Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Lips too tight

Fiction. Nowhere near done.

"Expensive this, unfair that, people need to open their eyes," Hanna's father said. American eyes tended to stay narrow, slitted so only certain bandwidths of experience could be made out. It was a frequency of immediate, visceral pleasures, of profligate lifestyles; it was a crying shame. He yelled all this over the phone. Yelled: 30,000 CHILDREN WERE DYING EVERY DAY.

"Just think about that," he said, afterwards, calmly.

Hanna's father, Miles, was doing something about it. He was a social worker in Szechuan, China, had been there for 8 years and counting, had given up consumerism for dusty, spartan housing and a chance at Purpose. Before that, he had worked twenty years as an engineer for Boeing. What he called "a nihilistic endangerment of his soul," is what he told his boss when he quit.

"One-third of this world lives on less than $1 a day. So that sushi you bought for lunch, that's a week's worth of food," he reprimanded.

No matter that Hanna didn't actually eat sushi her mother ordered during the power outage. Hanna hated sushi, always had, couldn't stand the smell of raw fish, couldn't even look at the fish eggs, glistening and textured and too conscious for her queasy constitution.

Every Saturday night, she held the phone to her face while her dad called from halfway around the world. She listened while lazily examining her pores in the mirror, pulling out strands of fabric from her comforter, flipping her special wheathead penny up and down, up and down. Often, she wondered what would happen if she just left a voice recorder that went "uh huh," "right," and "I do that already" playing on repeat. Would her father, expounding on the virtues of Christ and the spartan life, hear the affected cadence?

She couldn't do that, though. Her dad would go ballistic. Besides, some weeks, he was on a mission to learn as much as possible: "How is school? Social Studies? Is that what they call it these days?"; "What are you reading right now for fun?"; "How is the 4-H club? Is Shadsky still there?" Of course, before Hanna could tell him she had tested out of social science, that she was reading Dostoevsky, and that she had forgotten to renew her 4-H membership years ago, he would burst into a tangent, spitting out a laundry list of nagging worries that he wanted her to be wary of.

"Remember to buy blueberries -- antioxidants galore."

"Is your mom talking to you about this new online hacking scheme? Nigerian princes? Don't open email from anyone you don't recognize!"

"I realized last night the importance of keeping your back flat when you sleep. You're not curling up every night, are you?"

"Dad," Hanna would say, her glasses dangling at the tip of her nose, sliding down millimeter by millimeter from the accumulating sweat in her non-air-conditioned house.

"Daddy," Hanna said. "I know."

"Was he always like this?"

Hanna's mother paused, it seemed, to digest the question, so she could analyze the subtext and prepare for an appropriate level of commiseration, before peeling off her answer.

"He loves you honey. He misses you so much."

"Right, which is why he never comes back, right?"

"You have to understand -- what he went through, it would be hard, maybe impossible, for anybody. China's treated him well. He'll be back as soon as he's ready."


"You know, when you were a baby, he would pick you flowers? Those clover that grow by Litchfield. He'd sneak off, spend an entire afternoon stringing together hundreds of stems into a crown, and then present it to you as if you were a princess. You giggled and curtsied everytime."

That was fine. He loved her before. Adored her, maybe. He might still. But problem was, Hanna had heard this story before. Her mom dusted it off the shelves every so often to curtail a premonition of anxiety, bitterness, injustice. Its adequateness as a big-picture repudiation of her small, human needs was unfair. It dug into her skin, pricked her. A flower crown? What kind of person had the patience to make something like that? If he was smart, he could have been watching his health, or working, or buying her real presents, or, god forbid, actually spending time with his family.

Hanna had decided: it wasn't a good idea to keep up a dialogue with her mom about this. Pointless. Boys and shoes she could do. Her father -- well, she was the one who had drawn up the deal herself: an hour every week, and she wasn't the kind of girl who broke her promises.

1 comment:

  1. I liked that she dint eat the raw fish during a power outage not a good idea fish goes bad fast