Like daughter, like Mother
By Cam Dang
For The Enlightened Award
For The Unenlightened Collection
‘Gimme back the knife! Let me kill her!’
‘Calm down, Han. Lien, are you seeing this with your own eyes?’
How else do I see, dad? Using my arse?
‘You dog!’ My mother roars, veins bulging like earthworms along her neck. ‘We’re not even poor. What kind of daughter are you?’
One of a kind!
‘You understand how this makes us look?’ And then babbles in Vietnamese.
English, my God, English!
‘How does catching me there make dad’s friend look?’ Why did I even speak? Have I not learnt anything about my mother?
A bowl jets across the room. I duck. It hits the wall. Good thing it’s only plastic like everything else in the sink. Too many nice things have been broken in this house.
‘You. YOU!’ she charges towards me, her eyes wild, her face twisted. She grabs the back of my head and yanks me to my feet. ‘You like men watching you naked? OK. See how this makes you feel.’ She twists a chunk of my hair, hair that’s long and black just how she likes it, and drags me to the front door. Behind us, my father shouts, ‘Han, stop it! You want to go to jail? Hit her in the bedroom, not out there.’
‘Who said anything about hitting her?’ She shouts back, pulling me forward. I paw at her hand, begging her to let go, but she twists harder. Through the door, out onto the nature strip, next to a cherry plum tree in full bloom. She pushes and smacks my head until I’m down on my knees. For a moment I feel like a Samurai about to receive an honourable death.
Pity I’m not Japanese.
Above my head, her spit flies, ‘Buddha will punish you for making me do this.’
And then, my mother starts ripping her clothes off.
Across the street, from his front garden, an old man cranes his neck above rose bushes, squinting at us, a hedge trimmer in his hands.
A few metres away from us, two girls walking a sausage dog stop and pull out their smartphones.
‘Stop! Please, mum! I’m sorry!’ My voice breaks. I scream and cry, my hands come together as if praying. I want to throw my arms around her to lock her in, but the thought of touching her sickens me even more than seeing her dark areolas and the patch of black hair below her stomach, the things that put me here thirty years ago.
Inside the door frame, my father stands and shakes his head.
‘You be a good girl now, OK? Don’t make mummy mad.’ She strokes my hair, gently rubbing the part which was twisted yesterday. ‘Finish your food and go to bed. You start work at eight tomorrow, don’t you?’
I nod, shoving spoonfuls of salmon congee into my mouth. My mother continues to coo at me. I let her make noise to herself. I’m thinking of some new dance moves.
I go to bed wondering if it’s true what she said, that I’m a dog of a daughter.
Six a.m. I’m already behind the wheel doing one hundred and twenty on the highway. I don’t start work until nine, but my parents don’t know that.
I park my car and sit in it reading my worn out Stephen King’s ‘Carrie’ until twenty to nine, then I walk for ten minutes to my work building. Grey and nameless, it looks like a factory where people spend their lives screwing caps onto bottles or stacking cans into boxes, a cage of monkeys on leash.
Then again, it might as well be.
Maria is at her desk, staring ahead at a photo pinned up the wall of her partition, her mouth pinched into a thin line. Her son grins back at her, white sand and blue ocean behind him. ‘Sir, I will be forced to terminate the call if you continue to use offensive language,’ she speaks into the microphone; her ears and cheeks are red. There are crackles in her earpieces. She winces, hits the END CALL button on her screen, and yanks her headset off. Pinching the bridge of her nose, she sucks in one big breath. ‘Oh hey, good morning, Lien,’ she turns and smiles at me. I give her a hug.
I pull my chair out and press the power button on my PC. The screen flashes to life. I pop my headset on. Time to go into my other cage.
‘Welcome to Family Assistance. This is Lien. How may I help you?’
Golden Girls is jam packed tonight, and I have no idea why, nor do I care. I’m not here for money. This is the only place where monkeys get to be primates.
‘Lien, where are you?’ Cheryl, the owner, barges into our dressing room, her face flushed with excitement. ‘My Golden Girl,’ she throws her arms around me. ‘Full house, baby, for the first time, thanks to you.’
‘The clip, it’s gone viral,’ she squeals. ‘Someone recognised you. Now everyone wants to see the stripper whose crazy mum stripped on the street.’ She shrills, ‘We’re famous!’
The sausage dog!
‘I have an idea,’ she snaps her fingers. ‘That song… Mother! By Pink Floyd!’ She strips the stethoscope and lab coat off me. ‘Put on shirt and pants. You’re gonna act out what your mother did that day.’