This is an experiment. Yes, that’s how we’ll start.
The three of us sit silently on the hillside, looking down on the barren fields. It’s the season when the dry winds blow. K has given notice he’ll be visiting. We’ve been turning the stable for the cattle into a little house for people—it’s taken six months. This little house is all that’s left to us, and here we are together again, back in battle mode.
I’m not sure how the K Wars ever started. K was the only one who had stayed behind—he couldn’t bear to leave our parents. And so the three of us were away when the accident happened. K was in the back seat and he alone survived. Afterwards our relationship regressed—it was like the day he first arrived, Father carrying him piggyback. That winter day when they spotted him at the marketplace. He was our age but very slow of speech, and when we tried to stand him up he plopped right down again. We got him deloused and scrubbed him clean and dressed him in our clothes. He became child Number Two of four—not that anyone ever asked us.
Before us the road to town drops through a mile of dry fields, scrub, and trees. Number Three says we should go for closure with K. But how? Whenever she opens her mouth, a bomb goes off in my head, leaving an acrid stink. Number One’s panic [End Page 259] attacks are back—she’s felt nauseous almost daily. Her wiring is hopelessly tangled, making it difficult for Number Three and me to go along with her decisions. I have nothing to suggest, and even if I did I wouldn’t feel confident carrying it out. Nor can I be persuaded by Number Three. K’s name, the moment it’s uttered, has that effect on us—it paralyzes our collective existence; normal communication breaks down.
Our parents dead in an auto accident? We didn’t see it and so we couldn’t believe it. The lack of an explanation from K didn’t help. And he was the sole heir? Impossible. Our lives were consumed by the half dozen lawsuits we filed. Still, we felt compelled to prolong the wars. K was not a tactician but he always emerged victorious, an outcome that brought our fighting spirit to a boil.
I’m back inside, carried away by the blend of pungent smells—the sesame oil, the soy sauce, the garlic, the hot pepper. I taste the food I’ve prepared. Guess what—they’re K’s favorites. But dishes we like too.
Number One has already fled to town, cradling her head, saying the ticking of the wall clock is pecking at her brain. Number Three has disappeared to her basement studio, declaring that all is under control. Just me and K sitting across the table from each other—who would have thought it?
A gust of wind hisses through the kitchen. I sit at the table talking calmly to myself, mustering my energy. It’s only an experiment, but the last one. With a finger I begin to trace a word on the bare table. My chest tightens, my fingers cramp up. My hand curls into a stubborn fist, and steadying my breathing, I plant that fist in the center of the tabletop.
At 10:55 a faint shadow at the bend in the bleached road reveals K’s arrival. So frail and gaunt the last time we saw him, he’s now limping up the hill, walking crookedly but under his own power. Gone are the crutches that used to extend from his armpits like wings.
I cover my stubborn fist with my left hand, press down, and begin tracing another word. It’s like inscribing wind-hardened [End Page 260] desert with a rock. My fist writes words that would take hours to produce if uttered, arranged in the simplest syntax and yet the most arduous words to convey. First his name. Gasp. And then three syllables, taking shape more slowly...