They Don’t Know 

If my wife has a resume (she doesn’t, though she might need one if I leave her someday — those succulent ifs), she should put down wiping stuff in the Expertise and Skills section. This time last year, when I showed her that priceless book, which I stole from our ignorant daughter’s University Library (I was supposed to bring some fay zee siu lychees to our ignorant daughter that afternoon but our ignorant daughter didn’t pick up her cell phone so I crushed them — the lychees, not my daughter or her cell phone — with my decayed molars before dipping into the Rare Book and Manuscript Collections), instead of applauding my deftness, she, the wife, not my ignorant 22-year-old daughter who didn’t pick up her phone, rapidly pulled out a disinfecting wipe from our tea table drawer that harbored everything except for tea and started wiping the cover. You have no idea how many hands this has been through — they could all have herpes or helicobacter pylori, she screeched. You have helicobacter pylori, I could’ve said, but according to her most recent biannual health checkup she had neither. Only a benign something somewhere. What a sanitary woman. Benign. Unsoiled. Uninspired. Who doesn’t even know how to screech. Whose softly-spewed syllables nonetheless deafen me so. Thirty years into our marriage, she still doesn’t have a clue.

My daughter, however, keeps staring at me with her skeptical comma-shaped eyes, so that I almost thought she knew, until I realized commas were in fact the least skeptical of all. My ignorant, comma-eyed daughter was only capable of trust. She trusted her hairdresser, who assured her that the only answer to her existential crisis was a double eyelid surgery. Let that scalpel heal you — in his words. She trusted me as well, when I assured her that after the surgery, her face wouldn’t be as ugly as before. I lied. She trusted me once more when I confessed that I had lied.

What’s so bad with ugly, I said, you are a progressive young woman. Beauty is not your duty. She stopped talking to me for two months. Her initial plan was not two months but forever, yet even forever could not endure the robust recklessness of ignorant youth and thus she unilaterally resumed our conversation the day before I drove her to her abortion appointment. I had never exerted force on anyone in the past fifty two springs of my humble, compliant life, but that morning I punched her boyfriend in the face.

And stomach. And chest. And neck. And right cheek. And left cheek. And upper back. And lower back. And groin. And thyroid. And fingers. And toes. And eyes. And nose. And his bow legs. And his protruding mouth. And his invisible beard. And his abnormally flat head. In my head. On sunny days, he looked like a saccharine ape (on rainy days, a hunched bamboo). Last year, our miserable bamboo tattooed a slim circle on one of his middle fingers and told my daughter it represented his unfading love for her. So he can’t afford a ring, I said. Sure he can, my daughter replied, it’s just that our generation is not as materialistic as your generation. So he can’t afford the ring, I said. I was the one who didn’t want a ring, and I’d rather he got to save some capital (so you do date capitalists, I said, he isn’t a capitalist yet, she said) for his start-up, she said, also rituals are overrated — overpriced carbons to sully that true connection we have? I was way past that, so naturally I said no to the ring (there was no ring, I said) but you know what, he got that tattoo as a surprise for me. He told me it meant forever. Whenever forever was on top of his tongue, even his pale grayish green coating seemed sexy. I didn’t need to hear more about the pale grayish green coating so I asked: did the tattoo have your name on it? Absolutely not, my daughter shook her ugly head gracefully, names were way too cheesy. Didn't fit my skin art aesthetic. Then how did you know it was meant for you? I asked. You haven’t seen the way he looked at me, she said, eyes don’t lie (they do, I said). If you have seen the way he looked at me you wouldn’t be bothering me with these senseless questions. Have you seen the way he looks at others? I asked.  

Daddy, my daughter shook her ugly head gracefully, how can you be so old and so cynical at the same time? Then she unilaterally paused our conversation until she began to wonder, another two months later, if I would fund her double eyelid surgery.

I told her I would.

What I didn’t tell her: whenever I walk on the street, I wonder if someone would fall from the sky or skyscraper and land on my head. If someone lands on my head, what would you do without me?

Ang Xu is a writer based in New York — for now.
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