White Whale Review: An Online Literary Magazine Untitled Document
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Andy Yeh
Any Yeh lives in Southern California and has work in Aptand Atticus Review.

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Reportedly Killed

Andy Yeh

If friend or relative comes and calls you a cocksucker right in your face, your first reaction might be to catalog with shameful swiftness every reason why you never liked the person, despite that one time you received an unexpected bagel, a real opportune bagel, from said person that resulted in a risky soda-tab blood oath in a public restroom. But cocksucker is invariably what you call someone to their face when you’re short on sleep; no other word will do; no other word has as much vigor; no other word employs your plosives and fricatives so gainfully. Some drink coffee, others take pills. Still others prefer the naturopathic approach.

It’s not quite certain what it is about fatigue that makes the word such a go-to, but rest assured great minds of America are on the case, so donate accordingly. And because we have yet to come across a card as specific as Sorry I Called You A Cocksucker (with inside reading: Did I Mean It? Maybe At The Time But Not Now! ‘Course Not! in lavish Lucida Calligraphy), I feel obligated to

apologize on behalf of, though you can’t ignore the accumulated courage required for such a bravura move; it’s certainly not part of the usual curriculum.

As scholar of sleepy conduct, I know of the complications—the fully dressed shower, the following of strangers—but I had a good eight hours that morning when I found it impossible to tie my shoelaces.

It was second nature that with a new pair, I’d tie them once and never again, resorting to bitter heel force instead to put on and take off. Deftness, then, was never in play. Still, it was unnerving to witness my fumbling fingers in the lonely morning flux, pale blue and burgundy-lite with percussive bursts from some faraway homebuilding. An ability had been lost. I knew this. My older brother would not be so pleased; he was the one who had coached me through it, I mean really put in the elbow grease and all wherewithal to get me up to speed. I mean he paid for extra tutoring.

I spent an hour and change until I couldn’t bear anymore the stretch and perspire procedure. What


required me to bend were only reminders of my weight issue, however slight it was. My slacks I took off and called in sick. What would you call it? Sick was what I was, and as a dog, exhausted from knot reeducation, asleep with the sniffles on stain clouds of Castor, and when I awoke in my garage, I was terminated from my job.

I called Mother and informed her that I once again needed income. In turn, she phoned my sister. All I had to do was endure the requisite string of insults and full review of my life—using a four-star rating system in a debate format—and I was back on the payroll. But bound to the payroll was that familiar feeling equivalent to my debut in profanity, age six and alone in the bathroom, whispering a four-letter word just once and for a month behaving in front of family as if I were responsible for every “reportedly killed” and “suspected foul play” in the local news.

I researched how to tie shoelaces, offering keyword variations to the search engines like food and incense to the gods but the gods would not take, at one point entertaining the idea of ringing up my five-year-old niece: the new pro. I couldn’t sit

through a conversation with a little girl for however long, though, and I didn’t want to come off as ignorant if she chose to discuss significant revelations in today’s preteen society. In any case, I hadn’t uttered a single word out loud for days and the thought of breaking the mute streak, of hearing my own voice, all those plosives and fricatives, frightened me.

My hands had forgotten how to apply the proper amount of pressure. I could barely hold onto the aglets. Desperate, I pleaded with no one—maybe to the bed while I pretended someone was there, a woman maybe, my brother preferably, but eventually it just ended up being an image of me on my bed, inexplicably disrobed, so I might as well have resigned to talking to myself, which I was doing—for that particular muscle memory to resurface. It didn’t.

I’m never going to wear shoes again, I thought, from now on it’s beachwear eternal: flip-flops for casuals and sandals for steakhouses. But I had a good eight hours when I declared that. It’s not something a reasonable person would ever consider, even in private.


Olivia phoned a week later to remind me about LACMA on Friday. I told her okay, maybe in reality I just uttered the letter K, or perhaps it was mmm, no more than three m’s, then stopped picking up her calls. I decided in the car that I would not open the garage door. I decided that the car would remain non-rumbling, the key in extreme left position or middle position where the radio squawks and warm breath blows from the AC, but otherwise no ignition. Corduroy pants washed for nothing, really. There were a few calls afterward, but time took place, she felt strange calling to ask what happened, and I couldn’t explain and we were no longer friends.

I tried to recall if I ever called her a cocksucker to her face.

 

~ \ ~

 

Outside the Bikram Yoga Center for the Flexibly Challenged, I waited for instruction to start. This was easy to figure as the flexibly challenged tend to join in a collective groan during bikram yoga, a sort of low-pitched Penderecki; for assholes who don’t

exercise and solo viola.

I barefooted across the parking lot to the short portico and undid every marooned shoe. The few that were Velcro I tossed in a nearby bin. It wasn’t good enough that I could for the remainder of my life adopt Velcro. This particular motor skill meant something; it was one aspect of very few, such as the capacity for suicidal ideation, that characterized me as a human being. You’d never see a dolphin step into a pair of Adidas. So please!, let it return this trait that, since kindergarten, helped others define me as Quiet But Inevitably A Person.

Tripod set and camera whirring.

Pencils and legal pad ready.

Sore students poured out, found their footwear sabotaged, and became without consent my research subjects. I studied them. I changed angles. I asked questions. I went in for a closer look. I drained my thermos and finished a sandwich. Flushed with epinephrine, I went over my notes in the car. Rewound the tape and slowed down the action.


See me enter the footwear department, a wandering illiterate, plan misfired and mall-bound. I asked myself, do I supinate or pronate, and is that the most important question?

“Legally,” the salesman said as he emptied out the innards of a shoe, “we are not allowed to touch. I can assist you with a shoehorn.”

Well, that’s not good enough, not at all. He waited and I let him wait. I refused to slip into the pair. I refused to take it for a spin.

“Listen. Listen. You gotta just do this one thing for me, please.”

“Sir, my hands are tied.” He illustrated this by interlocking his fingers.

“You wouldn’t touch skin. I can promise you that. No skin on skin. Please. Just tie my shoelaces. I have hand issues. Major issues with hand. You and me, we can do this together, no skin, just lace.”

“Sir,” he said, and illustrated again.

“You cocksucker, help me!” Oh, I said it to his face, I really did, which was a shock because I had a very good eight.

I left toting a pair of elasticated cord, my eyes downcast, dinosaurs on my mind as they usually are when I feel sorry for myself. They were here, and then they were gone, I thought, as I’m here and will be gone. They were here at the Cinnabon. I’m at the Cinnabon. How happy would they have been at a Cinnabon?—a stegosaurus staring blankly at another stegosaurus, no respect between them. I wept in the withering crowd, an unemployed Tuesday afternoon of housewives and tourists. The techno lunging out of a nearby Abercrombie and Fitch was a poor choice of music to accompany what otherwise might have been described in a vague text message as frowny face / frowny face / crying face / (accidental) tongue sticking out face / undecided.

 

~ \ ~

 

Wearing a decided face, I brought myself to a hotel party. Runway farm boys snaked room to room through doors and windows while the girls lined the corners like sandbags in a ditch. Absent was the loud music you’d expect; then again you’d also expect coke, the drug and the drink.


But there was only Fanta.

In every room were wall-mounted televisions displaying graphic slideshows of venereal diseases, the Ken Burns effect maxed out. I lingered in the syphilis room for my friend who’d suggested I come; the syphilis room was also the kitchen (hence the lingering), and in the presence of chocolate croissants, the power of high definition ulcers wanes. I ate in rotary motion, anti-socializing.

Not sure if they were meant to be art installations or not, I studied the televisions at an agreeable distance. The images rode panicked through my brain, still stuttering hours later. No discussions regarding the moving pictures; they were merely decorative. I decided that I had missed some cultural trend, like I missed one episode of one reality show and I was shit out of luck for a year.

The friend never showed. I called. I sent texts. But I knew on the other end my friend checked the phone, saw my number, and gently placed the phone back to its previous position, a thumb to turn the ringer and vibration off. This thought was readily available to me because I had done the

same before. I shouldn’t have taken it so hard, but a man at a freakshow party in sandals has every reason to take everything as hard as he wants.

I sat cater-cornered from all humans in the herpes room and watched a drunk circling, his prey a kid in his twenties who offered monosyllabic responses to the many girls wishing him well in Afghanistan. After much vulture behavior, the drunk took a seat and dove in:

“Fuck the army. You’re army, right? Then fuck the army.”

The soldier committed to keeping still.

“I kill you armies. Because I can and you know that because I can.”

The risk of a fight worried me, but the soldier made zero moves. His epinephrine was unlike mine, which I nursed and kept from leaking. No, he left his eyes on a pack of cancer, tracing the logo, and rationed what was left in his bottle.

“You’re all a bunch. A bunch of cocksuckers. Just a huge bunch.”

Right in his face, I thought.


“Sure, sure, sure,” the soldier said. A chant to will away the man.

“You can’t do a thing, army fuck.” Leaning in on a laugh, the drunk almost made lip-to-cheek contact. “I went in for the army. They couldn’t understand the shit I was putting on them. Said no. No? Rejected for duty. They couldn’t see that I’m a killer, man. I’m prime time for the army. Not six o’clock or eleven o’clock or seven o’clock or ten thirty. I’m eight o’clock prime time army material.”

“It’s not for everyone.”

“I’ll kill you, man. I can do it right now. All eyes on me, I don’t care.”

“Sure, sure, sure.”

In the movies, there’d be a knife in someone’s side. Sliding glass doors victimized. Accidental over-aggression. But the beer was finished and it was time to leave. I paced behind the soldier and glanced at his boots on our way to the parking lot. Perfect laces intertwined perfectly. For about twenty minutes, I followed his car, past pricey real estate and liquor stores, past a robbery and a fire,

then realized I had no idea what I wanted to follow him for and got off surface streets. I was home in half an hour.

 

~ \ ~

 

You never really get all four interphalangeals (thumb excluded), so only three knuckles knocked, and in the time it took to pull back to knock again, my niece and nephew detached themselves from whatever they were doing and tumbled into their rooms. This I gathered sonically

“The kids aren’t really fans of you right now,” my sister told me when I entered.

Mother was sitting at the kitchen table tearing the browned ends off of bean sprouts. My sister joined, in the process letting me know that I was an idiot.

“Why?”

“Your sister’s right,” Mother said.

“Okay, again, why?”

“You do idiot things. And you’re getting fat and


that beard makes you look extremely homeless.”

My sister bulldozed a fresh bag of sprouts towards me.

“Mind telling me what sort of idiot things you two are referring to?”

Mother sighed. She hadn’t looked at me at all, but was somehow aware of my facial hair.

“Things that idiots do,” my sister said.

“They do many things.”

“All of them. Every single thing that an idiot does, you do.”

“Okay,” I said. I separated end from sprout with a push of my thumbnail and tossed them in two piles: one for cooking, one for trash.

“What are you making?”

“What do you think,” Mother said.

I scanned the ingredients in the room, not even able to call to mind the names of the tree limb vegetables, the squares of meat.

“You can’t just tell me?”

“I can’t believe my brother’s so stupid,” my sister said.

“Your brother is my son, imagine how I feel. When are you gonna lose the weight or deal with the facial hair?”

“I don’t know.”

“What happened to that thing?”

“I don’t know,” I repeated. I didn’t know what she was referring to, but chances were I didn’t know or I didn’t want to talk about it.

“I think you should know,” my sister said, “when you were young, your friends would come into my room while you were in the bathroom and talk about how you just wouldn’t shut up. They didn’t like you, you know? You were always in the bathroom.”

“I mean, what am I supposed to do with that information? I’m sorry I lost my job, believe me.”

Mother wanted to be included. “When you were young, no one thought you’d amount to much. Not even fortunetellers who wanted my money. They coulda made anything up. Not even my friends who


were trying to be polite. None were polite. They just thought you were gonna be horrible at things. Doctors looked at your x-rays and said no good. They could tell from an x-ray even that you’d never accomplish much. But then, I didn’t need an x-ray to know that, I saw you struggle with the simplest things.”

Before I could form a splendid retort, Mother squeezed my bicep and looked at me with brief tenderness. “By the way, I made you those chocolate croissants you like so don’t forget it when you go.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

Then she slapped my arm. “Shave that face!”

“You read that book I gave you?” my sister asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t really read.”

My sister finished her sprout pile. “What’s three plus two? Can you give me that?”

“Five.”

“Okay, what’s forty-seven plus two hundred

thirty-nine?”

She caught me counting with my fingers, which for some reason is frowned upon for adults. In lieu of giving an answer, I pretended that I missed my niece and set sail. Across racetrack plains and a sea of dolls; across termite trails and the sedimentary strata of bathwater scars; across video game ravines and Mount Laundry, I got there, just in time for the little girl’s dinosaur phase.

“Hey, Elisa.”

“Hey yourself,” she said. It sounded strange coming from a five-year.

I tried to get up to speed with current events. Like going into a film in the middle, I couldn’t follow what was happening between the plastic stegosauruses and brontosauruses. A shoebox diorama hot-glued and cotton-balled depicted a shitty rainforest.

“Wait,” I said a while later. “So the lady brontosaurus cheated in that three-legged race?”

Eye roll and little girl groan.

Elisa took the two stegosauruses out of the


diorama, leaving everyone in the late Jurassic. They bounced and skipped to a large Barbie shopping mall on the other side of the room. Elisa made them rub dermal plates, which I considered nonsexual, but having been her age once, decided it was probably sexual.

“What are they doing now?”

“Just gonna go get some snacks. Snack on some stuff.”

The word Cinnabon formed in my head. Tell her about the Cinnabon, I thought. I hesitated because of the idea’s dark undercurrent, and I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I denied the fear of a critique, an attack on my character, of all the family genetics rushing and piling into her throat.

“So, um, what’s going on…in, you know, today’s preteen society?”

“Not sure what that means.”

“I heard you’re a pro at tying your shoes now.”

“Well, I wouldn’t enter any competitions anytime soon.” We both laughed awkwardly, which was odd coming from a five-year.

“Why don’t you show your uncle. I need a refresher.”

“Are you gonna murder me if I don’t?”

“Why would you say that? Of course I wouldn’t. I just wanna see you tie your shoes—is that weird? Just a guy looking at someone tying her shoes. Nothing can be more exactly what it looks like. Just you tying your shoes and me looking at it.”

She shrugged and got on one knee, pulled the laces apart, and began to feed them into each other. Her lips moved as she did so. But the laces came out limp, lopsided, destined to come loose with each step.

Reset. Repeat. But the result was the same, so she pitched the shoe into the diorama. Crushed clouds and canopies caved in.

“It’s stupid,” she said.

“You’re doing it right. It’s fine.”

“What do you know? You’re an idiot. My mom told me.”

I folded my arms, but not in the right way, right


arm over the left arm with left hand on right bicep. No, my left arm folded over the right, which looks exactly like the other but expresses existential discomfort and pique.

I retrieved the shoe and navigated her foot into it. Grabbed one lace between thumb and forefinger, the other lace with the other thumb and forefinger. Recalled my training and made the laces into an X. My nerves tried to fell me, but I trucked, making a loop with one lace and surrounding it with the other. Fuzzy warmth came over me; I was on the cusp of breaking through or passing out.

When I regained consciousness, I had been placed at the dinner table. A mountainous region of bean sprouts sat by the sink, unused for the night’s meal. The height of it must have taken Mother and my sister weeks.

The usual insults were underway, gift-boxed in my sister’s interpretations of game show theme songs and commercial jingles, the lyrics rarely deviating. Then, as coda: “You should go back to school. Ever think about going back to school?”

“Oh, Christ, I don’t know, okay?”

I peeked under to see Elisa’s bare feet kicking.

“I think after eating you should leave,” Mother said. “No dessert—I’m sorry, I just think it’s best. I have my own things, you know. I can’t just keep you company because you’re here. I have things to do. So finish up quick.”

No need to come to my defense; you don’t know, you just don’t. She wasn’t being cruel, just hyper aware. My brother’s passing was still garden-fresh and bleeding, with that new car smell, and no one wanted to obsess over how he went, how long it took, and whom he was with—so I let the verbal abuse persist. It appeared to help the family. Go park your pity somewhere else. Go donate.

To my nephew, Andy, I asked: “How about we go to the movies, yeah? Anything you wanna see?”

“No.”

“All right, thanks,” I said, and then returned to my pot pie.

 

~ \ ~

 


The quick stretches before the room populates. The applause of the paper sheet underneath. The familiar dog-scratch-scratch of doctor pulling file from door. The deleting of old friends from your phone.

Dr. Brudos, specialist, tapped his skull with a pen and looked me over.

“So you got a little problem up top?”

I told him.

“Any trauma to the head?”

“Not really.”

“Not really isn’t a no.”

“I don’t read as much as I should. That’s probably pretty traumatic to the head.”

The doctor crossed his arms, though I couldn’t tell if it was the right or wrong cross formation since we were strangers.

“You ever think about going full-sandal?”

“That doesn’t really solve the issue,” I said.

“You want creams, I can give you creams.”

Before business hours faded into the weekend, I went in for a CT scan, what I imagined would show pulsating red arrows pointing pointing pointing at the exact spot of land dispute in my brain. Time in the scanner allowed me to think:

Maybe it's all the television and cell phones pressed to my brain. Maybe I cut my fingernails too short. Maybe there's an optimum fingernail length and I failed to absorb such information from relevant Xerox printouts. Maybe it is years of firmly grasping gas station nozzles. Maybe it's because I don't floss, or drink enough water, or get enough sun, or maybe I floss too much. If the frequency of flossing were just right would things be different? Maybe it is my extreme views on abbreviations. Maybe it's my theory that hideous babies become things of adult beauty and vice versa. Maybe it's wrong to hold such a theory. Maybe it's my brief stint as a magician. Maybe it's all the people I called a cocksucker. I did that, yes, I said it, didn’t I?, with violent velar plosive vigor to everyone; teachers; the girl who sells me juice; all my friends, though only through text; employees of local supermarkets and dry-cleaners; medium-sized dogs—I sought them out systematically by car,


plane, mail, phone, once with a toboggan, just to call them that shot-peen word. Maybe it's the baking soda in the fridge I never replace; maybe it's the lack of freshness. Maybe it's the quarter inch I overlooked in my Ikea shelf and now look, now look, please, look!, all the books I haven’t read or will read condemned to an eternity of misalignment. Maybe it's the time I didn't take a shower for three weeks. Maybe it was four. Or my habit of never washing hand towels. All the guests and the gardeners—the poor souls—under the chimerical impression that they were safe to nosh barehanded! How could I have allowed this? What unspeakable diseases! Maybe it’s the leftovers. Surely that must be it. The leftovers I should have reheated before consuming but I never did—oh, Mother, I should have listened! Maybe it's my gluten intolerance (and doesn’t it always come down to that, after all?). Maybe it's Pepperidge Farm. Maybe it's the woman I wouldn't let cross the street. I made the right turn. It was an inalienable right, the most basic of all physiological needs—the falafel truck was closing and she knew the social contract: whoever is hungriest moves first. Maybe it's that. Yes no maybe so.

The scans did not reveal the panic. Some abnormal activity in the corpus callosum, but nothing to write home about. I asked for a few more moments in the scanner and figured out the answer to a question. 286.

 

~ \ ~

 

And because of club card rewards, my choices were limited; precisely, just one market in the county. Oh, there were others, nearly on every street, but which sold fair trade ice cream sandwiches for a dollar a box? Which sold gluten-free gluten cookies buy-one-get-a-picture-of-a-young-Ecuadorian-child? Which store let you liberate a goat and water an eggplant on your way out, and with each purchase single-handedly stimulate the local economy? I needed the soul-boost, a conscience-cleanse, but the bagboy at the big-box was a man with a learning disability, variety unknown, and every time I needed things to be bagged, he was the one to bag them, and he said thank you every time when he had nothing to be thankful for, his splayed fingers along the bottom of bags to maximize bag capacity.


I avoided him by calling the store for his work schedule.

I don’t have to tell you the good time had there, what with the cookie-and-chip aisle alone; the fresh produce under thin jungle mist; the spacious vacancy of the Manischewitz section. But materialized at the end of checkout was the bagboy. Epinephrine replaced blood. So dumbstruck was I that I didn’t even set down the divider bar for the woman behind me (another sin). Each item over the red laser was a blow, a steady accretion of arterial blockage, and oh, the looks the woman gave me!, her loaves of whole-grain bread commingling with my peanut butter and jelly jar, the danger of perceived symbiosis too great.

Then I saw it. I saw it: his polished shoes, the laces like a bow on a gift box.

Unemployed afternoons, gripping a maple bat, waiting for his off-hours, no intention of inviting him to a pickup game. Mother and brother pulled up in a Lincoln, in nascent dark, and congregated curbside for some x’s and o’s, mother getting her fair share before carrying his backpack to the trunk. Taking a knee, brother revived the bagboy’s laces.

Instead of the planned confrontation, I dropped the bat and returned the embrace of my seatbelt.

My shoelaces I tied right then, just as I always had, without incident.

“Sorry I called you that,” I told Olivia over the phone some months later.

“I didn’t appreciate it. Felt like you really meant it.”

“At the time—maybe. But you know why. I don’t now.”

I couldn’t call her that now if I wanted to. The back of my tongue had forgotten how to apply the proper amount of pressure against my soft palate, and so, my difficult relationship with profanity ended.

She agreed to meet at LACMA. It was a relief. No more hiding from the maid, from the deliverymen, though I still didn’t know how to be in a room with another person. I called customer support daily just to have a chat, hoping my concerns and suggestions regarding fiber tablets and credit would develop into something deeper.


LACMA exhibitions: what we thought was conceptual art but what was actually a workman eating a bagel beside some restroom renovations; cubist multimedia by Canadian artist who shared my brother’s name, now unpronounceable, me being plosive-unable; video installation of a series of hotel party photographs; private school girls careening in a wreck of gossip and guffaws, the boxers underneath their skirts showing, but the colors matched. Directionless fingers to lips failed to teach them a lesson.

We walked to nearby La Brea Tar Pits and gazed at the pools of black and the Variety Building that towered like a headstone.

Olivia stood by and watched me lift a lever encased in tar. The lever moved, then it didn’t. I switched to underhand and pulled until red-blotched. The lever slipped back into the thick. But that initial quarter inch of progress made a starved rat out of me, back again to the feed. The can-do could take me places, if I weren’t now a rat. It’s the palms, I thought, so I wiped the sweat and excess moisturizer against my pants before my next attempt. Fathers and boyfriends, someone’s uncle

and someone’s brother, all attempted the same; all strained and pathetic; all against doctor’s orders and guidelines on the side of bottles and the things proven by time over and again, while the women in their lives had on their faces the look of someone being brutally scolded.

:(

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright© Andy Yeh. White Whale Review, issue 5.1


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