When the boy tripped, scraping his knee on the curb, his mother was screaming at his father for leaving the gas stove on after frying Taiwanese lettuce–what if we got carbon monoxide poisoning?
The mother, whose rage often fueled her cleaning habit, spent an hour scrubbing all of the burn marks and dust off the burner and grate, her sponge now black with grime and oil, and then she stood straight to stretch her back and open her hunched shoulders and shouted for her son to come back into the house and have dinner.
The boy made it to the neighborhood from the Other Side, where cans of Sprite littered small driveways and you could reach your arm out a window and touch the wall of the house next door, and he dragged along his stuffed dragon Conny too, its small yellow wings flapped against its orange body to the rhythm of his walking pace, and he said Conny look, it’s the trash monster as a truck loaded a cardboard box of smelly contents into the hopper, beeping and screeching and crushing.
The truck made its way down the street and disappeared, and the boy sat on the floor, legs sore and tired from following the vehicle around, and of course, that was when his stomach growled and he wondered what mommy cooked for dinner and maybe he could ask a child nearby how to get back, if only there were children outside playing croquet or shooting water guns or sitting on daddy-built swing sets nailed into green front lawns, if only there were lawns.
The boy squeezed Conny between his arms and chest, rising and falling, a drop of saliva escaping his mouth, soaking Conny’s cheek, and his body swayed until he ended up lying on the pavement, asleep against the concrete striations.
The mother snored softly, head lolled against the couch’s armrest and the father watched the next video, a discourse on global economies and trade competition between the United States and China, auto-play through their Apple TV, not having glanced at his watch in hours and appetite ruined by beer and Ritz crackers and sliced cheese, and the person who found the boy ended up being a resident from the Other Side, a woman whose husband was serving a prison sentence for a Walgreens burglary and whose son spent most of his time in the school bathroom furthest from all the classrooms, watching the grounds turn translucent and the paint drop off the stalls, splashing as they hit the floor.
After a meal of fried chicken and corn pudding, the first time the boy had tasted anything so rich, the woman asked if he knew the way back or the address of his house or his parents’ phone number, and the boy, who knew his house’s address and had his parents’ home, work, and cellular numbers memorized since the first grade, clutched Conny’s plush body and asked, can I stay a little longer?
Lucy Zhang is a writer, software engineer, and anime fan. Her work has appeared in Five on the Fifth, Crab Fat Magazine, Atlas & Alice, Okay Donkey, Jellyfish Review, and elsewhere. She can be found at kowaretasekai.wordpress.com or on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.
Artwork by: Jez Timms