LINH AND I GREW UP
penned in the same yard, so our sibling rivalry did not last very
long. By third grade we had- stopped physically assaulting one
another and reached a permanent truce. At that time her hair was
long and flowing, brushed daily by my mother as Linh closed her
eyes and counted each stroke. It always felt like cool satin when
I yanked it, her head jerking backward, mimicking the motion of
my arm. In actuality, she was very kind and I was not too violent,
so we became intimate friends. I have not had any trouble from
She is the red rose
of the family and I am the green thorn. We have both decided that
we are beautiful, so she tells me, but I believe she is also very
beautiful outside in face and gesture. I
always pout when I accuse her of being a selfish firstborn, picking,
stealing the best of our parents' genes and leaving me the rejected
remainder. She has wide, almond-shaped eyes like black, pearl-black
reflecting pools with brown-colored flecks swirling beneath the
surface, light honey-color skin and even, velvet-smooth cheeks.
Her nose is just slightly upturned, her lips rosebud shaped, her
chin small and delicate. Her hair still looks and feels the same
now as in third grade. The vision, taken together as a whole,
is breathtaking. There is something about it, a wistful, dandelion,
orchidlike kind of beauty that feels like notes in a chord being
played separately, finger by finger, harmonizing back and forth.
I marvel even now.
My mother and father
have polished her until she shines. She graduated summa cum laude
from the College of Chemistry at Cal and double majored in Ethnic
Studies. However, my
parents don't count the latter. She is now a fourth-year student
at UCSF preparing to enter the surgical residency program next
fall. My parents are bursting at the seams, gorged with devouring
so much blessedness and good fortune.
"Will your daughter
become a surgeon?" our relatives ask.
my father says, beaming.
"A possible son-in-law?"
She shrugs and sighs.
"That is up to God."
Linh hasn't told my
parents about David. She met him five years ago during her final
at Cal. That semester they were in three classes together: a choral
class, an AfroAmerican literature class, and a creative writing
class. They became good fiends.
David is a writer.
His subjects are ordinary preoccupations of other writers: his
mother, the father he has never seen or known, the friend of his
childhood. Some of them are dead now. The others are spread out
across the country. One is a construction worker in St. Louis.
Another is a teacher in Baton Rouge. The third is a journalist
in Washington, D.C. They write to him once
in a while or call him. Linh hasn't met any of them, but she knows
After David feverishly
completes a story, Linh cooks him dinner. Afterward, she tucks
him into bed and sits nearby in the wicker chair, legs drawn up
and hugged tightly to her chest, to watch him while he sleeps.
His soft, black curls rest against the white of the pillow, his
closed eyelids and long lashes flutter minutely while he dreams
his breath whistles through the evenness of his teeth as the cover
grazes the dark honey of his skin.
They always have a
good time together, and he makes her laugh in many different ways,
wherever they happen to be. He always gets close to finishing
her off during a tennis set, but then she cries out that he has
cheated and treated her unfairly and he has to, me over again.
He never wins. Sometimes they sing together, his clear resonant
tenor melding with her flutelike, crystalline soprano. Then they
I know all about David.
She won't stop talking about hint, but I know less about Thanh,
the Vietnamese friend at UCSF. I know he's nice but that's all.
She woke me up this morning at ten thirty and said, "It's
a bright, beautiful Saturday morning. Lets go and have a picnic."
I mumbled hazily in my sleep. "Take David. Leave me alone."
"I don't want
to take David. I want to spend quality time with you, my darling
sister. Get up, you piece of mutton. Toast on the table in five
minutes and were leaving in half an how."
I groaned, "I'm being punished for sins from, past lives."
We arrived at the
park at twelve, lugged our ample picnic hamper heavily laden with
cheese, fruits, sandwiches, ice, and bottles of juice from the
car, and trudged into the heart of the lightly shaded, green forest.
When I opened the basket and took out the butter, she started
"David kissed me last night..."
"...or I kissed
him. It just happened, I guess. He invited me to dinner, promised
to cook a sumptuous Cajun feast with Vietnamese desserts. Bdnh
flanc, you know. My favorite." She plucked a blade of grass
from its roots and twisted it back and forth, watching a streak
of feeble, yellow sun play on its linear edges. "I expected
it to be a celebration. Held just finished his first novel, not
quite a love story, he says, and he wanted me to read it."
She spoke more softly. "When
I arrived, he had set tiny blossoms in water dishes throughout
the apartment. It smelled wonderful. The food was delicious, everything
so lovely, so tranquil I didn't know where to begin. After
dinner he led me into the living room.
he said. Its for you.' After the last note on the piano had stopped
to echo, he turned toward me and kissed me for a long, long time
I didn't know what I was doing. I just couldn't stop. I didn't
breathe. When he let me go, I kept thinking of his hands and fingers,
seeing them fly over the ivory keys like Russian men dancing in
their black fur hats and noticing how his brown was different
from mine. I was raging inside, screaming in my head, 'Why can't
his fingers be brown like mine, be my brown? Why is his hair curly,
not straight like mine?' I saw brown pigments run across my eyes,
all different colored browns. Those pigments keep us apart. How
do I stand there and tell this who writes me music and whose hands
burn my cheeks that I can't be who he wants me to be?"
"But he doesn't
want to change you."
"No, I can't
be who he thinks I am. He's a damned starving writer. He can't
give me anything, just himself. And he doesn't even know that
I'm using him. Damn it! He doesn't even know." She choked
on her tears, swallowed, and, cried quietly, hugging her knees,
until exhausted. The leaves rustled softly while I waited.
After a while she
grew calm, her eyes gazing steadily at the flashing water of the
stream below. "I love Thanh. I would never hurt him for anything.
Throughout the four years at UCSF, he has been so patient, so
kind, so dedicated to medicine for its own good, not for just
its technology, even though he's brilliant and understands these
details completely. He's so perfect for me, just perfect. It's
like he stepped out of my story and came to life. We speak the
same language and share the same past. Everything. And Mom and
Dad, they've done so much for us. Now
they think they've won the lottery from God for being good all
"But how do you
feel about Thanh? How does he make you feel?"
"He will be my
lifelong friend. He'll make a wonderful father. That's what a
husband should be. Our children will know the culture and customs
of our homeland. They'll speak Vietnamese and English, just like
"And how does
David make you feel?" I tugged at her gently.
She bowed her head
for a long while reflecting. Then she softly murmured, "Is
just not possible."
"But why? I don't
The picnic basket
remained quite full. Neither of us was hungry. It threatened to
rain as we packed up to go home. On the drive back, we were silent.
I watched the windshield wipers swinging back and forth clearing
rain cascading down the front window.