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1st Prize Winner - Group IV - Min-Na

March, 2015
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Min-Na

The day you moved from San Francisco to Milwaukee, or as you liked to call it, “a white trash city in the middle of nowhere,” there was rain in the middle of a bone-dry summer. Barefoot children danced flailing foxtrots on steaming gravel streets, my mother’s carefully tended petunias flopped about like beached whales, and my father complained that the empty mansion along the way was a fire hazard, because it would light itself in flames like a Malboro cigarette.

You came like the rain.

It was like a mirage—unaccustomed to this sudden downpour, we were drowned in youth, in life, in the relentless patters of promise. Overnight, the trees unfurled their leaves and metamorphosed from worn husks into oaken giants from the garden of Eve, and the drainpipes, unaccustomed from the sudden workload; moaned, groaned and choked on their own rust.

My mother joked that I thought you were the messiah. But who could blame her? It was as if that towering mover’s van you rode in on with your family were the rain clouds that brought back life.

Of course, rumors and gossip had been spread thick like peanut butter long before you peeked your inquisitive, almond shaped eyes around the doorframe of our grade two classroom. I imagined you would be like the exotic fair-faced doll my father had brought me back from Asia before the hard times hit - slick-oiled hair pulled into a chin-length bob, a wrinkled button nose, and an equally dainty little mouth. In a way, you were the doll; and when your dark hair fell in teases at your waist instead of brushing your jaw, or when your thin lips parted in a half-smirk to glimmer pearly-white teeth, I wasn’t disappointed in the least.

 

Before you moved in, my brothers used to dare each other to climb into your mansion at night. Once, they stayed till dawn and told me - amidst bouts of shivering and coughs, that they saw headless ghosts. I never mustered enough courage to verify their words, and either way, they each caught a good chestful of pneumonia from staying out overnight in the cold.

It wouldn’t be that hard convincing me the place is haunted now - I’d even wait there, because I know you’ll come for me in time.

Despite all the gossip, the realtor never mentioned the foreigners had kids. The old folks who had been here since the Dust Bowl wouldn’t have believed it - we still had trouble convincing them that segregation was over.

But your family had kids all right, and I still thank god that one of them was you.

 

We were both the youngest in a male-dominated family - tomboys with a streak of introversion. Novels were our friends, and there was nothing more satisfying then spending an afternoon with the fictional figments that spoke in delightful tongues only we could decipher. Days were spent traversing unknown lands with twenty-six syllable names, digging up treasures of gold nuggets and rare diamonds - all of which surmounted to a large pile of dirt and a ruptured underground pipe in my yard. Even my mother’s squawks of fury could not serve to deter us brave adventurers of the unseen.

We christened the crossroads near our street the Bend, and swore that it would be our special meeting spot in times of need, anger or sadness.

In the heat of our childhood, we made mindless oaths that when we were old, we would “get the hell out of here”.

 

Then came the awkwardness of the pubescent years, when we shed our tight skins of childhood for the much more desirable attention of the opposite gender. Perhaps a little easier for you than I.

I will not lie: jealousy sat uncomfortably in my stomach and nagged teasingly at my heartstrings when all the boys at school responded to your quirky, sarcastic charm instead of my sandy unkempt hair and cheeks spattered with orange freckles.

You were the pearl of the East, whilst I was a character of an Old West Novella - two exquisite melodies each desirable in its own right, but forgetful of the harmony. The gentle lull of childhood that had pulled us in sync lost its magic touch, and we diverged not like two roads in the wood, but in gentle waves pulled apart by the deceptive lure of the universe.

 

Our aspirations veered too. I wanted to settle down, sort and shovel my childhood dreams into old cardboard boxes - safely out of touch and temptation. The day I told you I wanted to become the town librarian, you stopped in your tracks, fixed your piercing vortexes on every inch of my being, and whispered, “Are you insane?”

I envied your almost childish aspirations for backpacking through Europe, scaling the Himalayas, learning Arabic, and working in giant turtle conservation.

I wanted to start a family, but you wouldn’t hear of it. “They’d only slow me down”, you said. But perhaps that was easier for you to say when you had the entire football team wrapped around your slender pinkie.

Collision theory states that two particles orbiting in opposite directions are statistically likely to crash someday.

 

That day, we hadn’t talked for two months and counting. You had new friends, cooler friends, which the old folks liked to call “too next century”. I should’ve been friends with them too. Instead, I turned to other quiet, bookish girls like me, with black-rimmed glasses and hard set lines at the corners of our mouths that were used for emphasis when we concentrated on a particularly difficult excerpt of the Odyssey.

Those old folks used to pinch my terse cheeks - still speckled with freckles, but now faded from a divorce from the sun, and ask “Why so serious?”

 

That day, on the 18th of December, a week from Christmas, I was supposed to pick you up from the Bend at 5:30. We were supposed to head to Reminiscence, the hip café that you and your new friends loved. We were supposed to do Christmas shopping after catching up over a cup of black coffee, or a caramel sea salt Frappuccino with a half shot of vodka, to “bring out the taste” for you.

For two hours, we were supposed to pretend that time had not worn an unbridgeable rift between us.

We were supposed to be young.

We were supposed to be happy.

We were supposed to be immortal in the way all youth believe they are.

 

Running late at 5:32, I swore loudly in my car, and punched your number on Bluetooth.

When you didn’t pick up, I didn’t think much of it. You were careless and forgot your phone all the time; besides, you had my number on a semi-permanent mute.

When I rounded the Bend and you weren’t there, I felt nothing but the familiar tug of annoyance. She thinks she’s so cool now; she can blow me off anytime.

When the seconds melted by into hours, annoyance grew into worry, worry into apprehension, and apprehension to fear.

 

Five minutes. That’s how long it took for them to shatter your sallow face, rape your lifeless body, and toss it mindlessly from the bridge into the roaring waters that pulled you under.

Your face follows me everywhere as I satellite your house: empty, yet again.

How can I face these childhood oaths, those midnight confessions, the desperate patches on a festering wound pulled apart by a predetermined force, like the bobbing of waves unto a lonely moon.

I could have fought it.

I could have tried.

 

They say, “A friend in need is a friend indeed”

This is my crown of thorns.

This is my cross to bear. 

 

By Valerie Cai,

Shanghai American School

 

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