Melissa Chen | Art by Grace Lu

I first saw you in the crook of the tree

I surprised myself how I didn’t mind it all—

or maybe I couldn’t

because you seemed to have grown from the place

so we had to share it

The moment 

You took my hand 

and I followed

The trees parted for us

My eyes tried to search yours

My mind questioning over and over

Like an eager child

Where to? Where to next? Are we there yet?

The house is squatting quiet in the shadows, and my breathing is loud as I approach it.

The light in the living room is on.

Dad sits on the couch, reading. He plucks up his glasses and rubs his eyes when he sees me, yawning. 

“It’s only eight,” I mumble, pointing at the clock.

“Your mom took Alan and Angel to their piano class,” Dad said. He looks me up and down. “You have to be careful.”

“What are you doing home?” My voice grows louder. “It’s only eight.”

He tips his head like he’s considering whether my question warrants an answer. And back to the book.

Later, I hear the furious whispering, like ghosts released and swarming through the dark rooms. I check that the door next to my room is closed. In my own bed I squeeze my eyes shut and try to ward the pale, flickering phantoms away from Alan and Angel’s room, feeling their chill surround me. 

“So this is what you let her do. Run out all night.”

“You said she came back at 8! It hardly gets dark then!”

“Do you know when she comes back later? What is she doing?”

“It’s just Fridays. It’s summer. She’s twelve. What could she be doing?”

“Oh, you sure wouldn’t know! Your relationship with her is in shambles.”

“Oh, you’re one to talk! You hardly speak to her. I tell you to speak to her, but what do you do? I’m busy cooking, cleaning, taking Alan and Angel everywhere. I have my teaching. What are you doing for the family besides working?”

“So you want me to stop working? Everything rests on the mother and daughter relationship. Just admit it. You can’t manage that.”

The first distance divided us 

A gush of freezing water

So you quickly closed in and placed warmth into my hand 

And pulled once more 

Where to? Where to next? Are we there yet?

It’s a frigid morning. The ice is coating everything, stiffening my mom’s mouth, her hands as she scoops rice into the cooker. The air crackles. I walk carefully across the floor and ease open the fridge for the milk.

“Don’t bother with the oven,” my mom snaps suddenly.

I don’t mention that no one likes or does any baking.

“Your dad still hasn’t fixed it.”

When we at last tired

We sunk down 

And breathed out

And rose floating in pools of sunshine

I wanted to stay there

But you’d rather keep running

Mom and Dad are clearing the table quietly. The soft bumps of the plates and the crumpling rustle of the napkins swell up in an irresistible little tune. Their voices are uncoordinated by they come together dancing.