Macy Lu

The Blurred Picture

Papa used to say never to go through his stuff, but I am careful for a nine-year-old, so he never notices when I do. He used to say that if I am good, he’ll take me to the zoo for my next birthday. Papa used to say this because he knew I had once loved cages, containers, and tight spaces. Like the closet where he stores his and Mama’s clothes.  

It is a six-by-four. I heard the landlady tell Papa once. Big enough to fit all of his crisp suits, glossy ties, and steel briefcases. But not big enough to fit all of Mama’s shoes. There’s too many of them he’d recalled with a smile the first day he moved in. 

There is sadness in his crinkles when he smiles nowadays. There are never crinkles in his suits or scratches on his cases. 

  While Papa goes to work, I sit for hours and hours in the six-by-four, trying on different outfits. First, I pull on Papa’s brown, wool jacket, the one he stopped wearing a year ago. It’s big but not too big. It’s scratchy but just the right amount of scratchy, like his beard in the morning. Then, I step into Mama’s pencil skirt, the one with a tear in its hem. I fondle the tear, pick at its stringy fray. Lick the needlework just to feel it in my mouth. It’s smooth like running butter. At least, I imagine it is. 

  Swaddled as warm as a palm, I sit among Papa’s briefcases. I whisper to them and fog their surface with my breath. My fingers leave a chain link of fingerprints as small as rice grains. When I rub the hard plastics of Mama’s shoes, I make sure to trace my thumb in a parabolic arch. There, I say, as I observe the smudge. Now, she is smiling like she used to. Papa notices these, but he never says anything, only licks them clean while wearing crinkles on his face. 

  At night, while Papa stares into the red of his cigarettes, I chatter. He used to laugh that he would never buy a radio because I would out-talk it. He has a radio now, and it’s on all the time. It’s on tonight, but he’s not listening to it. He imagines that he’s listening to me. I can tell because his eyes are crinkling like they used to when he hears my voice. 

  The night deepens and Papa sucks the cigarette dry. Then another and another. I lean into the smoke each time he exhales. 

  I can smell Mama on his breath. She rides the smoke to the ceiling, swirls around the room, then lands on the two ceramic vases by his feet—one small, one large—both containing ash. I want to follow her, but I can’t. I want to stay with Papa more. He needs me. 

  I know that’s true every time he leans over the mantel place, bare except for the single picture frame, and presses his fingers to my face behind the glass. When he does this, I feel his warmth as if he were as near as the sun. He touches Mama next but always on her belly. 

  I wonder what she feels now, riding on that smoke above our heads. One day, I will find out. The day when my face is just as blurred as Mama’s from all of Papa’s fingerprints or the day when Papa no longer imagines that he can hear my voice.      

Keys jangle and footsteps echo down the hall. The door slams and before long, an engine coughs to life somewhere in the distance. I return to the closet and sink into my bed of metal, thread, and plastic. 

Macy Lu is an emerging Asian-American writer who recently graduated from the University of California, Davis with a B.A. in Communications and English. She has one poem published in Kelp Journal titled “I Still Shave My Legs” and has written several voice-over scripts for Finding Founders Podcast. When Macy isn’t writing, she’s either concocting her next story, watching film analysis, or debating which fantasy series to start next. Connect with her on LinkedIn: 

A Song for Macy

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