Lucy Zhang

It has been two years since we’ve been to China because nonessential travel isn’t allowed, and we’re still not going back for Lunar New Year

Popo is going crazy. She texts Han every day, asking what she did wrong to raise an inconsiderate son like him, one who doesn’t ask how his parents are doing, who behaves so distant to the folks who raised and fed and sent him through school. I tell Han she’s gaslighting him, making it all about herself, but deep down I wonder if that’s what happens to women who have children. Popo seems normal in our extended family chat, chatting about Zao Tang (灶糖) and how you can find those candies in any store in Shenyang and how she’d buy it every New Year for Han when he was little—even though it’s too sticky, too sweet, Han tells me. I don’t like sweet things: gag on the Fujis, tolerate the Granny Smiths. I try to play peacekeeper because I don’t want Popo thinking I stole her son when I suppose I did if you squint under dappled sunlight, so I reply saying I’d love to try the candies as well as her homemade Suan Cai dumplings the next time we visit Beijing, though none of us talk about when that’ll happen. After eating, I use the same Clorox wipe to clean our counters, clear away the dust, scrub off the oil splatters on the stove. My feet are slightly swollen because I’ve been eating too much salt, the key ingredient to making the single carrot and two onions and half bag of wood ear tasty, because I’ve been postponing our grocery trip, slowly rationing the vegetables more and more although Han hasn’t noticed. I wonder if Popo would think I’m incapable of rearing kids if I can’t keep the two of us fed, or maybe I’m behaving too much like a mother by cleaning and cooking, and no wonder I’ve replaced her as Han’s crutch. In WeChat, I say I grew up eating Su Xin Tang (酥心糖) which you can find in any Asian grocery store in the US, and mom would buy them all the time throughout the year because she loves the crispy peanut-y flakes, especially the black sesame variant. I try to get Han to contribute to the conversation even though he’s still upset, calls Popo neurotic and manipulative. Children will do that to you, I tell him, wondering if cleaning counts as nesting, if I should steam a sweet nian gao or settle with the frozen savory ones tossed in a hotpot with our standard ingredients, even though we have none yet.

Lucy Zhang writes, codes, and watches anime. Her work has appeared in The Offing, The Rumpus, EcoTheo Review and elsewhere. Her chapbook HOLLOWED is forthcoming in 2022 from Thirty West Publishing. Find her at https://kowaretasekai.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.