September 6, 2013 by The Citron Review
by Mark L. Keats
I first asked my mother the question of where babies come from when I was six. I had caught her off guard, in one of those delirious moments immediately after work when she was figuring out what to make for dinner. She was tapping her hands on the countertop of our new apartment, perhaps surveying the land, or the rather small plot we’d be renting. We’d just moved, again; not to another county, but a different state this time, and though slightly flustered, but not totally unprepared, she said, as if she’d been waiting for this question: “The stork. The stork brings babies to their parents.”
“Stork,” I repeated to myself, unsure of the word, but certain I had heard it before.
Sensing my confusion, my mother went to the thing that was always prominent no matter where we moved: The whiteboard, which was meant for daily communication, but of which was usually weeks old or covered with hearts and stars emanating from the name “Cara,” done by my older sister, ten, who was still upstairs, leaned against the wall of the kitchen.
With one smooth swipe, the board was clear, and because my mother was an art teacher, she quickly and elegantly drew me the outline of a stork, complete with a baby in swaddling clothes. She took a step back and studied it a moment, then looked at me to see if she might need to adjust a line, add a detail.
Recognizing the image, I clapped and said, “A bird.”
My mother, satisfied and alleviated, knelt down and kissed me on the cheek. “Yes,” she said. “A stork is a kind of bird. The stork brought you to me.”
“And Cara,” I asked.
“Cara, too,” she said. Then, because she was reminded of Cara, she called for her to come down and help me with my homework. Then, my mother proceeded to boil water, which meant spaghetti, again.
A week later, I asked her where I had come from, where the stork got me.
“Korea,” she said automatically, cutting onions and calling for my sister, who was still angry with my mother for making us move again, forcing her to leave her new friends behind. But my mother instantly realized her mistake. Before she could correct herself, I asked, “What’s Korea?”
Before my mother could respond, Cara appeared and said, “It’s where we’re from.” She looked at the picture my mother had drawn on the board.
“Cara,” my mother said strongly, then looked at me.
“What?” she asked, then said, “Why is it such a secret? He’s going to figure it out soon enough.”
“Cara,” my mother said, louder this time. “You don’t—you should watch out for your younger brother.”
“What about Santa Clause,” she said. ”What then? What do I tell him?”
“Santa Clause,” I echoed back.
“Cara Yerim Cuddy,” my mother said, slowly and loudly, enunciating each sound clearly. We both knew our mother was really upset.
Instead of yelling back, Cara went to the whiteboard, and as if she were in art class, drew the outline of various continents that looked very soft and curvy. Then, she circled the country where we were from, marking it with a capital K. We both watched her carefully.
Then she drew an arching line from Korea, crossing the Pacific Ocean, over where Hawaii would be, and finally touching base on the east coast, in Maryland. Somewhere in the middle, she copied the stork our mother had drawn, with the baby safely wrapped, dangling from the stork’s beak.
“He brought you all the way here,” she said, and to emphasize where, she tapped the board with the marker.
“That’s far,” I said, and walked closer to the board to investigate, to see if I could also draw a stork like my mother and sister, whose drawings seemed carbon copies of one another. But both my mother and Cara laughed at my stork, which looked more like a dead duck.
“Yes,” my mother said, looking at me. “Korea is very far away. So the stork had a long journey to take to bring you both.”
Then, as if she realized the magnitude of this singular moment, for both of us, my mother took my hand, and together we traced the stork that she had drawn, then the one Cara had drawn. “Close your eyes,” my mother said. And I did, for a moment. But I opened them to see the bolding effect of the outline of both storks. “Jame,” she said. “Trust her,” Cara said. “Close your eyes.” And so I closed my eyes, and my mother took my right hand and moved it slowly. And in that darkness, I came to believe that I really had been carried half-way around the world, wrapped in cloth, securely in the lip of an elegant bird, its long wings flapping, the penetrating and repetitious sound lulling me to sleep, for the long, cold journey ahead.
Mark L. Keats earned his MFA from the University of Maryland. He was twice an honorable mention for the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Fiction. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Clockhouse Review, Smokelong Quarterly, and others. He currently teaches English at Montgomery and Howard Community College.