Hot Pot

I never liked hot pot: I was an impatient kid armed with a surprisingly scroogey sense of humor.

“If I wanted to go to a restaurant, why would I cook?”

Yes, the ingredients are all prepped. All I had to do was to throw them in boiling broths in a specified order that would appease my mother.

Oh no, I must stop myself before I analyze it as a metaphor.

Hell, I wrote this one for a reason. In an attempt to capture those rare winter weekends paired with icy rains and the usual polite indecision, when my family didn’t have the insight to make dinner reservations and opted to wait in line. Then we would be seated, hungry, order and watch as mother insists on throwing in the napa cabbage first and nothing else.

I reached for a meatball to earn a retort I knew coming.

“Don’t touch that, if you eat it, you will get breast cancer or other bad things for women.”

The last part was always added as father proceeded to drop all the toppings she deemed cancerous. And, as I settled with flavorless meat — soy sauce and variations were also forbidden — and piles of vegetables, assuming that my father only continue to throw those things in the pot may kill me anyway because he cared not of me.

Then, one fateful day on a rainy, foggy weekend, my friends made plans for hot pot. Then I noticed that all was already placed in the pot for me. Then I realized that there was no cancer threats for me. But the toppings felt so wrong, like the forbidden fruits of a mother’s threat-laced care.

I ate the whole pot and was satisfied.

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Grave

He really hated seeing Canopus cry. And, it wasn’t even just because it was essentially like watching himself cry, it’s just…seemingly apocalyptic.

So he was trying to distract himself from their destination by analyzing the completely blank expression upon his brother’s face: he had long-ceased to make lame jokes and contented to staring at his feet or out the window in perfect silence, so Gabriel decided to clear the air.

“Uh, so, how’s –”

“ — Don’t worry, I don’t plan bawling within the next half an hour. No promises for anything beyond that though.”

“…”

“…”

“Why do you have to know everything I was going to say?”

“You are a bad psychologist.”

“…Yeah.”

They fell back to silence again as Canopus proceeded to watch the hovering droplets of coffee he forgot he was hovering.

“Aren’t you a little too old to still be playing with food?”

“Nah. Keep your eyes on the road, Gabby dear.”

“…”

“…”

“It’s okay to cry. Let it out.”

“Fuck you,” A scoff, and Gabriel knew better than to poke again until they were there.

It was almost mechanical.

Setting flowers and good wishes and whatever other people bunch together with social obligations. He never liked to linger. He didn’t need a cold slab of marble to remember ma and grandma, “I will…wait for you in the car.”

And so the stone-faced left him to his devices. It had been a well-kept secret for five years and he only cleared his throat.

“I’m sorry.”

No need to start every conversation with such, Canopus.

“…I know.”

You look malnourished, Canny, have —

— Please, he’s not a child anymore. No need to fuss —

— Well, daughter, I fuss as I please —

“Ha,” Of course, he could feel the knot in his throat again.

Look, you made him cry —

“ — Ma, please –”

— Oh, my dear child.

“I need help.”

The two finally stopped, what is it, child?

“I don’t know what to do. I…if I…have to do it. I’m sorry.”

No, you cannot burden yourself with such a thing. I do not condone it.

“But…I thought the two of you would be the last…or even I would be the last of it.”

Child, it pains me to see you as such. This is not something a single person can bear.

“I can, mother. I have to.”

…No, let our deaths be the end of it.

“It can’t be. She’s…almost killed gabriel. She would destroy all that I ever exist for.”

…Your father would have done the same. I suppose there’s nothing I can do in the end —

“ — No, that’s not my intention. I wasn’t here to just pass my helplessness to you.”

I think your son is right.

I know. It’s simply a mother’s selfishness.

“…I’m…sorry.”

Then they were gone, every time he feel the earth beneath his feet again, his knees become weak. He dared to breath in life yet he cannot help but wish he was with them. Thousands of “if only”s gritted against his soul and yet all he could do was kneel before cold marble and mistaken the tremor of his hands clutching it as a pulse.

So was this his burden to bear, a spirit raw and bare to agony untold for eternity.

 

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Foggy Windows

She gave up pretending that she was actually listening to her father strategizing and mother resuming her duty of picking his argument apart, resorting to draw different arches and pillars that would have been more exciting than this…uniform glass and concrete. After she outlined their old home in its full glory, she felt her mother’s hand gently on her shoulder.

“Perhaps you would be a good artist,” She loved it when ma smile without reservation of the lines that collect in the corner of her eyes: she always declare that she will start to care less when her hair starts to whiten.

“One doesn’t have to be an artist to make art,” She watched each line melting into small tears where her finger left them. “But, it does seem that this city should use a little bit more artistry.”

They agreed, and the world seemed to endless, a lengthy tapestry scrolling past the frame of the car window in whirls of shapes blurred by distance, speed and rain.

“I know I should’ve asked earlier, but where exactly does Uncle Soulran live?”

“In a surprisingly populous city,” Of course, her father cannot shake the habit of not answering anything directly, and mother cannot help but habitually sum up his cryptic answer.

“San Francisco.”

Funny that the cryptic answer explained more to her than the name of the settlement. Seeing her silence, her father, instead of reiterating what his arched brow seemed to suggest in accusing her of not studying this new world as he assigned her — but who would’ve expected a teenager to do otherwise? — added, “I am sure it will be well, Saph, I’m sure you will create a much more interesting rendition of it regardless.”

Slipping

He wanted to pretend that those things were just the natural side-effects of…surviving a near death experience. But, each day went by with a shorter daylight, and when the night came he only wanted to dream and shut them up. Yet, even when he tried to relinquish himself to sleep, even when Saph buries herself into his arms and whisper sappy things and butterfly kisses they don’t go away.

Even when he tried to listen, he could hardly understand.

They were just a weighty background noise, wanting something, or perhaps it was his own growing need to silence them; even the mildest irritations become unbearable, what started as a mere headache now felt as though an actual critter clawed about his head. He left work early twice already this week, pretended it was just sleep deprivation and stuffed himself with an ungodly amount of caffeine.

And that was the best case.

Sometimes he simply couldn’t deal with the grisly images that had come to repplace whatever semblance of sleep he was supposed to have. At some point, he just wanted to tear that pest out, for he now can hear what it wanted, and he won’t grant it.

He still didn’t tell anyone about it until she woke up one night to a foreign sound. A gasp, choking on tears, a sigh, he hasn’t heard such a sound before that he hardly knew who it was until the despair cried out.

“Gabe…G..”

He saw for the first time with the shower of moonlight that he didn’t remember how he was there, his dearest, his love, his life. His hand, god, he wanted to chop off that hand, that devil’s claw, he let go, tried to remember how to breath.

She was fighting for breath, withdrawing herself sitting up against the head of their bed with her slender legs drawn to her, “Why did….why did you…do that?” Her voice sounded so hoarse, her small delicate hands feeling her throat and her hair a veil thicker than anything between them. “You were…smiling.”

He couldn’t explain it either, and he could barely hear her when she implored him to look at her so she can convince herself that he was possessed, that she was having a nightmare, that he didn’t actually wanted to taste her soul.

“I…” He spoke into the screeching chaos. “…I don’t know I didn’t know.” He didn’t even apologize, it wasn’t something that would be pardoned and he could only speak into the mess until he can only hear a roaring ring.

“Gabby dear?” Where were they? Everything was so quiet now that he was blind.

“It’ll be okay now.”

“No,” He heard his own pathetic croak. “What I did…”

“We know that wasn’t you. Saph understands that,” Of course, they did, he did the same, except when they were boys and things were different.

“I can’t see, what do I do.”

“It’ll be over soon.”

“What about…is she…?”

“She went to her parents to find help, but I can handle this.”

“…No…”

“It’s already done. Just sleep.”

He couldn’t understand, but the deathly tranquility, colors swam before him and he thought he might be waking from the nightmare soon enough.

Delirium

“Honestly, I am kind of sad that I didn’t get to die and come back to life — “

“ — I would apologize again if it doesn’t annoy you –”

“ — that would’ve been cool –”

“ — I didn’t really expect her to find us so soon –”

“ — but then again does that mean a crazy bitch might suddenly pretend to be romantically interested in me and then become obsessed with murdering me?”

“ — still too soon, Gabby dear.”

“ — but then, I already have Saph so I am safe from that. In conclusion, I should have died and then come back to life –”

“– I really don’t think that would’ve been a good alternative, sweetie –”

“ — I am sorry, Gabe — ”

“ — Shut the fuck up before I can think of a viable threat.”

“…”

“…”

“…”

“Hoot.”

“How the hell did you sneak a fucking owl into a fucking hospital?”

“Aw…it’s the annoying animal sidekick.”

“What was that, Gabriel?”

“Nothing much.”

“…”

“Now that we already expositionally complained about shit, maybe I should actually rest before I hear you apologize again.”

“…All logic aside, I think I kind of enjoy seeing my brother high on painkillers. Should I just apologize again just to see what he threatens me with.”

“Oh yeah, I remember! I saved our high school yearbook and your old wri –”

“Okay, I’m out.”

“Hey!”

“…”

“Still, I’m just glad that you are fine.”

“Yeah…me, too.”

Silent Hallway

No one knew how to deal with the predicament. The woman merely messed up her ponytail in exponential exasperation each time she pulled at it, the brother waited for the sound of his own voice to fade from his mind though the moment and his account was forever etched in his mind.

The girl was there, watchful, respectful of the silent fellowship of sighs and heads bowing to inevitable guilt and worries.

The woman in the white robe came out, immediately startled by the razor glares of unrealistic expectations from the family against her throat lest she dared to utter a strain of bad news. She was spared, however, for the authors of such glares were no barbarians or strangers to pain.

It could have been worse, they imagined. The girl assessed to her mind for fear of shattering the gentle silence saving them from themselves. The woman clamped and unclamped her hands, stared at the white spot where her ring left a temporary indent. The brother looked through the earth and bid Lucifer good afternoon before they discussed the necessity of the Devil’s existence if the Creator is already so cruel.

It was a wound masquerading as a scar, and when it suddenly burst no one knew how to staunch agony. So they were all there, reimagining a nightmare, three patients in a hospital while the girl merely waited, prayed.

S’more and Some More

“I love watching the fire dance.”

“You sound like an aspiring arsonist.”

“Don’t give her ideas, she is still young and malleable.”

“You give her too much credit, Mr. Solomon, Vega is already a little demon with her even more demonic owl familiar.”

“Ha, I could hardly tell. Look at that angelic smile.”

“She’s probably faking it.”

“Whatever.”

“…”

“…”

“My mother used to call the night sky the Creator’s drafting board, and He sketches spirits and ideas there before He make them into fruition.”

“That is one roundabout way to humanize a supposedly omnipotent deity.”

“No need to take the romanticism out of traditional lores, Canny.”

“Eh.”

“Must I remind you that you are the one who used to makeup stories about stars and get mad when I tell you the real legends –”

“– Gabby dear, that is extraneous information for everyone involved.”

“Aw…I wanted to hear those stories.”

“No, Angelica, you do not.”

“Don’t decide for me!”

“Ha, I want to hear it, too.”

“Ugh, Mr. Solomon, et tu.”

“Canny dear, I think by majoring rule that we have to divulge some story time.”

“That is the spirit of a campfire.”

“See, the wise one have spoken.”

“Again, Solomon, et tu. And first, it sounds so much better when I make fun of you, Gabby dear. Second, no thank you, I need to concentrate on burning marshmallows.”

“…And, you are too true to your words.”

“Shut up, Vega.”

“Hoot.”

“You shut up, too, feather ball.”

“Hey, you stopped calling my owl a feathered piece of sh–”

“–Ooookay I already apologized for ever calling it that, and can we roast anything other then me?”

“Oh, I thought that’s what this camping trip is all about.”

“Saph, please.”

“…” “…” “…” “…” “…”

“Fine, I can try to think of a less embarrassing one…oh–”

“– Did you hear that?”

“My self-esteem shattering?”

“No, no, is there someone there?”

“You are too paranoid, sweetie, it’s probably nothing.”

“…”

“…”

“– Okay, I definitely heard that rustling.”

“Malevolent stalkers are probably not stupid enough to be so loud.”

“…”

“Hey! We’ve got an arsonist among our midst, and you are surrounded by easily combustible forests, so fear us!”

“Shut up, Canopus.”

“Something feels wrong.”

“Yeah, gotta agree with Vega on that one.”

“Mmk, I will go check it out. Canopus?”

“Sure.”

“…”

“…”

“…”

“Well, in the meantime, anyone want s’more — Vega! Where did they go?”

“What, I didn’t, but — Oh, curses.”

“Put a leash on your feathered piece of shit.”

“Saphira!”