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Story by Victoria Cho (Read author interview) December 19, 2016

Art by Patrick Brinksma

Jane knew swans weren’t local to Virginia, but she had heard if you stayed up all night at the pond you could see them. Seeing one was supposed to bring luck, and she needed all the luck she could get. Maybe she heard the story from her neighbor, the sixty-four-year-old judge who once called her a nuisance when she tried to sell him magazines for her high school. But her dad said the judge was smart. The richest person in the neighborhood, and Dad said if he had as much money as the judge, oh, the things he could buy for the family. But he doesn’t have friends, Jane said. Her father said friends come and go.

She sat by pond’s edge, sweating in the late-night heat and trying to avoid the mosquitos. Sweat dribbled down her temples, and the crickets’ chirping made a music.

Jane’s older brother, Kevin, had flown to Missouri for Basic Combat Training. Kevin, who had gotten a 1580 on his SAT and was accepted to Columbia, Cornell, and UPenn, told their family a month before graduation that he was not going to college; he was going to be in the Army. I want to be in charge of my life, he told them. Her mother said Kevin was throwing his life away, and could this be stopped? Her father told the story again of how he and their mother had come to this country with a single suitcase, and now Dad worked twelve-hour days at the hospital, and what did he work so hard for? He could afford any college tuition. Kevin was salutatorian, a star trumpet player, and the family’s oldest son. Could Kevin please explain to their father what their father had worked for?

Kevin replied: The army will teach me how to stand up for myself. I want to be a man.

Jane would miss sitting in Kevin’s bedroom late at night while he worked on his English papers. He could write a paper between the hours of three and seven a.m. and still get an “A.” She complained that she wasn’t as smart as him, and Kevin shook his head and said that at least she had friends and knew what she wanted to do with her life. Yes, she wanted to be a singer, and told Kevin she was going to become one even if their parents cut her from the family.

Jane threw a rock at the pond, hoping it would skip, even though she had never learned how to skip rocks. It fell in with a plop. She took a handful of rocks and threw them; they scattered like shattered glass.

Her brother’s induction ceremony — it was two weeks ago. It had been a strange ceremony in which he stood at attention like a real soldier. At five-foot-six, he stood so straight he seemed to have grown. He shouted Yes, sir! and saluted with an elbow sharp as a javelin point. Her mother was crying. Her father was silent. No other Asians were in the room. So, Kevin going from one white space to another.

The family next to them hugged their child and said Jane and her family must be so very proud: Look at your boy go, look how well he answers commands. Jane said, My brother is the smartest person I know. Her voice was flat and robotic. Kevin turned to her and made a face that said he was sorry. Jane only shook her head. Her brother could be stationed far away from Virginia in some place with tropical trees, bombed-out plazas, or white sandstone homes. Stupid, she called him in her mind. I’ll send you a care package, she said aloud. And she told him how he was going to be a great soldier even though she saw his small stature crumpled beneath a tank. The other family looked at them as if Jane’s family were on TV. Jane’s father asked Kevin if he needed money. Her mother said Kevin needed to eat a lot. They left the hall and piled into their father’s car but sat in the parking lot for a few moments while her father leaned against the steering wheel. Perhaps her father had also seen Kevin under the tank.

A frog croaked. Something rustled among the trees. Jane looked for anything white but saw nothing. The late night had become the early morning, and her father would soon leave to see patients at the hospital while Kevin was spending his second night in the deep South. There were only three weeks left before school, and Jane wanted to spend them all inside, by the air conditioner, avoiding her parents. Her mother sometimes drifted in and out of Kevin’s room, saying he’s gone like she was at his funeral. Jane had asked Kevin to tell him where he was stationed as soon as he knew, but Kevin didn’t respond. She couldn’t tell if he was sad or happy at the airport, but when she told him she was proud of him, a phrase that fell out of her mouth with a clunk, he finally smiled.

You’ll be okay, he told her before he slipped into the airport security lane.

Just because Jane spoke more, and more loudly, didn’t make her stronger.

A white thing fluttered at the opposite edge of the pond — a blur that moved upward. Jane stood and peered, in hopes she would see the swan. She walked towards the movement, and when she came to the spot she discovered a dog with a missing right front leg. It looked calm and still, like it had been waiting for Jane, who kneeled and leaned in close. The dog smelled like mold, and its fur was matted and damp. She reached out her hand; the dog licked it. Come home with me, she said. The dog stood, circled Jane, nuzzled her hand, and walked towards the pond entrance. Jane began to follow when she heard something splash. She turned but saw nothing. When she turned back, the dog was gone.

About the Author

Victoria Cho is a Korean-American writer who was born and raised in Virginia. Her writing has appeared in The Collagist, Perigee, Quarter After Eight, Luna Luna Magazine, and Word Riot. She is a workshop leader for New York Writers Coalition and a VONA/Voices alumna. She lives in New York City.

About the Artist

More of Patrick Brinksma‘s art can be found on Unsplash.

This story appeared in Issue Fifty-Four of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-Four

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