The way Piper is walking with her arm folded over mine is uncharacteristically submissive. There are a couple of spots off to the side where we can sit and have a cup of coffee and maybe some dried peanut-butter-squid. Korea’s idea of popcorn. We like to go to the park at night, after teaching English, to take walks around the lake. The massive koi follow us around the rim like shadows.
“I’m so tired of these girls looking me up and down. You’d think I was walking around naked or something,” she says.
Two Korean high school girls are walking past us, giggling with their hands over their mouths.
“Ignore them, Piper,” I say.
“Sometimes it doesn’t bother me, but right now I want to scream in their perfect little faces and tell them how dull their black designer clothes are. They don’t look at you the same way, Dave.”
“Can we stop for a while and let these girls pass before I rip their long beautiful hair out?”
Piper says this in a voice loud enough so that the girls can hear, but it’s pointless since most of the Korean kids here only understand English when it’s on paper. She stops and bends over a wooden rail to watch a group of koi glide by. There are three orange ones and a large white one.
“Dave, how did this happen?”
“I don’t know,” I say.
We continue to walk until we fall in step behind a young professional-looking couple. The woman has her head on the man’s shoulder. Their laughter feels like bee stings.
“Look at them. They’d probably be excited about a baby. I wish this pregnancy was a stone I could slip into their pocket …or maybe a stone I could skip across this ugly fucking lake.” She says this in a new voice, one I haven’t heard before.
I’ve nothing to say.
“Well, it’s true. I was sabotaged before I even get on the plane.”
“I didn’t mean for—”
“I don’t mean you sabotaged me, Dave. I’m just tired, that’s all.”
We pass by the bungee jump where a crowd has gathered and is pointing up at a teenage girl about to jump. Every now and then, someone yells out something encouraging and the crowd balloons with laughter.
“What do you want to do, Piper? Honestly now.”
There is a long pause. The girl lets out a shriek as she almost loses her balance. The crowd is amused. They all seem to know the girl.
“I swore to myself I’d never do this again, Dave. Do you understand that? That’s why I have this stupid tattoo on my arm. I don’t know what it’ll do to me if I have another one.”
Peeking out at her elbow are the roots of a tree. I know the tattoo well. It grows to her shoulder. In the middle of the trunk, the face of the Virgin of Guadalupe peers from beneath a thin layer of bark. The protector of children.
Above us the girl jumps. She lets out a shriek when the cord goes taut and then another as the line recoils. As the line begins to lose its energy you can hear her laughing and crying at the same time. The crowd is losing interest and begins to break up.
Piper gives my arm a tug.
“I feel sick,” she says. “Can we go home now?”