Issue 226, Fall 2018
My cashier’s black hair was beautiful. Though not unlike mine, it was shinier and thicker, and hung glamorously down to her waist. It looked strong, too, like Christopher Reeve’s in the Superman movies. A strand of Superman’s silvery hair could hold up a thousand-pound weight. As a child, I watched them over and over; they were my favorite. Superman’s hair, holding up the weight, looks as thick as a wire; a whole head of his hairs must have been heavy. But Superman’s neck was so strong, I figured, the weight of his head didn’t matter.
“Enjoy your last evening,” my cashier said, adding “last” to distinguish this day, the same blithe way somebody might add “Happy holidays” to an email in December. With one hand, she flipped her lustrous hair off her shoulder.
She seemed youthful and careless. I guessed she was Filipina. She probably took her hair for granted, in the way people in their twenties usually took their assets as givens. Then again, kids knew more these days.
She handed me my purchases in one bulging bag. I took them from her. If I’d been bagging the items myself, I would have given myself two double bags. But I thanked her, told her, “You, too,” and when she didn’t look away from the next customer, I went on my way.
At home, the home that had been my mother’s, I removed the can of Pringles and one of the bottles of wine. I gave a cursory glance out the window to check for any neighbors—none—and pulled down my pants to stick a menstrual pad onto my underwear. I thumbed open the plastic top off the Pringles, peeled off the foil, and got to work eating them.
When I was told by my mother’s lawyer that she had left the house to me, my first thought had been that I would upgrade her full-size bed to a queen. I’m not proud of this, to have entertained this thought first, of all the possible thoughts. My second thought was that I was the worst. My third thought was not a thought at all but an overwhelming sadness. When I began to cry and found myself unable to stop, the lawyer had handed me a crumpled napkin from his pocket.
In life, my mother had not been unlike other Chinese mothers: demanding and exacting, unable to say the words I love you. Instead she talked about her immense sacrifice, how much she and my father had suffered to bring me to America, the land of opportunity, where everything turned out to be far more fucked up than she imagined. She never said fucked up—she didn’t curse—but it was in the subtext. She’d tell me how impressive her salary had been back in China, how here, her looks and way of speaking had been held against her. In the first few years of living in America, she’d had to clean toilets and showers at a twenty-four-hour gym, where the muscled men—white, black, Hispanic, all of them—would openly look at her butt. She fumed in silence, but she didn’t know enough English to tell them to stop.
Eventually, she lost her Chinese accent, and her English came to sound like any other American’s. Yet sometimes, when she didn’t want to be spoken to, she pretended not to know it. This was what people expected of an older Chinese woman, so she played along.
My mother had been excited about the Freshening—the Identity Protection Act, as it was officially known. The trial runs had been positive—or positive enough. Now America, my mother had felt, could truly be the land of opportunity. It was finally happening. Then she’d died—unfortunate timing.
I’d meant to drink the wine with the Pringles, but I got around to opening the wine only after I had eaten all the chips. I turned on the television and poured myself a glass to the rim.
A middle-aged woman reporter was at a college frat, where bros in white-and-blue backward hats were partying. All across the country, people were celebrating the eve of the Freshening. They intended to stay up all night.
“It’s, like, our Y2K,” one bro said into the reporter’s microphone. Behind him, three bros were shotgunning Natty Lights and surrounding bros were rooting them on. I tried to imagine each of the bros being a distinct individual who had hopes and dreams, and, I’ll be honest, I struggled to. It was a failure of my own imagination.
“We’re witnessing history,” another bro said. “I mean, it’s pretty special.”
We were each given a two-hour window in which the agents might come, like people installing Comcast, and mine was nine a.m. to eleven a.m. We were instructed to take the day off work and stay home. I would have been home anyway; I didn’t work anymore. From my mother I had inherited enough to live on forever. I tidied only the living room and downstairs bathroom—the places they’d be.