FICTION May 5, 2023


What’s the poop? The poop is my son found a frog’s leg in his kimchi at school, and now a journalist from Yonhap wants to interview him. 

My son does not like attention, however, unless he’s talking about something he loves, and that is not frogs. And thus, here is the conflict.

But, we talk awhile to the young woman at a Starbucks near Seohyun Station, and she seems very good at her job. And very good with kids in general, I suspect, if not with the atypical ones. The ones like my Hyojun. 

She is throwing English words into her Korean sentences, perhaps on my account. And this is fine. It’s fine.

Before going home, we pick up soondae since the place is right there and Wifey loves soondae. She will be so pleased, I think. We go home and Hera is pleased.

“Good job,” she says to me.

I have a very nice marriage for which I am very grateful, despite what my intrusive thoughts say sometimes when it’s hot and I can’t sleep.

“Any problems?”

“With what?”

I realize she means the interview, so I say no. The school will take over now. The Ministry of Education will. Our part is done, and when the kimchi supplier is sued, we’ll be unaffected.

“Hey, sweet child,” says Hera.

She’s a teacher of English and is great with our boy, in particular, if not with kids in general. She’s currently a first-grade homeroom teacher at Bundang High School near Sunae Station.

Sometimes, I kid her about being an English teacher who’s not fluent in English, which seems cruel except I only do it because it’s our joke and she always gets the last laugh.

“And you are?” she’ll say, which is funny because no, not with any sophistication I’m not. I am the reason Hyojun is atypical, I guess, and part of my atypicality is speech-related.

We met in Wyoming, my homeland, more than a decade ago. I was about to drop out of graduate school, and she, at 27 years old, had just passed the grueling teacher’s examination. She was doing a bit of traveling before starting the job. Why she chose Wyoming instead of L.A. or Seattle like everybody else is beyond me. And to go there but not Yellowstone or Jackson Hole? She said she wanted to see the state’s one university. A friend of a friend of a cousin, she said, spent a semester in Laramie. I met her at the Burger King and walked her to the Comfort Inn. 

Evening passes, night passes. In the morning, I drive Hyojun to school then come home and start my work, which sometimes involves editing or proofreading for English teachers all around Seongnam. Mostly, it’s writing fiction. The graduate program I dropped out of was for creative writing. Somehow, I emerged from this blunder, this fiasco of mine, and published a few short stories in decent magazines. And then, recently, I got an agent who’s trying to sell my novel about autism and whales. The next one I’m writing is about a Shakespeare head, as I think of him, who vows revenge in a ranch town where I used to live. And there’s an alien abduction too. 

My agent is having some trouble, as far as I can tell.

Today is Wednesday, though, and that means there’s a new episode of Extraordinary Lawyer Woo, which Hera loves and which I love, too, but also am hate-watching. After dinner, as Hyojun does his homework, we sit down and settle in. Ah, the latest case revolves around land compensation and a dispute between brothers. 

This fucking show. Attorney Woo is all the autistic clichés all the time: echolalia, a verbal genius that allows her to memorize criminal law at five years old, a speech delay, an awkward gait, a photographic memory, some trouble reading facial expressions, flat affect and expression, diminished eye contact to the point of complete avoidance, a special interest related to animals, a routine she relies on, social deficits, an obsession with gimbap, which she eats every meal of every day. 

Aversion to touch and sensitivity to sound! OCD tendencies, including threshold rituals! Her animals are whales, and about this I feel resentment!

I do love her, though. She is very beautiful and very cute and infantilized to the extent that it’s very hard not to root for her for 70 minutes.

Sometimes, I wish my disability were more marketable. I am not cute, and people always think I’m angry. Maybe if I waddled like a penguin more, my stories would be adapted into #1 shows on Netflix. Their lead roles doled out to stars who are not disabled.

Or maybe I just need more pivotal poop scenes like in all the Korean programs. I poop all the time, a veritable shitshow, so why not more plot devices related to diarrhea? 

Instead, I look up interesting frog facts, like are any of them Shakespearean, I want to know, until it’s me who’s the frog boiling unawares. Oopsie, I am dehydrated and achy. I have ruined this writing session. Thursday now, and I am late picking up my son from school. 

I am such a good driver. I am the wind. I leave our villa among the farm plots west of Yatap Station and zoom to Baekhyun Elementary. 

“Do you want burgers?” I ask Hyojun. Yes, of course. 

At the Flapjack Pantry, we order heaping plates. In addition to burgers and fries, we have pancakes with powdered sugar on them. I ask him how school was, but he only wants to discuss Subnautica: Below Zero, the ocean-world survivalist video game. I tried playing it, too, but got so overwhelmed and scared that I stopped. My boy is unphased by dark water and leviathan jaws. 

He’s found the habitat-builder tool, finally, after a week of searching for it, and now, instead of progressing the game’s story, he is constructing an elaborate deep-water base among the Twisty Bridges.

“A sea monkey stole my flashlight,” he says.

“Oh no.”

At home, I’m on our one toilet because the burger set came with a free drink and babo me chose an Americano. Stupid, stupid. The poop seems endless.

“You’re okay?” Hera knocks on the door and asks.

“No,” I tell her.

But, because today is Thursday, there is another Extraordinary Lawyer Woo episode, and this is my reward for withstanding the intestinal distress. In this episode, we learn that autistics are incapable of lying.

Oh, damn, are they?

Here are the interesting frog facts I found before. Tell me which I’m making up: a frog sheds its skin every single week and usually eats what it sheds. When frogs swallow their prey, they blink, which presses their eyes down into their mouth, thereby directing the food matter into their throat. The frog’s noun of assemblage is, of all things, army. Their brains are chock full of scorpions. Wait, that’s Macbeth. 

Hera has a stutter which I know she struggles with, but my idea that I want to believe in wholly is that someone talking infelicitously doesn’t necessarily mean they’re talking poorly. Everyone praises Attorney Woo when she speaks more typically in the courtroom. Meaning louder and more assertively. She was doing fine before, I like to tell Hera, who asks if we can please just enjoy the show. 

The stutter shows up everywhere, yet it’s least present when she’s interacting with Hyojun, which I find so beautiful I ache a little.

I think a lot about this story I wrote 12 years ago in which a father takes his son around to different schools because he got kicked out of Poison Spider Elementary for always hanging out in the girls’ bathroom. The son is essentially nonverbal, and the father is hardly articulate, so mostly they’re wandering around confusing the administrative staffs. At the end of the day, they have visited five schools, and the son still has no place. At one point, the father accidentally enters the women’s restroom.

How vehemently editors disliked this story! How offended they were that nothing happened in it! Excuse me, I am not bitter. I only think as an autistic person that everything is happening all the time. To be autie in the alli world is to live conflict ceaselessly. My every story boils down to this, I have realized.

Like now, God, this CGV movie theater, with its 4D horseshit. Hera likes Marvel movies, and anything related to special powers, and therefore we’re watching the Thor sequel. Oh, Lord of Thunder, help us. Grant us reprieve from the lights and the noise and the people chewing popcorn right in front of us. Hyojun is asleep, it looks like. How. 

In the lobby afterward, we eat hotdogs and pace around the arcade. I don’t know what prompts me at first, but I start waddling around like a penguin. That bouncy, broad-footed slide that Attorney Woo uses. My boy, goodness, how he wordlessly mimics me. And it’s not a joke for him or anything to call attention to; it’s simply us being the masters of our own world. 

You boy, you, don’t you dare make me cry in the arcade, goddamn it. But, I do weep as he blasts zombies in House of the Dead 4

It’s almost exam season, so for two weeks I’m going to school every day to help various teachers make good English midterms. My labor is free for Hera because she’s my wife and a goddess and has changed my life irrevocably for the better and snores a lot most nights and on Sundays if I interrupt her making her milk tea and listening to KBO news on YouTube she gets annoyed.

At Bulgok High School, and who’s to say what prompts me this time, I start talking like Attorney Woo. Attorney Woo when she’s in her dad’s gimbap restaurant and droning on. Attorney Woo arranging ham slices into an X because the new ham supplier is bogus.

“Are you okay?” the teachers say.

“I didn’t sleep very well last night,” I tell them, though it’s not true.

The next night, it’s true. Oh, villainy, these rotten scorpions who visit their venom upon me: you don’t make nearly enough money, you layabout fuck. What man makes his wife bring home the bacon? You sit in that room all day, typing nonsense that nobody reads. You could have gone back to school to become a pharmacy technician, but instead you got married, you codependent cur. You lily-livered narcissist. You relief-seeking hermit. You had a kid because you’re selfish, you’re weak, you’re afraid your voice wouldn’t have otherwise lived on, and for immense shame. The world’s dying.

One thing about healing for me is seeing not only that your thoughts aren’t yours but that they’re boring and uninspired. Would I read that conflict there to its very end? Likely not.

I have, nevertheless, come to in the parking lot outside. The many cats from the hanok-style home across the street crawl from beneath silver cars to drag their matted butts against my shins.

What’s the poop? There’s some soil in my underwear now. Crohn’s, maybe? Classic IBS! I do wonder about this grease! The happening poop is my occasional psychosis. 

At another high school, I walk down the hallway with my hands over my ears because the cool kids with their slick watches are shouting at each other about what’s for lunch. They’re so blinded by their own ease that they back up into a mousy girl with thinning hair who’s just trying to pass the day without incident. Then, they ask me for a high-five, which I ignore.

I used to worry that Hyojun would get bullied, but it just doesn’t seem to happen to him. His gaming prowess means the other boys envy him. Plus, he’s tall. Life can be hard for multicultural kids, but his dad is American and white, so that helps. Plus, he’s handsome, even though I’m not so much.

When I was in high school, some older kids asked me to come hang out at the lake with them then proceeded to throw both me and my car keys into the water. I did get home the next day, if a bit worse for wear. Rest assured that nobody will be throwing our son into any lakes or ponds or seas. No oceans or reservoirs or sounds or tributaries. Certainly not the Han River.

At the same time, I do know of parents who have scolded Hera for suggesting their kids were maybe ADHD or autistic. How vehemently they despised these comments! How scandalized they were by them! How quick to phone the vice principal!

“They’re struggling,” she’ll try to explain.

“So, encourage them more!”

Which, this is just to say, I’m thankful for what I have.

At the third high school, there’s a question on the exam about frogs. It’s one of those that asks which underlined sentences have a grammatical error in them. Sometimes, I can’t access the things I know. Sometimes, all I want is for ideas to be exchanged so that we can move forward already.

The frogs does this so that . . . while live in the tree, they . . . the frog in Indonesia lives a whole life without lungs, as it breathes entirely via the skin . . . which it shed daily . . .

I breathing person seeing hornet in room we’re being in.

“Uh oh,” I say aloud. 

It doesn’t sting me, but the teacher I’m with flails suddenly, and this upsets the hornet, who zeroes in on her. After the attack, it bolts straight to the open window as though it knew all along where its path to freedom lay.

At home that night, I try to tell the story to my family yet get confused when I’m reminded I speak only Korean to Hera and only English to Hyojun. Triangulated in this manner, I start mixing and matching, and there is no method to my madness, and the garbled and disorganized mess of ideas is not properly exchanged. 

“What?” asks Hera. 

Hornets are generally shy, the internet tells me later, and only become aggressive if they believe their territory is being significantly threatened.

Only the females, I read on, possess stingers. 

They also hibernate and during this period subsist on stores of nectar.

That weekend we travel to Pyeongtaek to have a playdate with our friends Sunny and Darren, who are rich and multicultural and whose daughter is around Hyojun’s age. After relating the story of the attack in English, I share with them the three hornet facts that I remember, to which they say they know nothing about the insects and have never seen one in real life even.

The kids are staring at one another. Their daughter is an extrovert through and through, and meanwhile our son is a closed cupboard full of the most nutritious and delicious food items available on the market.

He keeps blinking. To swallow, I muse, this activity he wants no part of.

The park we’re at has twisty trees like the Twisty Bridges, though, and as with everything in life things are vastly improved once we start walking. The mommies talk TV and the frog’s leg. Darren tells me how his work’s been going. America denied him a visa recently, but he still gets to keep his job coding for an investment firm in Manhattan. If he had his way and could swing it, he’d rather be designing crossword puzzles or writing some kind of interactive, visual-novel type of game in which kids can learn about themselves and others. 

“And the whale pandemic?” he says to me.

“The what?”

Ah, he means my novel. Billions of humans have been transformed into beluga whales to either perish on dry land or compete for resources in whichever body of water is closest. The meek who inherit the earth are the divergents, whose neurology acts like an immunizing agent. It’s wild.

“I don’t know,” I tell him and open my email. “Let me check. Hang on.”


“No news,” I report then, which is true only for another hour or so. By this point, we have climbed up a small mountain near the park and gotten lost on its convoluted system of trails. Because reasons, the paths are not clearly delineated, unlike in Seoul. Darren dislikes hiking, actually, and so has begun to despair. His daughter is chasing butterflies that lure her into uneven, perilous terrain. Hyojun has sat in the middle of the trail, while Hera and Sunny ask for advice from strangers who are also lost. It’s then that I move to pull up Naver Maps and instead out of habit click on Gmail.

“Well, they said they liked it,” my agent explains. “So, there’s that. But, it just didn’t feel right for them. Onward and to the next one, man. Forget about it, okay?”

Okay, but excuse me for a sec while I tattoo these lines on my chest and sleep shirtless and on my back for the rest of eternity. Angels, glimpse me. The placeless poet. No, I’m kidding. I used to be broken by rejection but now am too tired to be. Plus, I have a family who thinks I’m right for them even when they don’t like me. Like now, when I’m useless trash with helping to navigate.

Yet, we do eventually get off the mountain. And it’s Hyojun who’s the one to lead us out. It’s probable he knew the way the entire time. Boy, that pokerface and nose for exploration. Anyway, we’re all sweaty and over it, and I won’t say who, but somebody here had to make the trees their toilet.

The rejection breaks me every time, in fact, and this makes what I said before a heinous lie. Now, I see the break coming as I descend the stairs into Yatap Station on my way to Nupeulin High School for more exams. I pass the advertisement for the urologist who checked my penis that time the health anxiety commandeered me and I mistook dehydration for something fatal. There’s the dentist who wrenched my wisdom teeth from my dizzy skull. On the train, I plug into a dramatization of Hamlet for research and for comfort because tell me about the quintessence of dust, you prince. I can’t hear the monologue because these 20-somethings in the middle of the car are shouting.

Uh oh. Meltdown. Easy there, big guy. It’s not an assault on you that they like soccer, even if your sensitive earsies say otherwise. But, no, clashing voices can really get to me.

When it’s over, I’ve yelled some and paced some and knocked into some people who are only trying to be alive and then apologized to them to the best of my ability. Oh, heavy deed! I tell them that I’m genuinely the shy hornet. If I react like this, fellow subway passengers, it’s only because some part of my territory feels threatened. Passengers of the yellow Shin-Bundang Line, I have no stinger, see, for I am but a man! 

I tell them I hibernated a whole lot of my life, just years gone, because I never knew how to participate in a way that didn’t systematically erode me. And while hibernating, I did binge on various harmful nectars. So, please believe that I’m trying my best.

None of it, I’m fully aware, will translate all that well. I think at one point I said I fell into the addiction of honey.

At home that evening, I tell Hera she’s my honey wasp. My queen. My Ophelia, worth 40,000 lovers. I say, “O, ye gods! Render me worthy of this noble Wifey!”

“Stop it,” she stammers.


I’m interrupting Extraordinary Lawyer Woo, and in our house that’s a sin. In this one, a North Korean defector accused of robbery and assault and who was on the lamb for years is desperately trying to get a mitigated sentence so that she doesn’t have to spend too much time away from her daughter, who’s either sleeping or sobbing the entire episode. By the end of it, I’m not sure who I’m crying for. Is it Attorney Woo, whose mother abandoned her for some mysterious reason? Is it the refugee, our world’s truly placeless, who gets probation and thanks everyone in the courtroom for understanding her plight? Or is it I, who never sees my own mother, my own mother who was supplanted by my eomeonim, who’s always trying to put some pickled vegetable or other into my mouth?

Ah, no, it’s the music. A soaring soundtrack will get me every time. Shows, movies, commercials, even radio jingles. 

“How do you say melodrama in Korean?” I ask Hera, who sniffs.

The next day, we go to Jamsil for the baseball game, because apparently Wifey wants to see Doosan kick the shit out of Hanhwa, her team. That’s fair enough. We go and buy hot dogs at the stand, and I eat three of them until I’m slowed way, way down. When inevitably I go to the bathroom, Hyojun comes with me and not to pee or anything but just to hang out together. We waddle through the arteries of the stadium and buy plastic cups of ice that we suck on. Outside, I think, Hera snaps photos while the Bears fans chant their chants. 

In our seats again, the kid fires up Subnautica: Below Zero on his Switch and mutters to himself about some hidden alien artefact he still can’t find. I pop in my earplugs, bought special from the UK, to mute the damn everything. But, it means I can’t hear Hera in any detail as she talks about someone she used to know who lives around here. I count how many times the pitcher requests a clean ball from the umpire.

Have some perspective, Attorney Woo, would you? Seven. She tells her dad that on account of her autism, she’ll likely never be able to marry. Eight. Just chill out, okay? Nine. Have some gimbap and relax a bit. Ten. A foul ball is hit beyond the first-base line, in our direction, and I catch it barehanded before it wallops my only child. I give the ball to him, and he gives it to the woman next to him, who gives it to her husband, who gives it to a grandfatherly type figure, who gives it to a child, whose joy is unequivocal. You’re smart, Attorney Woo. You can see this line of benevolence and love on which we all reside. We, all of us, the aliens included.

On the train home, I save myself the trouble and read a short story online instead of finishing the Hamlet performance on Scribd. Boy, and it’s a doozy: yet another in a trend of stories using sad, dead, or suicidal autistic kids as plot tricks in service of some typical adult’s emotional arc. 

This secondary character has destroyed a marriage, at which my heart wants to rage. Thrust my rapier into your threadbare tapestry, story! But, I scabbard that motherfucker, for methinks the person doth protest too much. And it’s fine, really. It is. Carry on, Poloniuses, to thine own selves be true.

Because as I stand shoulder to shoulder in a hot subway box, as I climb the stairs at Yatap Station shoulder to shoulder with strangers and smokers and talkers, as I stand in line for soondae at a busy shop in a busy market with cooks screaming and bustling and clanging dishes together so loud it hurts me and I go mute while ordering: as I gesture to Hyojun that Dad needs a moment, all right, and look upon his face as it contorts into tantrum and bow slightly to Hera that she might take over for me, please and thank you, and finally while walking home by the Tancheon my language jumbles and I forget the word for white, skyward fluff then momentarily am blind to the bigness of all creatures and beings, I know my babo brain is lying to me when it says I should jump ship and drown. In any case, the water in that stream is far too shallow. This life’s brilliant, man, and if you want proof, go check the koi fish gathered like family by the footbridge. 

Tim Raymond is an autistic writer from Wyoming. His stories are forthcoming in Chicago Quarterly Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Southeast Review, and other journals. He currently lives in South Korea and posts comics about mental health on Instagram at @iamsitting.