History and Memory
A Short Story by Geneva Chao
Written using the suggestion "Suddenly I woke up among strangers."
Originally featured on 01-25-2011
As part of our series "The Benefit of Doubt: Stories Written to Explore Domestic Violence and Abuse"

I have a little statue of Kwan Yin holding a baby. It is reddish wood, black in the crevices, with tiny dents around the head where I used to chew on her. My mother shakes her head when she sees them; she says a goddess is not a pacifier. I say I don’t remember. I don’t remember chewing on Kwan Yin, remember being in preschool. I don’t remember the tiny baby teeth I used to have, my pointy smile. I am lying. I remember everything. I remember even then thinking that Kwan Yin was my mother and the baby was me. I chewed on my mother for comfort. I remember thinking that even if I made little dents, the Compassionate One would not mind. She is full of mercy.

***

The dents are beautiful, the shape of my baby teeth, with cracks etched out around them. I turn Kwan Yin over and admire them, admire my tiny teeth. Kwan Yin is warm in my hand. She is powerful. The baby is never heavy to her. She is the strongest mommy. She can hold up the baby forever and her arms are never tired.

I remember everything.

I remember that it is winter.

“My baby is in my tummy, Mama,” I say from my car seat. “My baby is in my tummy and she’s drinking my milky because she loves that.” Rain sluices down the windows. It is dark outside. We don’t usually drive in the dark; we go to school in the morning and come home for lunch. We are done with the car before nap. I don’t mind. I sing to my baby. I sing my brother’s song, the one about the cuckoo in the forest. My brother pretends not to like it, but hums along.

I remember that my mother is crying and it takes her a long time to open the door. She says a bad word, quietly so we don’t hear, but I hear. I hear everything. The bad word is like praying. I hear when they think I am sleeping.

“Cuckoo, cuckoo.” My baby likes it when I sing. She is happy. I am holding her the way Kwan Yin holds her baby now. She is done with milk.

I remember my mother is lying on the floor. She is not moving but her eyes are sad. I kiss her and tell her, “Shh, shh. I’m the mommy and you’re the baby.” I offer her my milky to drink to make her strong.

I remember that my brother is bad. He says my brother is bad. My brother kicks things. He kicks things too. My brother stops being bad when my mother holds him. She holds my brother up high like Kwan Yin holds her baby. My brother is strong. The kitchen light is bright behind his head. My brother tells Him, “Look at Mama. She’s doing a great job, and you’re not.” My brother says he wants a new daddy.

I remember that I think He will blow the house down.

The rain is still running down the car windows. My mother is talking to her friend on the phone. “Stop that, Baby,” I say to my baby, who is fussing. My baby stops fussing.

We all sleep in a hard bed, my mother and my brother and me. The bed is lumpy and the room is hot. The radiator behind the bed hisses and splutters. I remember turning over and turning over in the bed until my mother pulls me on her chest and I rise up and down with her slow breath. My mother is a cloud.

I remember that my mother lights candles and lines up oranges. We can’t eat the oranges yet. They are for the statues.

I tell my brother that the Wicked Wolf is coming. My brother tells me that I am a baby. “I’m not a baby, I’m a mommy!” I tell him back. But I don’t really think my brother is bad. My brother’s face turns down at the corners. I try to hug his face, but he hits me and I fall down. I fall down and my brother cries.

My mother sings in the car, with the music. My mother puts songs and she sings. Even when she is crying she sings. My mother’s voice goes up, up over my heads, out the sunroof to the moon. She is flying.

Suddenly I wake up among strangers. They know my mother and call her her name. They make a hundred eggs for breakfast. I like the sound of the eggs frying. They have plastic plates in seven colors and they give me the pink one. My brother and I fight over it but they have two. I eat seven eggs. I am a good eater. I turn Kwan Yin over in my pocket in my warm hand.

Afterwards my mother pulls Kwan Yin out of my mouth. “You’ll hurt her,” she scolds. I tell my mother that Kwan Yin’s hurts will get better just like hers do. My mother shakes her head and tells me she will never get better.

My mother is the strongest person in the world. She can throw me so high I feel my hair brush the ceiling. She plays music and dances with me like that. My brother says “Me! Me!” So she throws him too. I can see that it hurts her because my brother is heavy, but she does it anyway. My brother laughs and laughs.

I remember that we are in our house and there is so much snow that we can’t get out. We are trapped in frozen silence. Finally my mother takes me outside into the snow. I cry because I hate the cold. My brother cries too, but then he and my mother make snowballs. I think they are the moon.

Sometimes He comes. My mother says He is late again. I remember that He is always late again. My mother leaves when He comes even though my brother doesn’t want her to. My brother still says he wants a new daddy. Sometimes we watch a movie and He sits on the floor and falls asleep. His mouth is open. I can count his teeth. His teeth are big and yellow.

My mother carries my brother in one arm and me in the other. I know we are heavy, but she is fast. She runs across the street with us. A car goes by so fast the wind almost pushes us over.

Sometimes I see Him walking and it isn’t Him. Sometimes I see Him walking and it is.

My mother reads me the story of the wolf and the kids. The kids are goats. They are home alone and the wolf dips his paw in flour so it will be white like their mother’s. White and soft.

I think we have a new daddy but my brother says we don’t. I am not sure if I have a new daddy. Sometimes He buys us ice cream. He says He is a nice daddy, but I know He was a wolf. I am not sure if I have a daddy at all. I think He is pretend.

Sometimes my mother is angry. I think that Kwan Yin is angry when people are bad. My mother tells me a story of how Kwan Yin cut out her arms and her eyes to cure the emperor. She says Kwan Yin is not angry, but the emperor is. I think He is the emperor and not the daddy.

My mother reads us a story about the seven brothers. She read the brother who swallows the ocean, holds it in his mouth. I think that my brother is swallowing the ocean. Sometimes when he opens his mouth it all falls out.

We listen to a song about an emperor. My mother holds me up high and looks at me. She sings with the song, “And I knew you loved me.” My hair brushes the ceiling. My mother is crying. She smiles at me.

Sometimes the emperor is very loud to us. He yells at us. We don’t listen to Him and His face gets red. He yells and yells.

I remember that He has smoke coming out of His mouth. My mother tells Him to stop saying bad words to her and He says more bad words. I don’t mind because she is fast and strong. She will run away.

In the story my mother tells, Kwan Yin went away because the emperor was angry. But his anger made him sick and no doctors could help him.

I remember that my mother takes us to the doctor and the doctor makes a worry face.

The emperor does not make Kwan Yin help him. She helps him because she is kind. My mother says we must be kind to everyone, even people who are mean. My brother says “even bad guys with guns?” My mother says to run away from bad guys. My brother says he is going to get a gun and shoot them.

I put band-aids on Kwan Yin’s hurts.

When Kwan Yin cut out her arms and her eyes she got a hundred new ones. My mother tells me this story. I think it is because Kwan Yin is the strongest. My mother holds me up high in her arms; Kwan Yin holds her baby. She is the one who knows that the emperor is not wearing a beautiful new robe. And I am her child and I, too, know that he is naked.

Read More By Geneva Chao

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Portland Fiction Project

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