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On the day I was dropped off at your farm in central California, mama-san, you beat me for burning your curry rice. I screamed. You then pushed wormy-flesh tomatoes into my mouth, and your yelling in Japanese stung my ears. 

When I told the kids at the local school my name, they narrowed their light eyes and snickered. “Samantha Beckett? How come you look so weird?”

I remained silent. 

Eventually, Mom took me away from you. I went to San Francisco, where Mom wore purple eyeshadow, short dresses, and red high heels as she satisfied the white men in the bars. I told the kids in San Francisco my name. Some understood. But one boy, Joey Chang, said, “You'll never be accepted as Asian.”

“I’m not looking for acceptance,” I said in defiance, thinking about the boxed mac and cheese I had to cook for myself that evening.

When I was in the ninth grade, you moved in. You saw what Mom did to pay the rent, yet said nothing. I tried to be Asian with Joey Chang. You noticed the line on my swollen stomach.

"Who the father?" you asked.

“Joey Chang,” I replied.

You muttered in Japanese, “Chinese are rats.” I took your potion. Two days later, after I recovered, I didn’t eat the typical Hamburger Helper or chili in a can. I ate your treat: sushi. 

~

Years later, I married Michael Cohen: a foreigner like my father and like Joey Chang. Me and my husband--with my intellectual property lawyer position and his job as chief financial officer at a new media company--had moved to Mill Valley, where I gave birth to a boy with curly red hair and a girl with slanted eyes. One night I came home from work, ready to prepare a special dinner. In my newly renovated kitchen I started to prepare soy ginger dip and wasabi paste for salt grilled snapper. 

My husband entered the house, announcing his arrival. In the kitchen, he approached me from the back, just as I placed a whole fish on the grill. Mike swept my petite feet off the ground; I then fell back to Earth.

“What's for dinner, sinner?” he asked.

I laughed, making my voice sound flirtatious. My husband liked to flirt. He then kissed my earlobes.

“I like the multicultural vibe here,” he said, before reminding me about his business trip to Vancouver. He had to be at the airport tomorrow morning. Mike traveled to places like Vancouver, Montreal, New York, and Berlin, and as always, he returned with a post-coital expression. I didn’t care. At least my children had a father.

Eventually, my son came home from his rock band practice, and my daughter finished her homework and walked downstairs from her bedroom. I served dinner before sitting at the kitchen table. As I gingerly dipped my grilled snapper into the soy ginger and hot wasabi sauce, Mike ate dinner like he was munching on chips. He kept on mumbling about how good the food was, and I remembered how you told me not to marry him. Yet I didn’t want to end up like Mom; and I knew that Joey Chang was right.  My son, now fifteen and following the emo style of white t-shirt and skinny jeans, sipped Diet Pepsi, and my daughter, who turned eight a week ago, gulped her chocolate milk. Both of them ignored the food on their plates. Last summer, I took the children to your nursing home in Martinez, where you went after Mom died of her illness. You talked about coming to America as a mail-order bride, and working hard on a farm with my grandfather and his parents until WWII started. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the US government suddenly considered Japanese - Americans to be the enemy. So you and the rest of your family ended up interred in Utah until the war ended.

The government gave some of your land back, yet most of your family ran to San Francisco--including Katharine, your only daughter, your favorite. My mother. My children, as always, claimed not to understand Japanese. So I gave them some money to buy ice cream at the local 7-11. I hated my mom for so many years that I didn’t ask her about living in that internment camp in Utah. As a girl in her early teens, she must have learned a horrifying yet true lesson from being punished simply because of her race. When it came to getting what she wanted from powerful men, she had to use sex.

My daughter smiled, revealing teeth browned from too much chocolate milk. She asked, “What songs do you like, Mom?”

“I like love songs,” I answered. “By Whitney Houston, Celine Dion. Remember that song, ‘If You Asked Me Too,’ Michael?  Both Celine and Patti LaBelle sang it.”

Mike continued to munch his food. He mumbled in agreement.

“I need somebody to love me,” I wanted to say. “Not use me.” But I’d learned to hate honesty because honesty was too painful.

So instead, as I dipped my fish in soy ginger sauce, I told my family, “Love songs can be sappy. But we always love them against our better judgment.”

“Like soda?” asked my son.

“Yes,” I answered, staring at the Japanese food that the children still refused to eat. I tasted the salt and spices and delicate flesh and pain in this recipe, mama-san. Why do I feel so alone with my husband and children in this big, expensive house in Marin County?  I would need more than a recipe to understand.


Behlor Bernice Santi lives in New York City and works as a freelance writer. She's published fiction and poetry in such magazines as Cortland Review, The Dead Mule, and The Sidewalks's End.
You can contact her at: behlorwritesstories@gmail.com.

 
 



It started as an exercise, something to stretch my creative muscles. What if an Eurasian woman, ashamed of her past, tries to find peace with her heritage? Samantha is quite different from me--I'm a black woman of part West African descent- yet we're almost soul sisters, wondering if there's more to life than the 21st century multicultural dream that America gives us and that, to be honest, we like. I posted my first draft on Zoetrope's Flash Fiction Workshop, and received some great comments that urged me to go on. Special thanks to Kim Chinquee.

 





  


Copyright 2009