It is a path reminiscent of those trail-blazed in the 80s and 90s by those of a noisy independent spirit - the Albini's, the Mackaye's, the Yowe's. The path is questioning, self-deprecating and distrustful of society. You will pass the life laid out for you by others - your career, your 30th birthday, your very own pool.
Western dreams that do not end well.
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And then, just like that, the groove changes. You are off the path you thought you were on and in unfamiliar territory. A once straight open forest has closed in. Now you are surrounded by brightly coloured mushrooms of all sizes that can bend your mind like Neo's spoon. Thick, sludgy quicksand sucks you down and down until your eyes are black.
Now the hostess is seating us at the smallest table in the restaurant, next to the tanks of fish. He rolls his eyes, pockets his phone. She keeps asking me about what flowers I want, what cake I want. The waitress comes by. Feeling mildly blasphemous, I order off the menu using a combination of English and pointing. Our parents had moved back to Taichung earlier this year.
Their absence had felt like a relief at first. She and Dad are fine. I just told her some stuff about vet school and Amalie. Irrational resentment swells in me. The first dish arrives much faster than expected: fresh fish in a ceramic tureen, steamed and served whole. Jacob picks up the giant metal serving spoon. I watch him as he halves the fish, then cleanly subdivides the meat.
He was always much better than me at this sort of thing. He had always been the one helping Dad clean our koi pond, too.
Both of them shirtless in sweltering weather, draining the stinky water, stepping barefoot into the algae-infested pit. He sighs, watching me stab at the bones. The rice comes too, so we eat in half-silence—occasionally asking each other about our jobs, our cousins, our love lives. It makes me grateful in some ways, sad in others. The fish is staring at me. I poke its gutted body with my chopsticks. When we were kids, Jacob and I would eat the eyes.
One time, both our pearls came out perfectly, and we took them home in napkins, forgetting them in our back pockets. I wonder if Jacob remembers. He looks like Dad with his head bent, hair falling messily over his glasses. I leave the eyes alone. The second dish arrives: chopped bamboo and pork, fragrant steam rising. Jacob and I dive in with our chopsticks.
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The dish is so savory, it almost brings tears to my eyes. Finally feeling like a decent sister, I eat with gusto. You just go to an Asian supermarket and buy the right sauce.
Chop vegetables and meat. Mix everything together. The third dish arrives. Even Jacob quirks his eyebrow at it. Dark, gelatinous slabs floating in an oily broth. Leafy intestines curling around chunks of strange meat. Jacob asks the waitress to clarify. Something in my gut wilts. The blood cubes simmer between us.
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They smell unsettlingly nondescript. I remember making a big scene about eating pig blood once, whining so loudly that my parents had to take me out of the restaurant. It had been a delight to disturb my parents, their parents, the whole throng of fake relatives. I shoot him a look, ladle a cube of blood onto my plate. It lands with a wet wobble. The chunk is the size of my fist.
I imagine little veins inside, pulsing, pumping blood through blood through blood. I spoon the blood into my mouth and chew. It breaks open—metallic bile, the aftertaste of vomit. I shovel one bite into my mouth, and then another.