“The Seeds You Plant” by Christian Aguiar
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, Christian Aguiar brings us to a provincial town in South Korea, where a small packet of seeds reaps large consequences. Next week, Paul Renault tries to help out a friend in Lansing, Michigan.
What other parents spent on music academies and study trips to New Zealand, she had spent on this little packet. It looked no different from the fold-open paper cups they used at the water cooler, yet it had taken four months of weekend trips to the small mountain towns in the north to find an herbalist who had these seeds. Miss Cho slid the packet back into the change pocket at the waist of her miniskirt and turned around.
The boy leaned his weight onto one leg and kicked the toe of his classroom slippers against the floor. Miss Cho could hardly stand to look at him. Just above him was the exit sign with its stick figure running for the stairs. That was her now. She had handed in her resignation last week. She had had no choice. Whatever her reasons for coming to Kong Academy had been, she had begun to like teaching English classes. For the first time in her life a room full of people—albeit rather small people—took her word for truth without question. Now she would leave.
But it had to be done. She ran her hands down the edge of her skirt. Her nylons, the thick, dark kind elementary teachers preferred, had begun to bunch up on her right thigh. The boy looked up at the very moment that she slid her hand beneath her skirt. He pulled his lips back as if to laugh. She launched immediately into the reprimand he had stayed behind for. He looked everywhere but at her: at the fire extinguisher on the floor, at the brightly colored posters on the walls, at the toe hole in his socks. When she paused for a moment he smiled and said in his most charming, atonal English, “I’m so sorry, Miss Cho. I promise I’ll do better.”
Miss Cho’s cheeks flushed red. She continued through the rote steps of her reprimand—lack of attention in class, lack of effort, didn’t he know English was important for his father’s son—but her mind was back on her pocket. The boy’s father had loyalty enough to his hometown to send his only son to public school and academy here, not in Seoul, so the boy had to work hard to match his peers in the city. Very hard. Too bad, thought Miss Cho: if he had less loyalty to his hometown and more loyalty to his wife, none of this would be necessary. She ran her hand down the side of her skirt again and sent the boy along to the snack room.
Alone in the hall she reconsidered everything. All mothers wanted what was best for their daughters, and what was best for her daughter was to have a father or, since it was too late for that, to have a father’s inheritance. Life was hard enough without a father in a country obsessed with bloodlines and patrimony. Life was harder still with no money. What was best for her daughter had to be her guide. But what about the boy?
The lunchroom was as dark as the rest of the academy, with a single row of sealed-shut windows against the far wall. Through gummy panes the pallid office buildings and apartment blocks of Chuncheon rose up against the mountains. Her daughter had to have better than her grandmother’s cinder block farmhouse and her mother’s job at a hakwon drilling English. Miss Cho walked over to the counter where there were bowls of cold noodles in soybean broth. Someone called out to her in English. She turned. The boy was seated at a table with the rest of the sixth graders. He waved and yelled, “Teacher Cho, because you made me late, you should bring me my kkongguksu! If you don’t, I’ll have my father talk to the academy boss again!”
She smiled. His English was wonderful. He would have gotten an excellent score on the exams and gotten into a top university, no doubt about it. She looked around her once, just to be sure, before taking the packet from her pocket and sprinkling it onto the noodles. The brown flecks disappeared into the gray broth like so many sesame seeds. She brought the bowl to the boy along with a pair of wooden chopsticks and, without looking up, left the snack room, went down the hall, locked the bathroom door, and threw up in the cleaning bucket.
CHRISTIAN AGUIAR was born in Worcester, MA and grew up in and around Providence, RI. He writes poetry and fiction about places where being is hard.
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected] paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Dec 1, 2014
Category: Mondays Are Murder | Tags: Mondays Are Murder, Noir Series, Christian Aguiar, flash fiction, short fiction, The Seeds You Plant, Korea, South Korea, Republic of Korea, Hupyeong-dong, Chuncheon-si, Gangwon-do
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