Category Archives: stories

Azuki Beans

Azuki Beans

紅豆生南國
春來發幾枝
願君多采擷
此物最相思
– Wang Wei

The photographers always come in the spring.

They come for fashion shoots, for catalog shoots, for architecture shoots.

Only the richest and the poorest ones come: either ones who are just starting out and are desperate for a fresh angle, or ones who are so well-funded they don’t give a damn. The ones in the middle are effectively kept away by their lawyers, actuaries, and wives.

I suppose I would do the same thing if I were an actuary—although god knows, if anyone is going to be here when the beams come down it’s me. The probabilities for short-term visitors like photographers just aren’t all that grave.

I understand why they choose the spring, with the buds and blossoms and bright-green shoots that are so hard to do justice in the slanted indoor light.

I actually prefer the summer, when the sheer density of deep-green leaves and pods is like an orgasm or a really good drunk, wiping everything away. Or the fall, when the leaves begin to get brittle and turn away and the pods rain down beans in sudden volleys onto the floorboards. The mice come then, like scavengers to a battlefield, stuffing beans into their cheeks and bowling them with their paws. Or the winter, when the leaves have shriveled and merged, and the vines dangle like trunks of cable inside a vast cold-war computer after the moths have nested in the relays.

###

It was winter when the letter came. I had finished construction just before the first fronts, and I was still finding sawdust in all the corners whenever I swept.

It was harmless, novel, delightful. “Red beans for true love,” it said. “Send five red beans in the envelope provided, and send five envelopes to people you trust. Good luck and true love will surely follow.”

Red beans. An excuse to leave the house. I always thought beans were white and it was the gravy that made them red. Bacon and onions and tomatoes and molasses. More brown than red actually. But I put on my boots and went out.

###

“Red beans,” I said.

The shopkeeper just stared at me and sold me a pound of bologna.

###

“Red beans,” I said.

“If we ain’t got ‘em,” the next grocer said, “You ain’t gettin’ ‘em.”

And he was probably right. He did run the biggest grocery in town.

###

“Red beans,” I said.

The old Chinese lady laughed at me.

“Love letter,” she said.

“Not exactly,” I said.

“She’s far away,” she said.

“I haven’t met her yet,” I said.

She laughed again and sold me the beans. The shop was tiny and full of strange smells. I would have to come back again some time.

###

The beans made the envelope look foolish. A letter ought to be tidy. The postman took them away.

###

The crocuses were just coming up when there was a knock at the door.

“You son of a bitch,” she said.

She was tiny, slight and angry, and she poured a bushel of red beans on my kitchen floor.

“Stupid,” she said. “Thoughtless.”

“Hello,” I said, and held out my hand.

She held up a piece of paper. It was creased, stained, and covered with names.

“This is you,” she said, pointing to a blur in the middle.

“Every single one of you,” she said. “I’m tracking you down, and I’m giving them back.” She kicked at the beans and sent them scattering.

I looked at the paper, and I looked at the beans.

“All those people?” I asked. “That’s a lot of beans.”

“You’re goddamn right,” she said. “Make me a cup of tea.

###

We were married almost fifteen years.

###

At first we were able to keep them down by crawling on the floor and trimming the sprouts with scissors. They kept coming up, and we kept cutting them down. We tried herbicide, we tried fire.

“Hey, look at this,” I said.

Tiny shoots were reaching out of the window frame. The roots must have been down in the walls somewhere.

“Bring me a cup of tea?” she said. “I’m not feeling well.”

###

The roots must have been down inside her somewhere. They tried medicine. They tried knives. They tried fire.

###

The beans like plaster, and they love lath. They like shingles. They like nails.

###

“Don’t you get cold?” asked the photographer. “In the winter?”

Warm spring air was pouring through the walls, and the tiny white blossoms were bending on the vines.

“Yes,” I said. “I get cold.”

Ningyodashi

My story Ningyodashi appears in the anthology New Sun Rising: Stories for Japan.

New Sun Rising: Stories for Japan is an anthology of stories, flash fiction, poems, haibun, haiku and artwork and photography donated by over 60 creators from all over the world to support those in Japan still affected by the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami and earthquake. All monies go to the Japanese Red Cross.

This anthology was prepared by an international team of volunteers and includes the donation of a poem in German with English translation by award-winning Austrian poet and writer, Friederike Mayröcker.

Greg McQueen, founder of 100 Stories for Haiti and 50 Stories for Pakistan says this:

“You’re holding a book that beat the odds. A book made from determination. From compassion. And by holding it – buying it – reading it – telling others about it – you stand with the writers and artists who created it: ordinary people who watched the lives of strangers destroyed and decided that they needed to help.”

Celebrate with us Japan and its people.

New Sun Rising is available at Amazon.

Image CC-BY-NC-ND by Larry Halff

Ingenstans

Per pushed the scrap of paper onto the floor and stared at the remains of his chili.

“You dropped this,” the waitress said, handing the paper back.

“It’s not mine,” he said.

She shrugged and carried it off with her armload of dirty dishes.

He mashed the last cracker crumb with his spoon.

“Is this yours?” the busboy said, holding the paper out.

“Not mine,” Per said.

The busboy ignored him and left it on the edge of the table.

Per took out his lighter, lit the corner of the paper, held it for a second while it caught flame, and dropped it into the chili.

“Hey,” the waitress said.

“Sorry,” Per said. He rose and left a five-dollar bill under his water glass.

The air outside was sharp. He zipped his jacket.

The door opened behind him. “Is this yours?” the manager asked, and handed him a scrap of paper.

#

Continue reading

Boy Meets Girl at a Cockfight

I asked Andrea Carlson to draw a mini with me for Twin Cities Zinefest this year. She said, “Sure, as long as it includes sexy ladies and scary monsters.”

знесення

“Look at Yaro over there,” Kola said. He pointed at Yaroslav, who was shouldering a quadruple-sized tube of construction adhesive. “Nobody does demolition like a Cossack. Nobody in the world!”

The apartment was sliding out of the tower like a popped-loose Lego block.

“Russians, Georgians, Chechens? They think demolition is all C-4 and iron balls. Fuck them! We Ukrainians destroy with finesse!”

Yaro’s crew was swarming over the apartment, attaching a canopy of fat steel cables.

“Yulia,” he said. “What a goddess! There are no men in Kharkiv, you know that? Yulia went there to do some shopping, and all the men died of erections. Even some of the women!”

The crane was lowering the apartment toward the flatbed.

“When she gets home and finds her apartment missing—I’m telling you—Ivaniak’s head is going to explode! Explode! Even before she tells him!”

I checked my watch.

Kola punched me in the shoulder so hard I staggered. “You’re not the one who has to worry, my friend,” he said. “You’ll be safe at home, masturbating over your new treasure. Never mind that we will still be here tending to our angry friend.”

The apartment reached the truck, which sagged under the weight.

“I hope for your sake that you live in a mountain fortress with several large dragons keeping an eye out for Ivaniak! If you’re really unfortunate he’ll send you pictures of Yulia!” Serhiy pulled up in a sedan. “Time to go!”

We climbed in.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “but Chinese cars are shit.” He patted the headrest in front of him. “Korean cars are shit. Russian cars are not even shit.”

Serhiy’s head sank deeper into his shoulders as we accelerated.

“I have all my cars built for me in Latvia. In Latvia, they know cars!”

“I hear in Los Angeles they know cars. But compared to Riga…”

We turned a corner at speed and our tires skipped across the road.

“I’d like to tell you that the best cars come from Ukraine. I’d like to tell you Kiev is car capital of the world. Even Sumy!”

“But compared to Riga, Kiev is shit. Los Angeles also, compared to Riga. You think they can build cars like this in Los Angeles?”

We were now speeding along a country road.

“But now?” he said, flipping down a screen, “Now, we watch pornography!”

Image CC-BY-NC-SA by colemama

Rosolnyk

I looked at the bowl of rice. “I can eat kasha,” I said.

Kola waved his kasha at me and roared, “This is Ukraine! You think we don’t know how to treat Chinese?” He gave the kidneys a stir. “And anyway, the last time I served kasha to a Chinese I found him hiding in the bathroom, cooking rice in a tin cup over a Zippo lighter. He must have had the rice in his pockets!”

“My family is from the West,” I said. “We eat bread.”

He banged his fist on the counter. “Tonight, you eat rice!”

I raised my horilka and blinked at him through the glass.

“Chop me a pickle!” He dumped the kidneys from the skillet into the soup pot.

I pulled a reeking pickle from the jar and looked around for a knife.

“Anyway,” he said. “What makes you think it’s in Sumy?”

“I’m not paid to think,” I said. “I go where I’m sent.”

He laughed and handed me a bayonet. “You’re a liar,” he said. “Tell me another.”

I chopped pickle. “Ivaniak,” I said. “He keeps it at his girlfriend’s house.”

“Ivaniak,” he grunted. “You’re a better liar than I thought.” He swept pickle slices from the counter and tossed them into the pot. “You want Ivaniak, and you come to me?”

“You have friends,” I said. “Call them. Offer them soup and kasha. I’m sure they’ll do it out of friendship.”

“They might,” he said. “But I won’t.” He took the bayonet back and used it to stir the soup. “What are you offering?”

I shook my head. “Not me,” I said. “My boss.”

He frowned.

“Rolling stock,” I said. “Twenty spine cars.”

“Condition?” he asked.

I shrugged. “Five to ten years old. Completely serviceable.”

“Fifty cars,” he said.

“Twenty-five,” I said.

“Eat your rice and get out,” he said.

“Thirty,” I said. “And a ’47 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead, freshly restored, in a garage fifteen kilometers out the Sudzha road.” I tossed a ring of keys onto the counter. Pickle juice splashed up onto my shirt.

“Fuck your mother,” he said, reaching for the keys. “Sit down and eat some soup.”

Image CC-BY-NC-SA by avlxyz