Flash Fiction #156
“Well, we’ve been waiting for ten to fifteen minutes. They still haven’t shown up. Well, it’s just a social media call, but still we had to postpone our dinner for this. Also I wear more makeup than usual just to hide my ever increasing spots and wrinkles. And I have to wear this uncomfortable top just to look good for our video conference. It’s all in vain. Your brother and his wife just don’t show up.” Pammy says to her husband Pan.
“Well, Pammy, my brother is the mayor of my hometown. It’s just natural that he has been putting on a bit of air, but he is a nice person. He is probably busy…” Pan says. He is also wearing his favorite sweater, which makes him more youthful looking.
“What is he busying about? He is on vacation, visiting his daughter at her college…” Pammy says.
“Oh, Pammy, my brother must have a good reason if he is late for our scheduled call…” Pan says.
“Well, now their daughter got into this fancy school. What’s it called? I guess they will put on more air and ask us to wait even longer.” Pammy says.
“It’s Vanderbilt University. I told you several times.” Pan says, chiding his wife in a very affectionate way.
“Oh, such a fancy name, with so many syllables. I can’t remember it.” Pammy says.
“Now my niece is studying there and you have to practice pronouncing it in case the university name comes up in conversations.” Pan says.
“Oh, wow. I am not good enough for your fancy family if I can’t pronounce … What’s the university’s name again?” Pammy says.
“Now, Pammy, you are deliberately not learning it, aren’t you?” Pan says.
Pammy and Pan have settled down in New Jersey for years. They were originally from an island nation in Southeast Asia. Pan’s brother Ki used to be a lawyer, laboring in their hometown, which had grown into a city with more than a million residents. Unlike his more flashy American counterparts, Ki was a poor lawyer working in obscurity and couldn’t make much money. Actually for years, he could hardly feed his family. Pan assisted Ki financially for more than a decade. Then five years ago, Ki was elected the mayor of their hometown and he is now doing well for himself, to the point that he can send his daughter to attend an American college.
Originally Ki and his wife planned to visit Vanderbilt first, then hire a car there to drive north to visit Pammy and Pan. However upon arrival, Ki and his wife were not feeling that well, with jet lag, fatigue, and a bit of Covid symptoms. So they cancelled their northward journey.
At first, Pan seems to be calm and unconcerned with Ki’s not showing up for their virtual conference, but when the clock strike the half hour mark, he is becoming irritated.
“Ki used to be so friendly before he became the mayor…” Pammy sighs. And she continues to enumerates many instances when the mayor brother slighted Pan.
“OK, Pammy, don’t remind me of these…I don’t mind of it. He is still my brother. Well, to tell you the truth, I am quite annoyed. He’s always the big, charismatic brother while I am always the sidekick. He is always my mother’s favorite even during his poor lawyer days. My mother used to tell me, ‘Pan, you want to assist your brother financially, don’t you? He is too proud to ask you for assistance, but…’ Why is he always the favorite? I’m always considered the nerdy little brother while he’s the big shining star. We had changed our schedule just to cater to his wish of traveling and sightseeing in New York area. Now he suddenly announced that he was not coming north anymore. He never really considers me as a separate person with a person’s own plans–he just treats me as his appendages. Well, I can’t stand him. He becomes so arrogant now…” Pan says, his voice becoming increasingly loud.
“What are you shouting about?” Sam suddenly emerges. He’s a teenager now, a little sulky, a little pensive, often quite analytical like his father Pan. “I am hungry. I want to have some snacks.”
“No, Sam. No snacks. It will spoil your appetite for dinner.” Pammy says.”How about let’s eat dinner. I don’t think Ki will show up…”
“You do know that Vanderbilt is in Tennessee, which is one hour behind us, right?” Sam says.
Pammy and Pan look at each other and fall silent–they really don’t know. For the first time they realize that Ki is in a different time zone, and for Ki, the meeting time is not coming up yet.
“Of course we know. Sam, your parents are more Americanized than you tend to think. Vanderbilt is in Tennessee, close to Chicago, and both are one hour behind us. Remember our visit to Chicago two years ago? The lakefront reminds me so much of my hometown, which also has a waterfront with colonial structures.” Pammy reacts quickly.
Sam looks at his parents, who always pretend to have no faults. He feels a little dismay and a little despair. He wants to say Vanderbilt is not really so close to Chicago since it’s 500 miles away, but he can’t bring himself to say that. Sam feels sympathetic to his parents’ sad attempt at being flawless and blameless.
“Hi, my dear brother and sister, Pan and I miss you so much. We have been talking about you for an hour. How wonderful you are….Where’s Sam? Sam, don’t stay behind me. Come here to say hello to your uncle and aunt.” Pammy says as soon as the social media call between the two family starts.
“They feel so virtuous when they tell those little white lies…” Sam says to himself and smiles into the little camera hole on top of the computer screen.