Min had not spoken to her brother Shiang for six months, ever since he left for Australia in pursuit of a Ph.D. Whenever he called Taipei Majie Hospital, Min quickly handed the phone to their sick mother. Min knew that if she spoke to Shiang, she would have to sound excited about his progress abroad and mimic the way their mother listened eagerly and pushed for details. Min was too tired to play the part. But Shiang was arriving tomorrow, and she would finally have to face him.
Min lay awake unable to fall asleep for hours. Her husband, who worked on the Baguashan construction site, was snoring by her side with his mouth open. She shifted her weight in bed and pictured Shiang, his frail frame and solemn expression, the look of a scholar. She had never been abroad, but when she imagined her brother in Australia, she saw him on a stage before an audience of Westerners, presenting in English before a large screen. She pictured his calm and refined manner, speaking softly among a room of people who listened closely to his words, the place silent and sacred like the Christian church she had walked by every day on her way to and from the filthy marketplace. Shiang fit into that world, far away from the the smell of oil and blood, far away from the loudness of the market where their family made a living for many years selling chicken.
“You! Come back, you!” mumbled Min’s husband in his sleep and the image of Australia dissolved. Her husband waved his arms in the air like a fool, even in his sleep grabbing aimlessly at something he was too lazy to work for. His foul breath smelled of the six-pack he had finished in front of the TV the night before. Min turned on her other side to face the clock, its ticking hand pushing forcefully forward, only five minutes away from the time when its loud vibration would announce the beginning of another never-ending cycle.
At 6:04 Min finally disarmed the alarm and got out of bed. She braced herself for the damp chill of the January morning and, since she could not find her slippers, made her way to the kitchen on her bare feet. It had not stopped raining for two weeks. She made scallion pancakes with egg for her family, but for the kids she substituted the scallions with cheese. She prepared five lunch boxes, including one she would bring to the hospital for her mother. Her mother never had an appetite and would take only a spoonful. The rest would become Min’s dinner.
At 7:15, she went back to her bedroom and tried to awaken her husband. He produced a low growl. A thread of saliva hung from the corner of his mouth. Min wondered how she could have found him attractive. In one movement, she pulled away his comforter. “Crazy bitch!” he cursed with one hand still inside his briefs, a sleeping habit that disgusted Min.
“I need you to wake up and I need you to take the kids to kindergarten,” said Min, as calmly as if she were talking to one of the frail old women at the hospital. “Lunches are on the counter. We will have dinner with Ma so get your own dinner, for you and the kids. Understand?”
With that Min left the house and headed for Taipei Majie, her workplace for the past five years ever since they closed down the chicken stall. Min was a hospital caregiver until 2pm, caring for other people’s sick old mothers. Then she would look after her own mother. Min had busy hands ever since she was a child.
When she thought back on her adolescent years, Min remembered her busy hands. She stood behind the family’s butchering stall, a stained apron around her waist; she pounded her cleaver down on the limp, featherless chicken before her, cutting through the skin, crushing through the bones, slicing the meat into neat, equal pieces. Chop chop chop. The rhythm was even and steady, never missing a beat. When she needed a break, she wiped her knife with her apron—in one swift movement transporting the blood and grease to the white cloth, leaving the blade clean and shiny. In summertime, when the tropical monsoon climate became unbearable, she raised her arms to dab away the sticky sweat that dribbled from her temples. All the while, she called out to potential customers, and her ringing voice was heard above other vendors at the marketplace.
“Come buy some chicken, Aji!”
She addressed all women, whether they were twenty or eighty, as aji, big sister. The ajis always wanted a better price, so Min moved the numbers around in her head and let them believe they’d gotten a bargain.
“Aji! You will make me lose money!” she’d say, throwing in a free leg here and a free wing there. But the following day she’d give them a leaner chicken.
Shiang followed Min everywhere. Hardly reaching his sister’s waist, Shiang silently watched the fascinating world of the marketplace from behind their stall. He was a quiet kid, but nothing escaped his observant eyes; he learned arithmetic by watching the price negotiations, and learned to read the customers’ emotions, too. They were twelve years apart, both born in the year of the monkey. They had a sister between them, but the eldest and youngest shared a special bond.
“Go home,” Min would say, and “If you don’t do your homework now, I will butcher you like this chicken.” She held her knife high in the air, but flashed her dimples to show that she meant well. “Don’t spend your life in the marketplace, Younger Brother. It never ends. No matter how fast your hands move, there is always another chicken to butcher.”
Min and her sister, Ting, took after their mother’s dark complexion. The women of the family were short, buxom, and had strong, beefy calves, built to endure long hours under the sun. Shiang, on the other hand, was more like their father. Their father was exceptionally pale, so much so that people called him a “pale-faced scholar.” It was meant as a joke, but their father took pride in the nickname. He liked that he was associated with the scholar-gentry under the imperial examination in ancient China. In his outdated way of thinking, scholars still held the highest place in society, rising above all other occupations. He bought nice-looking books—hardcover ones with gold-tooled titles, preferably in a foreign language—and stacked them on a chair between the caged chickens and the butchering stall. He was ecstatic to see that his only son grew to look more and more like him. Perhaps Shiang would become a real scholar.
Min thought about these things as Shiang walked into their mother’s hospital room. How time dashed by—the small figure that used to follow her around was now a PhD candidate in Biochemistry at the University of New South Wales. Their father would have been proud.
Shiang carried a suitcase, the luggage tag still on its handle; he had come straight from the airport. He was buttoned up in a black double-breasted coat and wore a red knit hat and matching gloves, even though the winter day, while windy and humid, didn’t warrant such heavy clothing.
“Eldest Sister,” Shiang said in greeting. Min smiled and noticed that Shiang was thinner than he had been six months ago, when he left Taiwan for his studies. Still, a sense of pride swelled in her chest, knowing that she had played a part in sending her brother abroad and fulfilling their father’s dream.
“Shiang?” their mother called out. Her voice, barely above a whisper, overflowed with joy. She had been lying flat and now strained to get up.
Shiang rushed to their mother’s bedside, soothing her thin shoulders, brushing away her tears with the back of his gloved hand. Gone was the mother they used to know, with her dark, luxuriant skin and curvaceous body, every inch of her, radiating vigor. The mother before them now was shrunken and shriveled, a prisoner of needles and tubes.
From the other side of the room, the other patient—an old woman in her seventies—watched mother and son with great interest. Her Filipino caretaker, Linda, sat by the old woman’s bedside, occasionally looking up from her job of peeling oranges.
Their mother put one hand on Shiang’s cheek, and caressed him gently with her thumb.
“Look at you, you look just like your father. So pale you could be a foreigner. I was afraid I would not see you again. I will be joining your father in the Yellow Spring Underworld soon.” She said all this with a calm acceptance.
“Do not say such things, Ma," he said. "You will live to be a hundred years.”
“Silly child. I will become an old witch by the time I am a hundred.” Her voice was higher-pitched and more lively than usual.
A tight knot formed in Min’s stomach and pulled at her throat, as she watched their mother fuss over Shiang. It was a tinge of jealousy, perhaps, although she wondered why the feeling still had such power over her. She tried to brush the feeling away. It had always been this way in her family. Their mother wanted to know if he had come straight from the airport, if he was tired, and if he had enough to eat in Australia, since he had no one to cook for him. It was as if he were the sick one. Their mother never showed such affection toward Min, although she was the one who stayed by her side each day.
Min squared her shoulders and pulled herself up from her slouching position against the wall. She had been a good daughter and sister, and that was what counted.
It had been soul draining, caring for their mother on her own, with her job and two little kids to look after. Many nights as she lay on the hard couch next to her mother, feeling every bone in her body ache, she wondered who would care for her if she, too, fell ill. Most importantly, who would pay for the bills? Cancer was costly, even with the public health insurance. She always needed to pay for either a caretaker or a babysitter—wherever she was, she was absent elsewhere. Once she had ran to pick her children up at the Kindergarten after work. She was so rushed that she didn’t even have time to go to the bathroom, and she had felt her pressing bladder throughout the entire bus-ride on a traffic-jammed Taipei afternoon. It wasn’t until she arrived at her destination that she realized she had taken the wrong bus—she was in front of her mother’s hospital, and her children were still waiting for her, elsewhere.
The one thought that pushed her through these six months was of her brother, taking classes with elites from different countries, working toward a future in which he was someone respectable, someone who carried weight in society. She had these fantasies, sometimes, of Shiang receiving an important award on stage. I would especially like to thank my Eldest Sister, he would say, and he would invite her on stage for the world to see.
She was the one that had urged him to leave their sick mother to her care. We each have our different roles to play, Shiang. You are the only one that can fulfill father’s dreams. To study abroad—that is your duty to this family. Those were her very words.
“Tell me about your studies,” said their mother, still holding on to Shiang’s gloved hands. “What do you eat each day? Do you have enough clothes to wear?”
Their mother frowned in concern as she realized Shiang had not removed any of his outerwear. “Are you cold?” She looked around the room as if searching for a switch to turn up the temperature.
Shiang pulled his hands gently away and inserted them into his coat pockets. “No. Don’t worry about me, Ma. I am not used to the coldness in Taiwan, is all. It is summertime in Australia now.”
Their mother found this answer deeply amusing. She chuckled, the first laugh Min had heard from her in a long time. This chuckle quickly turned into a cough, and Min started rushing to her side. When she saw Shiang reach for the jar of water and pour its contents into the empty glass, she remained where she was.
“You mean in Australia it is July right now? The months are all different?”
“No. It is still January. But this is their summer.”
“Ah, well, who would have thought? I suppose everything must be so different over there. Is it also true what they say, that the moon is fuller in a foreign country?”
Shiang smiled. “I think the moon is about the same here and there.”
Ah, so the moons were the same after all, thought Min. A half-smile twitched at the corner of her mouth. She had always found the proverb ludicrous, but still, she had been anxious to hear Shiang’s answer, as if a small part of her had never been sure that the saying was untrue. In elementary school, there had been a girl in her class that had spent her earlier years in America. When she talked about her big house over there, the swimming pool in her backyard, and the amusement parks she had been to, everyone gathered around to listen, even the teachers. The clothes she wore were prettier, and even the way she carried herself seemed grander, somehow. Min knew that there was only one moon in the sky, but still, it was tempting to believe that in a country where everything was better, even the moon would be bigger and rounder.
“So fortunate,” said the old woman from the other bed. Her croaky voice always made Min want to cover her ears. The woman had a tendency to cut into other people’s conversations abruptly and without invitation. She was seventy-five years old, suffering from a coronary disease, a fact necessarily learned from having shared the room with her for over two months.
“A pious daughter who is willing to take care of you. A son pursuing a PhD abroad. What more can one ask for? My son is in America. He has a three-story house and a BMW. He takes his family on vacation abroad twice a year. But he never comes see me. Never. All I have is this barbarian who doesn’t even speak our language.”
The old woman shot a disdainful look at Linda, who looked up and smiled good-naturedly. From Linda’s expression, one would have easily assumed that she did not understand her employer’s words. But Min knew better: Linda comprehended everything. Min gave Linda a sympathetic shake of the head.
“I’ll be right back,” said Min, to no one in particular.
Min took the elevator to the ground floor. These breaks, away from her mother and her illness, were necessary to her. She sensed a fresh lightness in her steps, knowing that Shiang was here now—the constant fear that something might happen to her mother while she was away, was lifted from her.
The lobby had a convenience store and a coffee shop. People entered and left the building through the automatic doors, which slid open and close every few seconds, bringing in fresh gusts of wind from outside. Students in uniforms and women in smart-looking suits walked about, laughing, discussing what to buy for lunch. To them, the hospital was merely another restaurant for their enjoyment. They were not bothered by or even seemed to notice the sick people around them, sitting in wheelchairs, necks drooped, eyes blank and lost.
Min could not remember a time when she was like these students or office ladies, so leisured in their gait. At work, she brought her lunch from home, and ate her meals alone in the parking lot, before or after her shifts at the cashier. Even when she was growing up, she had never had the freedom to walk home slowly. She was needed at the butchering stand as much as possible. There were times when Min wondered, had her life been different—if she had gone to college, for example—would she be among these women she saw each day? But what was the point of dwelling on something that could not be changed? It was all too easy to lose oneself in regrets, mistaking missed crossroads for future possibilities.
Min took her time getting back to her mother’s room. When she came out the elevator, she saw Linda pacing around the hallway. Linda looked up and smiled at her, in that trusting, happy way, almost like a child. She handed Min half of a peeled orange.
“Thank you,” said Min. She stood against the wall next to Linda. “So,” she said, her mouth tasting of the sweet fruit, “now you’ve met Shiang. He’s the one from Australia. Twelve years younger than me.”
They exchanged brief conversations like this sometimes, with Min doing most of the talking, and Linda responding with gestures and facial expressions. Occasionally, Linda would answer in short, broken sentences, but for the most part she was still shy about her Mandarin. In this form of communication, Min learned that Linda was thirty-four, two years younger than herself. She had left her three children in the Philippines in pursuit of a better salary in Taiwan. With her earnings as a caretaker, she was able to support her entire family. Her eldest son, who was fifteen, was going to become a doctor, a yisheng, she shared proudly, in clear Mandarin. Min thought she could see the “real” Linda when she talked about her family—a woman who was confident, a favorite among her family and friends, and perhaps enjoyed dancing on Friday nights, a woman so different from the timid figure peeling oranges for her.
In return, Min told Linda about her own life. She was not sure that Linda understood everything, but she listened attentively and her eyes reflected genuine concern. Min told her about her younger sister, Ting, who had run away with an older man when she was sixteen. When Ting occasionally called, it was always to ask for money.
“So it’s just me, you know? To take care after our mother, alone. If I had known how fast the cancer would spread, maybe I would have asked Shiang to stay. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter anymore, I suppose. The doctor said it’s a matter of weeks now.”
Min took Shiang to Fuyuan, a small restaurant within walking distance of the hospital, for dinner. She even invited Ting for the special occasion. They ordered three dishes and one soup to share.
Ting looked terrible. She wore a red sweater that showed a pair of tired-looking breasts each time she leaned forward. One of her front teeth was broken in half, and her waist-length hair was so dry and brittle that the color appeared yellow.
“How are you, Second Sister?” said Shiang politely. He had removed his hat but did not unbutton his coat or take off his gloves. Min had taken off her jacket and was in a T-shirt. It bothered her that Shiang should bundle himself up this way when it was only fifteen or sixteen degrees Celsius outside. Shiang had always been the frail one in the family. He caught colds several times a year and their mother would cook Chinese herbs for him three times a day. It had not seemed like a big deal when Shiang was a little boy, but now that he was a man, seeing him this way made Min cringe.
The neon light signboards of convenience stores and betel nut stalls, as well as the headlights of motorcycles and taxis, made colorful patterns on the window pane they sat by. A thin crescent moon, curved upwards like a bowl, hung low outside the window. The moon and the rare occasion of the three of them reunited brought back a memory from their childhood.
When Ting was in middle school, her class organized a graduation trip to Penghu Island. Ting had been unable to go, because their parents refused to provide her money for it. “What a wasteful way to spend money!” said their father with a scowl. “Better to use it for something useful, like for your brother’s college education.”
Min felt bad for Ting. She, too, had been denied permission to go on her middle school trip, but she felt that the trip was more important to Ting than it had been for her. Ting was more outgoing than her or Shiang; to Ting, her friends were everything. She was always making origami gifts and hand-made birthday cards in the room the two of them shared. How crushed Ting must have felt—being the only one in her class unable to go to Penghu Island.
On the first night of the trip, Min found Ting sobbing on the footsteps to their apartment gate. Their apartment building was located in a narrow alley. Min sat next to Ting, and looked up at the moon, a tiny sliver like an inverted C. They did not say anything to each other. Min found a piece of red candy in her pocket. “Here,” she said, giving it to her sister. Shiang, who was only seven and followed Min everywhere, came running down the cramped staircase to join his sisters. Ting stood up and looked at Shiang with a hateful expression. “You!” she cried. “It’s all because of you that I can’t go on my graduation trip. Go away, you little brat!
Shiang winced, and Min thought he was going to burst into tears. Instead, he surprised them by producing a paper airplane from his pocket, made with Ting’s origami paper. The paper had little green grasshoppers printed against its orange background. “I made this for you, Second Sister,” he said, extending his arms to offer the gift. “When I grow up I will make a lot of money, and take you all over the world.”
He spoke timidly, yet the glimmer in his eyes revealed how much he trusted the power of the plane nestled in his small palms. That Ting would accept his gift with joy, or that with this small token Ting would like him better—these were things he must have believed in wholeheartedly. Initially, Ting made no gesture to acknowledge Shiang’s offering, and Min debated whether she should step in, to thank the child in place of her sister. But finally, when Shiang’s raised arms began to shake from fatigue, Ting took the airplane and quickly stuffed it into her pocket.
The three sat side-by-side all night, exchanging tales about the moon. Min recounted the story about Chang-Er, who lived in the moon with the Jade Rabbit. Ting told a ghost story she had heard from friends, about a man who lived on the moon and stole people’s shadows. Shiang did not know any stories, so he sang a song that compared mothers to the moon, illuminating people through the night.
The server arrived with their dishes: shrimp and snow peas, grilled tofu, dry-sauteed flounder, and West Lake soup. Min asked for three bowls of rice.
“So, Shiang, you are in Australia now. A true scholar at last!” said Ting. Perhaps she was being sincere, but everything that came out of Ting’s mouth sounded sour to Min.
The sisters were so different, as different as two people who had been dealt the same hand in life could be. As teenagers, where Min complied with her parents’ wishes and kept her thoughts to herself, Ting rebelled and openly defied. Why do I have to help out at the marketplace? Why don’t you make Shiang do it? Ting would cry and run off, sometimes not returning home till morning.
“Mother might not make it for much longer,” said Min. “The cancer has relapsed and has spread to her lungs and liver. She might only make it a few weeks, or even days. Anyhow, these are the doctor’s words.” The words came out of her mouth sounding cold and impersonal.
Shiang's lips were quivering, and he dabbed at his eyes with his sleeves. “But half a year ago the doctor said she had a high chance of recovery!” he said, his voice cracking.
Shiang’s public display of emotion embarrassed Min. He should be able to hold himself together like a man—they were all enduring the same loss, weren’t they? Min shot a look at Ting, who simply looked down at her napkin.
Min raised her glass of beer. “Let us not forget the happy occasion today. Here’s to Younger Brother, a PhD student in Australia.”
The three glasses clinked against one another, producing sounds that were soft and mellow, resonating at the table.
Min felt the coolness of the bitter drink trickle down her throat, soothing it. As soon as she put down the glass, Shiang raised his, again. He stood up from his chair.
“To Eldest Sister,” he said, looking at her with solemn eyes. He used both hands to hold his glass, a sign of respect. “Thank you for everything. Thank you.”
Min raised her glass at Shiang and nodded her head. Everything he needed to say was in those two words and in his grave look. That was enough for her. She finished her glass of beer in one gulp.
She understood the look on Shiang’s face. She used to see that same look when they were all still living at home, each night after dinner. It was the look he had as he slipped away from the dinner table to resume his studies. He was not required to do the dishes or take out the trash, as his sisters were. In fact, their father demanded that he not waste time on house chores. When the entire family rose from the dinner table to clear away dishes, he’d wordlessly push his chair back in the table, lifting his chair so as not to make any noise, and walk away on tiptoes. It was as if he wished to make himself invisible. He’d look over his shoulders, quietly contemplating the family scene he left behind. It was a look of guilt, of gratitude, of longing—such an adult look on a child’s face.
Min left the table briefly, to use the bathroom and then pay for their dinner. From the cashier, she saw Shiang and Ting engaged in some kind of argument. She could not hear what they were saying from the way they spoke looking down at their laps. Min saw Shiang reach for something inside his coat and give it to Ting.
Min marched furiously back to their table. Shiang was re-buttoning his coat, but he was doing a poor job because of the thick gloves on his fingers.
“She asked you to lend her money, didn’t she?”
Shiang glanced at Ting. Ting kept her head down, clutching her purse.
“Return it to him,” she ordered. When Ting did not react, Min felt all the anger from the past six months rise to her chest. “Are you going to do it, or not?” she asked, this time more loudly. She was conscious of people turning their heads to look at them, but she did not care. Min turned to Shiang. “Take it back from her, Shiang. If you have any respect for your Eldest Sister, you will do as I say.”
Shiang tried to pacify Min. “It’s OK, Sis. Really. I offered it to Second Sister. It’s for Yuan-yuan’s tuition.”
Ting looked at Shiang gratefully. It annoyed Min, the way Shiang said those words, so casually, as if lending money to Ting was not a big deal. It made her feel small, as if she were a miser that would leave her sister and niece to starve.
“Oh?” she said, icily. “I see. You are generous. So generous that you can give away money now.” Min stared at Shiang. Had he forgotten the money she had lent him before he went abroad? Min thought about her own children. During the past six months, she had sometimes had to take them to the hospital with her. They ate and fell asleep at the hospital, curled up on the bench next to her mother’s bed. Just the thought of their little heads positioned uncomfortably against the cold metal arms brought a lump to Min’s throat.
“I told you to take the money back,” she said. She took Shiang’s right hand and forced him to reach for Ting’s purse. Shiang withdrew his hand from Min’s grip. In the tug and pull, the red glove came off and fell to the floor, along with a lump of tissue paper compressed in the shape of a skinny cylinder. Ting gasped and covered her mouth. Shiang’s middle finger was gone. Between the second and fourth fingers, there was just an empty space. The only thing that remained of the third finger was a vulnerable-looking stump, the new pink flesh grown unevenly over the wound.
Shiang picked up the red glove from the floor and quickly slipped it back on. He crossed his arms over his chest and avoided Min’s eyes.
Min was aware of the silence in the restaurant. “Let’s get out of here,” she whispered, and the three of them left.
They walked out into the windy night, Min taking the lead, the younger siblings trailing behind. They navigated the busy streets without a word, turning sideways to pass through the narrow sidewalks between stores and parked motorcycles, jaywalking when the traffic was clear. They arrived at a playground Min frequented in a small park. There was no one at the playground besides them. Min sank into one of the swings. Shiang sat on the swing next to her, while Ting took a seat at the end of a slide. Then Shiang revealed the truth about the past six months. As he spoke, his sisters cast their eyes to the ground, or stared straight ahead, only turning their heads to look at him at the most unexpected places in his story. He saw the disbelief and shock in their faces, but they did not interrupt him until he was done.
“How can you do this to Mother? And Father? What is wrong with you?” Min spoke in whispers, unable to raise her voice.
“It’s just that …” For six months, Shiang had imagined this conversation in his head. He had wanted to tell Min every time they talked on the phone. Instead, he made up lies that made the truth heavier and heavier. And then he had received that phone call, telling him to come home immediately.
It began when he learned of their mother’s illness. He had looked for jobs in Taiwan, and was frustrated to find that with his bachelor degree from a first-tier university, his salary would hardly cover his own living costs, never mind paying for the medical bills. A senior classmate told him about a program in Australia, called Working Holiday. They pay a lot for manual labor. You can work at a hotel, a farm, or a slaughterhouse. He chose the slaughterhouse because it gave out the highest pay.
The men at the slaughterhouse had almost refused to use him, when they saw how thin and frail he was. He, too, thought about backing out at the sight of the pig corpses, hung on rails by the thousands, their skin cut open to reveal hearts and intestines and testicles. There were pig parts everywhere, and electric band saws that cut through bones like cutting paper. The place was nothing like the butchering stand they used to own at the marketplace, where Eldest Sister alone could kill, pluck, eviscerate, and cut apart a chicken, with customers walking to and fro in front of her. The pig house was a factory, with hundreds of workers in identical white coats and helmets. No one was allowed to slow down the assembly line.
“You sure you can do this?” asked the manager. His name was Mr. Johnson. It was one of the only things Shiang had known about the factory, when the agent in Taiwan hooked him up for the job. He knew that he would be meeting a Mr. Johnson, who had used several Taiwanese college graduates in the past. He knew that the factory was in Adelaide, and that the pay was three times what he could make with a white-collar job in Taiwan.
“Yes. Yes, I can,” Shiang had answered. Eldest Sister would feel proud of me for being able to communicate with a foreigner, he remembered thinking.
Shiang brought out the thick envelope he had kept concealed in the inner pocket of his coat. The envelope contained a fat stack of green, yellow, and orange bills—12,000 Australian dollars. A small portion of the cash was in Ting’s purse now. He gave the rest of the money to Min.
“I can’t take this,” said Min. She turned her head away. But Shiang forced the money into her hand, closing her fingers around the packet.
A small part of him was grateful that their father would never learn of his deceit. No one would tell their mother. A smaller part of him was grateful for the circumstances that had forced him to seek an alternative path to the one that had been so painstakingly laid out for him. Before working at the slaughterhouse, he had never even asked himself what he wanted. Now, at least, he had made one decision on his own. But he would never say he was happy for what he had done. He wished there had been another way.
He remembered looking up at the sky, his first night in Adelaide, his first time to be in a foreign country. The air was chilly, and he wrapped his sweater more tightly around his body. The night seemed blacker to him, perhaps because there were no streetlights around the house he shared with five other overseas workers. He could see every star clearly against its onyx backdrop. The full moon wore a thin halo of red, and appeared much brighter—much closer to him, even—than anything he’d ever seen back home. He gazed at the spectacular moon for over an hour. All he could think of, as he stared at the silver plate, was how unreal it felt—as if he could reach out his hand and peel it out of the sky.
“How did you lose your finger?” Ting asked.
“An accident. When using the band saw. After that they gave me easier jobs, like washing the pigs’ stomach.” Even as he answered he felt the half-digested crumbles, white and mushy, leaving a rancid smell on his hands.
“Good thing you are left-hand, huh?” said Min. She quietly got up and left the park. She walked past the hospital and past the bus stop that would take her home, and kept walking.
Vanessa Wang holds an M.F.A. in fiction writing from the University of Maryland and an M.S. in Civil Engineering from National Taiwan University. She grew up in San Juan, Puerto Rico and Taipei, Taiwan, and has lived in many cities including Tokyo and Madrid. Her writings in English and Chinese have been shortlisted for the David T.K. Wong Fellowship, and published in Asian Fortune, INK Literary Monthly and World Journal.