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  • How I Came to Love You Like a Brother
  • Tien-Yi Lee (bio)

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[End Page 124]

Lucia said she was going to marry an Israeli man with a glass eye. It came as a shock, this news, as I had met him only once before, briefly, when I was in town for a meeting with a pair of squat but handsome attorneys, both with poultry-like thighs. His name was Yonah. He owned an organic foods store on the Lower East Side, down the street from a sex shoppe, across from the Pink Pony, next door to an Indian wine bar, beneath three floors of apartments that Lucia said he rented out to the yuppies who would soon take over the neighborhood. He had offered me tea, and I took peppermint green, and he scurried around, mashing Swiss chard and kale in a loud, industrial blender, barking orders to his nephews, or maybe they were second or third cousins (I never knew, there were so many), because they were sluggish in their work of unloading [End Page 125] ripe mangos and local beets off the delivery trucks. He was yelling often. I thought, This Yonah, he is quite a rough man.

He dusted the wine, mopped the floor, restocked packages of dried figs and goji berries and ginseng snacks on the shelves. I thought, This Yonah is an industrious man, intent on making his fortune as immigrants do. Lucia said he played chess. I'd never known my sister to play chess, though she was always excellent at puzzles as a child. Yonah didn't seem to me the kind to play chess either, nor to drink sulfite-free organic wine or eat goji berries. But they say, love is strange. And I wouldn't begrudge my sister love, nor any stranger, not even one who smoked and was the kind of man who always looked dirty, like he'd be odorous even fresh after a shower and would leave his camo briefs strewn about the bathroom floor. I admit, I was also disturbed, creeped out, by his too-blue, too-bright glass eye.

Lucia brought him to visit our mother, who was dying. Our mother was tilted back in a green suede recliner, wrapped in cotton blankets. She took a long look at this man—his workingman's shoulders, his thick lips and hands, his wide, flattened nose. Her Yoni had the essence of a duck, Lucia said (endearingly), or maybe a platypus, though she'd never seen one up close. My sister liked to discern people's animal and vegetable essences. In fact, she was usually right.

Our mother frowned as her gaze settled upon that shiny glass eye. She said, "What happened to your eye?"

"It was an accident, in Israel, when I was twenty-one." He said it quietly, but without any shame.

She said, "Is it blind?" Yonah nodded.

"You are divorced," she said, and I winced for him, I did. I tried to read his thoughts in the fluttering of that good, grayish eye. I wondered if Lucia had warned him that our mother was like that. I wondered what had been shared, what omitted, when the two of them exchanged stories over chess, over wine. I wished to say to this man: Do you really think you now know our Lucia?

"Thirteen years," he said. "I have been divorced for thirteen years." Our mother winced again, though it could've been from the pain shooting through her bowels, or her bones, or her chest.

"You are Jewish," she said. "Jewish are so aggressive. You have children?"

"Two," he said. "A son and a daughter. They are with their mother, in Israel."

At the mention of the other woman, our mother spat. Once, I suppose, she would have wanted to know more, like what did he do, or how old were [End Page 126] the children, or what were their names, or did they play musical instruments, and she might have told him that Lucia could recite thirty Chinese poems by the time she was three, or that she was a real talent on the flute, or...


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