清明 (Qing Ming)4 min read

16 December, 2018 0 comment

張 = Chuong/ to open up
媽媽 = Mother
爸爸 = Father
哥哥= Brother
清明 = Qingming Festival
金紙 = Joss Paper
拜神 = Pray
花桥 = Flower Bridge


Illustration by Christine Wei

An ambulance zips by the 張 family household, and I am stuck remembering the car accident. It was the last time I saw them in person, 媽媽 mother and 哥哥 brother. Today, we meet back at home. 爸爸 Father and I take care of the house until then — we watch over it.

I toss and turn on my top bunk. I count the holes on my cottage cheese ceiling. Chalie snores from his bunk below. His mouth is wide open.

I miss him.

Daisy, our piano teacher says that Chalie has perfect pitch. He’s my big brother. Even his body is bigger. He’s twice as tall, twice as fat as me. He’s also twice as talented.

媽媽 stomps her way down the stairs and into the kitchen. She’s usually forte but

today she’s even louder.

First—tap water, second—the big wok and metal pots—then, her powerful chop!

Today is April 4 清明, Tomb Sweeping Day and 媽媽 and 哥哥 are visiting us. 爸爸 says he’s a better cook than 媽媽 but he never practices. Not even close to how much Mama does.

Daisy says that practice makes perfect so Chalie and I always practice things. We play the piano together. And when Chalie starts to sing, I like to jump around and cheer him on.

I throw my hands over my ears and look out the window over our star-shaped backyard. That cherry tree has been here since the beginning of time. I can tell all the flowers are happy because they’re smiling and bowing towards the sun. I can even see polka dots on the tree.

Sweet, and juicy. Just like me.

            Chalie crashes his head onto the wooden floorboard. The sasquatch has risen!

“Aiya!” we scream. (That’s how Cantonese people say ‘f**k’!)

****

Ay, boy.” 爸爸 says. “Fold ingot.”

Most people think that Japanese people made origami, but it’s really Chinese people. Doesn’t everyone know? Everything is made in China. Ask the dollar store.

“Do we really have to burn all this 金紙? Can’t we buy a grand piano, or build a treehouse in the backyard?” I ask, examining the joss paper squares.

He gives me a stone-cold look. “Understand. Or no understand?”

爸爸 is one of the smartest guys I know but he’s stupid to think that I can learn as quickly as he can.

“Jay-son,” 媽媽 says.

I turn towards her as she sets the table down by the 張 family shrine.

She stops for a moment and looks past me. She moves some plastic containers and a coy fish painting off the table. “Chalie. Chalie! Help Mommy.”

“Coming 媽媽!” Chalie places his palm on the red and green hell money and fans it out in a perfect circle. He leaves it on the ground near me and walks past my arm.

I take seven steps towards the kitchen and that’s when it slaps me. Oyster sauce, garlic, green onion, soy sauce, and ginger. The fragrance of steaming, hot rice.

This must be heaven.

媽媽 and 哥哥 dance around each other. She’s wearing her favourite pink apron and it’s dirty with vegetable oil. She throws her rubber gloves over the sink. He grabs ten sets of chopsticks and a stack of small, red wine cups. She plates the roast pork and balances it on her forearm, then scoops whole white chickens with her left hand. Chalie passes the eating and drinking stuff behind his back. She accepts with her right hand and rushes towards the shrine. My brother spins around her as he heads towards the rice cooker.

He’s going to pack each bowl nice and tight. It’s the best way to serve rice like a pro. Upside-down style.

“Ay, boy.” 爸爸 says.

“Yes.”

“拜神.”

****

“Ay, boy.” 媽媽 says.

She slaps his wrist with  chopsticks.

“Sorry,” Chalie says. “The food looks so yummy.”

“No eat yet. You must wait for your ancestors to eat first. 爸爸 lose his pinky because he greedy,” she says, acting out her infamous chop.

媽媽 pours the small cups of rice wine into another bowl so not to waste it.

The front door swings open.

爸爸 lights his cigarette and looks up into the dark sky.

媽媽 and 哥哥 spark a fire in the metal tin.

爸爸 throws his cigarette away.

媽媽 throws the first ingot into the fire.

哥哥 starts to cry.

“Chalie,” I say, as the arch forms from underneath us. “花桥!” (Fakieu—that means flower bridge in Chinese. I swear.)

He looks at the food set for me—through me, past me—but I have to follow 爸爸 across the bridge up to heaven.


Jay Artcher is a Sino-Vietnamese storyteller, dancer, and educator from Brampton, ON. He studies English and Philosophy at Queen’s University where he leads the annual Faculty Writing Retreat with the Office of the Vice-Principal (Research). His work can be found in Wherever We Roam, Shoreline, The Stand, and the Undergraduate Review, among others. Most recently, he co-founded Kingston Freestyle Dance to preserve street dance culture in Kingston.

 

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