My Grandmother’s Blood
after Peaches, by Hung Liu (USA) 2002
In the Ackland Art Museum, there’s a painting of a Chinese girl. She sits in her canvas and eyes the peaches that dangle just out of reach while art snobs and white people with yellow fever leer down her tall collar.
I shouldn’t be jealous of the girl in the frame, but I am. Her world is predictable, stagnant. Red bats patrol the top right corner, teasing her cheekbone. Branches laden with peaches encircle her face. Every time you look, she’s the same. She dons the same high-neck, constricting qipao and she’ll face the same corner at the same angle with the same steeled gaze.
She's a solid force in her frame. Her paint falls around her, but she stays rigid. Her pale skin lovingly contrasts her black hair. Black hair that her grandparents compliment. While making dinner, they fight over which side of the family gave it to her. Good-naturedly, as grandparents do. Her grandparents actually speak to her, rather than above her head or around her torso.
Her qipao was made for her by her mom's mom who heard that her granddaughter would go to America in search of honest work. So, she scraped together what little yuan she had for silk fabric. The grandmother spent hours sewing this qipao and twenty other ones to be packed away in an old suitcase. There'll be blood along the hemlines from where the grandmother pricked herself when her eyes clouded. The night before her granddaughter leaves, the family comes together to cook a final feast. When the granddaughter leaves, grandmother and mother mourn together; clutch each other in the remains of last night’s feast. The girl surrounded by red bats and bamboo shoots has what I cannot wish for.
1. Everyone calls her Lao Niang, “Old Woman.”
2. She’s in her mid to late seventies. Maybe even early eighties– she’s old.
3. She has eleven siblings, or maybe ten. Most of them are buried anyway.
4. She revels in buying cheap shit. Goodwill is her pharmacy and senior discount days are her prescription. It could be a side effect of owning nothing when she was younger because of the Great Leap Forward.
5. She likes my cousin more than me. She also likes my brother and the gallon jug of Canola oil more than me. No, I’m not bitter, only resigned.
6. She once cried heart attack in an attempt to get my mom to come home.
7. Her phone calls from China used to leave my mom sobbing on the couch when the house was quiet. Now she doesn’t call.
8. The first and last time she visited was two peach seasons ago.
Lao Niang’s family never lived up to expectation. Her husband was poor, stupid, and graying. Lao Niang didn’t have anything worth bragging about. Not her husband, definitely not her kids. My mom studied when she should’ve been pampering herself and she pampered herself when she should’ve been studying. Lao Niang was less grating to her sons since boys are the ones who pass down the name, get obedient wives, and eventually, fund their mom’s spending. Girls are the ones who get married off to the highest bidder with the heaviest pockets.
A surprise then, that all of Lao Niang’s kids left her. Her oldest son went to the Middle East while the other son started a company in Canada. The oldest son left Janice, his daughter, with Lao Niang until Janice moved to America, too. After Janice left, Lao Niang no longer had a young, pliable thing to berate. One year after Janice moved in with us, Lao Niang came to visit after my mom’s reluctant agreement.
Once in America, Lao Niang took the thirty-minute trek to the Goodwill for senior discount day, passing my brother's elementary school and one megachurch before loading up with three hours’ worth of junk. Years later, we are still in possession of two golden sconces, one African paddle, two clocks, a Minnie Mouse in a wedding dress, at least four horse figurines, and nicks on the countertop from the Fights that Made Her Leave.
The argument started on a school night. I was doing homework while my brother stared, empty-mouthed at the TV in my mom’s bedroom. Janice locked herself in her room with headphones on. The usual Tuesday ambience. Then the shouting began. My mom threw candles, cookie tins, and cursed.
You went through her room without permission? For what– tell me,” she said before a plate shattered.
“For some– some jeans?” my mom continued, “You invaded her privacy for pants? And you want me to give a fuck? I’m exhausted and you want me to care about Janice’s jeans?”
Lao Niang attempted to placate her, like you would with a feral cat you wanted to pet. Soft murmurs did nothing for my mom, who then took the heavy Yankee Candle jar and threw it at Lao Niang. Plates, bowls, a mortar, and the paired pestle, thrown. While the one-sided war raged on in the kitchen, I slid into my mom’s bedroom, where my brother was, to distract him. I turned the TV’s volume up. Faked a laugh at the characters. Huddled with him, I waited for silence. Down below, soft Chinese and harsh swears tumbled through the kitchen.
It began when Lao Niang couldn’t find a pair of Janice’s jeans– ones she brought for Janice. She blamed me. Lao Niang rifled through the towel closets before searching my room. She pulled open the closet door and pushed aside the clothing racks. Nothing. They also weren’t under my bed, in the dresser, between my sheets, behind my headboard, or in my nightstand.
Defeated, Lao Niang said I “sold them on the black market to my friends,” the only correct assumption. Triumphant, she took the story to my mom. Our kitchen wall received a siracha stain for its troubles.
Later, Lao Niang found me in my mom’s bedroom curled into the couch. The same couch where I slept for a week, terrified to be alone in my room. Where I plucked at the tawdry brown cloth covering the cushion until the emptiness underneath showed through. Where I took meals, terrified to see Lao Niang.
She leaned in to tell me she will buy me a car. Ignoring the way my eyes darted around her head, she promised, “twenty-thousand dollars for you when you turn eighteen, okay?” She looked pleased with herself.
A week later, the shouting returned. This time, it was noon on a Saturday. This time, my mom didn’t let my brother and I hide in her bedroom. We fled the house after my mom contained Lao Niang’s frantic shouting and throwing to the kitchen. On the way out of the neighborhood, Janice called my mom, frantic.
“Lao Niang says she’s going to have a heart attack,” she took a heaving breath here. “She feels a pain in her chest and it’s getting harder for her to breathe.”
“It started when you left with Stacy and Arthur. I think the stress is getting to her. Last week left her tired but this week–oh please don’t cry–”
Lao Niang starts wailing here. A tirade about how she’s an old, fragile woman and her only daughter left her and now she’s alone in a strange country and her kids hate her and her granddaughter doesn’t know how to show respect and she’ll never be loved again and now that her daughter is taking her grandchildren away and she’ll never see them again and this family will be damned if she ever steps foot on evil American soil ever again. I imagine she sat in the middle of the destroyed kitchen while faking giant heaving sobs.
Janice continues from her brief intake, “She’s in a new country and doesn’t know anything and she says she needs to go to the doctor for heart attack medication.”
My mom closed her eyes as Janice’s ramble ended and flexed her hands against the steering wheel.
“She’s a liar. I’ll see her when I get home. Don’t call the hospital. She can’t afford it and I can’t either,” she paused, mulling over the next words.
“Don’t call me again unless she’s dead,” she spat before ending the call. My brother and I looked at each other over the armrests before going back to gazing at the windows.
We pulled into the driveway two hours later. Janice greeted us in the kitchen with the news that Lao Niang was fine. Resting in her room with the blinds shut and the door locked.
Lao Niang put herself on a flight back to China two weeks earlier than promised. We threw out all the candle jars broken in battle and never spoke of it. We haven’t seen Lao Niang since. Two peach seasons ago.
 One foot in the grave, two if she’d let me close enough to push her in.
 The Great Leap Forward was when glorious leader, Mao Zedong, rapidly industrialized China through a series of reforms in the late 1950s. The Washington Post calls it the “biggest mass murder in the history of the world.”
 If I were raised by a raging, hoarding narcissist I’d want to leave too.
Anastasia Dai is an undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. When she isn't experimenting with the English language, she can be found drinking iced matcha lattes and reminiscing about her parents' dumplings.
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