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Erin Jamieson

Not the One We Gave Her

The Besud’s house is nestled in the sprawling urban spread of upstate Boston, a pleasant if modest townhouse, medium brick, light blue shutters, a rather ostentatious canary yellow door, wide French-style windows that flood the kitchen and front hall with the light of a mild April afternoon. The street is surprisingly quiet, a nook from the chaos of the city, functional charcoal streetlamps lining broken sidewalks.

    It is a thoroughly American home—one which still feels foreign to Yisu and his wife, Gerel. Only their daughter, who has never lived in Mongolia, has ever adjusted to living here. Inside a cluttered kitchen, Gerel sits at the kitchen table, cupping steaming milk tea, her dark hair swept in a careless bun, skin unlined though she is almost fifty. She is dressed like an American: jeans and a cream colored blouse from Target, large-rimmed sunglasses.

    Yisu enters through the front door, perspiring heavily from mowing what passes as a lawn. He is wearing a muted deel and loose trousers, accentuating his knobby limbs and lanky frame. His cheeks are leathery and caked with soil.


Yisu (approaching kitchen table): Did I hear the phone ring?

Gerel (sipping tea): Yes.

Yisu (pulling up a chair beside her): Who was it?

Gerel: Christine.

Yisu: Why do you insist on calling her that?

Gerel (glances at him): It’s her name.

Yisu: Not the one we gave her.

Gerel: It’s her name.

Yisu: What did she want?

Gerel: Why do you always assume she wants something? (shakes her head as she scans his clothes) You should change. You’re going to track mud all over the floors.

Yisu (brushing off some soil with his hand): It’s been a long time since she called. What did she say?

Gerel (taking another long sip): Blood tests came back.

Yisu: Blood tests?

Gerel: Yes.

Yisu: I didn’t think, well, I thought you said she wasn’t going to get any done.

Gerel: Guess she changed her mind.

Yisu: Oh. What type of tea is that?

Gerel: Chamomile. You’re afraid to ask, aren’t you.

Yisu: This American tea is tasteless. Like water.

Gerel: You’ve got to stop talking that way. We’ve been here too long to keep talking like that.

Yisu: What I wouldn’t do for some strong airag.

Gerel: Quit changing the subject. You don’t want to know, do you?

Yisu: I didn’t say that.

Gerel: Didn’t have to.


Silence, except for noises they have become accustomed to. The dripping from the leaking faucet Yisu promised to fix two months before. A car door slamming. A basset hound letting out a soft moan. Gerel stands, pushes her chair into the table.


Yisu: Where are you going?

Gerel walks over to the sink, setting the cup down with a resounding clatter. She rinses her hands under cool water, reaches for a paper towel. Yisu watches as she throws the paper towel in the wastebasket.


Gerel: Don’t look at me like that. I’m allowed to buy paper towels. Everyone else does.

Yisu: What were the results?

Gerel: Why don’t you ask her?

Yisu: She won’t talk to me. You know that.

Gerel: Not my fault.

Yisu: Just tell me.


Gerel reaches in the high cabinet, pulls out a multivitamin and pops it into her mouth. She takes a calcium supplement and a B Vitamin and a fish oil tablet. Yisu bites his lip.


Yisu: Please.

Gerel (still rummaging in the cabinets, back to her husband): Positive.

Yisu: Positive?

Gerel: That’s what I said.


Sunlight filters in through the window above the sink, bathing Gerel in a buttery light, highlighting the stray strands of silver in her thick hair. Yisu reaches for a skillet, the pasty body of a buuz dumpling seared on the side, the dishes beside it still smelling heavily of roasted mutton. He scrubs for a minute unsuccessfully.


Gerel: I’m going to the store.

Yisu: Now?


Gerel reaches in the fridge for a carton of milk, expired as usual, because Yisu refuses to help her drink it. She drinks from the carton’s mouth, the soured liquid dripping on her blouse.


Gerel: We need groceries. (gathers her car keys) You should call her.


Yisu leans over the sink after his wife leaves. He throws the rest of the paper towels away, reaches for the phone and starts to dial but he cannot remember the number and sets the phone back down.


Erin Jamieson received an MFA in Creative Writing from Miami University of Ohio. Her writing has been published or is forthcoming in After the Pause, Into the Void, Flash Frontier, Mount Analogue, Blue River, The Airgonaut, Evansville Review, Canary, Shelia-Na-Gig, and Foliate Oak Literary, among others.

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