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Authors: Rachel DeWoskin

Repeat After Me

BOOK: Repeat After Me
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Repeat After Me

Repeat After Me


First eBook edition 2011
This edition first published in the UK in 2010 by
Duckworth Overlook
90-93 Cowcross Street, London EC1M 6BF
Tel: 020 7490 7300 Fax: 020 7490 0080
[email protected]

Copyright © 2009 by Rachel DeWoskin

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

eBook ISBNs
Mobipocket 978-0-7156-4121-7
ePub 978-0-7156-4120-0
Adobe PDF 978-0-7156-4119-4

For Zayd, for Dalin, for Light.

Perhaps the hardest thing about losing a lover is

To watch the year repeat its days.

It is as if I could dip my hand down

Into time and scoop up

Blue and green lozenges of April heat

A year ago in another country.

I can feel that other day running underneath this one

Like an old video tape—here we go fast around the last corner

Up the hill to his house, shadows

Glass, Irony and God

September 1989, New York, NY

Dear Teacher,

In 1966 I am born in cement four garden courtyard house in Beijing PRC. That house belong to the father and mother of my father. They are handsome old couple. My Grandmother is kind of lady with tall hair and wearing a jacket and winter underwears until summer. When I am small she force me to wear it too, so I have to hide in the alleyway and shed that underwears so the other boys will not curse and mock me. Her dumplings are tasty, filled with pork and garlic greens when we have some or grass when we have nothing. My Grandfather is quiet, maybe too “henpeck” by my Grandmother. Or maybe because he do not like my father. He only love books and birds. And me. I like that grandfather very much. He never speak, just read that old books and keep birds and carry those cages every day to Ritan Park. He swing the cages so the birds will feel exciting, not bored. This kind of birds love that swing activity. It trick them to think they will fly away. My Grandmother smoke a lot of tobacco but she is kindly lady. From the moment I am born, she can see my macho natural. For her it’s ok. But even though later it attract many girl, it scare my mother that I am this machismo son (thank you for teach me this word. I think it express my feeling in English very well).

Da Ge


1989. New York was orange and confident then, leaves breezing the curbs and towers poking above the skyline. I was teaching English as a second language at a school called Embassy when he arrived two weeks and fifteen minutes late. He stood in the doorway watching the class with an expression it was hard to identify—some combination of grin, smirk, and sneer. I thought he might be shy.

“Hi,” I said, “come on in.”

He didn’t move. “I’m Da Ge,” he said, hacking the
out of his throat.
Dah Guh
. I thought maybe people mispronounced his name all the time. Or that he was a chain smoker and couldn’t speak without choking. When he looked up, it was from the tops of his eyes, with the sullen affect of a teenager.

is hard,” he added. “Dah. Guh.” I smiled, delighted that he knew the difference between a hard and a soft consonant. Maybe he’d be my teacher’s pet.

Although I must say he didn’t look the part. My students and I stared at him, curious. He was wiry, wearing ill-fitting jeans held up by a metal belt. He had a double-breasted navy blue wool coat, which although clearly expensive, gave him a bird-scaring affect. A scar extended from his left cheekbone
to his jaw, raw and raised enough to seem recent. His hair flopped over his eyes, and he pushed it out of the way several times. He had the cumulative undereye shadows that mark a real insomniac, and surprisingly shiny shoes. He carried a blue backpack.

When he turned to take a seat, I noticed that the backpack had a cartoon duck and rabbit on it, both wearing spacesuits. Planets floated by. Under the duck were the letters “Ur,” followed by a hyphen. Under the rabbit it said, “anus.” It took me a minute. Uranus! It was a teachable moment; I should have explained why it’s safest not to hyphenate certain words. But I was too chicken.

“Hi, Da Ge,” I said. “I’m Aysha Silvermintz. You can call me Aysha.”

He didn’t respond. I turned to the class.

“Run,” I said.

“Ran,” they said back to me.


Someone said, “Will ran,” someone else, “Running!”

“Ingyum,” I coaxed. “Tomorrow I . . .” She looked away.

“Someone help her,” I said. No one responded.

“Da Ge?”


“Do you know the future tense of run?”

He stared at me lazily, moving his eyes from my shoulders down to my waist and then back up. I felt something like irritation rise hot to the roots of my hair in a blush.

“Run,” he said. I tried to mask my annoyance.

“What does it require in front of it?”

“Something to chase.”

So his English was too good for my class. I decided to let him carry the backpack for the rest of his life.

“Who can help Ingyum out?” I asked.

“It’s ‘will run,’” said Chase.

“Thank you, Chase. Ingyum, can you use ‘will run’ in a sentence?”

“Um. I will run. You will run.”


“I will run tomorrow,” she said. “And you will run tomorrow.”

“Great!” I said. Now I felt like the teacher again.

Then Da Ge rolled his eyes and murmured, “I give big fuck,” under his breath. If he’d gotten the syntax right, maybe I would have felt attacked. But I looked straight at him and tried not to laugh.

“Say it louder,” I encouraged. He glared.

“The only way to make progress is to let everyone hear what you say.”

“I give big fuck,” he said.

big fuck,” I corrected him, my mouth twitching. “I give
big fuck. Or, to punctuate the sarcasm, you could also say, ‘Like I give a fuck.’ The ‘big’ is weird.” I waited for what I thought was a polite interval before turning to my other students.

“Let’s ask Da Ge some questions,” I suggested. He was staring at me with an openness I found brazen.

There were four students in the course that semester, all adults. Ingyum was from Seoul; her husband had been invited by Columbia’s political science department, and their kids already spoke fast, fluent slang. Chase and Russ were cousins from the Dominican Republic who worked as security guards on the Upper East Side. They said the doorman had helped them pick their American names. When I asked what they’d been called originally, they looked at each other, confirmed the existence of some private contract, and said they preferred to be called by their new names.

Then there was Xiao Wang, a Chinese woman who never spoke unless I demanded it and had only smiled once so far—a wide, accidental beam—when Ingyum had sung a song in English.

And now there was Da Ge.

“Where are you from, Mister?” Ingyum asked.

Da Ge glowered. “New York,” he said, in a tough voice. But it was difficult to be surly in someone else’s native language, and he made for a skinny, inconsistent rebel. I smiled.

“Chase, please ask Da Ge some questions.”

“Where is your hometown?”

“Good one!” I said.

“New York,” Da Ge said again.

Chase was unfazed. “Where is the hometown of your mother?” he asked politely.

Da Ge yawned. “My mother is from Tangshan,” he admitted.

Xiao Wang lit up. I called on her immediately. She fumbled for words, her cheeks flaming. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” I reminded her. “You don’t have to be sorry. Ask your question.”

“I’m sorry, are your parents okay for the, um, how do you say

BOOK: Repeat After Me
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