I can't eat this. What do I do, I can’t eat this.
After these meals I can't ever get the smell out of my clothes, and it drives me crazy. The steam collects on my hair, too, from this mackerel fish. They eat it wrapped in lettuce leaves with a dab of hot pepper paste and the lettuce crunches in their teeth, but the slivers of green get caught in mine and I can’t eat this. They used to tell me that I could eat the bones of mackerel because mackerel bones are soft. They told me it would make my brain stronger. Right now I'm burying mackerel in my rice bowl. I don't feel stronger.
I wish he wouldn’t slurp his soup. God, I hate that sound. Tapping my chopsticks. They're pretty red wood with mother-of-pearl inlays, not silver. The silver ones are his. My chopsticks click like naked branches on glass, and I look outside through the fogged windows. It's gray. If I hold my breath it numbs the sound of the slurping, his teeth gnashing broth. My bowl has loose grains of sticky rice stuck on the upturned lip. If I keep sticking them up there like the trophies in the living room they won't notice I haven’t eaten.
A few more grains.
I want to leave now. They're not looking at me. I want to leave now.
My bones are so tired, and my hands hurt. The skin is patched and gray over my knuckles and it's tough, like bark. Sometimes, like now, it's hard to even get my fingers around my chopsticks, and the silver is too slippery. They are too fine for these hands.
I don't know why she looks at me like that. I can't meet her eyes so I'll just eat as quickly as I can, and the steam from my soup clouds my face if I duck into it. I just need to keep eating now. I remember when she was young, she used to climb into my lap and open her mouth for me to drop a noodle in. She would chew like a baby bird, and then nestle her head in the space between my neck and shoulder, and I could feel her cheeks move with her chewing. That was when my hands weren't so gnarled and I could control just one noodle in the delicate silver chopsticks and I wasn't afraid of her.
They are falling away from the table, I want to reach out and touch their arms -- but my hands. I don't know what to do. I keep my eyes down, and break off another square of fish. The smell invades me.
I am uneasy here, and not at all hungry.
I stand up and I sit down and I can’t eat my own plate. Is everything okay? Are they eating? I think he needs more noodles.
No, he doesn't want noodles. More rice? No. Why won’t they eat my food.
I think it's too cold in here. The windows are fogged, and there are tiny streaks of moisture in the corners, like tears. It must be cold outside. I can go to the thermostat, but she is looking at him with that look and I'm afraid to leave. She's clicking her chopsticks and it's a countdown like roulette. I just want to sit together for dinner.
She should eat more. She's pushing her food in her bowl and she doesn't think I notice her skin turning translucent. Oh, please be careful.
When I was a girl my mother never ate meals. She would stand up and sit down and refill my cup with tea and take a bite of fish and after he left eat the spoonful of rice my father had left over, and she would tip his bowl to gather soup together for a swallow. Her soup was always so spicy, it would make us sweat when we drank it. The tiny droplets on my upper lip would comfort me. They felt like love.
Amy is co-founder and editorial director of The Mash-Up Americans. A Korean-American married to a Colombian-Mexican-American, she is mom to two feisty Korombexican-Americans: In other words, The Future of America. Once upon a time, she wrote poems.