Tuesday, March 3, 2015

"Lessons from Grandma Mimi"

So, it turns out I have quit a few friends of Korean heritage. Eastern ancestry has always fascinated me, mainly because I have absolutely NONE anywhere in my family tree. So I did a little research, pulled from some stories my friends have told me about their families, and wrote the following short story. Enjoy! 

“What? You don’t believe me?” My grandma Mimi incredulously said for the fifth time in less than ten minutes.

“No, grandma, I believe you,” I responded, the same as I had the first four times she’d said it.

“Well, it’s true!” She pressed, waving her wine glass in my direction. At that second she noticed that it was empty, and waved it at a hostess that was passing our table. “Hey, Toots! Some more of that last one. What was it? Chab-liss.”

“It’s pronounced Chablis, Mom,” my Dad said over his shoulder, from the little round table adjacent to mine and Grandma Mimi’s. He eyed her glass and his face fell. “Oh, come on, Mom! We go over this every time we go to a wine tasting! You’re not supposed to drink the entire glass! You swish, then spit into the bucket.”

“That’s disgusting!” She countered. “What a waste of wine! And besides, if I’d swished and spit, you and your sisters wouldn’t be here right now!”

Behind my dad, I heard my mother murmur “Oh my god,” to herself before covering her face with her hand.

I laughed. I couldn’t help it. Grandma Mimi might have been a crazy old lady, but she was a blast when she was drunk.

“Matthew,” she said to me, pointing with her hand that wasn’t holding the wine glass. The hostess appeared out of nowhere and refilled it, and Mimi grinned up at her, causing the countless wrinkles I her face to momentarily deepen. When the hostess was gone, Mimi repeated, “Matthew. Have I told you about when your grandfather and I left South Korea to come to America?”

She had. Within the last fifteen minutes, actually. “Yes, grandma Mimi. And about how you used to be a Muism shaman.”

Mimi blanched at my words. “What? You don’t believe me?”

Six times, now. I took a sip from my glass and swished the red wine around my teeth before spitting into the bucket. Hmm. Okay.

She jabbed an arthritic finger at me. “We had very important jobs! It was up to us to make sure that peoples’ spirits found their eternal resting places. Without our help, drifting spirits could get snared by all sorts of monsters and demons!” She paused long enough to drink from her glass. “That’s why your grandfather and I waited so long to come to America; I couldn’t in good conscience leave until I had trained a replacement.”

Some of the other people in the winery were starting to stare. I looked sheepishly at their tables and nodded an apology. Hopefully they’d simply think we were an eccentric family, and that would be that.

Which, when Grandma Mimi was “tasting” the wine, that’s pretty much exactly what we were. And I didn’t really mind.

“Well, I’m sure glad you did, Grandma Mimi,” I told her, trying to change the subject. “Because if you hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been born.”

“The hell you wouldn’t have,” Mimi said. “Me and your grandfather would have had children no matter where we were. That man was insatiable.”

Behind us, my mother muttered “Oh my god,” again.

“You don’t believe me?” Grandma Mimi insisted again.

This time, I actually hid my face. “No Grandma Mimi, I believe you… please, please, please don’t elaborate about Grandpa Pak’s… appetites.”

“Not about that,” she replied, waving her hand dismissively. “Good lord, we had five children. I thought that would be obvious.” I choked on a mouthful of wine as she continued, “I meant about shamanism.”

I wanted to tell her that it didn’t matter how strange her stories were, that I loved her and I always would and, if she said they were true, then they’d be true to me. However, I still had wine in my lungs from my grandmother’s earlier lack of tact. My reply came as a gagging cough.

It was apparently not good enough for Mimi. She knitted her forehead, apparently in deep thought, but then her face brightened. She took a small square napkin from the table and dipped her pinky into her wine glass. She then started scribbling on the napkin with red wine, occasionally going back to the glass for more.

I had never learned to read, write, or speak Korean, despite my dad’s insistence, so I couldn’t make out what Grandma Mimi was writing.

After a few seconds, once I was able to breathe again, I asked, “What’s that?”

“You’ll see,” she replied with a wry smile, writing more Korean characters with her finger and red wine. A moment later the napkin was covered with writing and designs. “Now, let me see your hand.”

Whatever Grandma Mimi was doing, I wasn’t sure that I wanted any part of it, especially in public. But refusing her would be extremely rude; not to mention that she’d never do anything to bring me harm. So I extended my hand to her.

She spun the napkin over and slapped the wine-covered side onto my open palm.

I held the napkin for a moment. “Um, Grandma Mimi? What’s this?”

Her glass was tipped to the sky, sliding the rest of its contents down her throat. “You’ll see,” she replied, a new wave of rosy complexion coloring her cheeks. She then turned to the hostess again. “Hey, toots! I’m sitting dry over here!” 

“Good night, Mom,” my dad told Grandma Mimi, stepping away from our guest room. “Be sure to let us know if there’s anything you need.”

“What, and be a burden?” Mimi replied facetiously, but there was humor in her eyes. “Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. If I need something and I can’t find it, I’ll just wake Matthew and ask him. He’s twenty-two and still lives with his parents; he should earn his keep.”

I smiled at my grandmother, not because I thought she was joking, but because I knew she would do exactly that, for exactly that reason.

My mother and father bid her a final goodnight, then left for their own bedroom. I kissed Grandma Mimi on the cheek, and then headed down the hall.

“Sleep well, Matthew,” Grandma Mimi said, and I turned to see the same wry smile on her face as before. She waved with one wrinkled hand, then stepped into the guest bedroom and closed the door.

I stared at the closed door for a moment, and found myself scratching the palm of my left hand. It had been itching since Grandma Mimi had slapped the wine-stained napkin in it, and it wouldn’t go away no matter how much I washed or scratched.

Whatever, I thought. As long as it doesn’t hinder my shooting. I went into my room, closed the door, and turned on my computer. I was scheduled to log on with my friends Daniel and Brent to play Zombie Nation: Hell and Back together, and it was my turn to take point. I put on my headset and logged into the game. Soon my friends and I were running around a post-apocalyptic nightmare, emptying heavy artillery into hoards of undead.

It was pretty much the best night ever.

We cleared the first act in fifteen minutes, a new record for us, when something outside my window first caught my eye. I couldn’t afford to look away from my screen, because I was aiming a grenade launcher into an incoming wave of zombies. Once the way was cleared of shambling corpses, I finally looked to window.

Of course, there was nothing there.

“Matt? Hey, Matt. We gonna do this, or what?” Daniel’s voice said over my headset.

“Yeah, sorry,” I said, turning back to the screen. I switched my machine gun and picked up a new health kit. “I thought I saw something outside my window for a second.”

“Dude, you live in the suburbs with your parents,” Brent said. “Someone trying to climb into your window is the best thing that could happen to you.”

“Shut up,” I grumbled, emptying my clip into the face of a charging zombie.

In the corner of my eye, something moved by my window again. While momentarily distracted, a zombie snuck up on my side and started gnawing at my brain. By the time Daniel and Brent had gotten it off of me, I’d lost half my health.

“Hold on, guys,” I said, sliding my chair back from my desk. “I need to close my curtains.”

I removed my headset and took one step toward my window. Then I froze. Because, this time, there actually was something outside. It resembled a dog, but its head was unnaturally long, and its eyes shone with an unearthly yellow light. It only had three legs, with nothing but a ragged stump where its front left leg should have been.

The air froze in my lungs, and I didn’t say anything until it opened its mouth and revealed row after row of long, serrated teeth. Then it lunged for the window. A long, purple tongue undulated from its mouth and caressed the glass, as if searching for a way in.

“Holy crap!” I screamed, stumbling backward. I tripped over my desk chair and landed hard on my butt, but it didn’t stop me from scrambling behind my bed and hiding like a complete coward. “Holy crap!”

There were three gentle knocks on my bedroom door. “Matthew? May I come in?”

Grandma Mimi.

My breath came in laboring huffs, and I tried to find the words to tell Grandma Mimi to call the police or 911 or the Ghostbusters or something. Instead I just wheezed in panic, unable to pull my eyes from the creature now getting to first base with my window.

My door creaked open without invitation, and Grandma Mimi peek inside. “Is everything okay, Matthew?”

I sputtered for a moment, and simply pointing a trembling hand at the window.

Mimi entered my room, wearing her nightgown. She turned to the window, and regarded the horrific creature as if it was the daily newspaper. “Oh, that. I figured he would have been here before now. It’s never taken them this long to track one down, but then again Korea is a long way from here.”

I gulped in a great breath. “Grandma Mimi,” I stammered. “What the heck is that thing?”

“That, grandson, is a samjokgu,” she said, as calmly as if we were discussing the weather.

“Grandma Mimi,” I began again. “What’s it doing outside my window?”

“Looking for a nice tasty spirit, would be my guess,” she replied, not taking her eyes form the window. “It smells you.”

I finally looked to her. “Me? Why me?”

She smiled, and the wrinkles around her eyes deepened. “I’ve had a little fun with you, I’m afraid,” she responded. “Remember that napkin I had you hold earlier? The samjokgu smells the imprint it left on you. You’ve got the stink of a spirit.”

“What?” I fumbled. “That’s… that’s crazy! That can’t be real!”

“Tell that to him,” Mimi replied, gesturing lightly to the window. The thing’s acrid-looking tongue still wiped the glass like a disgusting windshield wiper.

I swallowed, hard. I was starting to wish that, like Grandma Mimi, I’d not spit out any of the wine I’d tasted. “Can it get in?” I squeaked.

“Of course not,” Mimi said calmly.

I balked at her. “How can you be sure?”

She smiled again, the lines beside her eyes deepening. “Because I’m here.” Trotting to the window, she examined the dog-like creature through the glass. “I hope you’re not mad at me, Matthew. I simply wanted you to take the ‘mythology’ and customs of our people seriously. Back in Korea, the other shamans and I had to perform ceremonies to keep the spirits of the recently departed from being eaten by creatures like him.” She rapped the window with her knuckles, completely unafraid of the thing on the other side. “Terrible things can happen to spirits after samjokgu’s snack on them. But you have nothing to be afraid of, with me here. I may have trained a replacement long ago, but I’ve still got a few tricks up my sleeve.”

I blinked at my grandmother, then at the samjokgu, still licking my window like a child with an ice cream cone. “When will it go away?”

“Not until sunrise,” she replied, trotting back to my door. “So you might be in for an interesting night.” Once more with that facetious smile, Grandma Mimi opened my bedroom door and strode into the hallway. “Good night, Matthew. Sleep well.”

She shut the door, leaving me still stunned and sitting on my bedroom floor.

There was commotion coming from my headset, so I numbly picked it up and put it back on my head. “Sorry, guys,” I mumbled, my eyes still on the creature.

“Matt, what the heck, man?” Daniel said. “When you left, we got annihilated! Are you in, or what?”

The samjokgu’s horrible tongue continued caressing my window. “Naw, guys. I think I’m going to have to call it a night.”

“What?” Brent cried incredulously. “But we’ve only finished the first act!”

“Sorry, guys,” I replied, finally standing. “I have to… sleep in the bathroom tonight.”

“The bathroom?” Daniel asked. “Why?”

I gathered my quilt and pillow under my arms and replied, “Because it’s the only room in the house without a window.”

Ignoring the rest of my friends’ questions, I switched off my computer and left my bedroom, and the horrific slurping sound of the samjokgu’s tongue, behind.