An innocent question - “So, how are your SAT prep classes going?” - causes Shelby's fork to freeze mid-bite. Suddenly nauseated, she scans the dinner table for potential enemies and allies. Her father and sister watch their plates.
“You know. Feeling pretty, uh, prepped.”
“As long as you feel prepared!” Grace Cho says brightly. Fond of cardigans and tortoise shell glasses, everything about Shelby's mother—her home, most of all—is neat and understated. “How are your grades?”
So it's not a trap, only a polite interrogation. “Fine. Mr. Weiss told me next year I should take AP Physics, which makes sense since this year I'm taking Physics, which is a prerequisite. And Physics is pretty easy.”
Shelby's father gives a thumbs up. “Sounds like you have an aptitude for science!”
“I think...maybe...I have more of an aptitude for art?”
Grace doesn't believe in aptitude. “What kind of art?”
“I'm not sure.” Shelby presses her spoon against mashed potatoes. “I just like to draw. Maybe I should take more art classes?”
“Not a bad idea,” says Yeong-su.
Grace silences her husband with a stern glare. “We enrolled you in a drawing class when you were four, and after two sessions you refused to go back. You have to stick with something long enough to master it.”
“But that teacher had a scary nose!”
“Grace.” Yeong-su uses his calming orthodontist voice. “Let's keep in mind that Shelby's not four anymore.”
He is ignored. “So, have you looked at any of the college materials I keep leaving on your bed?”
All of Grace's efforts will be in vain. Shelby will enroll in art college in Philadelphia, then graduate school in Berlin. She will toy with the idea of getting a Phd, like her favorite teacher in high school, but instead will become a graphic designer and settle in Portland, and then Seattle, and dread coming home to visit because the conversations will revolve around her sister's children—small, precocious twins in nearby Evanston.
“Oh, I think I saw those under some dirty clothes.”
“Are you hearing this?” Grace piles more salad on her plate. For as long as Shelby has been paying attention, her mother has only been eating salad. “What is it?”
“That salad's a work of art,” says Yeong-su.
Shelby will spend the last Thanksgiving before her father's death forcing her memories onto two sarcastic teenaged nephews. I know it's hard to believe, she will say, but it's true that we used to carry phones around in our pockets. The twins will smirk and remark on how boring and uncreative it must have been for everybody's devices to look so much alike. That word—uncreative—will sting Shelby more than she will let on, and she won't mention that the 36 x 48 surrealist oil painting of a cell phone hanging above the mantle was part of her senior thesis, or add that there are fifteen more paintings of phones in the same artistic style scattered about. Instead, Grace will.