- Samantha Der
The Truth About Monica: A short story
The glint off the top of the commercial plane made Monica’s eyes hurt. She grabbed her bag and moved to a different seat where she felt more comfortable, away from the glare. She would have to wait at least another half hour before boarding her flight to L.A., but she didn’t mind. She was just happy to be moving somewhere new. The time had come to get out of Dodge—or Shiwanosh. Perhaps things hadn’t been insurmountably terrible; but to be honest, she had been getting some pretty weird vibes from people in town. At the time, she didn’t quite know what to make of it.
Shiwanosh College was a small, local school nestled among the cornfields of rural Wisconsin. Just two weeks ago, Monica was sitting in a barn off-campus sipping beer with a bunch of sturdy, nineteen-year-old Wisconsinite boys, who were smoking cigarettes and swapping cow-tipping stories. She recalled how there was a distinct earthy scent of fresh hay and ripe farm animals. She was proud of the heartland where robust crops and dairy farms produced food and nourishment for so many. She was grateful for nature’s abundance, the result of hard work and grace of the universe.
There were, however, a few things that made her feel a bit uncomfortable in that barn. For one, there was something concerning, something peeking out from under the brush on the ground, not too far from her feet. She wondered what it was and, to be quite frank, she started to really obsess about it. But, Monica made a massive, concerted effort to ignore it and not overreact. I mean, if she jumped up and down and started shrieking and pointing and running around like a chicken with her head cut off, that would be rude. She also didn’t want to lose her cool with her peers, these young folks she had just met. So instead, she leaned back on the creaking, rickety crate she was sitting on and tried to act all laid back with a frosty bottle of Schlitz in her hand. Yep. Just blend in with the boys.
Speaking of the crate she sat on, uh, that was another little issue. Monica noticed that it seemed to have some quite large, possibly dangerous, sharp splinters. But no biggie. She just kept a laser focus on the dudes shooting the breeze. They were so chill and funny. When they laughed, she laughed heartily along with them. They were genuinely hilarious and they seemed to accept her in that moment.
Someone once told her to ‘Just be yourself. Don’t try to be like someone else.’ A certain amount of acclimation made life a little easier at Shiwanosh though. She certainly pared down what she used to wear, and left at home the white leather boots, studded t-shirts, and gold necklaces that were all the rage at her high school. The 'oy vey iz mir' princess mentality certainly wasn’t a thing here. She may have dropped some of the glitzy attire and attitude, but the fact remained that she still stood out from the others at Shiwanosh, perhaps just as much as she did back home.
Monica noticed that Chris, the tall, lanky blond, had been constantly staring at her in the barn. Monica wondered if her hair looked okay or totally gross. She had recently had her long, dark locks permed. That morning she had also lightly sprayed the sides to form wings, but they had already collapsed in the heat and humidity. She awkwardly pushed her hair behind her ears, still feeling the weight of Chris’s eyes on her.
Then, Chris opened his mouth. “If I brought you home with me to where I’m from, my parents and I might accept you, but a lot of people would stare,” he said.
“What?” replied Monica, who felt his comment was strange and out of place.
“They’ve never seen someone like you. They wouldn’t know what you are,” explained Chris.
Monica was annoyed. “Are you saying I’m like some kind of alien?” She forced to herself to lightheartedly chuckle.
There was no response from Chris. His eyes were locked on Monica’s face, but his mind was somewhere else. Monica wanted to snap her fingers and say, “Hey, you. Snap out of it!” She tried to ignore him, but his staring was relentless. It was as if he was entranced.
Monica seriously wanted him to stop. She had a notion to cross her eyes, pull her face into twisted contortions using both hands, stick out her tongue and make funny noises, just like she and her siblings and cousins would do as kids when they visited a relative, and a bunch of neighborhood ragamuffins would yell out, ‘ching chong!’ Monica and her siblings and cousins actually shared quite a bit of fun and laughter with their silly antics. Power in numbers, I guess.
Anyway, Monica didn’t say or do any of the above. She had zero romantic interest in Chris, so he need not worry about taking her to his hometown to meet the parents and such. She did try to play off his odd behavior and ease the awkwardness though.
“So where are you from?” asked Monica.
“Me? I’m from a small town in upper Wisconsin called Eagle River,” answered Chris.
“Where are you from?” interjected Jake, another guy in the group who had been clowning around wearing a Cheesehead hat, clearly a big-time Packers fan.
“She’s from here, Shiwanosh, right?” said Chris. “She works at the sandwich shop.”
“Oh, yeah, you’re the waitress girl Chris mentioned,” said Scott as he lit up his fifth cigarette and blew smoke out of the side of his mouth. “You work at Mitchell & Michelle’s?” he asked.
“Yes,” answered Monica. It’s true that she had been waiting on tables that summer for extra money at the local soup and sandwich bistro. It was there that she had recently met Chris, who invited her to hang out with some friends that evening. What Monica didn’t say was that a relative of her family had randomly bought that on-campus restaurant. For some reason, they thought it was a good investment. The distant uncle had hired managers to run the place and didn’t show his face, because he was concerned about racism in that homogenous town.
Jake took off his Cheesehead hat. “Where’d you get your accent from?” he asked Monica.
“I’m not sure what you mean,” said Monica.
“You talk like you’re a news anchor, like someone on TV. Your English.”
“I don’t know,” replied Monica. She honestly didn’t know what Jake was talking about.
“Where are your parents from?” asked Jake.
“My Dad’s from out East…”
“Yeah, see,” nodded Jake with an of-course-look on his face. “And your Mom?” he asked.
“My mom’s from the West Coast. It’s funny because my parents were from opposite coasts and yet they met here in the middle, in the Midwest,” said Monica smiling.
Jake sighed and shook his head. “Where were they born though?
“My mom was born in the Bay Area and my Dad was born in upstate New York.”
“NO!” said Jake with sudden irritation in his voice that took Monica by surprise. “So, like where were your grandparents born?”
Monica was flustered and answered the question. “They were both born in California—"
“Oh, come on!” yelled Jake. He actually sounded angry.
Monica tried to better explain, “Well, see, my great-grandparents were also—" but she was abruptly cut off.
“OH MY GOD! She’s not getting it!” snarled Jake who abruptly got up, grabbed his can of Pabst and walked off.
Monica was stunned. What just happened? She was genuinely confused. What wasn’t she getting? What was she missing? She was answering his questions. She wondered if he wanted to know what her ethnic background was. But, he didn’t ask that. She was on her way to telling her whole family history anyway, but he obviously didn’t want to hear it. She couldn’t believe Jake just walked out on her.
Things got a bit more weird and awkward after that. Monica was still trying to recover from the whole Jake incident when one of the big, sharp splinters on the crate started to really poke her tender tuchis and cause great discomfort. Perhaps those few sips of beer had gotten to her head too, because Monica began babbling that she was thinking about transferring to a school in California.
“You’re not going anywhere,” grumbled Chris. “You’re just a waitress girl. Don’t get too big for your britches!”
Monica was shocked by Chris’s rude reaction. “Meshuggeneh, you’re grody to the max!” was on the tip of her tongue. She wanted to blurt out that she was actually from Chicago, not Shiwanosh. In fact, she was actually from a pretty progressive, swanky suburb where she was raised to know that she could pursue whatever she wanted and expect the best. Sky’s the limit! She wanted to tell Chris off. She wanted to say, “Do you know who I am!”
But, she knew how local Shiwanosh people viewed people from Chicago. They called them 'city slickers' and believed people from the big city were not to be trusted. She already didn’t exactly fit it. She wasn’t going to make things worse by divulging every detail of her background. Perhaps, she had already said too much.
Then, she saw it come out. She had thought it was a piece of cow dung, but no. A mangy, brown rodent ran out from under some brush and headed straight towards Monica’s feet. Immediately, yet discreetly, Monica stood up from that horrible crate and put her foot down. She stomped once with her white Nike gym shoe with printed colored laces, and the little creature turned and scampered off to a corner under some hay. That was it. Monica was out.
“I have to go back to the bistro for my shift. It was nice meeting you all,” said Monica as she put down her Schlitz and picked up her purse.
Chris said nothing. He just watched as Monica walked towards the open barn door. Scott was preoccupied with trying to light up another cigarette. When Monica walked through the open doorway, she paused and then turned around and stared at Chris. Even from a distance, her bright, brown eyes held a laser focus. The intensity made him look away.
“Don’t be such a schmuck, Chris,” said Monica.
When Chris looked back up, perplexed, she added, “I hope you take care.” And then, she was gone.
The airport gate was full of waiting passengers and Monica was still waiting along with them. The gate agent had announced they were cleaning the airplane cabin. Monica thought about tracking Chris down and telling him that she was on her way to L.A.—UCLA. Ha! But, what purpose would that serve? He would figure out his life. And, she was discovering hers. It was best to move on.
Monica rummaged through her big, white leather purse embellished with studs and tassels. She finally pulled out a plastic bag filled with assorted treats that she had tucked away—some no-fat matzah, a small roll of haw flakes candy, and a round and flaky, black bean pastry. Monica chose the sweet and rich pastry. She had just sunk her teeth into the crisp, buttery shell when the gate attendant got on the microphone. “Calling group number two. United Airlines Flight 2649, Chicago to L.A. Group number two may board.”
Monica quickly wrapped up her food and stuffed it back into her purse. She got up, pushed her sunglasses up on her head, collected her big, fake, Louis Vuitton bag and swung it over her padded shoulder. Onward to brighter, sunnier times, thought Monica. Monica Shue was nineteen and turning twenty soon. She was ready for new experiences and the next big adventure. Hopefully L.A. would be more her style.
Samantha Der is a regular contributor for The Universal Asian. To learn more about her, check out her Contributor’s Page here.