The King of Kohlrabi

Alix Ohlin

It was a summer of disasters. I was sixteen and just starting to relax fully into my vacation when my father took my mother and me out to dinner at the New Chinatown and told us over the Kung Pao chicken that he had fallen in love with his law partner, Margaret, and the two of them were “going away for a while” to “sort things out.” While he was talking, he twisted a corner of the tablecloth into a ring in his right hand. My mother, leaning back in the corner of the booth, said, “Oh, for crying out loud.” She sounded annoyed. She was drinking a Mai Tai, as usual, and she had given me the umbrella, also as usual. Tonight’s was blue and I twirled it between my fingers. I was always pleasantly surprised that it really opened and closed, just like a real umbrella. I stuck it into a piece of my chicken and moved some baby carrots and water chestnuts into an arrangement around it, like small, edible patio furniture. No one said anything. I stared at the couple at the table next to us, who were sharing a Volcano, holding hands over the blue flame in the center of it. They saw me looking and loosed their hands as if they were embarrassed. 

“You know how much I love you both,” said my dad. My mother and I didn’t say anything to this. Margaret had been at our house for Christmas that year. She was a quiet, large-boned woman with a wide dark mouth and I had always thought she was a lesbian. 

“I thought she was a lesbian,” I said. 

“Well, she’s not,” said my dad. 

I drove home from the New Chinatown. I had just gotten my driver’s license but my parents wouldn’t let me take the car anywhere without them. My mom always sat in the front passenger seat, making a big show out of white-knuckling the armrest and covering her eyes when she thought I was being reckless. My father sat in the back seat and whistled. He was a good whistler, and that night he did an uptempo rendition of “I Get a Kick Out of  You.” 

I looked at him in the rearview mirror and wondered if he was so happy with Margaret the lesbian that he couldn’t stop being happy, even for just a few minutes, even for us. Then a guy came out of nowhere in a red Toyota Corolla, turning in front of me off a side street with a stop sign. I don’t know what he was thinking. 

“Aggie!” yelled my mother, gripping the dashboard. 

“It’s not my fault,” I said quickly, and braked hard, too hard I guess, and the car skidded to the left; the right front fender of our car collided with the side of the other vehicle. The driver, steam pouring from his car, got out and started walking around the dark street, clutching his arm and howling. Next to me my mother began to cry in a dry, sharp way, jaggedly inhaling. These two noises, my mother’s and the driver’s were the only two sounds; otherwise the night was quiet. We all sat there breathing. My father whistled the first few notes of  “Be Careful, It’s My Heart.” 

This was the second disaster. 

THE NEXT DAY my father packed a suitcase and left for Santa Fe, where he and Margaret had sublet an apartment for the summer. She came to pick him up in her Saab and they drove away together, leaving our crumpled Honda in the driveway. I watched from the bedroom window but didn’t say goodbye. As soon as they were out of sight my mother walked into my room without knocking and plopped herself down on the bed. 

“Things are going to be different around here now that your father’s gone, Aggie,” she said severly. “You’re going to have to give up your pampered life of leisure.” 

“What?” I said. I had planned to spend the summer learning to play the bass guitar so that I could start an all-girl punk band—and it was a good plan, except for the fact that I didn’t own a bass guitar and had no money to buy one—but Mom told me I would have to get a job instead. I wasn’t thrilled by the idea. My two best friends were waitressing, and they kept calling me up in the middle of their shifts, asking me to remind them never to do it again. 

“No, seriously,” said my friend Karen, calling from the pay phone at Shoney’s. “I am going to have a bruise the size of a quarter from where this guy pinched my butt. I mean, you should see him, Aggie. His fingers are like cigars.” 

Lucy, my other friend, was working as a hostess at a place where she had to dress up as a pirate, with an eye-patch and everything. When people from school drove by the front of the restaurant she ducked behind the counter, whether there was a customer there or not. If the customer got upset she’d say, “Sorry! It’s that peg leg of mine acting up again.” 

I put off the job search for as long as possible, but it wasn’t easy. Every night before she fixed dinner my mother would fling the cupboard doors wide open and sigh dramatically. 

“I guess I can eke something out from the supplies I have here.” 

“We aren’t going to starve, Mom.” 

She’d shake her head. 

“I don’t know, Aggie, you know what I make.” She was a substitute teacher. She made next to nothing during the year and exactly nothing in summer. “I mean, who knows if we’ll ever see your father again.” 

“Mom, he’s an hour away. It’s not like he absconded to Mexico.” 

“So far as you know.” 

She’d send me to the grocery store with twenty dollars and tell me to get enough food for the week. While I was gone, she hung around the living room building tall houses out of the “L.A. is for Lovers” cards I’d brought back from our last family vacation, three or four levels high, stretching across the whole dining room table. When I got back she’d blow on the structure and say, “See? Everything just collapsed like a house of cards.” This was her favorite joke. 

“Mom, I feel like you’re not handling this very well.” 

“Well, thank you for your honesty, Aggie.” 

“Why don’t you get out of the house or something? See your friends?” 

“Sure I will! I’ll invite everyone out for a fancy dinner! And what I’ll do is, I’ll use the money you’ve made in your new job.” At this point, we usually declared a truce and ordered out for pizza. 

THEN ONE NIGHT as I was weighing two pounds of potatoes (“It worked for the Irish,” my mom had said, “and it can work for us. Just pray there’s no famine, Aggie”) at Smith’s a man came up to me and said, “Excuse me, miss, what do you think of this kohlrabi?” 

“I don’t work here, sorry,” I said. He shook his head quickly. He was a short man, probably around five three or five four, with longish grey hair and tanned, stocky arms. 

“I know you don’t,” he said. “I’m asking you as a consumer. I need an impartial opinion. My wife wants me to bring home some kohlrabi, and it has to be perfect. If you knew her you’d know what I mean. The way she cooks it is so succulent, it’s just wonderful. She’s the Queen of the Kohlrabi. You should come by and meet her sometime. Anyway, if I don’t get the good kohlrabi I’m a dead man. So please, what do you think?” 

The vegetable he was holding up looked like some kind of alien space ship; four or five long stems shot out from a little pod in the center of it. At the end of the stems were green leaves which trembled gently in his hands. 

“I’ve never eaten kohlrabi,” I said. I had never seen it before, either. “So I have no basis for comparison.” 

“You don’t eat kohlrabi? Why? Do you have something against it? Is it something I should know?” 

“Look, I’m young, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet,” I said, and started edging away from the produce section. He followed me. 

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.” He seemed sincere, in a slightly insane way. “Look, a fresh eye is good, it doesn’t matter that you’ve never eaten any. Just look at it, and tell me what you think.” 

I picked itout of his hand and felt it briefly, cupping the pod in my palm like a baseball. The whole thing was a little strange and I looked over my shoulder towards the canned goods aisle, mapping an escape route in case things turned ugly. 

“Well, I’m no expert,” I finally said, “but this one seems a 
little . . . limp.” 


“Just a little.” 

“Oh my God, you’re right,” he said, taking back the kohlrabi and looking at it in a wondering way. “You are just exactly right. Thank you so much. Really, you’ll never know what you’ve done for me tonight.” 

“Okay,” I said. 

We shook hands, and I wheeled my cart away. I didn’t even know what kohlrabi tasted like or how you cooked it—this was the kind of thing I would have asked my dad, if he were around to ask. But he wasn’t. I finished up the shopping, and was standing in the express line just a few minutes later when the man came up behind me. I had a few things in my cart, nothing fancy. His was full of kohlrabi and gourmet cheeses. 

“This is very crisp,” he whispered. “I think she’s going to be happy, my wife.” 

“Good,” I said. 

“You eat very plainly,” he said. 

“We live in an age of austerity,” I told him. 

He looked surprised. “We do?” 

“Well, my mother and I do,” I said. She told me this all the time. I started putting the groceries on the conveyor belt. It was what my mom called peasant food, life’s necessities. I couldn’t help staring at the decadent foods, like Pop Tarts and Ruffles, that other people had in their carts. 

He nodded. I looked over at him and saw that he was very neatly dressed: he had on a grey T-shirt and jeans, both of which had ironed creases down the middle. 

“I’m Mr. Dejun,” he said. 


We shook hands and shuffled forward in line; he unloaded his kohlrabi behind my stuff. 

“So what do you do with yourself when you aren’t coming to the aid of strangers in grocery stores, Aggie?” 

“Well, right now, I’m supposed to be looking for a job.” 

“Is that right?” said Mr. Dejun. “What kind of job? Can you type?” 

I didn’t see why not. “I guess so.” 

“I’d like to hire you, Aggie,” he said. “I could use someone with your outgoing personality and discriminating eye for produce. Come see me tomorrow.” He pulled a business card out of the creased pocket of his T-shirt, and I put it in my pocket, and then we shook on the deal. 

I WAS AT his office by nine the next morning. His company, Dejun Enterprises, Inc., was a private environmental testing firm. They tested just about everything you could think of—water, soil, air, machinery, fabrics, textiles, even once, he confided, condoms. As soon as I got there Mr. Dejun took me on a tour of the place, through all the labs, where technicians in white coats hovered over long orange counters. On the counters were bunsen burners and petrie dishes and test tubes, just like the labs at school. 

“Listen, if you can think of something that needs to be tested, we’ll test it for you, that’s our attitude here at Dejun Enterprises, Inc. We test things that have never been tested before, and we test ‘em cheaper than anybody else. Never turn a job down. Listen, Aggie, I’ve been in business for a long time, and the only thing I’ve learned is that you always, always have to be willing to take the customer’s money. Got it?” 

“Got it,” I said. 

He led me down hallways and through the employee lounge. I was completely disoriented, but somehow we wound up back at the front reception area of the building. There was a frowning, wrinkled woman at a desk, wearing a headset, apparently to leave her hands free for smoking. The ashtray on the desk was full of cigarette butts. Next to the desk there was a free-standing fishtank holding greyish water. I wasn’t sure whether there were fish in it or not. 

“Sophia, you’re free,” said Mr. Dejun. “The cavalry is here.” 

“Yippee,” said Sophia, not moving. 

“She loves me,” said Mr. Dejun to me. 

“She’s a young one, isn’t she,” said Sophia. 

“Hi, I’m Aggie,” I said, and shook her hand. She didn’t really shake back. 

Mr. Dejun said: “Sophia is actually not the receptionist, she’s our accounts payable czaress. She is the Diva of Debts, aren’t you, darling?” 

“Sure,” said Sophia. 

“She loves me. The point being, Aggie, that she’s just filling in because we had to ah, part with the receptionist. But now we have you for the summer and we don’t have to hire a new receptionist until fall. Isn’t it great, Sophia?” 

“Good morning, Dejun Enterprises,” said Sophia. She lit a cigarette and blew the smoke at Mr. Dejun. 

“What happened to the receptionist?” I said. I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye and saw some fish emerging from behind the plastic plants of the tank. They looked okay in spite of the second-hand smoke. 

“She was a terrible liar. Are you a good liar?” 

“Pretty good, I guess,” I said. 

“Only pretty good?” 

“Actually, I’m an excellent liar. The pretty good part was a lie.” 

Mr. Dejun tilted back his head with all its long grey hair and laughed. His hair was stiff and bristly and maintained its shape when it moved, like a cloud formation. I could see the backs of his teeth. 

“You know, I’m really starting to get a kick out of you, young Aggie. Now listen. We get a lot of calls here, a lot of calls. And we can’t always take them, right? We’re only human, and there are only so many hours in a day. So sometimes we’ll come to you and say, if so-and-so calls, I don’t want to talk to him, tell him I’m in a meeting. Now if I were to say that to you, what would you do?” 

“Tell him you’re in a meeting.” 

“Excellent! That is exactly the right answer. You’re brilliant, Aggie. You are really terrific.” 

“What did the old receptionist say?” 

“It turned out that she was a very devout woman and she refused to lie. She’d say, ‘Yes, he’s here and available, but he doesn’t want to talk to you right now.’ Nothing about meetings. You’ve got to respect her integrity, but man oh man, did we have a lot of pissed off people on the phone.” 

SOPHIA GAVE ME five minutes of training and then left me on my own, carrying her big ashtray with her down the hallway. The front reception area was separated from the rest of the building by almost-walls that stopped about a foot from the ceiling. I was alone. Mr. Dejun was right—the phone rang all the time. Mainly I had to find out what kind of thing people wanted tested, and transfer them to the appropriate lab. There were labs for textiles, for chemical compounds, for river water and for drinking water. Besides transferring calls, mainly what I did was lie. I hadn’t even been up there for an hour before people started coming up to the front, introducing themselves, and saying things like, “If that jerk from San Miguel Water calls, tell him I’m out working in the field today.” Everyone who worked at Dejun seemed to be ducking somebody, clients, spouses, or accountants. Reports and results and bills were always overdue. This was how I got to know most of the people who worked at Dejun, through the lies I told on their behalf. I lied all the time, fluently and convincingly. It was kind of exhilarating. I told Lucy and Karen it was creative work. 

Within days life settled into a routine. I rarely saw Mr. Dejun, and then only when he was striding out the front door to meet a client for lunch, wearing small, beautiful grey suits. I wondered if he had to get them custom-made, since he was so short. Or maybe they were hemmed for him by the Queen of Kohlrabi. I punched a time clock and ate my lunch in the smoky employee lounge with the lab techs and accounting clerks and got paid every second Friday. I wore hose. It was like a game of real life. At five I’d head home and collapse on the couch, refusing to speak to my mother except in nods and hand gestures. 

“I talk all day,” I’d whisper exhaustedly, hand to my forehead. “Please, no more.” 

“Oh, you poor working stiff,” my mother would say. “Get changed and let’s watch the game.” 

Lucy and Karen were working nights during the week and so Mom and I spent the evenings slumped on the couch, watching TV and drinking beer. I had never drunk beer in front of my mom before, but it didn’t seem like a big deal. It was as if too many other things had gone haywire that summer to worry about a minor thing like the legal drinking age. We didn’t hear anything from my father or Margaret. Apparently they were still sorting out whatever needed to be sorted. Mom and I didn’t talk about him much. Mostly, we talked about the Dodgers. 

The whole time  I was growing up my father tried to get me to follow baseball, and I was never interested until the summer he went away. There was something about the games that was perfect for those nights, the lazy pace of long games, the commentators’ voices hushed and reverent and excited at the same time. By the middle of July I could trade statistics with the guys in the employee lounge. They treated me like some kind of child prodigy just for knowing division standings in the National League. They’d come up to the front just to ask me what I thought of the game. 

“The whole bullpen is pathetic! We’d have won it if that guy hadn’t blown it in the bottom of the fifth. Dejun Enterprises good morning.” 
Then one morning in July I woke up in so much pain I couldn’t breathe or speak. I just lay there in bed until my mother came to tell me I was late for work. She’d taken to wearing her housecoat most of the day and night, and she had stuffed into its pockets anything she might need over the course of the day: nail polish, a deck of cards, rubber bands, gardening tools. She was starting to look like some kind of crazy building superintendent. 

“What’s the matter with you, sailor?” she said, fishing a bottle of Tylenol out of her pocket and offering it to me. “Too much fun on the town last night?” 

“Guh,” I said. 

“Aggie, you know what? I think your whole face is swollen.” 


“Is that the only word you can say or is it some kind of new teenage slang?” 


She drove me to the emergency room, where they told us that my wisdom teeth were impacted, causing an infection in my mouth, and would have to be removed immediately. I was in no condition to argue. 

“You’re going to be fine, honey,” said my mom. “Here, drink some water.” 

“Has it been tested?” I mumbled. 

When I regained consciousness, I had four fewer teeth and no memory at all of their extraction. I didn’t even know what day it was. I woke up in my own bed, with a bowl of red Jell-O sparkling on the bedside table. I was starving and dug right in. 

“The princess awakes,” said my mother, striding into the room. She fluffed my pillows and stood back. She was wearing a suit and lipstick and looked like a million dollars. For a couple of seconds I wasn’t even sure it was really my mom at all. 

“Guh?” I said, not from pain but shock. Some Jell-O worked itself out of my mouth and dribbled down my chin. 

“Not this again,” Mom said. “Is that all you can say after being unconscious for two days? Can’t you find the will for just a few more consonants?” 

“You wook nice,” I said. 

“Thank you,” she said, pulling the curtains open to let in the sun. I winced. “I’ve been filling in for you at work. You don’t get sick days, you know. So when I told them you wouldn’t be in for the rest of the week, they asked me to substitute. Or I offered. Whatever, we agreed.” 

I leaned up on my elbows in bed. My head felt like a hot air balloon, something large and heavy floating over the rest of my body. 

“No way,” I said. 

“There’s no need to be rude,” she said primly. “I am a substitute, you know.” 


She shrugged. I hadn’t seen her this alert in ages. 

“Same difference. Look, I have to go, I’m late. There’s more Jell-O in the fridge if you want it, and some soup.” 

“You can’t really be doing this,” I said. 

She put her hands on her hips and said, “Oh, be quiet. You sound just like you father.” 

I sat up and started struggling with the bedcovers. In my weakened state it was like wrestling a bunch of monkeys. My own mother stood there and laughed at me. 

“Honey, come look at yourself,” she said. She led me by the hand to the bathroom mirror, where I gasped in horror. My face was around three feet wide. 

“Now, you just relax today. Frank says to take it easy, and get healthy, which is the most important thing.” 

“Okay.” I was back under  the covers before I remembered to ask, “Who’s Frank?” 

“I mean, Mr. Dejun,” she said. And that probably would have worried me if I had not immediately lost consciousness again. When I woke up throughout the day it was only to eat more Jell-O and leaf through the sports section, which my mother had left by the bed. The Dodgers were still having a lot of trouble in the bullpen, which was depressing. 

I WAS OUT for a week. After a couple of days I was well enough to get out of bed, but I didn’t. My face was still swollen and I was afraid that if I went outside I would frighten young children and dogs. Karen and Lucy came by between waitressing shifts to keep me company. Lucy had some rum she’d gotten from the pirate restaurant, and she and Karen used it to make some alcoholic Jell-O. We sat around in my room eating it with our fingers. None of us was having the summer we’d thought we would. 

“So where’s your mom, anyway, Ag?” 

“She’s doing my job.” 

“At Dejun Enterprises good morning?” 


“Your own mother replaced you in the workforce? Man,” said Karen, “that is just so typical of our generation. We have no control over anything.” 

“Yeah, man, you’re not a person, you’re a statistic,” said Lucy. 

“Thanks a lot, Peg Leg,” I said. 

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “Here, you can wear my eye patch if you want.” 

“Cool,” I said, putting it on. Karen and Lucy burst out laughing. “Ahoy, mateys,” I told them from between my puffy lips. 

AFTER THE SWELLING had mostly gone down, I went back to work and my mother stayed home, but nothing was quite  the same at Dejun; it was just too weird that Mom and I had done the same job, and everyone there had met her. The textile-testing guys came up front and said, “Hey, Ag, your mom is cool. And now we know how come you know so much about baseball.” 

Now this was unfair. Everything she knew about baseball she’d learned from me just that summer. 

“Actually, no,” I started to say, but then I had to answer the phone. 

“Dejun Enterprises good morning.” I was a little out of practice, and my mouth felt sore and dry. The hours dragged past until I went home and sank into the couch to watch the news. This was when I realized that disaster had struck yet again. 

What happened was this: a truck carrying chemical material tested by Dejun Enterprises overturned on the interstate in Tijeras Canyon and spilled. Dejun had tested the stuff, inspected the storage containers, and declared it safe to transport, but environmentalists at the scene were saying that it wasn’t safe at all, and that the truck should never have been allowed on the road. Police sealed off the entire area with a roadblock, causing massive delays. The road was contaminated, the soil was contaminated, everything was contaminated. I had never heard of the chemical, and I didn’t know what it looked like, but I pictured it as a fluorescent green ooze, spreading itself like a living thing across the ground. The reporter, her stiff black hair barely flapping in the canyon wind, said that there was some question whether Dejun had even looked at the stuff before issuing its report. Camera crews shot Mr. Dejun going into his house, repeating no comment, no comment, his scowl barely visible under a sport coat he draped over his head. Allegedly was a word the reporter on the scene used a lot. In the darkness of the canyon behind her, groggy families evacuated their homes, children asleep in their parents’ arms. 

From the moment I punched my time card the next morning everything was chaos. All the techs were gathered in the hallways outside the labs, whispering like crazy in chemical terms. I got to the front desk and all fifteen lines were blinking. I took a deep breath and dug in. “Dejun Enterprises good morning. I’m sorry, Mr. Dejun is not in, would you like to leave a message? I’m sorry, I don’t know anything about that. Dejun Enterprises good morning.” 

The next time I looked up it was ten o’clock. Mr. Dejun came thundering in, wearing a dark blue double-breasted suit with gold buttons. 

“Don’t talk to the press, young Aggie!” he said, grabbing a fistful of While You Were Out slips. “Don’t let anyone here talk to the press either. Don’t talk to them, whatever you do!” 

“But I’m the receptionist,” I said. “I have to talk.” 

“This is no time for secretarial humor,” said Mr. Dejun sternly. “Now listen, I’m out to everybody except my lawyer.” 

“Dejun Enterprises good morning,” I answered. All fifteen lines rang constantly. All the newspapers and radio stations and TV stations in town called. It was weird to talk to people I usually watched on TV at night. It wasn’t just the press on the phone, though, it was people who’d driven through the area around the time it had taken place. I took down all their names and numbers. Pink messages piled up around me like leaves. My voice cracked and went dry. No one came to the front to see me, or talk ball, or tell me what was going on. For all I knew, I was the only one there. 

“Listen,” a man on the phone said. “I have a young child who was exposed to this stuff. He’s four years old, my son. Please, isn’t there anything you can tell me?” 

“Hold on, please,” I said. I picked up another line and hung up on the person so that it would be free; then I called Sophia’s extension and asked her what I should say to people with young children who’d been exposed. 

“Take a message, for chrissake,” said Sophia. I could hear her exhaling smoke. 

“But what about his kid?” I said. 

“Take a message,” she said. I did. 

“Is someone really going to call me back?” he asked.

“Of course they will,” I told him convincingly, but I knew that it was a lie. Then I took off the headset and walked outside and caught the bus home. There was no one at the house. I walked around the living room. I looked at the pictures on the mantel—my grandparents, my parents’ wedding picture, me on vacation in L.A., me graduating from junior high school, me and Mom and Dad sitting on the living room couch. There were more pictures of me than anything else. I picked up the phone and called work. Sophia answered, and I hung up. I went upstairs and crawled into bed. 

I WOKE UP at night, and lay there for a while, trying to decide whether to just keep on sleeping. I could hear the rhythmic sounds of the ball game. I was hungry, so I went downstairs. Mr. Dejun was sitting on the couch in the TV room, watching the game with Mom. He was still wearing his navy blue suit, minus the tie and the jacket, which were folded neatly over one of the armchairs. He had taken his shoes off and had his feet up on the table. 

“Hi Frank,” I said. 

“Aggie,” said my mom. Sitting on the couch Mr. Dejun came up to her shoulder, which was bare and pale. Ordinarily by this time in the summer she’d have freckles there, from mornings spent outside tending our garden. But not this year. She was wearing a sundress and her eyes were shiny. 

“I was worried about you, young Aggie,” said Mr. Dejun. “I thought I’d come by and see how you’re doing.” 

“Fantastic,” I said. I thought that he was not a very good liar, and would be a terrible receptionist. I went into the kitchen and got a beer. I was sort of expecting someone to follow me in there but nobody did. I went out the back door and sat on the step of it, sipping my beer and looking at the stars. It was a nice, clear night. The phone rang, three times. I sighed and got up. If there was one thing I couldn’t stand hearing that summer, it was the sound of a ringing phone. 
“Dejun Enterprises. I mean, hello. Shit.” 

“Aggie, it’s me,” said my dad. 

I couldn’t think of anything to say and so I didn’t. I picked up the phone and carried it back outside with me. 

“Ahoy, matey,” I finally said. 


“Never mind. How’s Margaret?” 

“How are you, Ag? Are you all right?” 

“Who wants to know?” I said. 

“I understand you’re upset,” Dad said. “I understand you’re mad. I’m sorry I haven’t called. I’ve had some things to work out, do you know what I mean?” 

There was silence on the line. I was listening for the game, trying to get the score and the inning, but I couldn’t hear it any more. I drank some of my beer, gulping it noisily down my throat. 

“Ag, you know, sometimes adults and kids get the same sorts of feelings about their lives—you know, um, powerlessness, feeling trapped and that kind of thing.” 

“Are you speaking hypothetically?” I said. 

He took a deep breath and let it out. I imagined Margaret in the background, giving him big, encouraging nods with her big, wide head. 

“What I mean is, sometimes adults don’t know what to do, like kids don’t always know what to do. Do you understand what I mean?” 

I looked up. The stars blurred in my vision and I shook my head a little bit to clear it. “Sure I do,” I said. “I just have one question—who’s the kid in this scenario, you or me?” 

“You’re so sarcastic,” he said in a soft voice. “You sound just like your mother.” 

“It’s not my fault,” I said. 

“I know,” he said. “I know. Okay, listen.” He was all business all of a sudden. “I hear you had a bad day at work. Do you want to talk about it?” 

“Who told you that.” 

“Your mother called me and told me.” 

“Oh,” I said. I didn’t even know she knew where to get in touch with him. Tears slid down the receiver and collected in the base of it, cool against my cheek, sliding into the little holes.

“Ag, your mother knows, and I hope you know too, that I love you more than anything. That’s one thing we see eye to eye on, and that’ll never change, no matter what else happens.” 

I felt like this was the worst thing I’d ever heard. The King of Kohlrabi was in my living room drinking a beer in his socks, and I had to talk to my dad on the phone with a lesbian who wasn’t a lesbian listening in the background. Somewhere in the desert green slime was oozing towards families as they slept. What else was happening all around me, all the time, and I couldn’t do anything to stop it or even slow it down. 

“Dad,” I told him, “Mom’s inside watching baseball with Mr. Dejun.” 

He said, “Oh? So how’s the game?” 

I sighed, and then the sigh turned into a hiccup. 

“You like the Dodgers this year?” he asked. 

“Their bull pen is a disaster,” I said. 

“You’ve really been following? Aggie, there might be hope for you yet.” 

“Maybe,” I said. “Are you coming back?” 

“I don’t know,” said my dad. “I just don’t know.” 

“Okay.” I stood up and looked at the night sky. The sound of cicadas throbbed around me. 

“I have to go now,” I said. 

“Listen, Aggie, take down my number, okay? Take it down so you can call me whenever you want. Do you have a pen?” 

“Sure,” I said. I didn’t. But I closed my eyes and listened carefully to his voice in my ear, as if I were taking the most urgent message. As he told me the numbers I traced them, small and invisible, in the air in front of me, and then I let them go out into the night.