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178

THE PAPER MENAGERIE

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Liu, K. (2016). THE PAPER MENAGERIE. In Liu, K. The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. Gallery / Saga Press, pp. 178-192

183

At dinner I asked Dad, “Do I have a chink face?”

Dad put down his chopsticks. Even though I had never told him what happened in school, he seemed to understand. He closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “No, you don’t.”

Mom looked at Dad, not understanding. She looked back at me. “Sha jiao chink?”

“English,” I said. “Speak English.”

She tried. “What happen?”

I pushed the chopsticks and the bowl before me away: stir-fried green peppers with five-spice beef. “We should eat American food.”

Dad tried to reason. “A lot of families cook Chinese sometimes.”

“We are not other families.” I looked at him. Other families don’t have moms who don’t belong.

He looked away. And then he put a hand on Mom’s shoulder. “I’ll get you a cookbook.”

Mom turned to me. “Bu haochi?”

“English,” I said, raising my voice. “Speak English.”

Mom reached out to touch my forehead, feeling for my temperature. “Fashao la?”

I brushed her hand away. “I’m fine. Speak English!” I was shouting.

“Speak English to him,” Dad said to Mom. “You knew this was going to happen someday. What did you expect?”

painful

—p.183 by Ken Liu 3 years, 9 months ago

At dinner I asked Dad, “Do I have a chink face?”

Dad put down his chopsticks. Even though I had never told him what happened in school, he seemed to understand. He closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “No, you don’t.”

Mom looked at Dad, not understanding. She looked back at me. “Sha jiao chink?”

“English,” I said. “Speak English.”

She tried. “What happen?”

I pushed the chopsticks and the bowl before me away: stir-fried green peppers with five-spice beef. “We should eat American food.”

Dad tried to reason. “A lot of families cook Chinese sometimes.”

“We are not other families.” I looked at him. Other families don’t have moms who don’t belong.

He looked away. And then he put a hand on Mom’s shoulder. “I’ll get you a cookbook.”

Mom turned to me. “Bu haochi?”

“English,” I said, raising my voice. “Speak English.”

Mom reached out to touch my forehead, feeling for my temperature. “Fashao la?”

I brushed her hand away. “I’m fine. Speak English!” I was shouting.

“Speak English to him,” Dad said to Mom. “You knew this was going to happen someday. What did you expect?”

painful

—p.183 by Ken Liu 3 years, 9 months ago
185

Dad and I stood, one on each side of Mom lying in her hospital bed. She was not yet even forty, but she looked much older.

For years she had refused to go to the doctor for the pain inside her that she said was no big deal. By the time an ambulance finally carried her in, the cancer had spread far beyond the limits of surgery.

My mind was not in the room. It was the middle of the on-campus recruiting season, and I was focused on résumés, transcripts, and strategically constructed interview schedules. I schemed about how to lie to the corporate recruiters most effectively so that they’d offer to buy me. I understood intellectually that it was terrible to think about this while your mother lay dying. But that understanding didn’t mean I could change how I felt.

—p.185 by Ken Liu 3 years, 9 months ago

Dad and I stood, one on each side of Mom lying in her hospital bed. She was not yet even forty, but she looked much older.

For years she had refused to go to the doctor for the pain inside her that she said was no big deal. By the time an ambulance finally carried her in, the cancer had spread far beyond the limits of surgery.

My mind was not in the room. It was the middle of the on-campus recruiting season, and I was focused on résumés, transcripts, and strategically constructed interview schedules. I schemed about how to lie to the corporate recruiters most effectively so that they’d offer to buy me. I understood intellectually that it was terrible to think about this while your mother lay dying. But that understanding didn’t mean I could change how I felt.

—p.185 by Ken Liu 3 years, 9 months ago
191

She told me about American men who wanted Asian wives. If I can cook, clean, and take care of my American husband, he’ll give me a good life. It was the only hope I had. And that was how I got into the catalog with all those lies and met your father. It is not a very romantic story, but it is my story.

In the suburbs of Connecticut, I was lonely.  Your father was kind and gentle with me, and I was very grateful to him. But no one understood me, and I understood nothing.

But then you were born! I was so happy when I looked into your face and saw shades of my mother, my father, and myself. I had lost my entire family, all of Sigulu, everything I ever knew and loved. But there you were, and your face was proof that they were real. I hadn’t made them up.

Now I had someone to talk to. I would teach you my language, and we could together remake a small piece of everything that I loved and lost.   When you said your first words to me, in Chinese that had the same accent as my mother and me, I cried for hours. When I made the first zhezhi animals for you, and you laughed, I felt there were no worries in the world.

You grew up a little, and now you could even help your father and I talk to each other. I was really at home now. I finally found a good life. I wished my parents could be here, so that I could cook for them and give them a good life too. But my parents were no longer around.  You know what the Chinese think is the saddest feeling in the world? It’s for a child to finally grow the desire to take care of his parents, only to realize that they were long gone.

Son, I know that you do not like your Chinese eyes, which are my eyes. I know that you do not like your Chinese hair, which is my hair. But can you understand how much joy your very existence brought to me? And can you understand how it felt when you stopped talking to me and won’t let me talk to you in Chinese? I felt I was losing everything all over again.

Why won’t you talk to me, son? The pain makes it hard to write.

—p.191 by Ken Liu 3 years, 9 months ago

She told me about American men who wanted Asian wives. If I can cook, clean, and take care of my American husband, he’ll give me a good life. It was the only hope I had. And that was how I got into the catalog with all those lies and met your father. It is not a very romantic story, but it is my story.

In the suburbs of Connecticut, I was lonely.  Your father was kind and gentle with me, and I was very grateful to him. But no one understood me, and I understood nothing.

But then you were born! I was so happy when I looked into your face and saw shades of my mother, my father, and myself. I had lost my entire family, all of Sigulu, everything I ever knew and loved. But there you were, and your face was proof that they were real. I hadn’t made them up.

Now I had someone to talk to. I would teach you my language, and we could together remake a small piece of everything that I loved and lost.   When you said your first words to me, in Chinese that had the same accent as my mother and me, I cried for hours. When I made the first zhezhi animals for you, and you laughed, I felt there were no worries in the world.

You grew up a little, and now you could even help your father and I talk to each other. I was really at home now. I finally found a good life. I wished my parents could be here, so that I could cook for them and give them a good life too. But my parents were no longer around.  You know what the Chinese think is the saddest feeling in the world? It’s for a child to finally grow the desire to take care of his parents, only to realize that they were long gone.

Son, I know that you do not like your Chinese eyes, which are my eyes. I know that you do not like your Chinese hair, which is my hair. But can you understand how much joy your very existence brought to me? And can you understand how it felt when you stopped talking to me and won’t let me talk to you in Chinese? I felt I was losing everything all over again.

Why won’t you talk to me, son? The pain makes it hard to write.

—p.191 by Ken Liu 3 years, 9 months ago