The Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin Read Online (FREE)
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During an uneventful part of my childhood, my mother walked into the room with a plate of loose washed grapes. She collapsed. Grapes thudded dully on the carpet. One rolled under the couch. The plate lay overturned, and my mother’s body was beside it, limbs splayed.
My sister Pei-Pei and I remained very still. “Don’t cry,” she whispered to me. But she was the one who was starting to cry. Her bottom lip hung open, and her halting breath slid out.
Sunlight glossed the spread of my mother’s hair. I saw veins of red in all that black. I felt a compression of everything I knew to one hard nut. Things ended. You couldn’t stop things from ending.
My mother’s back twitched. Her limbs reordered themselves; she sat up. “I was testing you,” she said. She was angry. She clawed at the grapes on the carpet, collecting them to be washed again. “Why were you just sitting there? Why didn’t you call for the ambulance?”
Neither Pei-Pei nor I could say a word.
“You didn’t do anything.” As my mother rose from the floor on a swell of indignation, the plate she held tipped forward and back, and grapes rolled right up to the precipice. “What kind of children have I raised? Tell me, do you want to be orphans?”
I wish I’d never felt it, that relief—that total unburdening. My mother had wanted to teach us a lesson; what I’d learned was reversal. Things that had been splintered could be intact again.
Not long after, when we faced events that caused us sorrow, I yearned for that same erasure. Undo this. But although we tried, each in our own way, no one was able to go back even one step.
MY FATHER liked to declare that he had moved us to Alaska so we could be closer to the stars.
“And now you’re digging down instead of up,” my mother said.
By day, he drilled water wells. In winter, when the ground froze and cinched tight, he took the odd plumbing job. (“Plumbing,” my mother said, “is reaching your hands into other people’s toilets.”)
In late summer or early fall, when the strung-out sun began to set again, we lay out at night and offered ourselves to the hungry sky. If my father had not mown the wild grasses, I would scratch my neck and ears and wrists and, in the dark, think of the smallness of ants.
“What did I tell you?” my father said. “The stars are so close, you can feel their heat.”
Sometimes I thought I could feel it, too, a rope of warmth in the cold air. Other times it seemed nothing at all was close to us, not those pinpricks, not a breath of sentient life. But when we shifted, there was a faint crackling, the grass stirring where we had flattened it, trying to rise back up. Then I felt a surge of hot animal blood and the expansion of my senses. Was this what he meant? I was his son, and for a flaring second I understood him. Something diabolical was about to swoop down from the monochrome sky.