I remember graduating, with a smile like a chasm across my face.
I remember bounding home in a big yellow dress. It was huge, sun-sized, light all around my body. A weightless feeling like everything was all behind me, and only good things ahead. I remember coming home in a state of bliss, smiling at the sky the whole way home like it'd done something for me, something special for me, little old me. And then, when I got closer to the house and saw it burning, and saw my mum and Yuki parked outside of it wailing. I remember that too. My mum running her hands down her face, tearing her hair down. Yuki white and motionless in his stupid black suit, numbly clutching that black briefcase with his Chopin, in it, with his etudes in it. And I'm like what the fuuck—a long drawn out bellow of disbelief. Oh how I hated them on that day.
I come running across the lawn, my big legs thumping right through Mrs Wu's begonias. There is smoke and this awful smell. Half the neighborhood's there, spectating. Mum and Yuki at the center of it all. I come at them like I'm coming for them. I'm losing it, I'm already flying off the handle because I just can't believe what they've done. I want to take my mother in my arms and slam her back through the burning door. All my stuff's in there. What happened, I demand to know, and with that question I pin the blame right on them, sharp. My mouth is forming a big howl, and I feel my body slam into the ground, face first, and there I am ripping out clods of earth and grass with my fists.
It transpires that what occurred on this, the day of my high school graduation, but also unfortunately of Yuki's incredibly important audition, is that my mother, so wound up, so derailed by the stress of her eldest son's upcoming performance, and also by the rift that this caused with me, her second child due to the fact that in order to transport Yuki to his recital she had to miss my graduation, decided to break the hard habit of ten years and smoke a large Benson out of the front room window, while Yuki changed into his concert-wear upstairs. When we left England, my father decided that his Benson & Hedges were the one thing he couldn't live without, and ordered them shipped to him in bulk. Never mind his mother and father, dwindling away in a London suburb, his siblings. Never mind his friends from work, our house on the hill. I found out later that my mother also left a lover behind, which explains her bitter quiet, and her tight-lipped exclamations of love for Yuki and I during the first few years of our immigration, words which seemed so lined with hate, which seemed as though they were dragged from her mouth with a fishhook. Once we arrived in the States my father went to work for a bank and we rarely saw him, as he was often sent abroad—which seemed to defeat the point of our moving in the first place. Yuki and I were convinced that he had started another family somewhere far away. “Don't be ridiculous” my Mother said, “he can barely handle this one.” And she moodily stared down at the empty table, while massaging Yuki's shoulder, so hard that it left a red mark. True, we were left very much to our own devices—the three of us, my mother very much alone in a strange Californian suburb, without friends and unable to work due to visa complications. It was as if we stopped existing for our father when he went away. My mother missed him, but said things about him to Yuki and I that she never repeated to him. She had always painted, in our house on the desolate hill in the UK but now she'd stopped. She said she didn't want to get paint on the floor. The entire house was carpeted, and the act of tearing it up or covering it seemed far beyond her in those days “I didn't sign up for this!” we heard her howl at our father on one of the rare nights of his return. Yuki and I heard the noise of his answer, muted through the bedroom wall. Whatever he said to our mother must have enraged her, because she knocked over the nightstand, Our father came thundering down to the kitchen with our mother in hot pursuit. My father's black hair standing on end, his eyes wild and closed off—the usual stare of complete denial. “Leave me alone!” our mother begged, although it was clear that she wanted the opposite. She moved towards him, and he backed away. “I haven't done anything!” he protested, and my mother hurled a butter knife at him. It clattered at his feet. He went away the next morning. That night, my mother stalking my father through the house and hurling knives, so desperate to be heard, really heard, dissolved into one of many, their anger coming through the walls, furious, helpless and inevitable. She punched him once, on the side of the mouth, and he said nothing—merely withdrew, told her to stop getting so upset. Told her that she wasn't making sense, that he couldn't understand her when she became so emotional. “Jesus,” I said to Yuki, “Whatever you do, don't let me end up with someone like Dad. I need someone who'll at least hit me back.” Yuki didn't reply, only gave me that long-faced look which suggested I'd said something truly idiotic. His name isn't really Yuki, it's Eugene. Yuki means snowflake, among other things and is a girl's name. It's not even Chinese, it's Japanese. I gave the name to him. I think I was punishing him for being a piano prodigy, and for being half Chinese like me, and for being very beautiful unlike me. It wasn't his fault. The name stuck, and even my mother started to call him Yuki. “We're half Chinese,” Yuki protested. “Chinese. You can't call me that, it's Japanese.” “Yeah, but we all look the same don't we,” I snapped, “so who cares?” “You don't mean that!” My mother cried, from the front seat of the car. “Quiet whitey,” I snarled.
My mother went into my father's office, and nicked the cellophane around his imported carton of Benson's with her fingernail, peeled it off slowly. She shook a cigarette out of the first packet. She took it into the front room, and cranked open the window. She lit it with the stove lighter. She smoked it, and felt like she might faint from the pleasure of it. She did all this while venting to my Aunt Helen on the phone, crying, the tears very quiet and very warm. The white muslin curtain went up in flames, which reached all the way to the ceiling before my mum even had time to stub out the offending cigarette and scream. The sleeve of her cardigan also caught on fire, and then the rest of it, so that as she ripped her clothes from her body the curtain flame travelled through the room. Ultimately all she could do was drop the phone and run into the next room, up the stairs and into Yuki's room. She then dragged her eldest son (one arm in, one arm out of his jacket) back down the stairs. They both simultaneously remembered the piano, or as our father refers to it, “the thing that cost more than our house,” and perhaps, bearing those words in mind spent the next few minutes trying to drag that heavy shining creature from the burning house. As they are both fairly small people and the piano weighed about 400 pounds they accomplished nothing, and it was only as they lay slumped in defeat over the unmoved piano that they realized that they had not yet rung for a fire engine. This had just been accomplished, my mother and Yuki having run out into the front yard to watch in terror as the house grew hotter and hotter, when I arrived. On the way out Yuki had grabbed his briefcase, and my mother, two of the sofa cushions. Having failed with the piano they were determined to have something, anything. I got nothing. My beautiful feeling was gone, and I was just an overweight eighteen year old in an oversize yellow dress, lying facedown on the ground, losing everything.