Night Six, my mother invites me to help with dinner. From the fridge she pulls tofu and scallops and shrimp without tails. I search the cabinets for almond milk, ask what about this? My mother trusts me to improvise. So this, I say to a near-empty bag of sequins. And this. (Froot Loops.) I slice the tofu into rectangular prisms, spare the scallops for natural reasons. My mother wonders how I’ve learned to move a knife like her. I count back the meals she’s missed: I’ve bought jhumka earrings. A woman with white eyeliner drew a scorpion on my inner thigh. My mother supposes that the second Frozen movie was a flop, so to prove her wrong I play the soundtrack in its intended order. I line up three shrimp, executioner’s style, and press my blade into their underbellies. My mother supposes, also, that it is stupid to cut shrimp. I protest — that’s how we eat them in the seafood soup from Mandarin House! The Wharton in my mother says Mandarin House is simply cutting costs. Probably half a shrimp per plastic cylinder. I count on my fingers, which stink of tiny organs: Night One, I ate papaya for the first time in months. Since Night Two, I’ve been picking at my ear and missing sex. I coax the shrimp into smaller pieces, divisions that remind me of a story from Sunday School. My mother winces. If cut too small, things disappear in hot water, she warns. We didn’t go to the supermarket until Night Four; I drove, and on the way back, I told my mother I slept with my tattoo artist, Sahana. My mother then attempted to defend all of my friends’ boyfriends. I’m still chopping. On Night Three, Barnes-Jewish took over my father’s father’s lungs, or in other words, good news nowadays means stability. Last night I drove around my old neighborhood, slower and slower until I convinced myself of faces in the stop signs, none of them more than a stranger. The cutting board reflects my hands back to me. Cracks of salt along her palms. Over my shoulder, my mother sees the empty pool, asks what happened to the shrimp? I heave the board over our gurgling pot — skim my knife across its surface — we listen together for a noiseless entry…. I tell my mother we’ll be able to taste everything in the final product. Anyway, she’s heard that most shrimp grow up to be excellent divers.
Ann Zhang is a student at Yale University. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri.