Ask any traveler – unexpected, imperfect alliances form abroad. In this excerpt from my short story, “The Wisdom of Oranges,” available now in my collection Trail Ways Pilgrims: Stories, a Canadian E.F.L teacher in South Korea negotiates the steep terrain of competing for the man she might love.
…Soon the path surrendered into mud, shifting, sticking beneath the treads of my boots. I tromped through thoughts of the slim, twenty-two-year-old Lily, also known as Yeun Mi, teaching Matt the Korean words for “bicycle” and “eye glasses” and “teapot” and “kissing.” I had seen them once, slow dancing in the back of our regular room at the Noribong [or singing room], while all the other teachers drank or sang along to the yellow Oasis lyrics scrolling down the screen on the wall. She had been pressing her cheek to his when a newly arrived Singaporean teacher had sat down next to me and asked about my divorce.
The cool breeze, smelling faintly of plant hearts, blew across my exposed wrists, the back of my neck, and the bridge of my nose. Picking up my pace, I put distance between myself and Matt.
Yellow dust had crouched and waited. Suddenly, it fell on us in thin sheets. I coughed. My two American friends swore they’d been choked by the cloying, gold-colored pollution so badly last spring that our boss had sent them directly to the clinic. The headmaster had wished them a speedy recovery but no paid sick days.
“Cover your mouth, and you’ll be fine,” Johan, a Dane, said as he hiked past me. “I’ve seen it worse.”
Jagged rocks forced us first down, then sideways, then finally up as we descending-ly ascended. Mud gave way to exposed roots and the yellow dust fell in more diffuse patterns. Letting others pass me, I stopped next to a large tree and calculated. To the right three slick, gray stones led directly to a wooden step. However, the tree’s branches hung over at a slight left angle, providing a natural handrail if the soil became too slippery. I veered left. An elderly Korean woman pushed past me with her hiking stick raised in complaint. I had taken too long to decide.
I pushed my legs into a jog until I could see the blue of Matt’s jacket. Behind me, snatches of French, English and Russian blended into a friendly din.
“He’ll leave her for the pretty, skinny tutor,” Carolyn huffed to a fellow Aussie. “They say it’s the exotic factor.”
“Sure, and she knows it. We’re all three kinds of lonely here.”
Summits cleansed. Jeongsusa at dusk wrapped us in a sweaty embrace. In the half light, the lotus flower-shaped lanterns, strung high above our heads on thin lines, danced like fire flies. Bells chimed. The prayers of the monks echoed. The musky scent of incense clung to the arm Matt threw around my shoulder.
“What’s your favorite book?”
“Whatever I’m reading today, Heart of Darkness, and whatever I start reading tomorrow,” I told him.
“You know, even back in Oakland, I think I’d ask you out.”
Blood rushed to my face. My fingers tingled in my mittens. As she pretended to be staring past us at the flowering treetops in the valley, Carolyn nodded at me. Among expats, this constituted high praise.
Learn what happens between this possible couple in my collection, Trail Ways Pilgrims: Stories. It is available now from Spider Road Press for the special introductory price of ninety-nine cents. Order yours today from Amazon.com or Smashwords.com (for tablet and Nook readers). For more information, see: http://www.amazon.com/Trail-Pilgrims-Patricia-Flaherty-Pagan-ebook/.