Flash Fiction #147
I have known King Lee for more than ten years. I’ve always wanted to write about him, but have never come around to do it. It is not that I don’t want to write about it, but rather that I’ve always felt that I’m not ready. The thing is I’ve always wanted to write something fashioned after “King Lear”, which is a play I’ve read several times, and watched several performances of it online, but each time I quit half way through. I just couldn’t take the sadness of it. It’s too much. This is why I’ve always felt that I am not up to the task of telling King Lee’s story. Now at the end of 2022, I think I will have a crack on it.
King Lee is not a king. People called him Lee Keen before he came to America, and it’s in America he found that people follow a different naming convention–he is called Keen Lee here, similar to King Lee. Suddenly, he felt a little bit king like, a little bit of being acknowledged by the brave new world, although as a poor immigrant, he couldn’t be father away from the illustrious figure he imagined himself to be. He was so impressed by this detail that when he opened his restaurant, he named it “King Lee’s Palace”. However he was unwilling to pay for the full fee to make the signage for his restaurant. Eventually he had to settle for “King Lee”. Such a sign cost half as much as “King Lee’s Palace”.
He had never cooked before coming to America, but in the kitchen he worked, he was observant and he worked hard. He also saved money and forged good relationship. Within ten years, he opened his little takeout. Another ten years, he became the proud owner of a busy takeout and a popular restaurant. He had a very bad temper and was a little savage towards people close to him. However he could also be a charmer who knew how to talk with people to get business information, financing opportunity etc.
One day, at the age of 55, his best buddy and his cousin, who’s also his chef, dropped dead. It’s an unacknowledged epidemic among Asians who engage in the restaurant business–people just drop dead between 50 and 60 in a much higher rate than the general population. Heart attack, pancreatic or colon cancer, stomach bleeding. You name it. Or if he was lucky to evade the health scare, he was likely to fall asleep behind the wheel, being too fatigued by daily work, and get into a fatal accident.
His cousin’s death seemed to be a wake up call for King Lee, who decided to quit the restaurant business, retire back to his hometown, and start life anew. First, he called up his three sons to dispose of his property. So here is a bit of like King Lear’s plot, where he tested his three daughters on their professed love and loyalty to him. I have to say King Lee was not using the same strategy. Originally he thought of giving the restaurant to his eldest son, his takeout to his second son, and his house to his youngest son. However, his youngest son, the only college student in the family, spoke up against him, defending his mother, the long suffering wife of King Lee. In a fury, King Lee stripped his youngest son of the house he was intending to give him, and gave the house to his eldest son.
After giving his property to his sons, King Lee went back to his hometown, a little island off the coast Malaysia. He had a great time meeting friends and relatives, who treated him like a king. He also went to casinos in Philippine and Laos. He divorced his wife of thirty years and were dating a woman half his age from his village, but his money dwindled quickly. He asked his sons in America for money, but to no avail. Five years later, after exhausting all his funds, he came back to America, heartbroken and financially depleted.
Now back in New Jersey, he tried to live with his eldest son, but was kicked out after a month; he tried to live with his second son, but was beaten up by his daughter-in-law. He ended up living with his youngest son, who’s a struggling artist and was barely able to pay for his rent and food.
What can King Lee do? He’s now 60-years-old. Can he fight back against his heartless sons and the merciless fate?
I am still thinking of the ending. Do we want to have a happy ending, a realistically sad ending, or a murderous ending?