Nov. 3rd, 2009 08:56 am
backdrifter: I won NaNoWriMo 2009! (nanowrimo 2009)
[personal profile] backdrifter
It's that time of year again! NaNoWriMo 2009, go go go

When the first knock at the door sounded, Ryan was already running. He blew through the apartment to crash into various pieces of furniture, only to use them as launching points. He was just tall enough to work the locks of the heavy front door, and then he was using both hands to pull it open.

“Hey, Ryan,” said a voice above his head, and hands hooked under his arms to hoist him up for a hug. Ryan wrapped legs around the waist of the voice’s owner, burying his face in shaggy black hair. Victor was not related to him, wasn’t even close to his age, but Ryan looked forward to his every visit like a holiday. In fact, Victor was eighteen, more than twice Ryan’s numerical age, and he came to visit his sister Maya, not him.

Unfortunately, Maya’s boyfriend happened to be Victor’s best friend, so they came as a packaged set every time, and Ryan despised Jack. He looked washed out, with pallid skin, translucent blond hair and hard grey eyes, like he was made of tinfoil and only reflecting the colors around him. He always had at least ten snide comments for Ryan per visit, and he didn’t like the way he grabbed at his sister in rough movements, though it made Maya blush and giggle.

“Excited to see your boyfriend?” Jack asked with a snicker, and immediately Ryan dropped from Victor’s embrace, scowling as he pulled his hands to himself. Victor chided Jack, but softly, and Jack ignored him to go striding off into the apartment. “Maya!” he shouted. “Maya, where the fuck are you!”

“Don’t let Jack bother you,” Victor said with a little smile, laying his hand on Ryan’s head. “He doesn’t mean anything he says.” Victor turned to follow Jack inside, and Ryan followed him in turn. Why Victor was even friends with someone as vile as Jack, if even Victor admitted he was never honest or kind, baffled Ryan; Victor was soft-spoken and sweet, and Jack was like a ball of spikes that looked vaguely human.

“Jack!” Maya squealed from down the hall, and a moment later she appeared in the living room to jump into Jack's arms, feet kicking up. Maya was spindly still at fifteen, with thick, curly black hair inherited from their father’s side of the family. She’d only recently come to accept the texture of her hair, when all their straight-haired cousins she’d envied forever started getting perms. She kissed Jack hungrily, and Ryan made loud retching noises in their direction, though he stayed near Victor.

“Shut up, Ryan,” she groaned, and she took Jack by the hand. “Come on, we can go back to my room.” Jack leered at her in response, and they disappeared into the hallway.

“So I heard you don’t have a room right now,” Victor said, looking down at Ryan. Victor was tall, taller, tallest. Six feet something impressive. “Your grandfather’s staying for the week, right?”

Ryan nodded. Because his room was the neatest, his grandfather had been given it to stay in for the week, which struck Ryan as unfair; why keep a clean room if you were only going to get punished for it? It also meant that his own room was off-limits, because Ryan found his grandfather terrifying. He used his cane as a weapon, he shouted everything with a scowl on his face, and he rarely spoke in English anyway. He also fell into strange periods where he wouldn’t speak at all, face frozen in a troubled expression as he gripped his cane with white knuckles. When he looked at Ryan during these silences, his eyes were like hot coals, burning into Ryan’s skin as they followed him around the room.

“Well, we can still hang out on the couch,” Victor said with a smile, and he flopped onto the bright red couch, where he patted the cushion next to him. Victor was the opposite of his grandfather, of Jack, of everyone he wanted to stay away. Victor was warm brown skin and warm black eyes, with curly black hair in need of a trim. Victor was quiet words and soft touches, was strong hugs and brotherly pats on the back. Ryan joined him on the couch.

What Ryan knew about Victor was that his family was Iranian, though he didn’t know where Iran was. He knew that Victor was eighteen and went to Maya’s school, that he was an only child with a lot of cousins. Ryan skootched closer, leaning against Victor’s bony shoulder. Victor threw an arm around his shoulder, turning on the TV with the remote in his other hand. He knew that Victor loved Nirvana, and music like that, and he knew that Victor liked watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles best with Ryan. Ryan preferred Batman, especially because the Ninjas part of it reminded him of his family, which reminded him of his grandfather. His grandfrightening.

“Tell me about your day,” Victor said, thumb brushing the top of Ryan’s shoulder comfortingly. There wasn’t much to report, so Ryan stretched out his teacher somehow managing to mangle his last name into a thin story. The woman had somehow rounded out the a’s in the first and third syllables of Kamizaki, pronouncing it Kay-mee-zay-kee. It impressed Ryan how ignorant adults could be. At least native Japanese speakers had good reason for screwing it up, since the kanji was most commonly spoken as Kanzaki, and Ryan put that in the story, too. Victor ruffled his hair and called him smart, and he preened inside.

“You can’t blame ‘em for not thinking you’re Japanese right away, though,” Victor said, and he curled his arm around the back of Ryan’s neck to turn his head toward himself with a hand on his cheek. “You’ve got these huge brown eyes, you don’t look like a lotta other Asians.”

Ryan knew the right answer was to say something about how he thought he looked Asian enough; he was old enough, smart enough to know the definition of politically correct. He knew about racial self-hatred, knew all about all those things, but secretly he thrilled to hear that he didn’t look his actual race. “What do you think I look like?” he asked instead, a neutral response.

“I dunno. Kinda Spanish, maybe? Something exotic.” Exotic. He liked that word. He would classify Victor with his thin, crooked nose and pointed chin as exotic, and he liked whatever Victor was. “Aw, man, Michelangelo, look behind you! Look—aww!” Ryan’s attention snapped back to the TV just in time for one of the turtles to get taken by surprise, and they didn’t talk again until commercial break.

It wasn’t that Ryan’s parents didn’t love him; they loved him as much as any of his three siblings. His father treated him just the same as his brothers, ruffling hair and roughhousing in the living room. There was no denying, though, that there was a certain hesitation in the way his mother hugged him goodbye in the mornings, a kind of tentativeness when she kissed him goodnight. Sometimes he spotted uneasiness in her glance, and it bothered him that he couldn’t pinpoint what he’d done to make her so nervous around him. He was eight. What threat could he possibly present?

Still, there was no denying either that she tried to hide it, like now, when she measured him for height. She stood him against a wall in the kitchen, where four lines with unevenly-spaced notches marked the growth process of all four Kamizaki children (Maya’s had stopped at about age eleven).

“Push your feet back,” she said, tapping his ankles with the end of her Sharpie, and when he did she pressed the marker on the top of his head, marking his height. She didn’t look impressed.

“Not a lot of progress,” she said as he stepped away to look. Today’s mark almost melted into the mark from three months ago. “I expected at least a half inch.” She smiled wryly. “There must be some Chinese heritage in there somewhere.”

“Don’t say that,” he said, frowning at his measurement. He didn’t like how close the top of Kenny’s line was to his, considering Kenny was two years his junior.

“Say what? I didn’t mean to make you feel bad, baby, it’s fine to be a little short. Once you get older you’ll probably grow up tall like your dad.” His father had a lot of Korean in him, tall and curly-headed.

“I’m not Chinese, though,” Ryan said, still staring at the mark.

“There’s nothing wrong with being Chinese,” his mother said slowly, looking at him strangely. “Is that what you think?”

“I don’t wanna be Chinese. They’re ugly and stupid.” He pushed his thumb against the mark on the wall, but it was already dry, and he didn’t so much as smudge it.

“Who told you that?” she asked, voice sharp.

“Grandpa.” It wasn’t that he liked spending time with his grandfather, but there was no walking away from the man when he started talking to you, especially if he deigned to speak in his accented English. He had nothing but ill words to speak of the Chinese, of Koreans, of anybody really that wasn’t Japanese, but to him the Chinese were a dirty, subhuman nationality that deserved nothing but his utmost scorn. The way he spoke so passionately about it, it was hard not to take it to heart, either, especially when you were an impressionable little boy who didn’t want to piss off the old man with the heavy cane.

“Well, Grandpa doesn’t know everything,” his mother said, patting Ryan’s hair flat where the Sharpie had disturbed it. “I’m your mother, and you should listen to me, not him.”

“But shouldn’t you listen to him, because he’s your dad?” Children were the unsung masters of logic.

His mother sighed. “It’s more complicated than that,” she said, leaning back against the counter. “Grandpa’s had a very hard life, so a lot of the things he thinks and says are warped by that. He doesn’t know what he’s saying is wrong.”

“Why not?” He joined his mother at the counter, though leaning on his belly instead.

“Well…” She shifted from leg to leg, twisting her mouth as she thought of what to say next. “Put it this way—Grandpa’s sick, but not like how you or your brothers and sister get sick. It’s more like… It’s more like there’s a little monster inside his head, telling him all the wrong things to say and do. He takes medicine, but the medicine only makes the monster quieter, not go away.” She looked down at Ryan. “Does that make sense to you?”

“Uh-huh.” No.

“It’s okay,” she said, snorting as she smiled and patted him briefly on the head. “Go and play with your brothers.”

The problem with her request was that Danny didn't like Ryan, and Ryan didn’t like Kenny, and Kenny’s games were deemed “baby games” by Danny, so nobody was playing with anybody.

Danny was the oldest of the boys at eleven, arrogant because of his place in a “gifted and talented” program in school. He and Ryan both looked like their father, with a wide and almost convex nose, large eyes and full lips, though both were possessed of their mother’s straight hair, and Danny of her higher cheekbones. He was also possessed of a foul mouth that disappeared the moment either parent entered the room.

Kenny, on the other hand, was sweet, affectionate, and grabby. He looked like a little clone of their mother, and he wanted to be a part of every activity anyone was doing at any time. He delighted all the adult relatives, and was a source of endless irritation to his brothers and all their cousins. He also had not given up on trying to interact with either of his brothers, which explained why when Ryan emerged into the hallway, Kenny shouted something unintelligible and came barreling at him, a Disney toy in each hand.

Kenny tried to grab his brother in a hug, but Ryan yelped with disgust and shoved him off. Kenny stumbled backward and landed hard on his back, the Simba figurine in his right hand skittering away on the floorboards. Their mother was out of the kitchen immediately, running to haul Kenny to his feet, and when she met Ryan’s eyes, he saw that flash of discomfort again, of wariness, startling him. He’d only pushed his brother.

“Kenny, Ryan doesn’t want to play right now,” she said, pushing him in the direction of the living room. “Go play by yourself for a little bit, okay?”

“Uh-huh,” Kenny said, squatting to pick up Simba. When he gave Ryan a nervous look, it made much more sense.

“Ryan.” His mother blocked his path. “You can’t just—“ She groaned, covering one side of her face with her hand. “Why did you push Kenny down like that?”

“He came running at me,” Ryan muttered, avoiding her eyes. “He came—he was gonna knock me down first.”

“Look, just—you can’t just knock your brothers down like that, okay? Just try to remember that.” She sighed again, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Go to your room, Ryan.”

“I can’t, Grandpa’s in there.” Specifically, Grandpa was taking a nap, and it was suicidal to wake him up.

“Oh. Well… I don’t know, just stay away from your brothers. Sit by yourself for awhile. In the kitchen if you want.”


She swept past him into the living room, where Kenny was playing by himself, leaving him alone in the hallway.

“Ryan Kamikaze! Kamikaze Ryan, watch out!”

When Ryan thought about it, it didn’t make sense that he was the one sitting in silence when the boy mangling his name had dirt on his face and broken shoelaces, but he wasn’t quick enough with a retort and now he was stuck on this bench. Every time he tried to get up, Dillon-with-dirt-on-his-face would race back to block his path, shouting as he did. Eventually he gave up, and now Dillon wouldn’t go away.

“Ryan Kamikaze! Ryan Kamikaze!” Dillon shouted again as Ryan shifted on the hard bench, interpreting it as an attempt to get up, probably. Ryan rolled his eyes, resting his cheek on the heel of his hand.

“You’ve got dirt on your face,” Ryan snapped, but it was like Dillon was selectively deaf.

“You gonna blow me up, Kamikaze?” Dillon snickered, standing wide and scratching at his nose with equally dirty fingernails. The teacher stood what seemed like miles away, staring off into space as she puffed on a cigarette.

And then Victor appeared, his shadow engulfing Dillon. Dillon turned to look, held up his hand against the sun that shone from just behind where Victor’s neck joined his shoulder. Victor a heroic silhouette, he nodded his big shaggy head at the little bully, saying, “Leave him alone.”

Dillon didn’t look too impressed as he scowled, squinting against the light still, but he stepped back anyway, and Victor beckoned Ryan forward, his face still a dark shadow. “Come on, kid, I gotta get you home. Your sister went to the park or the zoo or something with Mark.”

“Gross,” Ryan commented as he slid off the bench, placing his hand in Victor’s proffered one. Big, bony hand, the hollow of it deep, the fingers long and square-ended, nails thick and coarse-looking. Victor’s hand.

“I know, right?” Victor agreed as they walked away from Dillon. “Let’s go do something better than them, and we can tell them later how we had way more fun. Whadda you think, you want some ice cream or something?”

“Yeah,” he replied quietly, the late September chill notwithstanding.

Victor took him to a Häagen-Dazs, where he teased Ryan for choosing as basic a flavor as vanilla, and they sat on a bench in Riverside Park to eat their ice cream. “Häagen-Dazs doesn’t mean anything, you know,” Ryan commented, inspecting a scoop of bean-speckled ice cream on his plastic spoon. “Some guys in the Bronx made it up to sound Dutch.”

“You’re too smart for me,” Victor said with a laugh, spooning mint chocolate chip into his own mouth.
Ryan took much longer in finishing his, not in the least because he forgot himself watching the mechanics of Victor eating. Tiny spoon in a big hand, jawline defining and redefining with each chew, each swallow making his Adam’s apple bob in his throat. When Victor noticed, Ryan was watching his hands.

“You looking at my hands, little man?” Victor chuckled, holding one up loosely. “Don’t worry, your hands will get just as big and scary as these someday, and you’ll be tall like your dad.”

“I’m not growing fast enough,” Ryan mumbled, smacking the top of his ice cream with the back of his spoon. “I’m gonna be short forever.”

“Nah. When you get to like, thirteen, you’ll start growing like a weed, believe me.” Victor laughed again.

There was some quiet for a bit between them, Ryan letting lumps of ice cream lose texture and melt in his mouth, pooling under his tongue before he swallowed.

“That kid should learn some goddamn manners,” Victor muttered, slinging a long arm over Ryan’s narrow shoulders. “Kids used to give me shit, too, you—sorry, I mean, they used to bother me, too. When I was a little older than you.” Ryan wanted to tell him he could curse, could say whatever he wanted and none of it would be wrong, but he knew that his child’s opinion would have no impact.

“It was the Gulf War going on, so everything was towelhead and sandflea and camel-fuc—” Victor shook his head. “You don’t need to hear all that.” He turned to face Ryan. “I just don’t wanna see the same thing happen to you. You don’t deserve that.” Victor snaked his other arm around Ryan’s ribs, holding his ice cream out even as he pressed Ryan close in a tight hug, and the remainder of Ryan’s vanilla ice cream dropped to the dirt.

“Aw, man, I’m sorry, I made you drop your ice cream,” Victor said, pushing his hair back with his free hand in distress. “Sorry.” He smiled briefly and rolled his eyes, and let his ice cream drop too, splatting upside-down into the soil. “There, I guess we’re even now.”

But Ryan preferred Victor’s hug to ice cream, though he knew better, somehow, than to say so.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-12-04 07:52 am (UTC)
sunmoonandspoon: (Calm Down)
From: [personal profile] sunmoonandspoon
This is supremely excellent. I expected it to be, but it was nice to see the awesomeness play out. Seeing how Victor interacts with Ryan is horrifying, since I know what's coming next, but at the same time it is terribly sweet, and if I didn't know I'd be thinking "aww, how nice that he has a positive male role model and aww, isn't Victor being so sweet spending time with him like that!" Ahhh, Rara, you're an evil, evil lady. Anyway. I like how you described everyone's appearances--you've gotten really good at integrating them into the story and making them relevant to what's going on and to the personalities and conflicts of the characters involved. And Ryan's mom's description of schizophrenia is fantastic--and it's good foreshadowing, too.

One thing--I know it's past tense and you're not exactly trying to imitate a child's voice, but there was one thing that was a bit jarring because it came across an observation made be an adult about the child whose point of view you're inhabiting. When you say Children were the unsung masters of logic, it sounds like something someone else would say about Ryan. Having it as part of the narrative is off-putting, though it is a good line.

Over all, wonderful job. This chapter made me very interested in the story to come (not that I wasn't already).

June 2011

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