Thursday, April 2, 2015

Skip Pearson and the 456

Park Minseo (Minseo to her American friends) and Adam (her gay BFF) were wandering around Chinatown on this fine February afternoon because Adam had insisted on taking Minseo out for dim sum in celebration of the Chinese New Year. Minseo was not the sort to correct her friends about the vast cultural differences between Chinese and Koreans; if Adam wanted to treat her to Chinese dim sum, despite her being Korean, Minseo was not one to argue.

            “I swear the place is right here,” Adam insisted. Minseo said nothing. Adam continued, “So, what did you and Aaron fight about?”

            “Ugh,” Minseo groaned. Aaron was her boyfriend, although she often had second thoughts about keeping him. Every time she saw another white guy-Asian female couple out and about in DC, she felt the strong urge to dump him. She liked all types, her sole requirements being (good) looks and Mensa-level intelligence, and she therefore resented people assuming she was with a white guy simply because she didn’t know better. She did (know better), dammit, unlike all the FOBs running around the city giving her a bad name by dating any old white guy, no matter how ugly or how dumb he might be.

“He’s pissed off about Smith, again.”

            Adam peered into the window of a sketchy-looking Chinese place. “This is it,” he said, “It got 5 stars on Yelp.”

            “Um...” Minseo stood in front of the window next to Adam. “Place looks closed, but legit, man.”

            “Yeah,” Adam agreed, “We’ll have to come back. So, what now?”

            “I’m not speaking to Aaron until he chills the fuck out,” Minseo answered.

            “I meant,” Adam said, “what do you want to do about lunch?”

            “Fuck it,” Minseo answered, “Let’s go to Annandale. Chinatown here is bullshit anyway. I’ll tell you about the stupid fight on the way.”

            “I know you don’t want to hear this,” Adam ventured as they headed back to his car, “but I can’t blame the guy.”

            “You mean,” Minseo interjected, “you’re okay with Aaron being a jealous dick?”

            Adam rolled his eyes. “Honey, Aaron’s actually a really nice guy. Have you noticed?”

            “He’s being a dick,” Minseo pouted.

            “Um...” Adam shook his head as he unlocked his car. They both climbed in. “Look, you’re a hot fucking bitch. And Smith is… Jesus, even I have wet dreams about him. I’m still looking for the porno you said he did. Can you blame Aaron for being jealous?”

            It was Minseo’s turn to roll her eyes. “I told you where to find it!”

            “I need a keyword!” Adam shot back, “Or, you know, the actual link would be nice.”

            Minseo threw up her hands. “I emailed it to you!”

            “Send it again!”

            “Ugh,” Minseo shook her head, “Fine. Can we go get drunk now, please?”

            “Fuck yeah,” Adam agreed.

He started his car and they took off for Annandale, (in Virginia, outside of the city, land of the all-night Korean BBQ and karaoke). On the way there, Minseo regaled Adam with the gory details of her last fight with Aaron, which had ended with her refusing to spend the Korean New Year with him. She also ignored several calls and texts, because she just didn’t want to hear it not from Aaron and not from Smith either. By the time she and Adam were done partying their faces off, it was nearly 3a.m. and they were certified drunk. Minseo slept at Adam’s place. His roommate was cool she never minded finding Minseo passed out on their couch. Around 4a.m., Minseo’s phone began buzzing non-stop. She had fallen asleep on her back, with her cell phone balanced on her chest.

“What the fuck,” she groaned.

She flipped the phone over. The bright light from the phone felt like a burning laser on her retinas. There were at least a dozen missed calls and texts from both Aaron and Smith, as expected, but the newest missed calls and texts were from Skip Pearson, her boss and general waste of space. That he was a fellow member of humanity baffled her, but he always paid in cash, so… whatever, as far as Minseo was concerned. Except, it was 4a.m. and her contacts were glued to her eyeballs.

“Ugh,” she groaned again, wondering what that human sack of shit needed now.

Minseo actually liked Skip Pearson, if you asked her, because he was genuinely a good guy so he was fucked up. Whatever. He was fun to work for or with, depending on your point of view. In her humble opinion, Skip Pearson was the nicest, most charming, in the closet, gay-straight guy she’d ever met on craigslist. She just kind of wished his most urgent calls and texts didn’t always have to happen in the middle of the goddamned night. Part of her really, really wanted to quit, the course of action most popular with her friends, but the rest of her felt really, really guilty for lying to him about being able to speak English when she’d responded to his craigslist ad. He’d been seeking a FOB, but Minseo was totally American. For cash under the table though, Minseo was happy to make her non-existent, Korean, “fresh off the boat” accent as thick as necessary. And that’s what Skip paid: cash under the table.

Minseo’s text history read something like this:

Aaron: <Baby, I’m ***so** sorry.>

Smith: <You coming?>

Skip: <You coming??>

Aaron: <Baby, where are you?>

Smith: <Where are you??>

Skip: <Where the fuck are you??>

There was a lot more, but Minseo’s reading stopped at Skip’s last text:

Skip: <BAAL??!!!???!!$$$$&$&&))$$$))&&>

That his request for “bail” autocorrected to “Baal” cracked her up. Minseo rubbed her sore eyes and then she scrolled through just Skip’s texts, which had started somewhat coherent and then had drifted off into la-la land. After several months in his employ though, she was accustomed to his gibberish; drunk and tired as she was, she was still able to piece his night together. As usual, he had been nabbed, this time in a public bathroom. Why he hadn’t just gone to Malcolm X Park mystified her, but maybe it was too gentrified now, she mused; not that the details mattered he was in jail and needed to be sprung. She hoped her friend Lana (who worked as a coroner and was married to the nicest police officer in the city) was on call. While she waited for Lana to answer the phone, she wondered when Brooke, Skip’s long-suffering wife, would give up the suffering and move back to Texas, where she and her big blonde hair belonged anyway.

Lana answered on the third ring. “What did Skip do now?”

“Ugh,” Minseo sighed.

“When you gonna quit working for that retard?” Lana asked.

“We’re anthropologists,” Minseo answered, “You know we don’t say ‘retard’ anymore.”

There was a pause, and then Lana laughed, “I know, I know. I’m up with the baby. I’m so tired.”

“Oh my god,” Minseo cried, “I’m so sorry! I thought maybe you’d be on call.”

“No,” Lana said, “I mean, I am, but so is Carl. Neither of us is sleeping these days. If anyone had told me what a pain in the ass a baby would be…”

“A literal pain in the ass.”

Lana laughed again, “No shit.”

Both of them laughed and then Minseo said, “Lana, I’m sorry, but Skip is in jail again…”

“Yeah, I figured.” Lana shifted the baby in her arms. “I’ll give Carl a call. He’ll take care of it. You gonna make Skip give you the bail money again?”

“Of course!” Minseo snorted. “Let me know if you want anything I so totally owe you.”

“Oh god, please,” Lana said, “I live for your Skip Pearson stories these days. I feel like a shut-in. All I hear all day is baby screams.”

“Is that why you’re a coroner?” Minseo asked.

Lana laughed at their old joke, “Dead bodies make no noise, Minny. You should visit the morgue some time. Sweet, sweet silence.”

“Remind me later to tell you about my fight with Aaron.”

“Ooh,” Lana cooed. “Is Smith calling again?”

“He hasn’t stopped,” Minseo answered. “I need to figure out how to stop him from showing up on my lock screen.” She laughed and then whispered, “Lana, he wants me to do a porno with him!”

“What?!” Lana almost dropped her baby boy. “Oh my god! Minny, you can’t!”

“Well, duh,” Minseo was still laughing, “but he’s been sending photos of the other guy and, I gotta say, Lana, he’s kinda hot.”

“No, Minny, no!” Lana was laughing too.

“No, no, of course not!” Minseo paused then said, “Okay, I’ve let Skip stew long enough. He’s been calling since, like, midnight and now it’s after 4a.m.”

“Yeah,” Lana agreed, “but you have to come over soon. I need to hear everything!”

“Of course I’ll text you,” Minseo promised as she hung up.

Her next call was for an über. She chugged water as she waited for it. Every time she burped, she tasted soju and pork belly. She rummaged in the kitchen for something to settle her stomach, as Adam and his roommate Kate kept a well-stocked kitchen, but they had no crackers. It was going to be a long Sunday, Minseo decided. The ride in the über to her red Mini Cooper (which was parked in the city) was torture, as was her short drive to the city lock-up; she was proud of herself for not vomiting on the way. When Skip climbed into the passenger seat of her tiny car, however, he promptly threw up all over himself as well as the seat, the door, and the floor.

“Christ, Skip!” Minseo exclaimed, forgetting to fake a thick FOB accent.

Skip’s head lolled about on his neck, like it might snap or fall off if she gave it the least little push. She thought about it, but pressed the button to roll down his window instead.

“Minseo,” he croaked.

She shook her head and opened a bottle of water for him.

“Stop vomiting in my car, Skip.”

His head jerked. Something was off, but he couldn’t place it. He tried to grip the water bottle, but dropped it into his lap and the puddle of vomit there instead. And then he threw up again. Minseo heaved a sigh. They were still parked in front of the jail. Carl opened the doors. He appeared to be holding a bucket, but all Minseo could see through the windows were his fellow officers laughing their asses off. She started the car and threw it into drive before Carl was halfway down the sidewalk.

She pulled into the Exxon up on 14th and Parkwood. There were other gas stations she could have gone to in DC, but this station she knew because it was next to her favorite dive bar in the city, the infamous Pinch. She put the Mini into park and then turned to Skip, who had spent the short ride hanging his head out the window like a dog.

“Open your door, Skip,” Minseo instructed.

“Um… kay.” He struggled with the handle, but managed to get the door open.

Minseo spoke to him as if he were a preschool child, “Now, you go stand over that trash can over there and throw up into it if you need to.”

She pointed towards the trash can. Skip nodded and then fell out of the car. Minseo rolled her eyes (she did that a lot around him), but made no move to help him. Only after he’d rolled around on the ground for a few turns did she climb out of her car. She grabbed his arm.

“Stand up!” She yanked him to his feet.

“Your accent!” Skip slurred so much, he managed to make “accent” sound like a 15-syllable word. He had figured it out, and he felt triumphant.

“Trash can, Skip!”

Minseo did not give two shits if he’d finally picked up on her thick, unmistakably American accent; he wasn’t going to remember one lick of this in the morning (or, later today, as it were). Skip nodded obediently and shuffled over to the trash can she was so insistent he make friends with. Once he’d made it the few steps over, he promptly sat down on his ass and hugged the garbage can as if it was his best friend. He began to rub it.

“Mmmm… can.” Skip’s delight was palpable.

Minseo wasted no more time on him; he was on the verge of making love to a huge metal barrel and was therefore occupied, (thank god, she thought). She spent the next several minutes cleaning his puke from her precious little car. Only she was allowed to throw up in her car, and she actively tried to avoid doing that. When she finished cleaning, she looked around for Skip, but he was not hugging the trash can where she had left him just a few minutes before. She stood under the harsh gas station lights, hands on her hips.

“Where the fuck is he?”

And then she panicked, which was a reasonable response since Skip had in fact wandered down the block to score (some drugs, of course).

“Argh!” Minseo groaned as she dialed Lana (again).

“Was Carl not there?”

“No, no,” Minseo answered, “he was and please tell him thank you so much from me, but…”

“What did that retard do now?”

Minseo laughed. She never appreciated Lana more than she did in these politically incorrect moments. How Skip, who was a total fuck up, could ever have been a former attorney general and senator for the great state of Virginia while her beautiful, overachieving friend Lana was an underpaid DC city coroner mystified Minseo to no end.

“He ran off, Lana,” Minseo said, “while I was cleaning his vomit from my car.”

“Oh no!” Lana gasped, “Not your Mini, Minny?!”

“Yes,” Minseo confirmed, “my car not his.”

“The next time he’s arrested, do you want the boys to rough him up a little?” Lana offered.

Minseo laughed, “Ooh, you know me, I’m always down for a little police brutality, but…”

“You need an APB out on Skip.”

That was the other thing Minseo appreciated Lana. With her, the long explanations could always wait for when they were splitting a bottle of wine, sharing stories while the baby spit up in his highchair and grinned at them both.

“Yes,” Minseo said, “I don’t know where the fuck he is.”

Lana shifted her baby boy to her other breast, all without dropping the phone. “I’ll call Carl.”

“Thanks, Lana, I really owe you.”

“Bottle of whatever and a few hours, and we’re even,” Lana said, “You know that, Minny.”

Aw, I know, Lana.”

Minseo climbed into her car and started the engine. She paused while the phone and the car stereo connected via Bluetooth, and then she said, “I’m gonna see if I can find Skip before the police do.”

“But then they won’t get to smack him around, Minny!” Lana laughed.

Minseo laughed too. “I like to think of it as a contest. Who can track down the human stain that is Skip Pearson first? Me... or DC’s finest?”

“Good luck!” Lana chirped.


Minseo’s phone rang the moment she disconnected with Lana. It was Aaron. And then it was Smith. They were both calling her. She sighed. Who did she want to speak with? The boy who wanted her to do a 3-way on camera, or the boy who was jealous of the ex-boyfriend who wanted her to do a 3-way on camera?

She pressed “Accept” on the car radio console.

“I’m not going to do the porno, okay?!”

“Mins!” Smith (not his real name) cried.

“Ugh!” Minseo had meant to accept Aaron’s call; not Smith’s.

“It’s not gonna be a porno!” Smith insisted, “It’s gonna be a love tape.”

“Jamie, you have to stop asking me. You are driving Aaron crazy!” Minseo rolled her eyes, (which she was doing a lot of tonight), “Plus, no one calls them ‘sex tapes’ anymore. It’s just a porn. Porn! You are asking me to do porn, Jamie!”

“Mins!” Smith (real name Jamie) protested, “Are you judging me?!”

“Ugh!” Minseo was beyond frustrated. “No, Jamie, I’m not judging you, but I have seen your porno on XTube and it’s hot, okay, but it’s not for me, okay?”

“What porno?” Smith sounded confused, “I’m an exotic dancer, Mins. I don’t do porn. What are you talking about?”

Minseo gripped the steering wheel and gritted her teeth. “Oh, nothing. Just this thing I saw where this guy looking just like you with the same exact birthmark oh fuck me I have another call talk to you later, Jamie!”

With that, she hung up on Smith. There was no other call, until a second later, when Aaron rang. The custom ringtone she had created for him (using “Don't Let Go” by Miles Fisher) rattled her eardrums. The song set her teeth on edge every time it came up on random play, because she always thought it was Aaron calling. She made a mental note to change it, because she liked that song. It was gonna suck to think it was Aaron calling if / when / after they broke up maybe after this call, she thought as she pressed “Accept” on the console.

“Did you say yes to the porno with Smith, Mins?!”

“Ugh!” Minseo almost ran a red light. “Hello to you too, Aaron!”


“Also,” she continued, “I fucking hate when you call me that.”

“I fucking hate how much you swear,” Aaron snapped back, “Mins.”

“Argh!” She almost pressed “End Call” on the console, but didn’t as she was too preoccupied looking left and right for any sign of Skip. She was on 16th Street now, and headed (very slowly) south.

“I’m sorry, Minseo,” Aaron sighed, “I just… really miss you. And I’m really sorry. I know how important the Korean New Year is to you, and I’m sorry I messed it up.”

Minseo was only half listening. The half of her brain that was paying attention tallied up the number of times Aaron said “sorry” (three) and started to feel bad. The other half continued to curse freely because Skip Pearson was nowhere in sight.

Aaron continued, unaware he had only half of Minseo’s attention, “I made this big dinner and I invited your closest friends and I know you’re in the shit right now because of Skip Pearson…”

“How the fuck can you know that?!” Minseo interjected.

“Well, Lana is here...” Aaron answered, wondering if he was getting Lana into trouble.

“Oh! Tell her I say hi!”

Minseo wasn’t paying attention. She was on the Malcolm X / Meridian Hill Park stretch of 16th Street, and she was sure she was about to hit some Skip Pearson sighting pay dirt.

“And Smith…” Aaron said.

“What the fuck?!” He had her attention now.

“He brought a casserole...” Aaron tried to finish.

“Smith is with you?!” Minseo shouted, “How the fuck?!”

In that moment, she took her eyes off the road just long enough to miss two figures dash out of the park, one with its pants down around its ankles and the other brandishing an extremely bright flashlight. The one with the flashlight was a (very hot) police officer; the one with his pants down around his ankles was Skip Pearson. Minseo slammed on the brakes. She was only going about 5 miles per hour, but still. Her heart stopped as both men collided with her car and then crumpled in front of her headlights.


“Minseo!” Aaron shouted, “Are you okay?! Oh my god!”

In the background, on the phone call, which was blasting over her car’s stereo via the beauty of Bluetooth, Minseo could also hear Lana and Smith.

“Mins, baby!” (That was Smith.)

“Minny, oh my god!” (That was Lana.)

“I have to call 911,” Minseo answered, throwing her car into emergency park, “I cannot deal with this right now I just fucking ran over my boss. And a police officer. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.”

And, with that, Minseo hung up and dialed 911. As she was dialing, both men popped straight up. They looked like zombies as they stood frozen in the glare of her car’s bright headlights. Minseo screamed right as the 911 operator answered the phone. It took several minutes for Minseo to stop hyperventilating, but the (hot) police officer took over the proceedings anyways. As he spoke with the 911 operator, Minseo sat stock still in the drivers seat of her car, trying not to throw up. She had just spent way too much time cleaning it up at the gas station on 14th Street. The fact that Skip Pearson had flopped back down to the ground after popping up in her headlights like a (fucking) ghost was lost on her while she opened the drivers side door and threw up into the street, praying the (hot) cop did not notice. If he didn’t, she was so totally going to make him her next boyfriend.

About 15 minutes later, (a miracle for DC, but it was barely 5a.m. on a Sunday morning after all, and there was no traffic), two ambulances, a firetruck, and another squad car showed up on the scene outside Meridian Park. Aaron also appeared, holding the grocery-store bouquet he’d purchased for the Korean New Year table he’d set earlier. Minseo was sitting on the sidewalk curb, her car safely parked on the side of the road.


“Minseo?!” Aaron rushed to her side. “Baby, I’m so sorry. Are you okay?!”

“How did you find me?!” Minseo asked as he handed her the bouquet.

“Well, um...” Aaron hesitated. He licked his lips. “‘Find my phone’?”

Minseo looked at him, confused. Her mind was racing. Had Aaron arrived in time to see her and the (hot) cop trade phone numbers? “‘Find my phone’… what?”

“Well,” Aaron answered, “remember that time we were testing the ‘Find my phone’ feature?”

“I guess…?” With relief, Minseo realized he hadn’t seen her trade contact info with the (yummy hot) police officer.

“Well… I never turned it off.”

Aaron looked at her with his big brown eyes, pleading for forgiveness.

Minseo wondered why he didn’t just lie and say he’d listened to a police scanner, like a normal person, but aloud she said, “Oh.”

“I’m sorry, Minseo.” Aaron put his arm around her shoulders, wondering if she’d shrug him off, but she didn’t. “I was just so worried about you. I needed to know where you were.”


Before Minseo could say anything else, a paramedic walked over and asked her, “Would you like to ride in the ambulance, ma’am?”

“Sure!” Minseo jumped up. She thought the paramedic was going to put her in the ambulance with the (smoking hot) police officer (who wasn’t really hurt), but she was mistaken; she was escorted to Skip Pearson’s ambulance instead. He was crying. (Typical.)

As it turned out, Skip wasn’t hurt (either). He’d thought he was having a heart attack, induced by the stress of being hit (that is, barely nudged) by Minseo’s car, and so he'd collapsed to the ground in front of her car, clutching his chest and rolling around in agony. In reality, it was just a bout of angina, no doubt brought about by his coke habit or his habit of having public sex or... whatever. With Skip Pearson, isolating a cause for the stress in his life was a multiple-choice question with more than one correct answer. His wife Brooke, beautiful even while crying in the emergency room, was no doubt no help whatsoever either.

Aaron drove Minseo’s car to the hospital behind the ambulances. While Brooke cried and Skip argued, Aaron and Minseo sat in the twin chairs outside the curtains around Skip’s bed and made out. If Minseo really thought about it, Aaron was pretty hot. And, as many of her friends had pointed out, he was a really nice guy. So, he wasn’t just hot and smart, her usual preference, he was also the sweetest dope and a total not-asshole. What was she doing if a guy like Aaron couldn’t cut through the ridiculous miasma that was her life?

“Minseo, baby?”

“Yes, Aaron?” Minseo said between smooches.

“Let’s take a vacation,” Aaron answered as he kissed and nibbled her neck, “Far away from Skip Pearson and DC and all this shit.”

“Okay,” Minseo agreed, kissing Aaron back. She knew “this shit” referred to Smith, but she wasn’t going to press. Aaron had never been hotter to her than he was in this moment; she was gonna go with it. “I just gotta check on Skip before we leave, okay?”

Aaron gave her one last squeeze. “Okay, I’ll be waiting right here, baby.”

Minseo got up and drew back the curtain, even though Brooke and Skip were still fighting. “Um… I’m gonna go, okay?”

Brooke nodded through her tears. “You’ve been through enough tonight, Minseo you go on home, honey.”

Minseo felt a twinge in her heart. Brooke’s Texas accent reminded her of her friend Adam’s southern Virginia accent. They even said “honey” the same way.

“Where you going?” Skip demanded.

All of Minseo’s warm thoughts vanished. “On vacation, actually.”

With that, she dropped onto Skip’s bed the Mermaids of the Sea flyer Aaron had given her and left without another word.


It was $456 that ruined his life, he decided, disregarding the overwhelming sum of other causes for his current predicament. Skip Pearson remembered the day like it was yesterday because it was yesterday when he had ordered his hapless craigslist intern to go into Sephora and purchase the $456 in makeup he had selected online (in preparation for his Big Night Out while Brooke was supposed to be in New York City shopping). Skip thought back to that day (yesterday), and the glittery, rainbow colors of all that wonderful, new Sephora makeup. It had taken all his self control to limit the list he had given the intern to under $500.

Now, as he lay in the emergency room, victim of another unfair police sting on public sex between consenting adults, with his very Texas blonde wife Brooke crying over his bed like he was already dead, Skip picked up the flyer his intern had left behind. He could use a vacation (from his life) too, and what could possibly be more relaxing than a cruise on the high seas?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

things you only remember after the dark

In the space between fact and fiction, the truth is always buried somewhere in between.


Both of them in fresh diapers, they hugged one another under the covers in their tiny basement bed.

“Tell me another story, please,” her sister begged, her voice gentle and neither pushy or annoying.

Their mutual breathing made it hot under the covers. She was tired, but felt compelled to comply. What else could she do? The two sisters could not have been more different, though they looked dreadfully alike. Both had long, dark hair and rather pretty faces, but where she was continually sunny, her sister was much more dark and somehow much, much thinner. She could feel her smaller sister’s ribs as she pressed her closer; she felt so sorry for her. Of course she would tell her sister another story. There was not much more she could do for her.

“Well, there once was a bean,” she started.

“Ooh, I love this story!” her sister cooed. Her head nestled against her heartbeat, tiny, like a bird.

“This was no ordinary bean, though,” she continued, “for this was a magical bean.”

“Can you tell me something different?” her sister interrupted. She seemed restless; she turned the gold heart-shaped pin she had been holding in her small hand when she came to bed round and round in her small fingers. Perhaps earlier tonight had been particularly rough. Twins, they were both barely eight years old, and already they were in the habit of never sleeping well or through the night. She clung to these stories from her sister; she loved them. It was strange for her to interrupt one, especially a favorite.

She paused, taking the moment to think of something new. Her habit was to mix fun fact with fiction, with the truth buried somewhere in between; inadvertently, she was a very adept storyteller. Stroking her sister’s smooth, straight hair, she started Elina’s Story:


Many, many years into the future, in a land far, far away, there once lived a magical snow leopard who was known to her people as “Aq-Bars, the Queen of the Bishteks.” In the 5th year of her reign, Aq-Bars was tricked into leaving her winter homeland to visit a foreign land too warm for her and her beautiful thick and spotted white fur, and she was woefully unhappy there.

In this strange new land, her proud hosts brought her to their capital, which was known as either “Washington” or “Dee-Sea,” and even set her up in a palace they called “Woodley Park Zoo.” As a further sign of their affection, her foreign hosts dubbed her “Elina” and then promptly forgot about her, thinking she was satisfied.

Elina prowled restlessly within the confines of her disappointingly small new kingdom. She stared coldly at her strange new subjects on the rare occasions when they came to visit. Whenever she closed her glittering green eyes to sleep, the first thing she dreamed of was home.

There was nothing to make Elina happy in her new kingdom. She did not understand their gibberish or their customs; she questioned whether they had any culture at all.

She did not like her new palace, the so-called “Woodley Park Zoo,” which seemed to be filled with imbeciles and nothing she was apparently free to eat; in particular, her strange new subjects. They were tantalizingly close whenever they came to visit her; yet they were always kept apart from her with iron bars and glass.

What were these strange creatures? How did they get around on only their hind legs? And, were they edible?

Initially, she had sniffed at the glass when they visited, and wondered.

But, mostly, it was the Dee-Sea weather that made Elina suffer the worst. This foreign capital she had been brought to by those tricksters in the 5th year of her reign was only comfortably cold enough for her a few days out of the year. The rest of the days, she was always hot, wet, and miserable.

Elina was fiercely proud of her thick white fur, with its pretty black florets, but the hot and humid Dee-Sea made her wish she had been born naked. Often, to her eager visitors, she seemed bored and maybe lazy, but, really, she just felt too hot to fruitlessly sniff them through the glass.

This final summer was proving to be especially intolerable. The heat that rose up from the tarmac and beat down from the sky was unrelenting; neither cover of night nor shade in the daytime provided any respite.

As Dee-Sea edged deeper into August and the temperature continued to rise, Elina decided the time had finally come to end her extended stay in the most miserable capital on earth. And, she was certain she could do it with the help of a skinny, two-legged creature called “Linus,” who had recently been assigned to feed her. He walked tall around the Woodley Park Zoo on only his hind legs, just like the rest of them, and threw her meat to eat since she wasn't allowed to hunt; this was how they met.

Linus used a long metal claw to drop hunks of red meat at her feet. Elina purred soundlessly and chewed her meat while staring at him without blinking. He stood on the other side of the iron bars that ringed her throne room, utterly transfixed by her gaze until she finished eating. This is how their courtship began.

On the day Elina decided to be free at last, she began her game laying down, with a few playful flicks of her thick, furry tail at Linus as he tried to feed her. He dropped the metal claw he was holding. Then, up on all fours, she padded close enough to him to wrap her long, sinuous tail around his left leg, pulling him into the iron bars that separated them, until the tip rested high up on his inner thigh. She could feel his heart pounding through the pulse her tail-tip found there. Not once dropping her intense green gaze from his, Elina slowly stroked the warm pulse in his thigh with the tip of her very agile tail.

If Linus had a girlfriend, she was bound to be jealous.

He stared into her beautiful green eyes.


She lazily flicked the humid air between them with her wet, pink tongue.


Tall and skinny, the two-legged man-creature stared at her, transfixed by her hypnotic green gaze.


Suddenly, with her long, sinuous tail still wrapped around his left leg, she pushed herself up onto her hind legs.

She dropped her forelegs onto his shoulders, one resting heavily on either side of his head.

With a frightened squeak, Linus dropped the pail of bloody red meat at his feet and wet his pants.

Her head was now level with his; their noses were almost touching through the iron bars.

She opened her jaws, so wide he thought his head would easily fit inside her huge mouth.

Ignoring the scent of his frightened piss, her pink tongue darted out, tasting his face.

Linus squished his eyes closed, waiting for her teeth to crack open his skull.

But Elina had other plans, and this one had no meat on his bones anyway. Linus was much too skinny to be worth eating.

Instead, she gently butted her nose against his, patiently, until Linus squished his eyes back open and stared deeply into hers.

Her hypnotic green gaze was soothing, and calmed him.


Elina gently licked his face again, but made no move to eat him.

Patiently, with her piercing green eyes, she gazed deeply into his soul.

Finally, as if he understood, Linus nodded.


Abruptly, Elina relinquished her gaze, released his left leg from her tail, and dropped back down on all fours. Curling up around the raw meat Linus had dropped, Elina began to eat as though nothing had happened.

Linus stumbled backwards, but managed to remain standing as he slowly backed away from the snow leopard at his feet.

In a few hours from that magic moment, possessed by a powerful desire much greater than himself, Linus would release all the animals trapped inside the National Zoo at Woodley Park, setting off a chain reaction in the capital, Washington, D.C., that would change the nation forever.

The lives of several D.C. residents were about to be turned completely upside-down.

And all so Elina could be free.


“Hey, sis,” she interrupted herself, “I have to pee.”

“Ooh, okay. Please be quick, okay?”

“I’ll be right back,” she promised her sister, jumping out from under the warm covers. The floor was ice-cold beneath her feet as she dashed to the bathroom. It was pitch black in the basement, but she did not dare turn on the lights. In the bathroom, terrified of the shadows and whatever was outside the single window that had no curtain, she peed as quickly as she could.

As she dashed back to the bedroom, anxious to close that door again, she tried to ignore the gaping black hole under the stairs. During the day, it was harmless storage and it held no fear for her. With the bare bulb above turned on for light, she had once gone rummaging in there and found a brown glass bottle with liquid still in it. On a dare, she and her sister had opened it. The liquid inside had reeked and burned their nostrils, but they were unafraid in the daylight and took a swig anyway. How much they had coughed, and then laughed.

At night however, a monster crawled out sometimes and grabbed at her ankles, trying to drag her back down with him. She never told her sister about it though; this was one of those stories she kept to herself.

“Ready for more?” she teased her sister as she snuggled back under the covers with her.

“Ooh, yes, please, please,” she replied, hugging her again, “I’m not sleepy.”

‘Neither am I,’ she thought as she continued Elina’s Story:


Free at last.

If anyone had told her in that magic moment she would never go home again, Elina would not have believed them.

She was Aq-Bars, the Queen of the Bishteks, and made me of magic.

She had just made a miracle happen.

She could go anywhere and do anything.

She would go home and resume her rule, as if she had never left in the 5th year of her reign.

If only she had realized her power sooner, she'd be home already.

But, first, she wanted to eat.

She stretched out her limbs, excited to hunt again, though she would have enjoyed it much more if it were not so hot. There would be snow again in her life soon; she closed her eyes, imagining snow and mountains surrounded her.

And then she took off.

Her first bit of prey had been a two-legged creature that had swept by in running gear at the precise and most-unfortunate-for-her moment all the gates of Woodley Park Zoo had swung silently open. Elina had chased the blonde, ponytail-haired creature into the nearby woods, pounced on her with relish, snapped her neck with all due haste, and lapped at her blood with an indecent lust she’d not experienced since her first kill.

After being denied the hunt for so long, that first chase had been immensely satisfying, but these two-legged creatures were not to her taste. They were too slow, lacked real fur, and smelled weird. Many of them were fat enough, but Elina hungered for a tastier creature of the four-legged variety.

Her homeland was a snowy wonderland; this strange kingdom was the opposite. Even on the few days of the year when it was cold enough in Dee-Sea, snow rarely fell. Today, no breeze stirred the thick, humid air. After that first chase in the woods near the Zoo, Elina climbed up into a tree on 16th Street to rest, feeling too overheated to move.

Beneath her, she saw rivers of black asphalt and patches of brownish-green grass. There were other trees too, but the most common feature in the predominantly residential neighborhood was a variety of houses and apartment buildings. Without realizing it, Elina had already crossed from the woods of Rock Creek Park, where the ponytail-haired blonde had met her most unfortunate end, to the D.C. neighborhood of Mount Pleasant.

Of course, some local residents would argue that Elina was actually in Columbia Heights, since she was in a tree that belonged to the Shrine of the Sacred Heart, with its magnificent dome that made it look like a basilica from Old Europe. This church was on the Columbia Heights side of 16th Street. If Elina had climbed the tree owned by the charter school on the opposite side of 16th Street, she would have been in Mount Pleasant. It just depended on which local resident you asked.

Opinions regarding neighborhood boundaries in D.C. are strong, and the opinions of students, hipsters, and other non-locals need not apply.

It is precisely this lack of clarity regarding neighborhood borders that made the snow leopard's movements so difficult to track after her disappearance from the National Zoo. At least local reporters were aware of the territorial disputes, and thus their breathless and excited location updates could be counted on with a limited measure of confidence. Once news of the prison break went national, however, all bets were off.

CNN, NPR, and MSNBC simultaneously placed the snow leopard in three completely different neighborhoods at the same time. Watching the news for updates on the snow leopard and the other animals that escaped from the National Zoo became like watching an episode of “24,” when it was set in D.C., or “Homeland.” Everyone knew they were talking about D.C., but locals knew better.

Elina was blithely unaware of this controversy and how much it was helping her. Gazing at the dome of the basilica, she supposed it to be a mountain, although unlike any mountain she had ever seen. Up in the tree on 16th Street, she was more concerned with the types of prey that might be available to her to eat. Her extended stay at the Woodley Park Zoo had lowered her confidence regarding both quality and quantity.

A large number of her two-legged subjects were running around the neighborhood, wailing with high anxiety as though they were being attacked. Elina could not see what was attacking them. There was no apparent blood; just lots of yelling and sharp, popping noises.

What strange creatures.

Elina also saw several different types of four-legged animals, a few of which seemed familiar to her and might prove to be tasty.


Elina licked her chops, looking forward to a taste of home, finally.


“What is she going to eat next?” her sister interrupted, her voice round and incredulous, just like she imagined her dark eyes must be under the covers.

“Well, I don't know yet,” she teased her sister, “What should Elina eat next?”

“Have her eat another blonde,” her sister muttered sourly, the volume of her voice barely above a whisper.

She gave her thinner sister a comforting squeeze. They would surely burn in Hell for harboring such horrible thoughts. This was another fear of hers that she never spoke of out loud. A few years later from now, while sitting in a café with a future former friend, she would make her first break with Heaven, when she abruptly realized:

Hell was a place on Earth.

But now was not that time. Now was the time for the opposite of the examined life, for stories told in the dark of night, in the presumed safety of a warm bed. Now was the time for the short attention spans of childhood, where whole memories could be erased before adulthood came to play its own unique tricks on the brain.

She would be a different person in seven years.

She didn't know why she remembered like this; she had a tendency to get lost in the future.

“Let's have Elina eat a zebra!” she said to her sister quite suddenly, back in the past.

“Would a snow leopard eat a zebra?” Her sister sounded doubtful.

“Snow leopards will eat almost anything,” she reassured her with a smile her sister could hear, “even roadkill.”

“Ew! Yuck!” Her sister giggled softly. “That's gross!”

“All the animals are free from the National Zoo now,” she whispered back, “And Elina is hungry...”

“Does it have to be a zebra?”

“Yes, I think so. Because there's one standing under Elina's tree right now...”

Her sister gasped. “Really?”

Rather than answering, she gave her thin sister a reassuring squeeze. She was wide awake, but they would need to be asleep soon. Aware of the late hour, she swept past several chapters of Elina’s Story:


But before Elina pounced on the zebra; before she had even climbed up into that tree, with the blood of the blonde jogger still moist on her muzzle; before she silently bled out to death on an anonymous sidewalk in Columbia Heights, unable to voice her utter despair in dying so far from home, Elina had several legendary adventures in Washington, D.C.

Official news reports and locals' stories from that chaotic, long and hot summer varied widely. The national news reports would go on to be largely disbelieved and dismissed, but the locals' tales, passed repeatedly from one to another, would persist until Elina became an enduring urban legend. With the marked passage of time and knowledge, Elina would go on to become a national myth, on par with Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed, and King Gilgamesh of the Euphrates.

Not long after the events of that historically hot summer, the statue of the hippopotamus, which had stood unmolested on the GWU campus in Foggy Bottom since 1996, was replaced with an enormous bronze statue of the snow leopard. Standing proudly at the corner of H and 21st streets, the placard at her feet proclaimed:

“Here lies the magical snow leopard Elina, known to her original people as Aq-Bars, the Queen of the Bishteks. In the First Official Summer of the Post-Glacial Period, now known as Year Zero or Year 0000, Elina ruled Washington, D.C., and our hearts.”

GWU students today actually believe that her remains are buried underneath her statue, and affectionately wear official, GWU-branded gear emblazoned with “I know you're in there, a phrase associated with Elina's adventures in the capital now considered essential during hazing rituals and local Halloween festivities. Both D.C. residents and students inaccurately call her “Elina Aqbar,” an unfortunate play on “Allah Akbar,” especially since Elina was actually the end of a mighty line of Khanate rulers who could trace their lineage back to Genghis Khan.

As the last air she would ever breathe left her bleeding lungs, with little bubbles of blood clinging to the fur around her nose and mouth, Elina closed her once bright green eyes and dreamed of a blinding white snow, driven by a blizzard wind that made the whole wide world pass into a white nothingness.

It would never snow in Washington, D.C., again.


“Can you really never go home again?” 

Her sister was crying.

She didn't answer, because she was crying too.