“Third Generation” by George Oliver



They start innocuous, as playful mispronunciations of my surname. I blink and the interactions have escalated to being pinned against a wall and pummelled repeatedly by Jon, Bret, and Joanne while the trio shout at me in unison, collectively demanding the answer to BUT WHERE ARE YOU REALLY FROM as I whimper the “nowhere important” I think they want to hear before realising, too late, that only informational specificity might spare me from a broken nose or bruised ribs. Does anything good come in three? Really? That’s what we say. It’s a crowd. The Wise Men. The time periods: past, present, future. The fundamental qualities of the universe: time, space, matter. But just as often, three’s a hindrance. An obstacle, subject to chance. Rock, paper, and scissors. Macbeth’s witches. Goldilocks’ bears. The blind mice. Three shouldn’t lead to hardship when it comes to generation of immigrant, but it does. I’ve had citizenship since birth. It’s my only citizenship. I literally can’t live in the country I get beaten up for supposedly being “from.” My Grandma is of the 1.5 generation, immigrating in her early teens rather than before she was five (the 1.75) or closer to adulthood (the 1.25). Imagine thinking that these distinctions are anything more than arbitrary. Imagine thinking that they are important enough to be social labels.


Where was I? Getting beaten up. I didn’t even know you could still get beaten up after high school. But here I am, a twenty-seven-year-old man being pinned against a wall by Jon, Brett, and Joanne as they hurl insults and throw punches at my nose and ribs. Their nights can’t have been good ones. Jon took the lead, scowling at everyone in the bar until someone was unfortunate or brave enough to catch his eye. Jon’s well over 6 ft and what one might describe as scary looking. After realising I was the unfortunate one, I noticed Brett march over to wind me up. Who am I waiting for? Why am I drinking gin? Who picks my wardrobe? Is that fucking makeup? I tried to smile it off but I was too visibly uncomfortable to hide the fact. But he was “joking.” They’re always “joking.”


*


Later, Jon and Brett have had more to drink and are clearly not joking, I’m no longer alone, and I have the privilege of meeting Joanne. I try to guess but can’t discern if she’s a sister or partner to one of the men, and to whom, depending on which. This is the part where they learn my surname. Again, I’m too nervous to do anything but respond to their question, unable to think straight and remind myself that relinquishing this particular bit of information has historically exacerbated these kinds of situations for me, always resulting in worse outcomes. After comically mispronouncing my surname, Jon surmises that ‘It doesn’t sound English, though.’ ‘Yeah, it doesn’t sound English,’ Joanne parrots, neither reinforcing nor elaborating on Jon’s version of the statement. ‘I’ve never even been to Poland,’ I try, testing the new argumentative waters. ‘You’d have never been to England if it wasn’t for your nan, coming over here and stealing our country.’ I compete with the desire to say anything that will get me out of this uncomfortable situation and wanting to take down Joanne’s claim with the smallest amount of intelligence required to puncture its complete stupidity, to deflate its completely fragile sense of purpose. ‘Poland, right? So what does that make you – Jewish?’ Bret adds, all but rubbing his hands together with glee at the prospect of this whole new critical avenue. ‘I’m Christian.’ ‘Third Generation Jew… who knew?’ Jon and Joanne begin to join in with the chant. I decide that if I stare long and hard enough into the bottom of my empty glass enough time will pass for the whole exchange to move towards some sort of climax. I don’t realise that doing so will transport me outdoors into the cold and see me pinned against a wall in a deserted alley, so I’m unable to prevent the start of this persecutory cycle.




My name is George (he/him) and I am a PhD candidate and Graduate Teaching Assistant at King's College London, as well as a short fiction and culture writer. I am also Assistant Editor at Coastal Shelf. My recent and forthcoming publications include Avatar Review, Derailleur Press, The First Line, and Overland. I was also shortlisted for Ouen Press' 2019 Short Story Competition; my work appears in their print collection Zawadi & Other Short Stories (2020, ed. P. Comley).