/ Janelle Kim
Fiction — 3 min reading time
Inspired by Now Playing by Kristy Lee
The gentle thud of record needles catching vinyl grooves had always sounded like a beating heart. She found out later on that they left scratches, priceless records wrecked by reckless gashes, but neither of them noticed till they were old enough to care.
They watched it for the first few loops. Bina imagined the needle to be a little race car, breathing not exhaust fumes, but music instead, tracing round the racing track. Adults always bent down to see the records at eye level, crouching to the height that Bina stood at. She practiced standing on her tippie toes and stooping down to feel like she, too, was old, and therefore tall. Grass-stained ballet flats kissed the wooden floors in time to the music; tiptoes raised and lowered to the beat.
“Unnie1?” She called, noticing her sister absent from her side.
She wondered how long she’d been alone, but time always came and went at different speeds, and she could never keep up. Keeping up wasn’t a five-year-old’s job, anyway.
“Yes, Bina?” The response came from the kitchen, and Bina knew she’d been right not to worry. Unnie never went too far.
“Yes?” Unnie, nearly impatient now. Bina appeared at Unnie’s elbow, and Unnie startled, nearly falling off the step stool that gave her access to the stovetop. The kitchen burst with their laughter, and Bina noticed that she liked that Unnie was also small. Not eye-level with the record anymore, but still too young to see the stove without the step stool.
Bina inhaled, smelled the instant broth packet without looking. As Unnie guided her up the step ladder to stand by her side, Bina watched the bubbles foam at almost-cooked ramen noodles. Actually, Bina had no idea whether the noodles were almost-cooked or not, but their parents always seemed to be saying everything was “almost finished”: car rides, grocery shopping trips, bloody knees that needed disinfecting from dirty playgrounds. Bina had accordingly begun to think of most in-progress things as “almost there.”
As if she could read Bina’s mind (a possibility which Bina hadn’t entirely ruled out yet) Unnie warned her the noodles would be a few minutes. She’d just put them in. Bina left.
She tasked herself with watching the race car for a little while longer. Noticed a few minutes later that they’d scattered plumeria petals on the armchair this afternoon. They’d relieved the scraggly tree on the front yard of any white blossoms, a worthy sacrifice for the bottle of perfume they intended to make, which would replace the one they shattered the week prior. She adjusted them so they spread out evenly. It had been surprisingly difficult to produce any juice by tearing the petals, even the juiciest-looking ones, and they were left with an absurd excess of flower petals upon giving up. Bina wondered what they were going to do with all of the leftovers.
Two clicks of the stovetop burner turning off was all it took to summon Bina, and she and Unnie followed a wordless routine by heart, setting out bowls and chopsticks. Sometimes they raced. Bina liked racing, but she was glad they didn’t today. She was tired enough from just watching the race car; she didn’t have it in her to race, too.
Unnie switched out the record, which had run its course, setting it down among the armchair flowers. Later on, one of them would not check before sitting, snapping the vinyl in two. And even later on, Bina and Unnie would be mostly grown and still bickering lightly about which one of them had broken it in the first place.
But for now, they sat and ate. They were just happy chatter, they were just chubby legs swinging underneath the same oak dinner table that they rested their elbows on, making plans for their perfume line and the next bowl of ramen. Slurping loudly, giggling.
1: Unnie - Korean word for “older sister” when called by a younger sister, pronounced “uh-knee.” (Bina is pronounced “Bean-uh”)