Boy, brush your teeth. Two minutes, two times. Floss is cheap here, and we’re going to use it. Boy, bury the soup bones deep, deeper than the scavengers can dig or smell. Six feet deep. Boy, don’t forget how much I paid for you—the bills started at the hospital and have only increased since. Today’s word is viscous, practice it twice—open that mouth wider, enunciate—hard c, hard c. Make it sound like a k. There. Hold the flashlight steady, boy; empty the drip pan and pass me the twenty-millimeter socket. Now, memorize the chemical properties of rubbing alcohol—yes, its freezing point is lower than you might expect. No, water is an exception; freezing causes it to expand. I miss the black sand beaches back home too. Now, make sure your English is perfect to ward off the questions you cannot answer. But not too perfect if you know what’s good for you. Not that it will matter anyway. Wash yourself like this when you don’t have a shower and must use a sink. Make yourself presentable like this when you don’t have a shower or sink and must bathe with the water from a plastic bottle like we used to back home. Boys don’t dance, so don’t even waste your time. Time for piano. Wrists up, boy, wrists up. Cup your hands—I should be able to slide a tennis ball into each of your palms. Boil jasmine, covered, for six minutes or more—don’t interrupt, boy—take out the tea bag? God. Here, hold the tea pot like this to avoid steam burn. Stay away from cheese—it makes you lazy and rots your brain—and you need every synapse if you’re going to be a cardiologist. Stay away from girls that talk to you first. Stay away from girls that you long to speak to first. Better just ignore all girls, until you’re married. Maybe even longer. They’ll distract you from your studies. Give you uncurable diseases and screaming infants you’re not ready to provide for. Look at me: not another word about boys. Here’s an allowance so you can learn to manage your money. A lab coat, clipboard, and baby brother for you to improve your bedside manner. A baby sister for you to protect. Why do you care so much that you were an accident? Shave with my old razor so you can look your best. Don’t let your sister leave the house dressed like a prostitute; don’t let your brother wear short sleeve shirts. For you, I provide a car to drive. In town only, straight to work and straight back, and, sometimes, if your mother doesn’t need it, to school, but never on the highway. Do you understand me, boy? Wash clothes from the thrift store twice: first time to clean them, second time for good luck. Don’t go downtown; remember what three thousand dollars can buy in this country. Slaughter the chicken when guests come for dinner. Pluck feathers, cleave cartilage like this. Don’t waste. No waste. Peel lychee and then mango. Eat like this for the tender flesh attached to the pit. Thaw water warm, but not too warm. When they ask, cook them food that they find exotic, but not too exotic. Boy, never rinse rice when making congee. Pour hot grease into the old cherry stump so it won’t clog pipes. Here, a newer car that will last you through college. Call your mother, write your aunties, pray for your brother and sister. Your room is on the fourth floor? So unlucky. Change it now. Dress up whenever you leave your dormitory—no it does matter. Dress up like your professors. Dress up like your professors’ boss. Don’t dress up so much that they think you’re on the way to a funeral. Boy, don’t you know that the roads are slickest in the first minute of rain? Fathers don’t pay for the funerals of foolish sons. Go buy a motorcycle like the ones we used to have back home. For you, a tuition check. And another. Here’s one more. Here’s some money for the wedding; it would have been more, but you know I don’t approve. Boil her fresh cups of tea three times daily for the nausea. To show her you can provide. Now, do you see what I mean about the bills? Learn to cut the children’s hair yourself to save money. Barber won’t understand their hair anyway. Teach them to play piano and grow tomato plants starting with a packet of seeds. Feed them fruits and vegetables and keep them away from the cheese they are so determined to love. It will rot their already-too-American, already-too-lazy brains. Yes, just sign the papers; life’s too short to spend the rest of it with someone you can’t trust. Remember, though, I told you to stay away from girls. Remember I told you I didn’t approve. Here, let me watch kids. Change insurance companies every few years. Tour for-sale houses after storms to check for leaks. It’s taken you this long to figure out why I pay more in taxes? Don’t waste your time at protests. You know how much has changed since you were a child. Now, see how far behind we are? Put down that mop, boy, and get on your hands and knees to scrub the floor. If you want to own this house someday, you’ll clean it like this. Buy that brand of anchovies. This soy sauce, that noodle—the brand doesn’t matter so much for soybean paste, just remember the differences between white, yellow, and red types. Here’s a bucket of screws and a drill with the good battery pack. Here are my glasses for which I no longer have any use. Here are my shoes, my jackets, my wristwatches—well, everything really, but we don’t need to talk the details now. You want to learn to drive stick shift at your age? Boy, what else could you possibly want from me? Of course; of course I do. Here’s the folder and two paperclips to keep it sealed. The cold helps prevent microbes, you know, lowers infection rates. Tell them you don’t know. Since you’re not a cardiologist, can you at least sit up straight? Your spine looks like a pretzel. God, boy, you’ve gone too far. Just shave my head—you know how. Careful around my ears. Your soup is good. Almost as good as mine. How long did you simmer—no don’t put that in. It makes it no good. I’ll get my appetite back when the mouth sores and black veins are gone. I’m not a child; go eat something that doesn’t come wrapped in plastic or Styrofoam. Before you go, tie your shoes like I taught you—replace those aglets when you get the chance—just let the laces fall, twist them and pull, right over left and then tuck, make a loop. Repeat on the other side. Not too tight, not too loose. I invented that knot, you know. Trust me, boy, it will take you far enough if you let it. Will you tell the nurses to turn up the temperature? Alright. Not long now, so lean in close: use this bourbon for mouthwash, this one to cook, this one to thin paint, this one for general antiseptic, and this one to sit and sip when everyone who remains offers nothing but cooing sweet-talk. I don’t blame your mother or your siblings for not coming. I knew it would be you even though, even now, you miss it: the dragons controlling the rain and the oceans and therefore the people who dare to cross open water. What does the vending machine have that’s salty? Nothing but four bags of potato chips. Such bad luck.
Siew David Hii was born in Mobile, Alabama. Their writing has appeared in journals such as Story, Georgia Review, Mississippi Review, Electric Literature, and elsewhere. They currently live in Raleigh, North Carolina.