Pamela Johnson Parker


Elements are mercurial—so is glass, which is liquid, not solid. It’s deceptive, like my breasts. It looks solid, but it’s not. They look real, but they’re really not. Think mirrors, thermometers, Mercury with his caduceus. If you squint, caduceus looks like cadeau, the French word for gift. Each day is a gift is a platitude my pharmacist told me—language I prefer to ignore. Mercury’s the god of lies as well as medicine.

While I was lying in the MRI the first time, I tried to remember the periodic table. Alkaline metals are the first group—hydrogen lithium sodium potassium rubium cesium…Hydrogen and helium are in the same period—H and He, the first period. In school my first-period classes were PE, Physics, Chemistry, and Calculus. Holly Hawes was in all of my first periods, and she died of breast cancer. My first period was New Year’s Day 1974, during the Rose Bowl Parade. I don’t remember my last period. Chemo stopped it.

Later, in the PET scanner, I catalogued alkaline earth metals—beryllium magnesium calcium strontium barium radium—somewhat reactive. I reacted to my first period with joy and a sense of relief. Maybe now, I thought, I’ll get breasts. I had breasts for the next 42 years. Then I had one, then none, then two. My torso was curved, then Amazon, then flitter-flat, then round again.

I don’t remember much about chemistry except for Coach Mac and the periodic table. Chemotherapy was periodic. Poison was pestled to perpetuate me. Sometimes I wanted to die. Sometimes I didn’t. Coach Mac made elements and compounds clear as water, two hydrogen, one oxygen. Patterns were easy when he explained them. Sometimes I wanted to live. Sometimes I didn’t. That was a pattern I started to recognize.

I never loved the earth, until I thought I might not see it. I never loved the air and never thought about it, never worried about breathing, until I showed the scars to my lover. I don’t remember all he said, just Don’t worry, so of course I held my breath and did. Louis was a pharmacist, and he left me. After that secession, I decided on reconstruction and against being an Amazon.

My scars resemble the Phoenician letter for hook, which became our alphabet’s Ff, Uu, Vv, Yy, Ww. The letters are paired, the way my breasts came back. They’re perfect now. The scars still feel as though there’s a fishhook tugging at each nipple.

I was the exception to the elemental rule of the operating table. I awakened, came up through air, then went back under, like a fish snagged on a line. I was baptized, I reacted, I was reactive, I was radioactive. I went flat but didn’t flatline.

When my breasts—or rather the cage of ribs where breasts were and would be again—were outlined with radiation tattoos, they looked like the Phoenician symbols for wheels—round with quadrants, like not-so-little hot cross buns. What was that old rhyme—some like it hot? some like it cold? Radiation therapy burned, then I was cold for weeks and weeks.

I used to be so jealous, wrote a friend. You were the one with boobs. Was that meant to flatter? Well, reconstruction made me flatter before I was rounder. I wore tissue expanders for months. I mummified my breasts in Ace bandages for nearly a year. She wrote, Did vanity make you have surgery? There’s an element of truth in that. Is it vanity to want a silhouette? To want a lover, one who wants you back?

The mercury glass on my bubble mirror tarnishes like sterling, blotches black with bloom (shadows doubly shadowed on my mammogram). Here are my breasts—dimpling, scarred. My nipples look like a puddle pocked with rain, concentric circles (a dartboard on the diagram the plastic surgeon drew).

Dame Fortuna’s a wheel, and I hope I’m on the upswing now—or some element of that gondola ride through the air. My oncologist tells me, Things are looking up. I look up my horoscope—Cancer, today’s a good day for love. The zodiac elements are fire, water, earth, air. I’m water. The last three men I loved were water. My best love was fire, and we burned and we quenched.

Now that I have newer breasts, people look at them. I don’t know whether it’s admiration or investigation. When I look at my breasts these days, it’s mostly in the mirror, when I’m brushing my hair. It’s grown in, it’s grown long, it ripples to the small of my back. Most days I wear it loose. That pharmacist called me six weeks ago, but I didn’t pick up. Not reacting is also an answer.

Cleave, Pamela Johnson Parker’s first poetry collection, won the 2017 Trio Award (Trio House Press). Her poems and lyric essays appear in Iron Horse Literary Review, American Poetry Journal, diode, Poets and Artists, Gamut, Spaces, and Muscadine Lines. Parker’s poems are also included in the anthologies Language Lessons: Volume 1 (Third Man Press, Nashville) and Best New Poets 2011. Parker’s chapbooks are Other Four-Letter Words (Finishing Line) and A Walk Through the Memory Palace (Phoenicia), which won the inaugural Qaartsiluni Chapbook Prize.

Parker lives in Kentucky and works at Murray State University in the Department of Art & Design Department.

Celina Nader

Little Things

Tiny green grapes grew every Syrian spring on the vine in my grandparents’ concrete backyard, and Giddo snipped off underripe clusters for me and my siblings. We dipped them in salt, puckered our mouths at the astringency and spit the bitter pips into the ground under the loquat tree.

They tore him open. They ripped into the priest’s face, scooped out his eyes like glistening grapes, and left him to die slowly. They spit vile questions into him before emptying him, washing their hands with his blood. He baptized me when I was a baby and came to visit my family often in our little apartment. He sat on our sage green couches and laughed as four-year-old me came dancing out in a new dress I wanted to show off. I don’t even remember his name.

Around age five on a summer afternoon I convinced my cousins Mike, Maggie and Mireille that we should take off our clothes and compare urine streams. My aunt had only to glance at my face to know that I was behind the row of kids, little shorts bagged around chunky ankles, genitals exposed, faces equal parts amused and guilty. I ran all the way down the street, Amto Michline trailing far behind me as she yelled. My young legs lapped her heavy ones.

My cousin Raya almost died five times in Syria, bent her legs in basement lockdowns and hugged her sister close, pressed her foot hard on the gas to escape the exploding neighborhood pharmacy, stepped within inches of airborne shrapnel. “We were happier there than we are here,” she says. Raya went out with her friends in spite of the risk. She didn’t care. “We were scared but no one gave a fuck.” She works harder and harder every day in pursuit of her desires because everyone back home cannot. She motivates herself with the thought of her cousin Majed stuck in Aleppo, stuck defending his crumbling land, stagnant with unspeakable visions glued to his mind. She paints her life in fiery colors because he cannot, sculpts her days into stairways toward the future because he doesn’t have one.

Little tadpoles flitted around the jar held between my slippery hands one summer afternoon. I caught them by drawing the jar through pond water, the pond with the big black rocks jutting out of it and overripe figs rippling the surface. I came up with ten feisty fish, admired them for a while, then pulled them out with my hands to feed to the new kittens of a friendly alley cat. The kittens pounced toward me and devoured the still-wriggling, shimmering tadpoles. I marveled at the ferocity of nature. I felt no guilt at being a predator.

I’m comfortable in my warm Columbus apartment. I inhale clean air and watch my laptop screen flicker with footage of children suffocating. I have their dark eyes, their thick brows, their olive skin, and nothing else. I wake to sunshine and fresh drinking water rippling out of the tap; my people rise to bombs in place of birdsong. Why them and not me? Why is my breathing so easy?

The stars winked at me, cool little studs puncturing the hot velvet night. Melodies floated out of Ammo Tony’s oud, strings vibrating into the notes from his throat. He made up little ditties, inserting our names into the lyrics. Laundry hung from thin lines stringing the yard. Glass teacups tinkled as sugar granules melted from silver spoons. Cigarette smoke clung to my growing lungs, to my clothes, to my hair, to the spaces between my taste buds.

They breathe fire into my land. Powerful nations wrap their scaly skins with a keffiyeh and call it religion. They paint their stacks of dollars with graffiti and call it revolution. They hide their oil-glazed eyes with reflective glasses and call it media. Government officials feed us bitter lies tucked into smooth lines and coat their words with honey, each syllable dripping with obscure sweetness.

My grandmother left various foods to dry on the concrete steps; juicy figs shriveling in August sun, apricot pits, big black watermelon seeds. Later we’d take a hammer to the apricot pits and crunch the tender kernels inside. Bitter baby olives drooped from their branches until Teta gathered them in her strong arms and took them to the neighborhood press. While the machines squeezed oil from olives, she sipped a tiny cup of Arabic coffee with her thick pinky finger raised, relaxed her quiet mouth into laughter with the other housewives, and lifted her cracking feet out of her shoes for a moment.

I brew Arabic coffee whenever I run out of American grounds. My electric coil burners have left circular scorch marks on the bottom of my ibrik, but it still boils water. Once the water bubbles, I lower the heat. A long-handled silver spoon gathers mounds of powdered, cardamom-infused coffee beans. Constant stirring is key; an ibrik of Arabic coffee left unattended is sure to boil over. Soon, a milky crema collects at the top layer, and I stir and stir until the liquid turns viscous. Before the first sip, I wait for the grit and sediment to settle at the bottom of my tiny cup.

Arabic Glossary

Amto: (AHM-toh) paternal aunt

Ammo: (AHM-moh) paternal uncle

Giddo: (JI-doh) grandpa

Ibrik: (Ib-REE) long handled pot for making Arabic or Turkish coffee

Oud: (OOD) a large, pear-shaped stringed instrument similar to the lute.

Teta: (TAY-tah) grandma

Celina Nader is a Syrian-American writer, editor, chef, and entrepreneur. She reads cookbooks like novels, runs a small food business in Columbus, OH (Scrappy Cat Co.) and is currently working on a collection of creative nonfiction stories regarding the Syrian people and their lives during war. You can read her words on food, culture, and sexuality at Insatiable, and follow her business on Instagram at @ScrappyCatCo.

Dian Parker

Slush Life

I knew him alright, pushing the slush back and forth with his worn out tennis shoes. Even from across the street I could see the darkness around his eyes, the haunted scrutiny darting from person to person, the incessant scraping of his thumb across his middle finger. People were beginning to avoid his side of the street.

He had gone off his meds again. I could intervene and drive him the thirty miles for re-admittance to the mental hospital. He would either sit mute next to me or talk relentlessly about the constellation, Orion, as God in the flesh, or the myriad acronyms for Jesus, or his design for a perpetual energy backhoe. I could also walk away. It was the same decision I’d faced for too many years and would continue to face until the day he died. I knew only too well that he didn’t want to be seen by me and yet he did. My brother wanted rescuing just as much as he wanted to die.

I ducked inside a drug store, needing time to think, to calm down, to decide. Across the street was a man who was once a bright light to everyone who had the fortune to know him. As a child, he’d run up to everyone he met and greet them with so much ebullience and joy, and hug them with so much enthusiasm, that sometimes he’d knock them to the ground. Laughing, he would tumble down on top of them, rolling them over, shouting, Hi, Hi, Hi! And now here he was. Six feet four inches tall, with a tangled black beard flecked with new white, greasy and thin shoulder length hair straggling out from under a blue stocking hat, and wearing that same threadbare thrift shop coat and dirty jeans with holes in both knees.

Watching him from the drug store, I could see he was starting to shout; to the sky, the shop window, the bus stop bench. That’s all it took to get the cops. They’d take him the thirty miles all right.

“Nick!” I yelled and rushed across the street. He kicked at a lamppost while watching me cross. I wanted to reach out and touch him but this could trigger a rage moment. He jerked away from me, looked down, and said nothing.

So this was to be the mute occasion. I would find out nothing; not when he last took his meds or even if he had any left. Off the meds, Nick wandered the streets talking out loud, scaring people. I’d given him a broken cell phone once, to hold up to his ear. “Everyone looks crazy talking on their phones. You’ll fit right in and the cops will leave you alone.” But he lost the phone just like he lost everything else.

I wanted him to tell me, right then, that he was ready to go to the hospital even though it wasn’t much better than the halfway house where he lived. But he had to get back on his meds and the hospital was the only place where he’d get stable again (at least until the next time).

I led him to a nearby diner. He ordered a cup of coffee and nothing else. His hands shook as he poured the cream and dropped in two sugar cubes. He gulped it down like he’d never had coffee before. Every day he drank countless cups of coffee, smoked two packs of cheap cigarillos, and this along with the meds made him look ragged, ready to expire.

I ordered for him, his favorite tuna melt. When it arrived, he never once looked at the food, just stared out the window. His stained fingers never stopped their obsessive scraping.

“Nick,” I said. “I love you.” I reached out but he would not give me his hand. I’d always thought he had lovely hands, with long fingers and wide palms. But for all his largeness, his confidence in himself and the world was miniscule. So much wasted potential. Such a beautiful boy. Still a boy.

“Yeah, love you too.” He stared at me, unflinching. I did the same. “I ate them you know.”

“Ate what, Nick?”

“The tiger eyes. They were a portal to the ship. You remember. Over your house in Vermont 30 years ago. They had a message.” His mouth twisted into a smile that was threatening.

Yeah, I remembered alright. I’d seen the golden eyes too, except not the polished stones he swallowed or the UFO he claimed later was flying low over the house. I saw actual eyes, staring at us in the dark from behind the maple, scaring the bejasus out of me. I ran. Nick stayed. He came into the house later, trembling and ecstatic. I was frankly jealous that I hadn’t the guts to stay and experience what he had. From that moment on, I always thought he had an advantage over me − ready to liquefy while I stayed solid, grounded, and too much in the world. In a world gone mad.

Was it a bobcat I knew existed in those woods or was it some alien Nick desperately wanted interaction with? He never told me.

Maybe he would tell me now, finally, what had happened to him that night, perhaps the beginning of it all.

“What message did they give you, Nick?”

“You don’t remember? You were there too, you know.”

Was I? What did he mean, I was there too?

Maybe I was schizophrenic as well? Maybe everyone was. And if we were all crazy, who would even know?

Oh my god, it was all too much. How did my mom stay with it for so long?

“I wanna go outside and have a butt now.”

“Wait, Nick! You need to tell me. What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know. What do you want me to do?”

It was always like this, left up to me. Our father had never accepted Nick’s schizophrenia. He thought his son was just lazy, living on disability, not contributing anything to society. Our mother made her choice early on, but she never, ever complained. She would take care of Nick until the day she died and that decision tore our parents apart. Then Mom got Alzheimer’s and forgot she had a son.

It didn’t matter now. Our parents were dead.

While he drank his second refill and ate the tuna sandwich, I thought about all the bright ideas I’d had for Nick, and how none had worked. Like when he moved in with me and ended up trashing the apartment and freaking out the neighbors. Or the health retreat I paid for, which ended when he cut down some of their trees. Or how most of the money I lent him was spent on countless used books never read, and broken computers he wanted to fix but never touched.

I watched him eat, ever so slowly. If only I could rescue him, I thought. Save him. Save myself.

“I don’t know what else we can do, Nick.”

“You like counseling me, don’t you?”

“You’re 58. It’s up to you.”

“You’re my sister.”


“Don’t worry so much.”

“Okay then. Let’s go to the hospital.”

“Can I have another cup of coffee first?”

Another round of silence. We were both so tired.

Finally he was finished and I paid the bill. We walked out onto the cold street. I waited while he smoked a cigarette. After he’d stubbed it out on the sidewalk, and before he could light another, I asked him one more time.

“Are you sure you want to do this, Nick?”

He looked me straight in the eye, his own tiger eyes shining brightly. And laughed.

I wanted to punch him in his sunken gut, wanted to slap his face until he woke up. I wanted to fall to my knees and beg him to die. I wanted to scream, to weep uncontrollably − to run away.

I loved my brother so much.

I opened the car door for him. He looked me straight on, deep into my eyes. “It’s OK, Sandy. I’m OK.”

We drove to the hospital in silence. We were both exhausted. I kept thinking of our mom and all the mental health advocacy groups she headed. How many families she had supported in their helplessness. How much research she had done; late at night, alone, unable to sleep. Thirty Years. I had tried to help but I’d probably failed her too.

At the hospital, I helped Nick to check in. At least this time he wasn’t brought in by the cops, straightjacketed, ready for major doses of drugs that knocked his spirit flat.

I held him close and he let me. After many long moments, I looked up at him. I was crying and he was smiling.

“Maybe this time, Nick,” I said.

“Yeah, it’ll be the last. You’ll see.”

Dian Parker is a freelance writer for a number of publications; White River Herald, Vermont Art Guide, Kolaj magazine, Art New England, NatureWriting, Mountainview Publishers, and OpEdNews. She is the gallery director for White River Gallery in Vermont and an oil painter. Her short stories have been published in Artificium, BlazeVOX, Burlington Beat, Peacock Journal, and the James Franco Review. She has recently completed a short story collection titled, Art To Lie For and Other Stories. Her memoir, Sustaining Ecstasy, is available on Amazon.
Short Story: “The Art of Falling”

Xinhe Zhou


The Spring Festival ends abruptly. Firecrackers catch fire and briefly turn to spirals of sand and torn scraps of papers on the ground before disappearing forever. Wine, liquor and spirits spill out of clinking bottles held by my father’s remote relatives and close friends. Mahjong pieces are pushed into new piles, and rearranged for yet another round though it’s late, and dark and everyone is a bit too drunk. The rooms are buried in ashes and clouds of smoke to which all of my father’s friends contribute with tiny puffs of what is cigarette nubs nipped between their fingertips.

I am a child, a college student, and worse even, I am a girl. No cigarette is offered to me. So I stand in the corner, disguised in the same floating toxins that others use to share their manhood, trying to be the daughter my father has always wanted me to be, the daughter that wants to be like him and keeps everyone’s cups filled with trunky green tea and lights everyone’s Chungwa cigarettes.

But I know I am not, and I do not.

It’s a few days before the start of the new assignments-riddled semester. I am packing my bag for school while calculating how far the money given to me by my older relatives might go into the relatively obscure US-Chinese venture university I attend in the southeast of China. I flicked through the thin thickness of the brand-new paper currency and coiled them into a small bundle before hiding it at the bottom of my knapsack. My mother warns me of how agile the thieves can be if they should sense the prize, and snatch it away from the front pocket of my pants. Its smell lingers on my fingers and makes me feel bad thinking of the next New Year, when I will finally become an adult according to my relatives’ collective definition, and will thus stop receiving money which from them, in retrospect, I don’t think I ever really deserved it—but then, that’s not why they gave me the money either—they might have to reciprocate the money my parents gave to their kids. I can hear the TV in my father’s bedroom, the voice of an overly excited news anchor telling some tired jokes. His piercing voice, the delayed sound effect and his compulsive repetitions of his own words seem to me to be the real joke. I didn’t laugh a heartfelt laugh, though, it’s not the kind of joke that tickles. It does, however, suddenly, strike me as odd. How quiet the yelling of a single man can be as it fills the hallway of my childhood home, in the midst of one of China’s largest national festivals.

But I don’t muse about this for long, because soon, I hear my father calling from his bedroom so my mother and I might all come to watch what may be the most Chinese of Chinese sports events: the table tennis finals. My mother, chooses, instead, to continue playing the same repetitive video game she has been playing for years, no updates, no upgrade, no teammates to discuss collaborative strategies—Spider solitaire with a green backdrop installed automatically on all Windows computers. My mother chooses as most people would, to not watch the rehearsed and expected national victory on a sport China has dominated without any real challenge, for years. I don’t have a choice though. I am my father’s one and only child, and though he often surreptitiously and even openly complains about how I am not what he would have liked, he never mentions my miscarried brother. Or, rather, the son he would have, would have liked to have had, had he ever been more than a male fetus not carried to term a full year before I was born. We are all either one of us has. And anyway, I like table tennis.

So I casually walk into my father’s bedroom and sit on the wooden floor beside his bed, whereas my father leans against the bed cushion facing the television. We sit without saying a word for a long time. No longer than usual, though. We spend a long time sitting in silence. So, instead, we watch the two Chinese athletes, Fang and Ma, having defeated all the previous competitors and inching ever closer towards the middle of the podium, stand across a table hunching over facing each other, as if they are playing a life-and-death game, the real, the final, the one and only match to determine the success or failure of all of an athlete’s endeavors. I stare at the little white ball bouncing back and forth and eventually disappearing in the flash of swinging paddles, in the backdrop, a buzz of swamping cheers and claps, when, suddenly, I feel my father’s hand on my shoulder as he whispers, “This year I gave your grandparents another two thousand yuan.”

This must be the twentieth time, I think to myself, and I sigh. My father hides these things from my mother so frequently I’ve started to think of it less as a secret and more as a hobby. Normally, he would deposit his paycheck into their shared bank account, which my mother controls. But not this time. And probably not the last time either.

“Why don’t you just tell her?” I ask him, looking at him only briefly before turning back to the TV. The commentator booming yet trembling voice echoing through our house as I guess it must also be echoing throughout millions of homes across my country. Fang was down by one point. But it’s hard to tell which athlete has the bigger fan base from the roaring auditorium. “Are you afraid?”

“Don’t joke around, serious issue.” My father doesn’t laugh about matters involving himself, though he will readily laugh at matter involving his colleagues, and anything involving me, “You’re heading off to school soon. I need you not spill it to your mother over the phone.”

“Pa, why are you even telling me?” I asked confused. Because, I thought, I couldn’t tell what I had not known, nor suspected there was anything to know had he not been the one to tell me in the first place. Which he clearly knew. But then, he also knew that I had not spoken with my mother a single time while at school either, so even the warning was unnecessary.

And yet.

“Your grandfather wanted to tell me something, but only the way I am telling you this now. Last time when I came back, he kept walking around me, and your grandma said he never stood up from that comfy chair I got him for no good reason. So he kept walking, and eyeing me up and down, and motioning in the direction of his bedroom.”

Fang is up by two points, but I know it’s only a matter of time before the score evens out again. I bet Fang and Ma get the exact same training and it’s strange, in this way, to see them compete against mirror images of each other. “So what is it? Is it about the money?”

“Of course, your grandfather suspected that your cousin Taotao, is stealing from him again. Digging through his coat pocket while he pretends to be asleep.”

My father snorts when he mentions Taotao, then across his face a cold sort of grin flashes and there it remains as he begins to speak quicker and quicker.

On the screen the ball hits the near-end of the table and bounces out of Fang’s reach, but he takes a jump back in the direction of the ball and hits its back at the opposite side at an impossible angle and an impossible speed. The audience may not be visibly excited, but their cheers swell making a tremendous noise and then disperse and scatter quickly.

“That kid is never going to learn a damn thing as long as he keeps those friends. I spent so much time…” my father lays on his back and keeps his eyes on the screen, as if the score still mattered to him, as if he hadn’t told me this story a dozen times before, “…Feeding the village leader and talking up the army recruiter, you know?” I nod as if hearing the follow-up of a real-time news report. “Yeah, you know how nothing ever gets done unless you grease someone’s palm. And of course it never ends there. No! Words will never be enough to persuade these slave drivers.” I think of the money packed in my bag. I try to calculate how far it will last me this semester, how many palms my father has greased for my education, how many more palms I might have to grease along the way, how many English words I might be able to command to prove my eligibility for study and work and pay the price to stop paying extra for every little attention. “And when I came back from dinner, I told him what was what. Said to him that he better appreciates everything I’d just done for him. So ‘stay in the army,’ I told him, ‘Earn their respect, show them you are capable, like I told them you were, and it will all be worth it.’ And that dumbass, know what he did?” This is not a real question, and I am not expected to answer. “He nodded. Now, two years later, he insists on coming back! Why can’t he stay where he was? What is his business here?” Another question I expect to wait for the answer shortly after. “Probably hanging around with his old gang again. That incorrigible ghost of a boy!”

I feel nothing though I know exactly what my father wants me to feel. How badly he wants me to feel exactly like him about something which he can do nothing but feel, and feel, and tell me about it again, and again. That Taotao and I are sheep of different colors/two potatoes grown in different fields/have nothing in common and opposite examples which our cousins should know better which to learn from. That I should hate and better verbally express aversion towards Taotao’s guts and never act like him. I look away from the screen, straight at my father’s expressionless face. And for a second I wish I did feel something, wish the endless retelling had not worn out the infuriating novelty from the story. For a second, I want to do this one small thing for my father, like slipping him money behind my mother’s back and then swearing him to secrecy. I think about mustering the feeling, or contorting my face. But my father is neither looking at, nor listening to me. This is not a story to hear, so much as it is one to tell. So he keeps listing my cousin’s inconsiderate “accomplishments” that brought disgrace to us all, that we have no choice but to wear daily on faces. Topics frequently brought up during the family reunion at New Year’s Eve. How Taotao was once a good kid, a good student. How it all came down to his mother, to her “stealing” other women’s men, and other people’s money. How his father wasn’t blameless either, stubborn, impractical man dreaming of making it as a writer. “It all made sense,” my father explained, “they all had a hand in it, they all deserved a little for what they contributed.” That Taotao’s village friends, his mother’s boyfriends, his father’s stacks of WHO in unpublished handwritten drafts tossed into the dustbin. Everything, everyone, traced and tripped and wrapped in their own swarm of wasps, clueless of who pricked the nest, deserved and deserving for what they did or didn’t do, neither knowing nor considering the consequence.

The anchorman seems to get tired of his own enthusiasm and announces the half-time break, with the score tied on the screen. I think about the wasp-swarm of the Chinese one-and-only-child, one-and-only-way to live. I think about how Taotao made his own friends, his own choices, his own money braving the chilly midnight wind and pushing his father’s electric bicycle all the way to the pop-up black market of Quzhou. I look at my father with his eyes fixed on some inane advertisement while continuing to talk. And then down at my own hands, callused from years of writing class notes and homework since primary school. No chilly wind blows through the narrow windows of my aluminum alloy made home. Three bags of textbooks sit on my desk while I sit next to my father with perpetually blood-shot eyes from spending all my waking hours poring over books in a language that is not mine, not my father’s, not family’s, not Taotao’s, not my country’s, but maybe slowly becoming my own as the words I memorized and the essays I read buzz in my ears like black swarms of restless wasps, and I harbor impractical dreams of someday being a writer too.

While not listening to my father, I finally decide how to feel about it. Across China families watch a Chinese athlete win against another identical Chinese athlete, and I decide I’m proud of Taotao.

Xinhe Zhou is from China. She currently is a graduate student in the US and she wants (to {write} with) her parents’ approval.