A Storyby Yoon Choi
Soo occupies the high stool behind the register as her husband, Jae, brings in the cartons of eggs, the infant formula, the glue traps, the dried beans, the Little Debbie cakes, the single rolls of toilet paper, the strawberry cigars, the Jamaican castor oil, the yellow boxes of SOS steel wool, the cough syrup, the cereal, the hydroquinone cream, the little glass pipes of love roses, the foil-capped plastic-barrel drinks called Little Hugs, which their customers call grenades. It is a Wednesday. On Wednesdays Jae restocks the store.
“Just see this,” he says to her in Korean, setting down a final stack of boxes. “Would you just take a look at this?” He takes a Chosun Ilbo from the top of a box and slaps it on the counter. She doesn’t raise the reading glasses she wears on a chain around her neck. Without them, she can only discern that what Jae has put in front of her is some kind of an ad.
Men, she says to herself in consolation.
Soo knows that if Jae has a Korean newspaper, he must have dropped by Mr. Ro’s at the corner store three blocks over. She can practically see the two of them smoking and conferring on the concrete stoop. She knows their topics of conversation. The price of milk. North and South Korean politics. The Pennsylvania lotto. What worries her is when this talk results in a business idea. There was the time Jae and Mr. Ro drove back from the wholesalers on Broadway with a trunkload of weaves and wigs. She met the car at the curb with her arms crossed. There was just one thing she wanted to know. How much?
“Ten thousand dollars,” said Jae. Not to worry, they had used money from the kye.
Ten thousand dollars! The sum was so large that it didn’t strike her conscious mind so much as her conscience. That was the thing about the kye. Jae saw it as free money and she saw it for what it was: a revolving loan. She grabbed a wig and shook it at Jae. She said with passion that no woman wanted cheap, fake hair. Even poor black women didn’t want cheap, fake hair. What women wanted was real hair, human hair, virgin Remy hair. And wasn’t she right. Didn’t those unsold wigs sit in their basement for years in black garbage bags until the mice got to them.