Novella Excerpts: The Inimitable Livers

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The studio is small, a shoebox in St Mark’s. On one wall lines an exposed hanging wardrobe, our clothes hanging in no particular order. Aunt Joanna’s on the phone and her purse zipper keeps getting caught as she paces up and down from the bed to bathroom that is clogged with shoes and underwear. I get her some water from the fridge and she mutters thanks and asks how we ever lived here for ten years. I reply that we used to live in a bigger apartment in Queens but Manhattan was just closer to work for Mom and most of my friends lived here or in Brooklyn. I didn’t have that many friends in Queens even though I went to LaGuardia. While she is standing in the apartment still on the phone, I look at the notepad again. It has names and cities and addresses, in sequence. The first one says Justine Kim-Scott, Los Angeles. That’s whom Aunt J has been on the phone with. The next one below says Paris, and another bunch of names. There’s Rome, Holland, Turkey, Greece, Macau, and a list of names next to the cities, mostly people I have never met.

At the bottom it says in her sharp handwriting,

Violet, you are bigger than the world.

The world could not contain me.

Do not be wherever you don’t want to be.

This is war and you must fight.

If you do not know why you are here,

Seek out people who can teach you.

And if you must die, do not apologize.

You will be returned to the stars.

I had found her face up on the bed next to me, I am guessing she had hoped to leave with some sort of dignity, like the photos of Khmer prisoners we saw at the high school museum in Phnom Penh, stoicism in the face of impending doom.

I am told to pack just the essentials, but I want to pack her long vintage pea coats that we bought in Brooklyn, the old Canon A1 camera without the lens cap that she barely used but I took everywhere. I want to rub my face against her satin dresses and wear the heels I will soon fully fit into. I want to pack her bottles of perfume, carry all her books of poetry, my photography she hung in frames.

Aunt J promises me that all will be in storage;  that I will come back to New York soon to collect the things, and she finally relents and lets me pick some stuff to bring with. I take a photo she took of a homeless guy sleeping on empty cans of beer, someone had sprayed graffiti all over him. I take a red satin dress she wore for someone else’s wedding, and the old camera. I agonize over my vinyl player and which book to put in my purse, but eventually pick a collection of her poems— on the cover is a crude painting of Plath she had got me to paint with fingers when I was ten, at the 92nd Street Y, with a crown of words that state: “You Are Ungovernable.”

I leave the vinyl player behind.

© Alicia Khoo

The Inimitable Livers

Written in Bangkok, Thailand

August 2012

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