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Home » Stories, True and Otherwise

The Subheroes Chapter 8: Happy Family

Submitted by on October 11, 2004 – 9:22 AMNo Comment

Years ago, Ro Jin lived with his wife and three children in a little house on the canal. His wife Ro Fan was known as a great beauty, and also for her startling hands, long and thin like church candles, what their neighbor Mrs. Minson called “piano hands.” His children, too, were known for their beauty, the picture they made playing on the front steps, the twin boys and the girl: Ro Ti Jin, seven minutes older, the boss; Ro Li An, seven minutes behind, the professor; three-braided Ro Mei Ran, the officiant.Coming home in the afternoon, Jin would park his truck at the corner and watch them in the mirror before going in, their heads bent together over a plan or a piece of paper that refused to become an airplane.One Friday night, Fan took the children to the open-air market, but she did not return, and the children did not return. Jin sat on his empty steps and smoked, waiting for them, but they never came, and the police didn’t find them either, just the little plaid purse Mei Ran carried everywhere, and a button that may have come from Ti Jin’s shirt.

One year and one day after his family disappeared, just before dawn, Jin had a dream. In the dream, Jin was nestled in a pile of autumn leaves. The leaves were scratchy, but he felt safe and happy in the pile, and then Fan was there, and she said to him, “Leaf piles hide spiders,” but her mouth didn’t move, only her eyes, which smiled. Jin woke up and went to get a glass of water, and on his way back from the kitchen, he saw it, in the corner of the doorway of the boys’ bedroom: a cobweb.

Jin stood and watched the cobweb for a while as it fluttered, and when it got light enough to see, he got dressed and went to the Henry Street Orphanage and said to the man there, “I lost my children, please help me,” and the man said, “Come with me, then,” and put down his sandwich, and they went through the house to the backyard where all the children were playing.

A remote control car ran over Jin’s foot, and Jin said, “Ai!” and the driver of the remote control car said, “Oops!” and the man said, “Tjinder! Watch it with that thing, for Pete’s sake,” and Tjinder said, “Sorry, Mr. Bonstadt! Sorry, mister!” Jin said to Mr. Bonstadt, “Polite, that one, anyway,” and Mr. Bonstadt said, “‘Polite,’ oy, he used my toaster to build that car,” and then he said to Tjinder, “Tjinder! Come here!” Tjinder ran over, followed by the car. “Handy also,” Jin said, and Mr. Bonstadt said, “Only if you don’t like toast,” and Jin said, “I can live without,” and Mr. Bonstadt said, “So, you want him or what?” Jin said, “He is not my son, my first son, but the name, it is very near. Maybe destiny.” “Whatever,” Mr. Bonstadt said. “Tjinder, pack your things, this is your new dad.” Tjinder said, “Okay. Can we have tomato soup for dinner, and a puppy?” “Yes,” Jin said.

Seven days later, Jin said to Tjinder, “Remember I tell you about my first son, Ti Jin?” Tjinder, teasing the puppy with a bowtie: “Yes.” “Remember I tell you about my second son, Li An?” Tjinder remembered: “The one who read the encyclopedia.” Jin said, “You should have a brother.” Tjinder frowned. “I like it just the two of us, the two of us and the puppy.” “I know this,” Jin said. The puppy pounced on the bowtie. “But I know also you want to build rocket pack. A brother could help you.” Tjinder said, “That’s true.” “You think of it that way, three of us is better,” Jin said. Tjinder said, “Okay.”

Jin went back to the orphanage. Mr. Bonstadt stopped chewing his ham-and-Swiss and said, “No refunds, no exchanges,” and Jin said, “Tjinder should have a brother,” and Mr. Bonstadt said, “All right then.” “You got a boy who reads a lot?” Jin said, and Mr. Bonstadt said, “Oh, do I. Lionel! Liiiiiionel! Oy, he’s probably in the library, let’s go,” and on the second floor they found Lionel reading a phone book. “A lot of Thompsons live on West Broadway,” Lionel said. “A lot.” Jin said to Mr. Bonstadt, “This is smart? I don’t know.” Mr. Bonstadt said, “I don’t want to tell you how to live, but he reads cookbooks, too.” Jin said, “He is not my son, my second son, but the name, it is very near. Maybe destiny.” “Sure, okay,” Mr. Bonstadt said. “Lionel, pack your things, this is your new dad.” Lionel said, “Okay. Can we have fish sticks for dinner, and an OED?” “Yes,” Jin said.

Seven days later, while Lionel made risotto, Jin said in a low voice to Tjinder, “So?” On top of the television, the puppy snored. Tjinder said, “Lionel says that Mrs. Minson’s brother-in-law has a friend who works at Boeing, maybe he can help us with the wing design. Can he come over?” “First you tell me how Lionel knows this,” Jin said. Tjinder shrugged. “Lionel knows stuff.” “From a book, he knows this?” Jin said. Tjinder said, “I don’t know, Dad. Maybe. LIIIIIONEL! DAD WANTS TO KNOW HOW YOU KNEW ABOUT MRS. MINSON’S — THAT BOEING GUY!” Lionel came out in an apron. “I heard Minson on the phone.” “Eavesdropping?” Jin said. “The window was open,” Lionel said. “You call her ‘Minson’?” Jin said. “It’s her name,” Lionel said.

Jin lowered himself into a chair. “Remember I tell you about my daughter, Mei Ran?” he said, rubbing his face. “With three braids,” Lionel said. “I remember,” Tjinder said. “You two should have a sister,” Jin said, and Tjinder frowned and said, “But it’s fine just the three of us, the three of us and the puppy.” Lionel said, “No, Dad’s right, I read it in a book about sibling order.” “See?” Jin said, but Tjinder frowned deeper, and Jin said, “Puppy need a name, two weeks no name. A sister could name it.” Tjinder said, “Good point.” Jin said, “You think of it that way, four of us is better.” Tjinder said, “Okay.” Lionel said, “Anyone want garlic bread?”

Jin went back to the orphanage. Mr. Bonstadt glared and said, “You break it, you bought it,” and Jin said, “A house needs a sister,” and Mr. Bonstadt said, “Not in my family, but suit yourself,” and headed for the garage with Jin in tow. “I do not see a girl,” Jin said, and Mr. Bonstadt said, “Under the car,” and a little blonde girl with motor oil on her cardigan rolled out on her back and said, “Damn transmission.” “Oh, a mouth,” Jin said, and Mr. Bonstadt said, “Yep, but my VCR presses pants,” and Jin said, “Hmm.” Mr. Bonstadt took out a pocket watch. “See this? Hundred and eleven years old. She fixed it. Miranda, tell him about the garbage disposal.” Miranda sat up. “Seventeen shooter marbles. All the blades bent.” Jin said, “You fix?” Miranda said, “I did.” Jin said, “Who put marble in –” and Miranda and Mr. Bonstadt said together, “Tjinder.” “Somehow I knew this,” Jin said, and Mr. Bonstadt said, “So you taking her or what?” Jin said, “She is not my daughter with three braids, but the name, it is very near. Maybe destiny.” “Yeah yeah,” Mr. Bonstadt said. “Miranda, pack your things, this is your new dad.” Miranda said, “Okay. Can we have spaghetti for dinner?” “Yes,” Jin said. “And a puppy?” Miranda said. “We already have puppy,” Jin said. “No name for puppy, though.” “Can I name it?” “Yes.” “Can I get bunk beds?” “Yes.”

They walked home. Miranda held Jin’s hand, and in his other hand Jin carried Miranda’s socket set and her pink plastic suitcase. Miranda asked if Tjinder could build her a bionic Barbie, and Jin said yes. Miranda asked if Lionel still slept in his shoes, and Jin said yes. Turning the corner, Miranda pointed at Jin’s front yard and said, “Is that our house?” Jin looked at his front steps, at Tjinder reinforcing a hula hoop with ball bearings, at Lionel with his nose in a geometry book, and said, “Yes. Our house.” Miranda let go of his hand and ran down the sidewalk to the yard, and Jin looked at them, the picture they made building their own trampoline, three orphans and a puppy. “Our house,” he said again to nobody, or maybe to Fan in case she were listening, and then he went inside to boil water for spaghetti.

Vander is asleep.

“I thought he wanted a sad one,” Olivia whispers. Marie doesn’t answer, just turns off the cabinet light.

“What did Miranda name the puppy?”


October 11, 2004



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