Easter in Taigu reminded me of a memory from my past. Part fiction, part non-fiction, this story is the latest in my efforts to follow through with my creative goals for the semester. It's also a story that I am submitting to NPR's “Three Minute Fiction Contest,” which is looking for original flash fiction stories that are 600 words or less. The deadline is April 11th. Any comments or suggestions would be greatly appreciated!
I was in China the last time I'd had it. Matthias took the package out not long after his English majors left to make curfew. Something about them not appreciating it the same way. He said it'd been two years for him too. Two years ago I was still fulfilling major requirements and boycotting bottled water. The marzipan was the last of the original stock he'd brought over from the States—left hibernating in a Chinese cupboard for 22 months, waiting for the right time to make its entrance.
It came in a crinkled foil wrapper, marked with plain script across the front. Its contents were more enticing—sweet almond paste cradled inside a shell of dark chocolate. I sliced off a thick sliver and bobbed it in my palm, a lopsided boat navigating every crease and crevice.
With the first taste, I knew the moment exactly. It was Easter time, and I was eleven. My father brought me and my sister to a specialty chocolate shop in Midtown. The inside was brimming with every sweet you could imagine: decadent fudge bunnies, bejeweled Fabergé eggs, miniature figurines made of marshmallow, chocolate animals wrapped in colorful foil. We bought a little bit of everything, but my favorite was the tiny box of fruit-shaped marzipan we started eating in the store.
Back home we made a game of it. We each took turns hiding our share of the loot around the house and had the others try to find it. Winners kept what they found. My father was determined to find the most creative hiding places, and some were damn near impossible. It wasn't until an hour or two later that I found the chocolate truffles—disguised as soil clumps—sprinkled in with the potted jade plant on the windowsill. The windowsill with the giant mildew stain that stretched all the way down to the floor.
There was always something funny about that stain. It was the same place I had spit three years earlier. Just upped and spit, with hardly any warning. Back then it was during another game—freeze tag—and my dad and his new wife were in the midst of starting a clothing company. The apartment was littered with shirts and dresses, pleated in plastic wrap and hung along aisles of clothing racks that ran lengthwise across the apartment. Me and my sister darted over the hardwood floors, weaving in and out of the racks—terrified of getting caught.
When my father saw it, he stopped me mid-stride by the collar, and forced my head over the floor like I was flying. “What is this,” he asked me. “Don't you have any respect at all? Isn't this your house too?” I thought back to the divorce, to that other home where my mom lived, the house where I wouldn't dare to spit. I could barely look at the stain on the floor. Instead my eyes gravitated to the buttons on my father's shirt—each made from polished stone, the very same that lined the backs of the dresses on the racks.
I wanted to scream: “This must be a trick! If I stopped the game—even for a minute—to get a tissue, you might never play it again. We're going back to mom's tomorrow, I don't know the next time we'll see you.” But I couldn't say a word. It was just like the rules. He had caught me, and I was frozen.