I pointed to the dish that was still sitting on the counter. That was in the bathroom, I told him. Noona was in the bathroom with that.
He noticed the pills Id arranged. You made a clock out of it? he asked.
Its a cake. Its my birthday.
Do you know the song?
I forgot it was your birthday, he said.
It doesnt matter.
How old are you now?
I know the song, Father said. Happy buss-day to you, he sang, running his fingers through my hair, happy buss-day to you. Happy His voice cracked. I continued singing. birthday dear Da-vid, happy birthday to me.
He quickly wiped his eyes with his sleeve and cleared his throat. What can I buy you? he asked.
I wanted to take my time to compose a thorough list, but looking at Fathers desperate face, I had to offer him something. A frisbee, I said, telling him the first thing that came to mind and regretting it immediately.
Wait here, Father said. He returned moments later with a white round disc approximately the size of a coaster. In the center was the familiar McDonalds golden arches. Ill get you a real one tomorrow, he said, handing it over. Happy buss-day.
So tomorrow Id have two frisbees that I didnt want instead of one.
We never went out to eat anywhere, so when Father told us we were going out, I knew something big was up. I was hoping for Friendlys, but we headed toward a Korean restaurant managed by one of Fathers friends, Mr. Lim. This didnt make any sense to me. Werent you supposed to go out to eat food you couldnt get at home?
Be quiet, Mother said. This isnt about you.
When we returned from busting our bellies with oxtail soup and pepper-laced rice cake, a piano had joined our living room. It stood upright and had a splotchy look to it, maybe because its two front legs were varnished a darker brown than the rest. Noona went to it like a person possessed, lifting the creaky keyboard cover and tracing the nicked rectangles of the ebony with her delicate fingers. The ivory keys were the color of Mr. Lims teeth, but Noona didnt seem to mind. She sat down and played a couple of riffs.
It sounds wonderful, she said.
Standing between Father and Mother, their hands resting on my shoulder, on my head, I watched my broken sister give love to her piano. I didnt know it then, but she was playing Beethovens Für Elise, a tune she could play with perfect execution from memory alone.
That evening, I listened to Father and Mother arguing. Apparently there was some confusion about where Father got the money for the piano. Mother thought he had it saved up, because thats what he told her. Actually, he borrowed the hefty sum from Mr. Lim.
Thats why we went there for dinner, to thank him, Father said.
You son of a bitch, Mother said. You lied to me.
You saw how much she needed it, he said. Whatre you complaining about?
Dont turn this around. Youre always turning everything around.
Come on. You cant fault me for this. Not this.
My parents voices and Noonas piano were intermingling, becoming oddly sing-song. It wasnt beautiful and it wasnt ugly. It just sounded like my family.
Excerpted from Everything Asian by Sung J. Woo. Copyright © 2006 by Sung J. Woo. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books, a division of Macmillan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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