, a set of gondola-shaped nail clippers I had bought at a street market in Italy, photos of us I didn't want to keep.

Like the one of us each holding a pumpkin, those lighted faces staring out endlessly. That was the first time I had ever carved a pumpkin, and can still remember the smell of the raw orange meat, the sight of our hands and forearms clinging with wet seeds. Later that night, I pulled some more seeds out of her hair, where she had hid them like little mysteries for me to find.

But only the necessary things, those I'd keep with me.

In the end, she still had fewer boxes than me. The room looked so empty. I said, Hey, look, now we can take inventory, now we can see what's ours.

And she began to look small, like a knickknack of sorts, like she might crawl into one of those boxes and stay there until the van arrived and hauled my stuff away. Her skin took on an odd tone, she was saying something but I heard nothing but the sound of feet shuffling around next door. And low voices coming from inside my head, a dull chorus of drones deeply rooted in a recurring dream I used to have as a child.

Last weekend, she stood in front of me. And asked me to dance.

Dance with me.

We were smack in the center of the club. I thought I heard someone call out my name. So, I did. Dance with her. For a long time, like swimming in a warm pool. There's a world down there, and all of a sudden your body's speaking to you. And she became fragments, fragments of light dependent on the strobes overhead and what glimpses I caught from the corner of my eye. Her hips repulsed me somehow. I kept my feet at a safe distance. We danced in that endless hole that narrowed and narrowed till we were a single point in time and when she smiled at me I swore I had become her last meal, clamped between her teeth, at their sharpest points.

And then, the song was over. Our shoulders turned towards opposite corners of the room. Though her sweat lingered for hours like the smell of fish on your clothes hours after you've fried it. Like a memory that always brings sadness along with it. All the rooms within me stayed dark, closed, as she held me. I could smell wood fading somewhere.

Yoon Ni Yah, he calls to me. And when I look out the window, I almost bang straight into the glass, because for some reason this time, he's not alone. There's someone else with him.

I look closer. They're holding hands. I press my nose to the window. Dust blows through my nostrils. No, I say, No, no, no. He's mine! You can't have him.

Yoon Ni Yah, he says just like always, but I can detect the change in melody.

He's going to leave. This will be the last time. And like one of those passengers, he'll step off the platform out into the blah-blah of streets. He'll walk in a rational line and head towards the skyline.

And then, one last time, he calls me by name. And by then I've got my camcorder out. I'm shooting him at the slowest speed there is. Drawing out those two syllables like pollen dust floating in fog, like clouds breaking in air. And there they are -- the two of them -- uninvited, purposeless, standing outside my window in that grainy square patch, inside of that infrared green world.

He knows I'm watching as I focus on his elbow. It resembles a mouth, the inside of a hungry mouth. For all I know, it could have been his elbow calling to me all along. Then, he moves and the lines blur. And in a small panic, I zoom in. Zoom in all the way, blurring the picture even more. So I zoom back out slow, controlled, regulating my breath. He has his arm around the other figure. He whispers into its ear. He points at my window. Points at me. Then, just like that, he's gone, leaving behind a single moving streak of light.

I have been dreaming the same dream for the past three months. Except a bit of variation here and there. But always the same main players. Me and the shadow-man who sits at the foot of my bed. We have conversations though we never make eye contact. I just lie there, in my bed, eyes closed and let my lips do the moving.

Are you halfie? He asks me. Have you found what you're cooking more? And I feel a deep silence spreading outward from my lungs. Out to my chest bones, my arms. I try to flap them but they won't move at all. I still steal you, I say. You're like a ghost-twin. My alter ego. Like you've never been gone.

Sometimes, the shadow-man isn't so nice. Sometimes, he's managed to inch his way towards my face. And before I know it, he's there, breathing down on me, his mouth a few centimeters away from mine. Tell me you still glove me, he says. Tell me I'll always beep in your heart.



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