The Paris Review

ANTHONY VEASNA SO

Always they find us inappropriate, but today especially so. Here we are with nowhere to go and nothing to do, sitting in a rusty pickup truck, the one leaking oil, the one with the busted transmission that sounds like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Here we are with the engine running for the AC, the doors wide open for our bare legs to spill out. Because this, right here, to survive the heat, this is all we have.

An hour ago we became outcasts. One of us—not me—would not shut the fuck up. And since the grandmas are prepping for the monks and need to focus, we’ve been banished outside to choke on traces of manure blown in from the asparagus farms surrounding us, our hometown, this shitty place of boring dudes always pissing green stink.

And according to the Mas, everything about us appears at once too masculine and too feminine: our posture—backs arching like the models in the magazines we steal; our clothes—the rips, studs, and jagged edges—none of it makes sense to them. The two of us are wrong in every direction. Though Maly, the girl cousin, strikes them as less wrong than the boy cousin, me.

“Ma Eng can suck my dick,” Maly says, still not shutting the fuck up, her long hair rippling in the gas-tainted breeze of the vents, her blond-orange highlights dancing, or trying to, anyway. “What is up her ass? Seriously, I should have a say in this party’s fucking agenda. It’s my birthright!”

“At least Ma Eng gives a fuck about you,” I say, my chin resting on the steering wheel. Under the truck, the cracked concrete of Ma Eng’s driveway seems to be steaming, and I swear the very dust in the air is burning, it’s so hard to breathe. We can’t even listen to the radio, you know? Can’t focus on anything but our own sweaty boredom. I look up at the harsh blue sky, how it crushes the squat duplexes of G Block. I am trying to deprive Maly of my full attention, but her vivid presence, that vortex of cheap highlights, it exhausts my energy. Plus, she’s slapping the side of my head.

“Ves, Ves, Ves!” Maly says. “Look at me!”

“Jesus,” I whine, batting her hand away. “I thought you ‘gave zero fucks’ about this party. Why do you care if they’re making amok or not?”

“It’s what I want to eat, okay, and it’s my dead mom.” She violently throws her head sideways, cracking her neck. “I mean, apparently she’s not dead dead, anymore, but still…”

Unsure of what to say, I clench my teeth into a lopsided smile. I can’t help but admire her looks, as I always do. Almost with pride. Maly’s got it going on, no matter how disheveled. Even today, on this random August Sunday, as we wait to celebrate the rebirth of her dead mother’s spirit in the body of our second cousin’s baby, she looks good. Her left leg’s thrown up onto the dashboard, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she started clipping her toenails. She’s in a pair of jean shorts she stole from our other cousin, who was too chunky for them anyway, and a white T-shirt cut into a tank—also stolen—which she’s stuffed down her panties so you can notice her thin waist. Hard to say if it’s intentional, the way her clothes fit, all these hand-me-downs, which is the effect she uses, I guess, to chew up guys too dumb to realize she will spit them right out

Through her cheap sunglasses, I see responsibility, like I’m a dead broom reincarnated into a human, my sole purpose to sweep away her messes—whatever Maly happens to shatter next.

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