about the author

Yasmina Din Madden lives in Iowa and her short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The Idaho Review, The Masters Review: New Voices, Word Riot, Hobart, Fiction Southeast, Carve, and other journals. Her story “At the Dog Park” was shortlisted for The Masters Review Anthology: 10 Best Stories by Emerging Authors, and her flash fiction was recently shortlisted for the Wigleaf Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions of 2017. She teaches creative writing and literature at Drake University.

Bookmark and Share


font size

A Gook, Not a Chink  

Yasmina Din Madden

The boys are in the car parked under a bridge, waiting for their fathers to come out of the bar. The moon, almost perfectly full, hangs low, and under its yellow glow Nitz sketches pictures of machine guns and Glocks. His Korean mother can’t say ‘th’ and pronounces her son’s name ‘Kennitz.’ Max christened him ‘Nitz’ when they were little kids, and now everyone but Nitz’s family uses the nickname. Max is thankful his Vietnamese mother’s English is fluent, just the trace of an untraceable accent.

The boys’ fathers are both white, but somehow in Max’s family it’s like the white blots out the Vietnamese, whereas in Nitz’s the white is just a background on which to paint his mother’s Koreaness. This goes against Max’s mom’s theory that when an Asian marries “a white,” the Asian only overpowers the white if the man is Asian.

Max is jealous of his friend’s skill. Nitz’s drawings are meticulous, the trigger of the Glock angled just right, the safety leaned up against it like a smaller, more cautious brother. The molded dotting on the pistol grip is so precise that Max can almost feel the soft bite of the handle against his bare palm. The drawing has taken Nitz only about fifteen minutes to complete, but now he’s already bored, jiggling his leg and flicking his pencil against the window. He grabs his backpack and Max hears the flat clang of his spray paint cans.

“Come on, let’s go up on the bridge.”

“We’re supposed to stay in the car.”

“Then stay.”

Max watches Nitz climb the embankment up to the bridge and after just a minute, scrambles after him. He is nearly a year older than Nitz, but always follows, always feels younger. At the top of the bridge, Nitz shakes up his cans and with a few graceful arcs and swipes lays down his signature tag: A split-open skull with brains erupting forth like lava. Max breathes in deeply; he loves the chemical scent of the paint, the metallic rattle of the cans as Nitz shakes and reloads. Max only ever watches.

Their fathers know better than to stay in the bar for longer than an hour, but the coolness of the wind at the top of the bridge, and the glassy sound of the water on the rocks below, make Max hope they stay longer, even if it means the wrath of his mother when they get home. Nitz takes a break from his tagging and leans against the railing, arching his back over the rail, as if to survey the sky above.

“Today in algebra, Mike Brimmer asked if my dad ordered my mom from a catalog and I told him ‘Of course he did, isn’t that how everyone gets their wives?’” Nitz offers this news up to Max matter-of-factly, a habit of his that both impresses and annoys Max. He seethes on the inside, not just at the insult, but also at Nitz’s calm. His friend’s candor and seeming bemusement is something Max will never understand.

“Why do you even respond to that shit, Nitz?”

“Someone’s got to remind Brimmer he’s dumb as fuck.”

It’s not often that Max gets targeted by a kid like Mike. He likes to think it’s because he knows how to fit in, how to like the same things as everyone else. He doesn’t bring nước chắm in his lunch, or kimchee like Nitz did the other day. The smell of the fermented cabbage had cleared their table in less than a minute. Max tells himself that what he does is fit in, but he knows, really, that he’s simply invisible to the boys who give Nitz a hard time. He knows that his meekness is what keeps him safe and though he’s never verbalized any of this, it’s also how he knows that Nitz is brave.

“Responding to an idiot like Mike just makes it worse for you.”

“Worse how?”

“Just makes it easier for them to pick on you when you act like you care.”

“Yeah, well, it shut him up. And pretending not to hear someone call you a chink doesn’t mean you don’t care, Max. I mean you should’ve at least told him you’re a gook, not a chink.”

Nitz laughs, but Max knows he’s not joking, that Nitz is trying to embarrass him. And this doesn’t even make Max mad, just more ashamed of that day in gym when he struck out, and Henry Scholl, more Neanderthal than human, had walked by him and called over his shoulder with a smile, learn how to hit a ball, chink, the tone and incantation of his insult more on par with better luck next time, bro, like they were friends or something. Max had frozen in that moment. He may have even smiled. When he thinks of it now, he wants to bang his head against the railing of the bridge. Again and again.

But instead he pushes Nitz as hard as he can. He wants to flip him over the railing into the river below for bringing up what he’d told only Nitz. After school that day, full of attitude, he’d replayed the episode with Henry Scholl for Nitz. I should’ve nailed that giant head of his with my bat, should’ve told him to go fuck his mother. I should’ve said I’m a gook, not a chink, you fucking imbecile. That Nitz has used Max’s own words against him makes his stomach burn, his throat ache. That his fear and shame are so easily detectable leaves Max breathless.

HTML Comment Box is loading comments...