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Tiffany Hsieh

Moon and Back

My brother would deny this now, but a long time ago he told me about a number you could dial, hang up, and the phone would ring back. Ma picked up and said Wei? Wei? She fell for it every single time. One time a lady operator came on the other end and said stop playing with the phone or else. It didn’t ring back after that. I tried random numbers. One was the shortest to dial on the finger wheel. Zero was the longest. We watched an American movie and I dialed a lot of zeros in case E.T. got home. I liked to turn the finger wheel all the way to the right and watch it turn back to the left on its own. Like to the moon and back. My brother said he was going to be like Neil Armstrong. Back then we knew Armstrong as 阿姆斯特朗, and my brother, he was going to be the first Chinese person to walk on the moon.

The Fat Nun

She’d have to be ancient now. We used to wait for her rounded figure to cross the courtyard. Like a penguin marching. The fat nun. She was the only nun in our school who rode a bright red Vespa and whistled with two fingers. We waited for a glimpse of her by the second-floor railing where a row of betel palms provided good camouflage. We thought nuns didn’t get periods. But if a nun were to get her period and have a blood stain on the back of her skirt, we knew it’d be the fat nun. She taught the seniors math and laughed like an opera singer. The happiest nun we ever saw. We wondered whether she really loved being a nun or she just loved not having her period. We were convinced the older nuns gave their meals away to be like Mother Teresa. We prayed for the fat nun to not be like them. One of us knew how to make a cross. Two of us put our palms together the way our parents did in front of incense. We told ourselves God wouldn’t mind.

Insect Killers

Jenny has a small room. Jerry has a bigger small room. Kim and Fred have the biggest small room. There is one hallway where the four of them avoid each other on the way to their rooms or the bathroom. They pack and unpack themselves in that bathroom. It is long and narrow. The mirror is as long and narrow as the strait they used to live by in a different life. They can all fit in the bathroom mirror in a lineup. Fred doesn’t like what he sees. Kim sees what she likes. Jerry and Jenny take turns standing on the bathtub wearing shoes and posing as they like. Nobody wears shoes in the house otherwise. They wear drag shoes. Jenny’s are a pair of fluffy pink bunnies she drags in and out of her room. Jerry doesn’t wear his the day he sneaks home a black kitten and hides it under his pillow. Kim is dragging hers around when she finds the kitten in Jerry’s laundry basket and tells Fred there is a rat in the house. Fred puts down mousetraps with cheese and goes to bed thinking of the cockroaches he killed in their old apartment near the strait. He misses his old drag shoes, which doubled as insect killers. Leather top, rubber soles.

➥ Bio