Let Her Go   |  Short Stories   |   Summer 

(First published in Yuan Yang Vol. 4, 2004)

When I went home there she was. In the kitchen preparing an afternoon feast for my sisters and me. Sometimes fried rice with eggs. Sometimes Chinese soup with cabbage and mushrooms. Sometimes (but very rarely) sausages and slices of canned pineapples. My grandma was extremely sweatly and honestly she did not smell good. Summers were awful. Her armpits were always wet. Some white hair stuck on her forehead. The air conditioner did not help. She could not breathe smoothly with the air conditioner on.

That was the time when she was healthier. Later my grandma was so sick that she had to stay in a home for the elderly. She could no longer cook for us. The kitchen does not have her silhouette. The air conditioner is always turned on in the house in summer. But it is too cold now.

Every Saturday I went to see her. I sat next to her on her tiny but comfortable bed. There was not much to say. Conversations never really set foot. But I often imagined that elsewhere the two of us were chatting. The fact was she looked at me with a smile, and that was almost all she could do. She was such a talkative person, but then she did not speak at all. I embraced her before I left, too aware of her smell. She did not smell good. What the hell, it was summertime.

One Sunday morning slightly before seven o'clock the phone in our house rang. My parents, my sisters and I were all woken up by the ring. Finally it was my mother who picked up the phone. Then she put down the phone. She said the doctor asked us to go to the hospital and see grandma one last time, talk to her one last time. My sisters and I quietly changed our clothes. I saw their hands tremble. Nobody wanted to say anything.

When we arrived at the hospital half an hour later there she was. Lying on the hospital bed, already dead. The room was filled with her smell. My father immediately ran out of the room. We heard him scold the doctor. That fucking bastard should have called us earlier. But my father was crying. My two sisters held their hands tightly for support from one another. My mother sat on a chair in the corner of the room and wept. I stood right next to grandma's corpse, oh old face, old hair, old fingernails. Oh old neck, old lips, old wrinkles. I stroked her face. Old nose. Oh no. Death is so dreadful.

In the afternoon we went to the home for the elderly where my grandma had stayed. We went there to collect her belongings. A photo of grandma and my two sisters. My sisters immediately cried. A photo of grandma and my two cousins and their dog. My two cousins started to cry as well. Finally there was a photo of me. I wear makeup in the photo, smiling with all my teeth showing. On the back of the photo I had written: 'To my dearest grandma, May health be with you always. Yours, mingming'. I cried.

I always pretended she was still here. But now it is summer and her smell is lacking. Summer makes me think of my grandma. This is the first summer she is not here. Where is she now? In heaven I suppose, if there was really such a place. But I prefer she no longer exists. 'Torture, torture,' my grandma used to say, with no particular cause. I can imagine she says the same thing no matter where she is, with a sense of humour, even in a bizzare place with angels and plenty of white. I have been brainwashed. To me, heaven must have angels. Heaven is white. Thus I know heaven does  not suit me. I like black.

Sumemr has come, not romantically but anxiously. In Hong Kong it seems that every summer is hotter than the previous one. I am wearing a tube top. Nobody knows why Hong Kong has become such an uncomfortable place to live in. Even laughter needs great effort.