Like Nothing

Robyn Carter

When Ki-Ki goes back inside the store, check on Maria Luz Oscurrado’s lace curtains then study the toaster and the brass candelabra in the window of Ki-Ki’s shop. It is called The Love Project. Some people think the name of the store is supposed to be ironic because Ki-Ki’s painted on eyebrows and raspy snarl make him appear bitter and full of hate. Next to the cash register he keeps a notebook full of lists. One list is called Celebrities Who Remind Me of My Mother even though Theyre Not Dead and Not that into Astrology. He knows “theyre” has a punctuation error, but he hates apostrophes because they are just more barbed things hanging in the air, reminding him about what is missing. Now rifle through your things and find the letter from your mother, the note she handed you the day you left to start your new life. She pressed it into your palm as you walked out the door, her fingers lingering on the envelope in a fretful curl, her face tear-stained but beaming. Open it up and reread it for the twentieth time. Look at her hand-written words and this time notice how they twist and poke like gnarled twigs.

Forget about Tai. I will not let him come around here anymore, bringing shame and sorrow to this house. Do not worry about Nhung. Your baby is safe with me. I can tell she is a precocious child because of her owl eyes and terrible shriek. She is the sort of girl child who will gorge herself on words before she takes her first step. But do not worry. While you polish American fingernails, I will see to it that your daughter takes as many steps as possible.

Your woolly daze distorts your vision and makes you hear things in your bones, the way snakes do, so you probably don’t realize that you already met Ki-Ki when the man brought you here in the van with black paint over the insides of the windows. In the thirty seconds between the van and the attic, when you saw the world and felt its concrete hug your eyes, Ki-Ki was the one who dropped a box of shoes on the curb. I know these are too big, he said, untangling a pair of lace-up platforms from the other shoes in the box. The man glared at Ki-Ki for offering you shoes with laces, but still Ki-Ki held them out to you. They’re too cute to throw out, Ki-Ki said, and I can’t use them anymore. Ki-Ki’s tender offering made the bright grey light liquefy and pinken around you, and you thought this meant things would be ok when actually it meant the imaginary amulet you put under your tongue would lose its magic and soon turn black.

Why are you opening that window again? Close it, but not until the wind slaps your cheek and pulls your gaze to the trees. Look up and admire their beauty. They are a wild, native species that blossom year-round and don’t need special weather or soil conditions or even water. Their branches are wires with words pulsating through their copper cores, and old shoes are their fruit, so ripe they’re rotting, hanging by soft and pliant stems of interwoven nylon, assembled with dangerous machines by nimble fingered girls back home. The invisible roots of these trees burrow under the asphalt and strangle sewage pipes and whisper to people who say they hear voices. Don’t be so sure you’ll never become one of these people. You think the sound you hear is your daughter’s porcelain wail or Mei’s mewling pleas, but your baby is half a world away and Mei gave up crying a long time ago. Open the cupboard above the TV. Inside are some rags and a bottle of Windex. Get to work, honey. You can swallow the pills if you want, but get to work. Make that window sparkle. Night is falling and you struggle to see your reflection in the glass. You can’t find your eyes, your nose, your mouth. You can’t make yourself out. Quit trying. Let go. Make that glass shine.

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