Sữa: milk. (Watch the dip of your tongue–Sửa: to fix.)
Curdle rinsed. Empty plastic gallons windchimed against your collected hollow aluminum. Cans creased sharp. Sliced your and mother’s fingerprints. Stung to grip the bag. Big enough to float. Gravity-less smile on cartoon Earth. Revolving wheels crush and haybale. Overalled, the attendant opened our bag to sort and toss. Five cents. Ten cents. Not in California, not in Minnesota. Lakes into which you’ve never dipped. Plunged plastic and metal recycled to coins and dollars and dinner to trash and back again. The once-sữa bottles lined up in front of us. “We don’t take these,” he told us, alone. “Trời ơi,” she muttered, then gave him her pleading beauty, the other side to the face that furrowed me into stealing napkins, single-serving salt and pepper, and sporks. Punctured by guilt, I filled my wounds with what she always told me: “It’s not the end of the world.” Shouldering weight, I untwisted caps and sandaled plastic into accordions. Music of air flushing out filled the space of understanding that he’d had it hard too. Look at us. Just a mother and a daughter. Blood lined her fingertips as she outstretched her palm for the cash. He started to ask her on a date, but she’d already turned her back. To my ear, in our language, she whispered, “Let’s get some fried chicken.” She reached for my hand. “And some gloves. And milk.”
Red in summer, our skin freckled by morning. With the sun, my dad and grandmother sandwiched me, our shadows stretching down the driveway. Garage sales at lifting marine layer. Sediment of grime on toys not as cherished as mine, smells of others’ lives in the pages of their books. Covered by a flimsy brown roof, a yellow plastic home in miniature. Nuclear doll family. Fractured postures from plastic heads screwed onto soft bodies slumped over the dining room table–a dining room table–as you peered through the made-in-China windows. Their eyes, all black, as if painted abyssal by Edward Hopper. Jerking in epileptic seizure, my dad’s body would burst red into his Jesus-light eyes and pressure release white foam cresting over his lolling tongue–paroxysms I tried to help stave off by being good, by walking the garage sales, by keeping the yellow house neat. With trembling hand, I tweezer-shelved tiny books and filled the fridge with hamster-sized cans and bottles, labels blurry to see. Here, I had grown all of this plastic interior life, only to eventually be garage-saled away again. After deaths. Uff-da. Other changes. The father’s plastic head, its cavernous eyes, maybe dusting away in another’s garage. Or nesting in the belly of a bird where waves meet land. Or tumbling, crushing, reshaping, spitting back out into another hungry red hand.
Jade Hidle (she/her/hers) is the proud Vietnamese-Irish-Norwegian daughter of a refugee. Her travel memoir, The Return to Viet Nam, was published by Transcurrent Press in 2016, and her work has also been featured in Southern Humanities Review, Poetry Northwest, Witness Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, The West Trade Review, Bangalore Review, Columbia Journal, New Delta Review, and the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network’s diacritics.org. You can follow her at @jadethidle.