Issue Edited by Devika Rao
By Michael Chin
My father once told me not to make friends with people who didn’t have money because without fail, they’d ask you to help them move. We had been watching the movers he’d paid carry the last of my boxes into my apartment. “Even a girl like you,” he said. “You’ll be hauling boxes up the stairs and they’ll pay you with pizza and beer, as if that’s worth your aching back.” He shook his head and sipped off of his gin and tonic. “No thank you.”
When Abby asked me to help her move, it felt like less of a favor than an invitation. When I got to the house, her whole family was there, and the movement of her belongings—limited to a half-dozen boxes and two suitcases—was all but done.
It was a different kind of move, a different occasion. Abby was moving out of the house to Meldrake Assisted Living Facility. She’d live with other people with special needs and have her days scheduled with arts and crafts sessions, vocational training, outdoor recreation, and meals, with lights out at ten every night. It sounded crumby to me to have every minute of the day planned, and to not visit the refrigerator at midnight or to stay up late googling why cats put their butts in people’s faces. Abby had shown me the catalog, running her fingers over the glossy pages, particularly the page that showed someone on a slip ‘n’ slide. It did look like fun. Who was I to take that away from her?
At Abby’s house, there was music. Every song we listened to was from a Disney soundtrack, and once, Abby closed her eyes and sang along to “Part of Your World” in moans that approximated but never quite matched the shape of the lyrics.
Abby’s mom said they were so glad she made a friend, and I said we were just two women who rode the bus across town to get to our jobs – mine was scrubbing toilets at the dorm and hers was mopping floors at McDonald’s. Her mother said Abby told her I shared Life Savers with her on the bus. “Most people won’t make eye contact with her,” Abby’s mom said. I mumbled something about how maybe it was because she was short, or because her stare made people uncomfortable, but everything I started to say felt like a put down so I let it drop. Instead I told her that being together on the bus meant I didn’t get distracted imagining what everyone around me was thinking and I didn’t miss my stop like I used to.
I guess friendship is just spending enough time together doing the same things and liking it, and it’s not like I had many friends, so why shouldn’t I be excited if Abby were excited to be friends with me? And hadn’t I thought about how boring and lonely bus rides were going to be without her?
This wasn’t a moving day in the way my father would have described it. This was a party, complete with people happy to be near each other, complete with cake, complete with all of us singing “For She’s A Jolly Good Fellow,” before Abby’s mom and dad walked her to the car. I walked back to my apartment alone, and thought that’s how all moving days ought to be.
Enhanced Methods of Tidying
By Kayleigh Shoen
“Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle.”
– Marie Kondo, The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up
After we had completed the book’s system. After taking each possession in hand and measuring its joy. After rolling shirts in balls and folding socks; discarding diaries, photos, and notes. After whittling our homes and offices to capsule collections, and trundling boxes off to Goodwill. After all this, we looked over the squared off stack that remained and found, still, we were not tidy.
Some looked to the churches. We emptied our pockets in tithing bowls and bled our sins in confession booths. We raised our hands in praise for the hours the synagogue took and filled. We walked labyrinths on our knees. We fasted and forwent sleep. We memorized runes and spoke in tongues. We worshipped yoga, ayahuasca, and birth signs. But still, we were not tidy.
We researched homeopathic homemade cleaning. We Etsy-ed shampoos, scrubs and emollients. We rubbed and patted with coconut cream, apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil and baking powder. We caked our faces in coffee grounds, mud and syrup. We cut carbs and legumes and sugar. We plucked, burned and cut. And still, we were not tidy.
Others took flights to the homelands of doctors with full syringes and sharpened knives. They plumped our skin with toxins and sliced off parts we no longer wanted. When they finished, we lay our bruised bodies on rattan chairs under palm trees, and drank from fruits we didn’t recognize. We thought perhaps here, away from ringing phones and buzzing calendars, the thousand electronic chirps, maybe here. But when the bandages were removed, we discovered that still we were not tidy.
We quit jobs. We divorced. We moved. We totaled cars and didn’t replace them. We bought pets and when their puppy teeth cut our fingers, we abandoned them in open pastures. We threw rocks, broke glass, leaped from planes, and fired pistols. We spat and we bit, punched and kicked, ran and screamed, and collapsed on the ground, still not tidy.
When we closed our eyes we dreamed of the tidying machines of the future: a vacuum small enough to suck every cell from our pores, sponges to clarify the ringing from our ears, a laser to burn away all the cancers of our messy bodies. We dreamed of exfoliating skin, muscles and bones until all that remained was light as fresh cotton, tidy as air.
Time was the ultimate untidiness we could not undo. There were years of imperfect cleaning, decades of fruitless purchases, lifetimes between the sloppy present and the day we knew we would finally be free. Still we practiced. Still we tried.
Tucked In the Folds of Our Eyes
By Allison Thai
Do you know why it burns when we cry, con? Here’s a tissue. Come sit by me—dab, don’t drag. You’ll ruin your eyes that way. There, there…Now, I should have told you earlier, back when you were a little girl. It’s harder now, I suppose, when you don’t believe in fairies and dragons anymore. Do you remember the story of how we came to be? No, I don’t mean how I came here, far from home, on strange land but safe from the war we lost. I don’t mean the birth of Vietnamese presence in America, born from the salt of our blood and tears and the stretch of sea between here and our homeland.
Think of a time long before foreign invaders touched Vietnam’s soil…yes, even before China’s thousand year rule. The birth of a people, our people. Do you remember Lạc Long Quân, the dragon lord of the sea? Âu Cơ, fairy queen of earth? From their union we emerged, from a clutch of a hundred eggs, and to this day we call ourselves Con Rồng, cháu Tiên—children of the dragon, grandchildren of gods. Doesn’t seem that way now, does it? Time is a chisel chipping away at the magic, wearing it down with each turn of a century. Our dragon scales peeled away. Our wings fell off. We are shadows, shells of glory past, beaten and conquered and killed. I may have made it to America in one piece, but the sea tore my family apart. Sickness took my two brothers and Thai pirates took my mother. I refused to cry because I had to be strong. Save my energy for living. By the grace of God, Buddha, my ancestors—whoever answered my prayers—a foreign ship rescued me and thirty others crammed in a river skiff with no business being on open sea. Why couldn’t we have been thirty-four? Could I have done better to protect my brothers, fought harder to keep my mother? Only then did the dam break and I cried. Tears burned my eyes and seared my cheeks, and—believe me, now—I heard my family through those tears, heard them amid the waves. Their bodies borne on fairy dust. Their voices burning like dragon fire. You’ll be all right, they whispered. Get on the ship. We’ll come along. The magic never died…it lives on, through me, through you.
It’s all right to cry, con, but don’t be ashamed of the shape of our eyes. They are forged in fairy dust and dragon fire. Keep the magic safe and keep it close. It is tucked in the folds of our eyes.
Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and is an alum of Oregon State’s MFA Program. He won Bayou Magazine’s Jim Editor’s Prize for fiction and has work published or forthcoming in journals including The Normal School, Passages North, and Hobart. He works as a contributing editor for Moss. Find him online at miketchin.com or follow him on Twitter @miketchin
Kayleigh Shoen’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in 100 Word Story, Green Briar Review, Crack the Spine, and Allegory. She holds an MFA from Emerson College and reached the “papers” phase of the Konmari method before reverting to untidiness.
Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Allison Thai got her first taste of stories from true accounts of how her parents fled from communism as war refugees. Manga and talking animal stories pushed her down the path of speculative fiction to the point of no return. When not reading and writing, she swims, draws, delights in all things science, hoards graphic novels, and enjoys fishkeeping. She’s also self-taught in her goal to attain polyglot status.
Notes from the Editor
In each of these pieces, we find that there is meaning in what is mistaken as familiar. In “Moving,” an unlikely friendship exposes the narrator’s preconceived notions about moving one’s belongings. “Enhanced Methods of Tidying” takes us on a journey of what it means to clear one’s life of clutter both physically and mentally, within the microcosm of living space and the macrocosm of life choices. “Tucked in the Folds of Our Eyes” shows us that a parent’s powerful ability to comfort a child comes from a painful journey. Moving, tidying and comforting are all simple acts, but in these stories, the authors compel us to transcend our preconceived notions on disability, self-help books and wise parenting. What we discover, is illuminating.
About the Editor
Devika Rao is a practicing Pediatric Pulmonologist who cannot seem to suppress the right side of her brain despite the years of medical training. She lives in Dallas, TX with her husband and two young sons. When she is not practicing ventriloquy with her 3 year old’s toys, she writes short fiction, and googles vegan Instant-Pot recipes. Follow her on Twitter at @devikaradhika.