Kim Chinquee’s new stunning collection Pretty is now out from White Pine Press.
Here we present “Boom Box,” an uncollected story from NOON, followed by a short interview. Thanks to Diane Williams for letting it be republished.
Last night I had a dream about a boom box. It played a salsa tune made into something hip-hop. It was loud and hurt my ears and then I awoke from the dream.
I was lying next to Daniel. His house was always cold, but his comforter was warm. I lay there for a while, thinking of the boom box, its beat still ringing in my ears. In reality, it was a song that Daniel had written for his nephew’s seventh birthday, making it with everything he had, it as if it were the only birthday. Yesterday, after he was finished, I listened to the song on Daniel’s headphones. I listened to his favorites, songs that he had written. He hoped to be a professional musician. Now, after thirteen years of relying on the prospects of his music, he had a day job working with computers. I knew about regret. I sensed his disappointment.
Yesterday, he told me he wasn’t giving up his fantasy of finding the right woman. He told me that he loved me. He also told me that I was not that woman.
After I awoke, I looked at the empty beer bottle sitting on the corner of the nightstand, next to my ticking golden watch, which my ex-husband bought for me the day after we were married. Yesterday, after Daniel mentioned soul mates, I told him that some time ago, after my husband left me, I stopped believing in that kind of thing. I was skeptical of anything dreamy and romantic.
I turned over in the bed. When we slept, our bodies shaped together into one. He opened his eyes and readjusted. His skin was soft and warm and I felt him up against me. I didn’t want to leave him. I thought about the dream, about the boom box. I wasn’t the right woman. I wondered about the reality of soul mates. I pulled his arms around me. He put his hand up to my face and then he touched me. He told me that he loved me. He had such tidy fingers. He touched me in places that I do not name.
Gerke: The narrator (as well as Daniel) seems caught in this piece. She says she knows about regret while the gold watch her ex-husband bought for her ticks away on the nightstand. She wonders about soul-mates after Daniel tells her that she is not his, but the decisive action is when she pulls his arms around her. She wants love and he tells her he loves her, but there is a fierce disconnectedness working on them. Do you see these characters as ultimately unaware and dragging their damage around in search of a warm body or are they doing the best they can though their hearts sometimes turn in other directions?
Chinquee: I see them as aware, but still making the choice to be together, doing the best they can through their hearts’ turn in other directions. I think she wants him to be in love with her, hopes, and thinks maybe she can even change his mind, as if she knows what she has to offer is good for him.
Gerke: A key sentence repeated twice is “He told me that he loved me.” It could just has easily been “He told me he loved me,” but a big “that” is wedged in there. Does the “that” obscure the sentiment at all? Acting as a cue to the reader, does the “that” connote a frown on Daniel’s face as he says this to her, making a seemingly joyful statement into something disingenuous?
Chinquee: I think the “that” puts more emphasis on the “he loved me.” The “that” almost connects the “He told me” with “he loved me.” It links them in a way the sentence wouldn’t otherwise be linked.
Gerke: Your sentences in this piece and many others are very pared down and plain. No verbal pyrotechnics overwhelm the reader. There is an innocence to the writing, but the contained
feelings are far from such a state. Have you always written this way and why is it the best container for the themes and feelings you want to explore?
Chinquee: I tend to write this way, but not always. I think just “telling it like it is,” feels natural to me, though I still keep an emotional distance in the telling. That seems to work better with some pieces than others. I’m not sure what it’s doing for this one, but I wanted the simplicity to represent a certain sense of ennui.
Gerke: In this relationship there are many moves and turns between man and woman, but the only explicit pain is in the narrator’s dream as the loud song from the boom box hurts her ears. But the song is Daniel’s song for his nephew. This, coupled with him telling her she is not the right woman, seems a signal to her. Does love or lust or whatever it is really blind us? But can this idea come across as too simple? There seems to be other forces at work. Can you speak to this?
Chinquee: The boom box is like a revelation to her, perhaps, or maybe the beginning of one. In another version, more time was spent with her imagining him creating music for her. I’m not sure why it got cut. Perhaps it seemed too much at the time. I’m not sure it’s her lust or love blinding her as much as her desire to feel loved.