Three Jars of Kimchi

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

This almost took me a week to finish. It was almost too personal to me, to the point where I couldn’t tell which parts were fiction and which were not anymore. This story remains very close to my heart as I wished it would raise awareness for the complicated relationships between abusive parents and their children.

The kitchen almost buzzed with tension as sisters Sadie and Shawn seated themselves across the dining table where their mother was stacking kimchi on top of each other. Sadie tried shooting frantic glances at her sister, but Shawn paid her no attention, her eyes fixed on the plate.

Their mother closed the lid over the rest of the kimchi. Clack. The sound rang across the room. As she sat down, Sadie squirmed in her seat, and Sadie took a sharp breath, both of them bracing themselves for what was about to come.

“I did this just yesterday,” she said, beaming at her kids, who did not return her smile. “It’s more than usual, obviously because it’s Sadie’s big day tomorrow.” Sadie averted her gaze. “Right, Sadie? How does it feel to finally become an elite?”

Sadie fought to fill in the silence that soon followed. “I’ve actually been thinking about it, and…”

“And?”

The smile disappeared from her mother’s face as Sadie continued. “Since last year, I haven’t really been feeling it. About gymnastics, you know. I train for so many hours just for one goal, and… and I just don’t know if I want that anymore. I know I’m letting you down and all, but…”

“Stop talking.”

Her mother dropped her chopsticks, which clanged loudly against the glass surface. Sadie closed her mouth. Shawn looked up from her bowl of rice.

“How dare you?”

The first words out of their mother’s mouth were a scream, reduced to almost a whisper. “I gave up so much for you, ever since your dad —“ She hesitated, then swatted at the air like she would at a mosquito. Both sisters flinched. “If you’re willing to act like this, then you deserve what’s going to happen to you. Your albums — Busted, were they?” Sadie looked down at her single slice of kimchi. “I bought each and every one of them. I give you what you want. I feed you. I pay for your education. But now you have the nerve to sit here and tell me that you’re not going to do one thing for me? I’m going to break your albums with a fucking hammer if you don’t go back to gymnastics.”

“But that’s not fair,” Sadie blurted out.

“Well, it’s not my fault you decided to be a lazy bitch.”

“That’s enough.”

Shawn rose from the table. Sadie looked at her, then hesitantly copied her sister. With Shawn in the lead, the sisters pushed past their mother while she stood still, her back to them, arms crossed and a smirk on her face as if to say, Neither of you is going to win this fight.

Shawn slammed the door in her face.

“What are we going to do now?” Sadie said, panic evident in her voice.

“We’re going to leave this sorry excuse of a house.”

Now? But what is she going to do to us?”

”I’m not going to let anything happen to you. We’re going to crash at a friend’s place. I know someone who could help us. Maya, a few stops away from here. Do you know her?”

Sadie shook her head.

“She’ll take us in. She knows what our mom is like.”

For the next several minutes, the two packed their bags in silence.

“You don’t think she’s waiting outside the door?” Sadie said after a while.

Shawn shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t think I give much of a fuck.”

But she opened the door anyway, and checking that their mother wasn’t there, she gestured at Sadie. While Shawn slung her backpack over her shoulder, Sadie looked around for the last time. Then they sneaked out to the front door. Shawn stopped to listen. The house was silent, more than it should have been. As soon as she opened the door, it beeped away to an automated tune. The sisters let it continue as they ran down the stairs.

Neither of them said a word to each other as they left the apartment building and walked down the street. The red and grey bricks glowed under the orange light. A dog barked in the distance, and was soon joined by another. Sadie looked up. There wasn’t much to see. The buildings towered over each other, effectively blocking the night sky. They were the exact same height and width, all of them, twelve floors and seven windows apart. Sadie lost count of them after passing a dozen or so. A light turned off on the fifth floor across the street. Sleeping With the Light On mindlessly played in her head, over and over again.

She stopped in her tracks. Sleeping With the Light On was the eighth track on Busted. And that exact album happened to be on top of the CD player in the corner of her room.

Shawn was still walking, now way ahead. Sadie ran to catch up with her.

“My album. I forgot my album.”

Shawn sighed. “Which one?”

Busted. It came out last year.”

“You know what will happen if you go back.”

“I’ll… fight my way out,” Sadie said.

“Like that’s going to happen. You know she’s like a fucking gorilla.”

“I’ll be quick.”

Shawn narrowed her eyes. “Seriously? We’re runaways, and that’s what’s on your mind right now?”

Sadie ignored her, running back the way she came. She counted properly this time. Her apartment building was the fifteenth. She frantically pressed each number of the password and yanked the door open.

She could hear loud music coming from her mother’s room. She sighed in relief. She tiptoed across the house nevertheless, opening her door ever so slightly so as to not catch attention.

There it was. She snatched it and stuffed it inside her bag with immense effort. She struggled with the zipper for a bit, then managed to get it all the way across. Her stomach hurt. She was hungry. Maybe she could get a Mars bar or two from the kitchen. She made a detour back to the refrigerator. Her hands ran over a photo of her family, taken over a year ago. A complete family that included the man that had it all. May 3rd, 2002. Back when she loved gymnastics. Back when things were too positive. It was the kind of dream that you wake up from and immediately regret doing so.

She opened both doors. On the bottom lay a single Mars bar. On top of it sat three jars of kimchi. Sadie remembered her mother smiling today, boasting about how much kimchi she made for her. For Sadie. She rarely smiled these days. Maybe she should’ve smiled back. Just for the sake of it. Just to pretend that everything was just like it was before. Back then, Sadie couldn’t wait for dinner, because the kimchi was that good. Now, the kimchi was the only thing preventing her and Shawn from leaving the dining table each time.

Sadie hated her mother. She was afraid of her. So she couldn’t understand why she was reaching for the kimchi and taking one jar, then two, then three. She just needed them. All three of them. She could not, and would not leave a single one behind. A handful of Kleenex would have been useful as she wiped the tears that streamed down her face with her sleeve.

The jars were too big to fit inside her bag. She hugged them close to her chest and walked back to the front door, the jars threatening to slip off once or twice. Then she heard footsteps behind her. She turned around. The jars swayed in her hands.

It was her mother. But then who else could it have been? She cracked a smile, and Sadie managed to smile back this time. Then her mother started to laugh, the kind of laughter that was not normal, the kind that you would only hear from someone drunk. She just didn’t stop laughing, and Sadie started to feel scared — not only of but for her mother, and she pushed the door open and ran outside as fast as she could.

She didn’t stop.

Advertisements

I Don’t Want to Be in the Dark

Photo by Cody Schneider on Unsplash

Before anyone reads this story, I want to make it very clear that this story mentions suicide.

The first thing Harlow did when she woke up on a Tuesday morning was to check her Instagram. No notifications, but she pressed that little heart on the bottom of the screen anyway, immediately crestfallen at the lack of support, though she anticipated this long before she went to sleep. She clicked on her profile and scrolled through the dozens of posts, all of her singing into the cheap mic that her mother couldn’t be bothered to buy for her. It’s okay, she told herself. The tears in her eyes told her otherwise. She put on her best white blouse, then spent a little more time choosing which jeans to wear, but in the end picked her only black ones. It was unfortunate that her room was directly connected to the kitchen, because that was where her mother was waiting for her. 

“Harlow Shin.” Her mother crossed her arms. “Are you going to that singing competition?” 

Startled, Harlow stared at her. “How did you know?” 

“I think I told you to stop. How many times do I have to explain that singing doesn’t make us less poor? Are you really that selfish? What about me, what about the woman that her dead husband left behind?” 

Harlow pushed the front door open and ran out before her mother could say another word. 

When she arrived at school, there was already a sizable number of people gathered in front of the auditorium, and she realized that she probably should’ve come earlier. She thought she caught people reluctantly glancing at each other as they made way for her. Maybe it was just her paranoia tricking her. Not everything is about me, she forcefully reminded herself. 

The waiting room was full of people getting ready to perform, and she froze on the spot when she discovered Tara Abelman. Tara, whom she used to be friends with in eighth grade but decided to start the trend of abandoning her instead, stood with some of her equally popular friends, bending over and dramatically giggling. Harlow had nothing to do with them now. She tried her best to avoid them, but the room wasn’t large enough to stay out of their sight. Within a few seconds, Tara noticed her, and her eyes widened. She pretended she didn’t though, as she turned back to her friends and whispered something that was clearly audible to Harlow. 

“Does she seriously think she has a shot at this?” 

Claire, who was next to her, shot a glance at Harlow, and laughed. “Did you see her Instagram? She’s pathetic. Only nine followers and she’s still going.” 

“Shut up,” a girl she didn’t recognize frantically nudged them. “I think she can hear us.” 

Tara shrugged. “Who cares?” 

The tears that managed to stay in all morning were now too heavy not to betray Harlow by dropping to the floor. She didn’t have time to adjust herself, though, as the host called her name from the stage. She was first to perform. She had no choice but to wipe her face the best she could and push past Tara and her friends to come up to the stage. 

No one said anything as she tentatively fiddled with the mic. Not a single cheer. Not a word of encouragement. “I… I’d like to introduce my song, it’s called “Shadows,” and um…” Her voice broke. Hundreds of blank expressions greeted her. “I tried my best to make it reflect my emotions, like how fire and shadows work around each other, just like in all of our hearts…” She heard snickers. “So yeah. This is “Shadows,” and this is my favorite work as of yet.” 

She cleared her throat once again and straightened the mic. 

“… so I ran back to my fire

hoping it would burn brighter, 

but the shadows—”

She stopped. She could probably keep going if she tried, but she didn’t want to. “She’s pathetic.” Claire’s voice echoed in her head, over and over again until she couldn’t hold it anymore, and she let go of the mic, excusing herself from the stage as ghosts of laughter followed her into the waiting room. She picked up her pace and ran into the nearest classroom she could find. She dug out a small, portable speaker that she bought for herself on her birthday. She turned it on. 

Nobody wants to listen to her singing. Not her mom. Not Tara, who used to be her only friend. Now she doesn’t even have any friends. “Singing doesn’t help make us less poor.” “She’s pathetic.” Pathetic. She was pathetic. She doesn’t have anyone. Why should she? Why should she continue doing this anymore? 

With that question lingering in her head, she slowly walked over to the window, opened it, and looked down, softly singing along to the song that played from the speakers, her favorite song. She hesitated for a second, then two, but she’s had enough, enough, she thought as that last word pushed her to the edge, literally at that, and she fell, fell to the ground. Nobody told her not to. Nobody could. 

A loud noise followed, a deafening sound that a teacher in the hallway heard, to which she opened the door to the auditorium and screamed at Tara to stop, whose turn it was to sing. Students exchanged worried glances, some shocked, as they filed out the door and into the classroom, where the speaker was still going strong, and where the teacher was standing, looking out the window with her hands locked behind her head. 

Tara fought through the crowd to push the teacher aside and looked down too, which she regretted as she turned around to face the silenced crowd with tears in her eyes, tears that Harlow spilled less than ten minutes ago. She wordlessly pointed at the speaker, which played ominously in the background, breaking through the atmosphere, which finally got the audience its owner yearned for. 

“… so I ran back to my fire

hoping it would burn brighter, 

but the shadows came closer 

until they swallowed me but

I don’t want to be in the dark, 

I don’t want to be in the dark, 

I don’t want to be in the dark, 

I don’t want to—”