Here’s Yem sleeping. He’s laying ass up in the air. His nipples are flat on the mattress. He’s Asian (Korean?) and balding and half-fat, half-not-fat. He exhales and then slides his knees and dips flat onto his stomach like step-two of a caterpillar’s crawl. He rolls onto his side. His mouth makes a sound like when you pull a spoon out of porridge. What dreams are in his head, if any? What world will he awake to?

Yem wakes and inspects himself. He looks at his belly in the bathroom mirror. He looks at his man-boobs and his facial hair. He knows deep down that he needs to shave, but decides not to. He knows he needs to stop drinking and eating so much chocolate. He senses that the density of his man-boobs has increased dramatically in the last six months. Six months ago he was fitter, it seems. He looks at the purple underneath his eyes. He looks at the grease and the white flakes in his hair. He smells his own breath.

He hasn’t been up for five minutes and he is already angry at himself. He doesn’t say anything, he doesn’t even groan. Yem strips and turns on the shower and twists the faucet delicately trying to find a perfect heat that never comes. He steps under the water and lets it run. He has a song in his head, but refuses to sing it aloud. He doesn’t want the neighbors to hear (him sing). Yem picks the chunks of white anti-perspirant from his armpits. He covers himself in soap and washes. He knows, deep down, that he needs to shampoo his hair, but decides not to. Just a rinse for Yem this morning.

Here is Kevin, 11, wearing the same shirt he wore yesterday. He’s half the size he should be for his age. His passions are rap, violence and sexual jokes. He’s told Yem to fuck off six times in the last week.

Here’s Umur, 11, walking in. He’s a second generation Kenyan. He’s got on those gray jogging pants. He’s twice the size he should be for his age. Umur’s thyroid is fully stretched. His voice at 11 is deeper than Yem’s. Umur is the class pervert. He looks at things while breathing heavily. He bites his bottom lip when looking at the buttocks of any male or female within the school. He sweats. His body odour is putrid. He’s asked Yem on a date at least three times. He touches himself. His file indicates possible molestation.

Here’s Ashlynne. She’s short and fat. Her hair falls in coarse brown strands like frayed string. Her back is arched inward and her front is layered in fat. She’s like a small harp covered in folds of flesh. Her mom’s got an amazing sense of fashion and Ashlynne’s decked out. Today she’s wearing red child’s size XL high-waist shorts and a gray child’s size XL mid-length pocket t-shirt. Oh god is she overfed. She’s like some sick parody of what little girls should look like. Her eyes are the eyes of a spoiled child. Kevin calls Ashlynne the Samsquanch. Yem pretends not to hear the epithet, partly because he is afraid of Kevin, partly because he believes Ashlynne to be an actual Samsquanch.

A half-warm cup of coffee fills and lets off no steam. The cup is cheap Dollarama Styrofoam. The coffee is cheap President’s Choice house blend. There’s a fried egg sandwich poorly wrapped in plastic wrap. It gets unwrapped. The egg is cold. The bread is white. There is a faint spot of green-white mold growing and slowly extending in thousands of fungal filaments on the underside of the sandwich, the part that touches the cold fried egg. Yem hasn’t noticed. He eats the meal.

Effort is placed on pretending the meal is not actually being eaten. The diversion leads to contemplation of nutritional value. That’s the important stuff. Bugger taste. Yem needs the carbs and protein. He looks at the Snickers bar in his bag. A glance at the amount of fat and the calories displayed on the label. Strong is the knowledge of what a Snickers bar tastes like. Fat is no big deal. Yem will do push-ups tonight. Yem will dust off the treadmill. His man-boobs and his gut are both forgotten. The Snickers is gone in less than forty-one seconds. The regret has set in on the thirtieth second. He regrets eating the chocolate bar and equally regrets not having another chocolate bar to eat at that moment. The wrapper of the chocolate bar is inspected for chocolate crumbs. The crust of the fried egg sandwich remains uneaten.

The last of the once warm but now cold coffee is gulped. A terrible expression appears on Yem’s face. It (his face) looks like when you kick a man in the balls. It (his face) looks as if it is being pinched from the inside.

Here’s Yem sitting at a computer desk. The computer makes terrible, insectoid sounds. The computer is old. The plastic is white-gone-oliveish due to the amount of nose-picking and food-eating and masturbating that Yem has done around it over the last three years.

Here is a routine: one hour, pants down, ass-cheeks stuck and sweaty on his black leather chair, Yem looks through half a hundred free online videos for the perfect five second clip to climax upon.

No vegetables in the fridge. The milk is one day bad. The bread is moldy. He pulls a TV dinner from the freezer. Yem knows he is breaking a promise to himself not to drink pop or eat any more TV dinners, but whatever. This is sort of an emergency. He peels the cardboard cover of the TV dinner box (at the corner) and throws it in the microwave for 7 minutes. He never stops at 4 minutes in to mix the potatoes or stir the gravy. He’s grown used to eating the potatoes cold in the middle. He’s grown used to burned clumps of gravy you need to scrape from the side of the cardboard bowl. He’s grown used to picking the brownie treat up with one fork-stab and shoving it into his mouth whole. He’s grown used to the tasteless crunch.

Chicken breasts
Frozen mixed vegetables
Peanut butter
Sugar-covered licorice
Chocolate milk
Whatever fruit is on sale

Me              7:02
You there?

Me              7:03

Anna          7:05

Anna          7:05

Anna          7:05

Me              7:05

Me              7:06

Me              7:06

Anna          7:07
haha, why me?

Me              7:07
i like ur new profile pic.

Anna          7:08
thanks Yem

Me              7:08
Whatre you up to?

Anna          7:08
nothing. relaxing. doin laundry. you?

Me              7:09
Thinking of you. Wishing you lived closer.

Me              7:10
Wishing we could go out.

Anna          7:11

Me              7:11
maybe I’ll buy a bus ticket.

Anna          7:11
to Victoria?

Me              7:12

Anna          7:12
expensive ticket

Me              7:13

Anna          7:15
what would you do if you made it here?

Yem types a line of text and his finger hovers over the enter key. He reads over the sentence he’s typed and then jams his ring finger onto the delete key and holds it down until the text field is blank. He says fuck.

Me              7:19
i gotta run. But, thinkin of you.

Anna          7:20
oh. ok. me too (thinking of you), now.

Me              7:20
byee. xoxo.

Anna          7:21

Yem sits down and starts to write a story. He starts by writing something true and real. He decides that he will use another person’s name in the story. He decides that his true story is worthy of fiction. He will spare no detail and tell no one it is based on him. He knows he will never publish the story because the part of him that believes he can write is much weaker than the part of him that is sure he can’t.

He opens a moleskine and uncaps a blue pen. He turns on a desk light, and from his mind and memory his nerves move his muscles in just the right way to write the words being born from the ideas in his head. It’s a simple process and the pen bleeds.

My mother tried to have an abortion.

She’s never told me this, I found out on my own. I read it in her journal. I also read about it in a letter from my father. He was so insistent. He was begging her.

‘My family won’t understand it,’ he wrote. ‘It’s not you, it’s them. You have to do it. We have the baby and we ruin three lives. I love you, but we’re too young.’

My mother’s journal was stained with tea and wine drops. She wrote the entries while living in Korea. She probably lived in some dank little apartment where the shower-head hangs right over the toilet and you can wash yourself while you shit. She wrote in mixed-Hangul with words that were more like feelings than actual words. She wrote that she wasn’t sure what to do. She wrote that she hated herself and hated Bret (my father) and that she hated the fact that she was Asian and that he was a soldier and she wrote about the taboo of it all. She said there was a man named Li-mi that could do the abortion. He was a part-time vet, but in those days not many people kept pets so he did abortions on the side. She wrote that she’d heard Li-mi was good and quick and did his best to make it all painless.

Here I am. Li-mi never touched her. I’m the mistake that almost wasn’t.

Yem thinks about eating a snack or doing push-ups or masturbating. Instead he closes his eyes and thinks about being something else, like a plant or something. He imagines himself as a little brown leaf. He’s dry and quivering stiffly on a cold autumn day. One more touch of wind and he’ll be off the branch.