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"Vigil" – published in Griffith Review 49: New Asia Now

Short story published in Griffith Review 49: New Asia Now, a collection co-edited by Julianne Schultz and Jane Camens, "featuring a new generation of literary stars who will shape the way we understand the complexities of culture, politics and modernisation." - Griffith Review

Website link here.

Excerpt from opening:

ON THE TWENTY-EIGHTH day of Po Lin's vigil, her mother opened her eyes and said, 'Don't pour that cheap stuff on your father's grave. Bring him his favorite every time. At least promise your mother that.'

'Maa?' Po Lin rose from the chair and the blood rushed to her half-awake limbs. She steadied herself on the edge of the bed.

'Your brother will forget. Your sister-in-law would have him drinking cooking wine if she had her way. So it's up to you, Aa Lin, to do good by your father.' Her mother's left eye was unfocused beneath the sagging lid, but her right eye was sharp. 'You look tired.'

'Maa, how are you feeling?'

'Why do you look so tired? Too many shifts at the shop. If I had known that husband of yours was going to work you like a dog I would have never let you marry him. Chewing pork rinds all day long while you work the meat off all ten fingertips. Aa Keung should watch it, what with his high cholesterol. Men don't listen. Your father never did.'

Po Lin hesitated. It was so good to hear Maa's voice. This was the most coherent Maa had been for weeks, notwithstanding the fact that she had forgotten Po Lin's husband was dead. Aa Keung had a heart attack years ago, leaving her stranded up in Dong Guan tending to the embroidery shop that kept food on the table and their son in college. It didn't feel right to correct Maa, though. The stroke had hijacked the entire left side of her body and rendered her in and out of consciousness for the past month. After two weeks at the hospital, Po Lin's brother Fung and his wife Ling had insisted they bring her home to the family flat in East Kowloon. Ling said it was for Maa's comfort, but Po Lin had a feeling that the climbing hospital bills had more to do with it. Since Maa came home, Po Lin commuted to Dong Guan twice a week to check on the shop, but returned at the end of each day to curl up in the rickety cot at the foot of her mother's bed.

'Water, Maa?' Po Lin propped her mother up and put the straw in the right corner of her mouth. After three long sips, Po Lin settled her onto the pillow with barely any effort; she weighed so little now. The late afternoon light from the small window behind Po Lin cast an orange glow over her mother, masking her grey pallor. Maa's palm was cool in her own. She squeezed Po Lin's hand and said in a soft rasp, 'How long has Aa Keung been gone?'

~*~

 

 

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