Saturday, September 8, 2007

I No Longer Have Eyes To See You , by CC

There’s a saying in Chinese that goes, “I no longer have eyes to see you,” that Ma always hit us with that at the end of arguments. She’d go into the lowest slump she could manage without actually slipping from the couch onto the floor, moaning into her hands about her children killing her. Her aim never missed and though we couldn’t find signs of withering on the chubby little body dressed perpetually in the flowered, home-made apron over the flowered, style-less home-made dress, we’d leave the room guilty, trying to look as guiltless as possible. My brother wouldn’t shave or get a haircut, my sister wouldn’t move back home, I wouldn’t submit to meeting the pharmacist she’s set up for me. On a couple of occasions she had spiced up the act by flinging herself onto the floor, the calloused hands and feet waving in the air like a frantic baby when she learned her first daughter was marrying the man with gout who only made eight thousand a year, and years later when she learned her second daughter was planning to marry the white haired caveman who made nothing. I am the third daughter, the youngest in my family.
“I no longer have the eyes to see you,” she whispered. She meant all of us. This time she really scared me. She had tried all day to get me to stay, pleading,
“There’s no use for you to go, no use at all. You will only starve.”
But I had packed my things. I was the only child left, and I was leaving in the morning. We were alone in the parlor-Daddy had already gone to bed. There were no more dramatics left for her to play. She just sat looking tired, an old lady; funny looking in faded mismatched pajamas her children had discarded that she couldn’t button over a yellowed nylon slip. I watched her for a while, not wanting to make the usual exit, waiting this time for her to go first, wanting to make sure that she went to bed. She wouldn’t go, though, I finally just left her there.

She led me into the kitchen. We were both in our nightclothes and ready for bed. She opened a cupboard and pulled out a Skippy peanut butter jar in which something was wrapped tightly in aluminum foil. She opened the far and pulled the thing out. She said, “There is money in here. When I die, be sure to look all over the house for the money I have hidden.” She was so serious that I had to answer as though she wasn’t. “Gee, ma, do we all split it up or do I get it all?” She said she didn’t care what we did and turned away. The scene changes. The kitchen is dark and she is hanging there, near the spot where we had just talked.

I woke up shaking. It was almost morning. I went into the hall and looked into her bedroom to make sure she was still there, and standing half asleep at her doorway, I heard her voice call me from behind. Shivering, I walked to her to wake her. I wanted to tell her I’d look at the pharmacist for her. She peered at me from under the covers, like a bewildered child.

She said, “I had a bad dream…did I wake you with my noises?”

I wasn’t startled by the coincidence: I thought I was still dreaming.

“What was it about, ma?”

“My mother sent me into the village on an errand, and when I returned, she was dead.”

Our dreams were vanishing as she spoke, and before she had finished the sentence, we had already wakened to the tension that I would be leaving in a few hours. She resumed the deathly look that scared me earlier, but her dreams had softened her, and she looked at my face in the darkness with a mixture of sadness, love, and hate, that wasn’t entirely for me. As part of the compromise I felt compelled to make, I tried to say it all in Chinese.

“Mommy, I’ll try to look at things your way, look for success and money, get a good husband- I’ll even look at your pharmacist. I’ll try.”

She said softly, “That’s a good girl. Mama will be real happy.”

She smiled knowing, as I did, that we were both lying, and closed her eyes.