Friday, 18 November 2011

let them eat fruitcake: closed door

My attempt to pull a Jennifer Egan's Visit from the Goon Squad. In the book, she plays with time to confuse the reader as to when and where the reader is. She does it so well, however.

For Rosemary Graham's class, we were to write two episodes, one for each character, and to reveal the connection(s), beginning with the older character.


Lilian sits at the dinner table. Across her is her husband, Duncan. Their two sons, Craig and Ben, are sitting on each side of the rectangle table. It’s a special night and they’re feasting, celebrating Lilian’s fortieth birthday and her and Duncan’s fourteenth anniversary.

She has cooked her famous Beggar Chicken, whole chicken stuffed with herbs and spices and wrapped inside thick layers of dough that preserves and simmers the aroma of the herbs and spices and forces them to blend and mix with the juices of the chicken. After an hour of roasting, when the loaf is sliced open, it reveals the naked skin of the chicken, glowing with a mouthwatering golden hue that first catches the eyes, then lets the nose agree, and finally makes the stomach demand.

The side dish is slices of Silk tofu with mushroom and thick vegetable broth. Lilian knows it’s Craig’s favorite dish. That’s why she made it. Craig first discovered it while they were at Uncle Tang’s. It was served under a different name, something that promises and celebrates good life with words as poetic as the ones written on the tiny paper inside the Fortune Cookie.

“Honey, this food is just… delicious,” Duncan says as he closes his eyes when the first forkful of chicken and herb and spices and warm white rice melts on his tongue. “Really. I’m at loss for words.”

“Don’t make that a habit. Or you lose in court and we go broke and can’t afford dinner,” Lilian answers with a grin. Duncan laughs so hard that his body shakes.

“I promise I won’t,” he says, and gazes lovingly into her eyes. “So, Craig, how’s school?” Duncan asks.

“Oh, not much. I’m… I’m joining the Sewing Circle,” Craig answers hesitantly. Lilian realizes that he hasn’t touched his tofu. He is just making circles around the broth, tracing the edges of the tofu with his chopsticks.

“Sewing?” Duncan asks, raising his left eyebrow. His smile faded. “For what?”

“Oh, I… I don’t know. Maybe I can patch the elbows of your jackets like the ones in the fancy catalogues, or make my own jacket, or make pencil cases and sell them at school,” Craig says. Lilian smiles softly at her elder son, ready to do business at such a young age, just like his mother.

“Why would you want to do that?” Duncan asks, interrogating Craig, like when he barrages questions into whoever is giving testimonies against his client in court.

“Oh, I don’t know. To make some money, I guess.”

“For what?” Duncan repeats. “So you can buy that Barbie doll? We’ve been through this and the answer is no. Not even with your own money!”

Suddenly, Lilian feels her face tensed and she looks at Craig. His head is bent down. He’s staring at the dish under his nose, still stirring it with detached intensity. She switches her gaze to Duncan. Her husband is still looking at their elder son. She can see rows of emotions flashing in Duncan’s eyes but she exhales her relief softly when she realizes no hatred is emanating from them. Just concern, confusion, and perhaps fear.

Craig sits there in silence.

“Stop playing with your food. Show your mother some respect and eat it. And Craig,” Duncan pauses, “Look at me.”

Lilian sees Craig lift his head and meet the gaze of his father.

“I never, ever want Roger to paint your nails again, do you hear?”

“But Dad, it’s clear polish!”

“Never again, Young Man, understood? It makes you look like a sissy,” Duncan hisses.

Craig nods, but stays silent. In fact, Craig stays silent the entire night, even as Ben exclaims that he was asked to join the Debate Club and Duncan slaps the table with a roaring and approving laughter, high-fiving his younger son who says he said yes. Craig stays silent even after he has finished his meal, even after he has finished helping Lilian wash the dishes. The silence follows him to his room and fades with him as he closes the door behind him.

That night, even through the thick wooden door and layers of blanket and pillow over Craig’s face, Lilian can hear his hiccupping sobs. And with great burden, she retreats her hand, cancelling the thought of knocking on the wood and taking her son in her arms and comforting him. And softly, she moves away from the door, letting Craig be with himself, as he has always been whenever he cries.


Second part will be published next week (it's written and scheduled!)

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