Rachel Laverdiere

Rachel Laverdiere writes, pots and teaches in her little house on the Canadian prairies. She is CNF editor at Atticus Review and the creator of Hone & Polish Your Writing. Find Rachel’s prose in Atlas and Alice, Bending Genres, The Citron Review and other fine journals. In 2020, her CNF made The Wigleaf Top 50 and was nominated for Best of the Net. For more, visit www.rachellaverdiere.com.

THE HUMMING MAN by Rachel Laverdiere

I know better than risking the mall, the Salvation Army Santa’s bucket near the bus stop, but they’ve got a two-for-one on frozen pizzas at the E-Z-Mart, and I’ve been craving pepperoni all week.

Santa’s jingling coins follow me into the store, but I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams…blares overhead and soon enough I join the long line of paunchy, middle-aged men and wonder how many have a Christine who left when the ruts cratered.

I unzip my parka, press the frozen pizzas against my cheek and try to figure out what’s making the hum I’m thankful for because it distracts me from the sound that drove Christine away, the slot machines throbbing in my temple.

One day she went to her mother’s and never came back, claimed the rows of rolled quarters and dimes I hid in the sock drawer suffocated her, six of which, through the pocket of my sweats, I press into my thigh.

The man ahead of me unwinding his scarf, tugs the toque from his bald head, and the hum becomes a buzz.

He turns to me,  points to his ear, says, “The buzzing bothering you? Just trying to relieve the tinnitus.”

My eyes must plead “yes” because he replaces the toque and the buzz fades to a hum, but then my slots go wild.


I spot the humming man near the Salvation Army Santa, get in line next to him and count change for the bus.

He smiles and says, “Money concerns, hey?”

I raise my eyebrows. “You can hear my sound?”

“Clanking coins. Sort of like a slot machine. Just like you’re picking up on my skeeter.” He points at his ear.

Tears sting the back of my nose—Christine thought I was crazy, the doctor said it was stress, but this stranger hears it too.

He leans towards me, pulls off the toque and says, “Go ahead. Take a closer look.”

A tiny mosquito is poised at the entrance to his ear. “Is it real?”

He chuckles .“Tattoo—she did a great job inking.”

Coins cascade like a waterfall.

He winks. “Best investment I’ve ever made. Not sure how it works, but this skeeter releases some of the noise from inside my head.” He hands me a business card, says, “Tell her Frank sent you for noise relief.” He puts his toque back on. “Far as I can figure, it’s people like us who hear noises in our heads who’s sensitive to the sounds in others’ heads. Right now, your coins are driving me mad!”

As the bus pulls up, he waves farewell, tosses his bus fare into Santa’s bucket and laughs when the slot machine strikes a jackpot.

On the bus, I doodle a stack of coins on the back of Jaina’s Tattoo Parlour. Instead of ignoring the ticking clock, I try to pinpoint the toque that muffles it.

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FOREIGNER by Rachel Laverdiere

When the cockroach and I lock eyes, I’m almost relieved. You’ve half convinced me that I’m neurotic. You say I imagine the scrutiny of the old ajumas at the outdoor markets, the side-eyed stares on the train to Kimje, the personalized attack by the orangutan at the Taegu Zoo. Yet, I’ve caught these glossy black orbs peering at me from above the window overlooking the hall. A hand’s-breadth from the closed classroom door. My only means of escape. I twist the pinching wedding bands your mother had made for me when we came back to Korea to exhibit our newborn son. She’d tried to convince me that her son and grandson belonged in this country, with her. It didn’t seem to matter where I belonged. 

At last, I have proof that I’m being watched, but I hardly feel vindicated. 

Your metred baritone penetrates the wall between our classrooms. The machine-gun clatter of children’s laughter and then a lull. Soon, the hall will fill with the youngest yuchiwon kids. If I don’t make my move now, I’ll have to wait for “Jake-teacher” to settle his next kindergarten class. I ease my chair away from the half-finished reports. I keep my eyes on the giant cockroach while I edge toward the door. 

Once I make it into the hallway, your voice booms. I glance into the window, watch the kids smother you. Black ants on honey. When I rap at the windowpane, the furrow dividing your angular brow crosses concern with annoyance. I raise my eyebrows and mime helplessness. This cannot wait.  

You brush off the children and line them up at the door. Soon, they screech toward the office to meet the piano teacher. 

Rather than explain, which would likely lead you to dismiss the cockroach as another over-dramatization and judgement of Korea, I say, “Just come. Please.” You glance at your watch but follow.


Entering my classroom, I point out the intruder, still perched near the ceiling. You glance at your watch again, sigh and remove your polished shoe and climb atop a student desk. Thwack! As your shoe smacks the wall, the cockroach soars across the room and lands on my desk. You topple to the ground, your shoeless hand protecting your face.

I choke back my laughter but cannot conceal my grin as this tragedy becomes comedy. 

“It’s a foreigner!” You spit the bitter words before you crush the cockroach between your shoe and my reports.  

My smirk melts from my lips. Twisting my wedding bands, I ask, “But how can you tell?” 

“Native cockroaches don’t fly.” You force your foot into its shoe and yank the shoelaces so hard I’m surprised they don’t snap. Your gaze hooks into mine, and you add, “Foreigners can’t be trusted to stay put.”

The heat of your words stings my cheeks. The door thuds behind you. 

As I scrub cockroach remains from my reports, I picture the hefty white envelope at the bottom of my teaching bag. It’s stacked with enough won to pay back my student loans. Almost enough to get our son and I settled back in Canada. I set my teeth, determined to leave before I, too, am squashed.

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