Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Three Beautiful Things

* * * Going out to breakfast on a weekday.

The bagel joint is not quite awake. The muscular bald man who punches the keys on his point of sales system gives out a motorbike riding, leather boots wearing but friendly nonetheless uncle Jimmy vibe. He gets the order wrong three times and cusses in between takes. I wait patiently. We are so early this is amusing rather than frustrating. He sees the smirk on my face and waves me away.

Please take a seat and we will get it out to you soon.

Somehow he can act frustrated with himself and the register without making me feel bad. It's a gift of sort. We get our orders sooner than expected. More people file in as we wait--long haired high school girls glued to their phones. Dads whose wallets bulge from the back pockets of their jeans. The older crowd hasn't arrived yet. They know to wait out the morning rush by settling into Thai Chi poses somewhere near the greens, behind the home plate at the nearest community park.

* * * Curly hair

He was born with baby hair so tawny and fine it curled  up at the ends, a bit Shirley Temple like. Then he became a toddler, and his hair straightened out, though still soft. Too soft to curl, it seemed at the time.

- Did I really have curly hair when I was a baby? He'd ask me on the way home from preschool.
- Yes. Your hair was longer then. It's too short to curl up now, perhaps.
- Then I want to grow my hair out so it can curl again.
- Maybe.

It was only a mild case of intellectual curiosity. I figured. We never did let it grow. Little league, cub scout, violin recitals. Many more things demanded our attention, and time. He never mentioned it again, not one to fuss about his appearance.

He is fifteen suddenly. One day I looked up, his head now somewhere above mine. His hair has grown darker, longer. It has been six weeks since his last hair cut. Tendrils have grown past his ears, reached down his neck and are touching down to his eyebrows in gentle, curling waves.

- Your hair is curly now.
- Yes.
- Do you remember...?
- Yes.
- Oh.

He still spends no time on his appearance. No time in front of the mirror other than putting on or taking off his contacts. I reach out on my tiptoe and touch his hair. Surprised.

It's still soft.

* * * Candles on my desk

There are pots of candles on my desk. They are thick and white pillars set inside flower pots. When they are lit, it looks like I have orange and red flames growing among my piles of electronics. Contained. For now.

I love to buy orchids from the supermarket when I spot them. Weeks after in fact. They are lovely, tendrils too weak to carry the heads of flowers so they get propped up by a green floral stick, clipped with a tiny hair clamp. I like the white ones, for they remind me of clouds. Of Beijing. For some reason I know once but can no longer remember.

The orchids never survive for more than a week or two, unaccustomed to the sharp changes in temperature, moisture level and erratic watering routine. I bury them away but save the pots. Then I place my candles in them, and watch the warmth kiss the raw clay surface inside, until it too, glows.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Fiction: Black Soot

I cover them in my prayers. But it's no use. She insists on ruining everything.

Not everything is her fault.

I was never much of a mother, except when she was an infant. I washed her every day, fed her until she was white and fat--a symbol of success way back then, where we came from. The water always turned gray, black, as if she had spent the day inside a coal mine. Those winters. We might as well rolled around in coal. Beijing. It felt like another time, another world.

He used to beat me at night. When all was asleep. But I knew she could hear it. She never stirred, so I could tell she was pretending. Deep sleep like that wasn't a thing she knew. Her lashes pressed too tight against her eyelids. Her breath held for too long.

I'd tremble, bleed and beg him to stop. But nothing worked. He needed the release and I was his punching bag. As soon as he heard the sounds of my bones crunching against the ridges of his fist, his face would soften, crumble. Tears, apologies. Then we sleep. I'd hear her sigh, a long choppy exhale like how babies sobbed through their sleeps.  It'd grind on my chest, like some sort of a rock. Ridiculous. The sound of one breath.

She'd get sick. So often I lose track of the times she was well, so far and few in between fevers, coughs and sleepless nights. He'd hover over her, wash towels, treats, boiled pears cooked slowly in rock sugar to sooth her bronchi. Eyes so tender it broke me, lit me up from the inside with rage. I'd yank her up as she worked up another sleepy cough and told her to sit up for the rest of the night, pounding on her back. That would stop you from coughing. I shouted. It wasn't me. I didn't recognize that woman who shouted at her own sick kid.

Yan would leave the room, riding his bicycle around town for hours, hunting for cures. He came back one morning, having been gone all night, holding a white paper square. Inside were ground up powders of deer antlers. A thimbleful.

I cried. I didn't know how he got them. How much it cost. But I could guess--a fortune. Everyone knew they cured coughs and strengthened even the weakest lungs, bronchi.  He wore a white bandage on his arm, and a blue sheen over his face. Did you sell your blood? Or liver?  I asked him, fire in my eyes, though I couldn't stop crying.

He waved me away and began boiling the powder with other herbs. I prayed it would cure her, or kill her. I hadn't slept for a month, spending days making shoes for others, nights with him, and her. One who beat me, one whom I'd love to beat. But the stale air soaked with boiling herbs and coal fire and our recycled breath stifled me, pressed on my mind and my hands. I could only move in a predetermined pattern my own mother had taught me. Cook, clean, care for the young. I had seven younger siblings. I'd carried six on my back, one at a time, while Mother worked in the field, swept around the house, taught me how to cook and locked up on the bed with Father.

Why am I thinking about all these? She's the one ruining things, not me. But I have my part, I guess. That's why.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...