Issue > Fiction
Grace Jung

Grace Jung

Grace Jung is a New York-based writer and film producer. She has been published in fiction, poetry, essay and translation. She is a former Fulbright scholar.

Terry's Stories

Terry wrote a short story she said she was really proud of. She asked me to read it, and I was pleasantly surprised because she'd never offered to show me her work before. I said sure, and read it while she did things in the kitchen. I listened to her move things around, run water, open cabinet doors and tear out sheets of paper towels while I read her story:

I went to the local chinaware store down the street with Emily. She said that we needed new china. I've been living in Rochester for three years now and I never once set foot inside that store. Emily moved in with me two months ago, and now we were going shopping for chinaware together.

I don't feel so elated as I feel so much confused. This is the way things are supposed to be moving, and it was me who'd asked her to move in, but I'm not very proactive as I live with this new change. I wake up these mornings and turn to her wondering what this woman is doing in my bed. Then I see her blouse hanging from my chair and wonder why she put it there. After I go into the bathroom, piss, wash my face and return, she is no longer in my bed but sitting at my kitchen table, eating my cereal, drinking my tea, and reading my newspaper. She'll grin at me and say, "Adam," then I know that it's Emily, and that I'd asked her to move in with me two months ago.

The confusion doesn't stop there, though. After I leave the house, I can't figure out which route to take to work. I could walk down East Street, which is a pleasant walk, passing old buildings and houses with lawns covered with wild flower, or I could just as easily take Park Ave to look at the people sitting in front of local shops. Either way would take me to work, but I can't make a decision. I'll stand in front of my house deliberating this for fifteen minutes before realizing that I'll be late and eventually taking the car with me. With the car, it's always just better to take East Ave. Nice drive.

Taking the car leads to more confusion though. At the gas station on University, how much gas do I put in the tank? Do I just put in twenty dollars worth? That'll bring the orange needle up to about a quarter of the way. Or should I just fill it up completely and save me the trouble later? But do I really use the car that often? Does that woman back at my house use it to drive places when I am not home? What does she do at home all day anyway?

When I do come home, Emily does tell me things. But I often hear just one or two very interesting words and dwell on those for long periods of time. For instance, last night she said the words "owl" and "turpentine." Not in the same sentence but I immediately envisioned a mass of owls flocking over to the natural science museum on East Ave, flying in a circle over it while a man with a tank of turpentine in his red pickup truck stood by, smoking, watching this happen.

Emily doesn't seem to care that I don't listen. I'm often confused by the way she behaves around me, but sometimes, if I try not to concentrate so hard, I think I know... I know that she doesn't really care, and she's just glad to have me with her, as I am glad sometimes just to have someone to stare at as I eat, who tells me things about owls and turpentine to set off my imagination.

Anyway, back at the shop, Emily went off in her own direction and started to look at some real tacky looking tea sets and things. I moved into an area modeled after a foyer and sat in a chair with black painted legs and black and white checkered cushions. The entire room looked like an imitation of some 80s-themed Alice in Wonderland. I actually watched a video of that movie when I was in high school. Ringo Starr plays a turtle in it, which I was fine with. Of all the Beatles, he's the one I took the least seriously.

As I sat in that foyer, I wondered what it was that Emily was trying to do by shopping in places like this for new chinaware, and what it was that I was trying to do by asking her to move into the house with me.

I remember my father telling me once that moving ahead in life is just making one decision after another. I guess that's what I've learned to do. I guess I'm just trying to make my life move forward by making decisions, except, I've made one big decision by making the effort to commit to Emily, but my heart isn't all that in it. I'm just really confused about it. I can't tell if what I feel is regret just yet. Probably not regret though. I don't think it's that. I just can't tell if this is right. There's no way to make proper sense of it.

Emily eventually came over and sat beside me. She winced at the upholstery under her and said, "Gosh, these chairs are really uncomfortable." I realized that my chair was pretty uncomfortable, too. My ass was numb.

She looked at me and said, "Do you want to leave?" I did. We got up, left, walked across the street and into the bakery to buy some corn bread and blueberry muffins. I like both of those. I was happy that she chose them because if I'd walked in there alone, I probably would've stood around for another twenty minutes, staring at the glass panes, creeping out the owner.

I wonder if my father would've agreed with this scenario here. Or if he would've just nodded his head and said, "Yeah. That's how it goes," meaning I'd invited a woman into my life and have suddenly grown helpless to everything around me because I can't tell if I've done the right thing. So I need her to take me by the hand and lead me through the mundane, day-to-day things that I typically would've known how to do but can no longer do. The cause of my ineptitude is also an item of my dependency.

I think this is the way it's supposed to feel. I'm still new to it all. I remember feeling this way for several months after I first got my driver's license. And for a period of time when I was in college. And for a period of time when I first moved to Manhattan and then again when I returned to Rochester. But I'm sure that once this routine continues for some time, I'll just become a part of it and these decisions that she and I have to make won't really matter. Emily's blouse will belong on that chair and her face under all that brown hair will be easy to recollect without me having to brush it aside to see it. And then I guess I'll eventually just marry her, just to see if any more change comes out of it.


"Yeah, it's nice," I called out to Terry.

Terry didn't respond. When I walked out into the kitchen, I saw her wiping down the countertop. There were trash bags tied up and placed in the corner by the door.

"I like your story," I said.

"Oh. You do?"

"Yeah. Did you write about him after me?"

Terry snorted. "No, I did not."

"Oh. Do you ever write about me?"

She stopped wiping down the counter and looked up at the corner of the ceiling for a second.

"In a way, yeah," she said, nodding, meeting my eyes again.

"What do you say?"

"Well, I just write about how I feel when I'm around you. You don't really say much so I just write what I think you're thinking when I am around."

"Oh. You think I think this way?"

"Sometimes. But, no, that stuff wasn't really based on you. That's just me writing. I was just practicing."

"Oh. Can I read what you wrote about me then?"

Terry went back into my room and opened up her email. She went to some documents setting and opened up a page.

"I guess this one might be closer to you," she said. "I have to finish cleaning out there." She touched my head before leaving the room:


Lydia will often get up from the table to do things right in the middle of eating. I don't really say much anyway so I guess it's alright for her to leave but I usually just want her there, to sit beside me and finish eating so we can get up from the table together, move into a different setting like by the kitchen sink. And I often fantasize about us doing the dishes together and chatting about something, eventually ending up in laughter and then going to the couch to fool around in front of the TV.

I like thinking about this while having her sit beside me, but she's always moving. And she'll talk a lot, too, narrating all her decisions with every step she takes. She'll move the canvas frame, wondering aloud if it's crooked. She'll ask the teacup what it is doing there on the counter after it's been used like that, all dirty, and place it into the sink while clicking her tongue. She'll reach for the top of the fridge and grab the aluminum foil asking it why it isn't plastic wrap instead because aluminum foil seems so wasteful to her, somehow more wasteful than plastic wrap. I don't usually respond to these narrations. I never do. I just look up from the table and watch her through the small entryway that connects the dining room to the kitchen. I watch and listen as I eat my food. Then I'll look at her plate and see that all the steam has gone from the rice, the dressing has wilted her lettuce and the chicken just doesn't look like chicken anymore. Just a really sad piece of square with four dark parallel lines running through it.

"Lydia, sit down," I want to say, but I never do. I just watch, and I continue to feel lonely inside. I'll chew my food, and she'll make a move and the loneliness will dig deeper into me as I feel something painful rise up towards my throat. I'd like it if she just knew how I felt without me actually voicing it to her. Avoiding this type of behavior just seems to me like a common sense of civility. Who gets up from the table in the middle of eating to go into the kitchen and talk to herself while moving things? I just hate that. But I don't hate Lydia.

This evening, though, she did something strange. She returned to the table and stood in front of me with a very upset look, her eyes welling up with tears. I couldn't understand it. But it was shocking, and I was glad for that at least. She stood there for about two minutes before running the back of her hand over her eyes then turning around and walking away. I listened to her grab the keys from the hook by the door, then heard the car start, then the tires roll over some gravel. So far, she's been gone about forty-five minutes and her food is still here. It's pretty cold.



I walked back out into the kitchen.

"Do you think I think that way?"

"No. I'm just projecting. It's how I develop material, I guess."

"Oh."

"Yeah."

"You know I don't hate the things you do, right?"

"Yeah, I know."

"Alright." I went back into my room and turned off the computer. I changed my shirt then went out into the kitchen to help Terry finish cleaning.

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