All right, said Fitzgerald.
I should have told you earlier, when I first got that feeling.
Youve given the issue some thought.
Not much. I just wanted to clarify.
Fitz picked up a shrimp chip by its edge, dipped it in the peanut sauce with red pepper flakes, and crunched. His face became sweaty and bloomed red as he chewed, then coughed. He grasped the water glass and took a quick gulp.
Ming said, Are you upset?
He coughed to his right side, and had difficulty stopping. He reminded himself to sit up straight while coughing, realized that he wasnt covering his mouth, covered his mouth, was embarrassed that his fair skin burned hot and red, wondered in a panicky blur if this redness would be seen to portray most keenly his injured emotional state, his physical vulnerability in choking, his Anglocentric intolerance to chili, his embarrassment at not initially covering his mouth, his obvious infatuation with Ming, orworst of allcould be interpreted as a feeble attempt to mask or distract from his discomfort at her pre-emptive romantic rejection.
Ming was grateful for this interlude, for she had now entirely forgotten her rehearsed stock of diplomatically distant but consoling though slightly superior phrases. Hot sauce. Im fine, he gasped, coughing. There was a long restaurant pause, in which Ming was aware of the other diners talking, although she could not perceive what their conversations were about. She said, Ive embarrassed us both.
Im glad you mentioned it.
So you are interested, she said. Or you were interested until a moment ago. Is that why youre glad that I mentioned it?
It doesnt matter, does it? What youve just said has made it irrelevant. Or, it would be irrelevant if it were previously relevant, but Im glad you brought up your feelings, said Fitzgerald. He picked up the menu. Dont feel obliged to tell me whether I needed to say what I just said.
It was great to study together. Youve got a great handle on . . . on mitochondria.
The waiter came. Ming felt unable to read the menu, and pointed at a lunch item in the middle of the page. She got up to use the bathroom, and wondered in the mirror why she had not worn lipsticknot taken a minute this morning to look good. Then, she reminded herself that she should have actually taken measures to appear unattractive. Nonetheless, Ming examined her purse for lipstick, finding only extra pens and a crumpled exam schedule. When she returned, they smiled politely at each other for a little while. They ate, and the noodles fell persistently from Fitzgeralds chopsticks onto the plate, resisting consumption. Ming asked if he wanted a fork, and he refused. After a while, as Fitzgeralds pad thai continued to slither from his grasp, Ming caught the waiters eye, who noticed Fitzgeralds barely eaten plate and brought a fork without Ming having to ask.
Fitzgerald ate with the fork, and craved a beer.
Were great study partners, said Ming, still holding her chopsticks. I want to clarify that its not because of you. She had to get into medical school this year, and therefore couldnt allow distraction. Her family, she said, was modern in what they wanted for her education, and old-fashioned in what they imagined for her husband. They would disapprove of Fitzgerald, a non-Chinese. They would be upset with Ming, and she couldnt take these risks while she prepared to apply for medical school. The delicate nature of this goal, upon which one must be crucially focused, superseded everything else, Ming reminded Fitzgerald. He stopped eating while she talked. She looked down, stabbed her chopsticks into the noodles, and twisted them around. He asked, What about you?
The above excerpt is the complete text of the short story "How To Get Into Medical School, Part 1" , pages 1-30 of Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures. Copyright (c) Dr. Vincent Lam, 2007. Reproduced with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
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