When Sam was eight years old, a white man photographed him sitting by the window at his father’s laundromat. Sam’s older brother, Joshua, came running when he saw the camera, and the two alternated poses, flexing muscles, putting arms over one another’s shoulders, which segued into headlocks. The photographer laughed along with them as his camera clicked
The photographer came inside and tried to talk with their father, who didn’t speak any English. The photographer produced a sheaf of papers, which the old man couldn’t read. Sam volunteered, looking over the documents, the top of which read PHOTO RELEASE FOR PUBLICATION. He told his father to sign. The old man obliged, and a month later, there was Sam—Sam, alone—on the cover of Our Times magazine. In the photograph, he stared out the window, not looking at the camera. White lettering in the upper right corner read, DREAMS OF A NEW LIFE IN AMERICA. Sam and Joshua flipped through the magazine at the newsstand to see the rest of the pictures of them inside, but the photo essay pictured a man cutting the head off a fish in a Chinese restaurant, a woman tending her garden, children walking to school. There were no other images from the laundromat.
Joshua put the change back in his pocket and walked away. Sam had to borrow a quarter from his mother to buy his copy.
Twenty years later, Sam looked out the rain-soaked windshield of his electric green Buick Le Sabre. He saw the same city streets, but no longer looked out at them to dream of his life ahead. Instead, when he looked at the alleyways of Flushing where he had played stickball, or the diner where he took his high school girlfriends, they seemed like places he had conquered and moved past. The morning rain washed his life clean and put the past in its proper perspective. The rain separated him from the Laundromat, from the convenience store Joshua had opened two doors down, and from his mother who still cooked for the men of the family every night.
Sam had gone north and met a girl. That morning he would be married.
Sam shifted gears. He started to reach for Caroline’s hand, but thought better of it. Caroline’s brother Jacob and their mother, sat in the backseat, and Sam thought it best to remain conservative. He reached up, instead, to the radio knob, turning it on just loudly enough to be heard over the windshield wipers.
Sam hummed along to The Commodores’ crooning, but Caroline changed the station. She stopped on a rock and roll song, then switched the station again, settling on a lighter rock melody with a bit of country twang, in which backup singers echoed a high-pitched soloist.
Caroline looked straight ahead and wore a close-lipped smile. Sam tapped his fingers against the steering wheel.
Sam parked the Buick three blocks from City Hall. He bolted from the car, intending to open the door for Caroline, but she already had it open by the time he got there. He hustled to the other side of the car to get the door for her mother, but she, too, was half-out of the car by the time he arrived.
Caroline’s brother stretched both arms. He wore a wide-collared shirt and dark brown corduroys, no tie. His attire didn’t matter for a City Hall wedding, but when everyone else was so dressed up, Sam wondered if it was a potshot, because Jacob didn’t take the wedding seriously. Caroline always told Sam her brother was an artist. Maybe he didn’t even own a tie. Jacob removed a cigarette case and lighter from his pocket.
Caroline and her mother each opened little umbrellas to guard against the drizzle. Sam looked in through the car window, but already knew he had forgotten his own. He flipped his black and white tie with the dragon crest over his shoulder, un-tucked the nice white shirt he had bought for the day, and shoved the folder with his Social Security Card and birth certificate against the skin of his stomach to keep it dry.
“Great day for a wedding, huh?” Sam laughed and charged ahead toward City Hall, the women right behind him. He looked back to find Jacob strolling several strides back, exhaling a long stream of smoke.
They waited under the eaves outside City Hall. Sam removed his folder and checked to make sure everything remained in place. He tucked his shirt back in and straightened his tie in his ethereal reflection in the big glass windows.
Joshua drove the rest of their party—Sam’s mother and father. Joshua had purchased a Chevy pickup truck since Sam’s last visit to the city, and wheeled around the neighborhoods proudly in it. In Joshua’s typical fashion, he hadn’t thought about the practicalities—parking the truck in the city was a nightmare.
Everything was easy with Caroline. She always showed up on time. She was quiet and didn’t get riled up over nothing the way most girls did. When they decided to get married she had no interest in a large church ceremony, flowers, or gown—the money they saved would afford them a down payment on a house.
Sam surveyed her family. Who knew that while he split time between a cramped apartment, a laundromat, and an overcrowded school, this family lived a stone’s throw away in Astoria. Sam hadn’t met Caroline until General Electric hired them both to work Upstate. He wondered if he had passed any of them on the street before that and, if he had, if any of them would have given the skinny Chinese boy with big glasses a second look.
“It almost looks like a church.” Caroline’s mother craned her neck backward to admire the building’s brickwork. “It’s such a beautiful building.”
Jacob rolled his eyes and lit another cigarette in the rain.
Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and is currently an MFA candidate in creative writing at Oregon State University. He won the 2014 Jim Knudsen Editor’s Prize for fiction from the University of New Orleans and has previously published fiction and poetry in over twenty journals including *Bayou Magazine*, *The Rappahannock Review*, and *The Pacific Review*. Follow him on Twitter @miketchin.