Mimi would never let me make the dumplings. Mother of my wife, Chihiro, she and I otherwise got along famously. Every holiday she and I would be drawn together in the kitchen, magnetized, one of us stuffing turkey while the other stirred the cranberries and sugar on the stove. She would wrap her arm around my shoulders and grin with pride while her actual, hapless in the kitchen daughter, sat in the living room drinking dark beer.
But the dumplings were a different story. She’d make these last, while I was rolling out pie crusts. Her hands, oddly too small for her body, moved with ballerina-like dexterity. Her fingers twirled around the translucent dough, her perfect, pink-almond nails tapping against the wooden basket in which she steamed them. These dumplings, always a family favorite more than any baked macaroni and cheese or roast duck I could muster, left everyone around the family table moaning in ecstasy. And it was these dumplings that I was never allowed to touch.
I asked once, a year or two after Chihiro and I had moved in together. “Mimi, I’d love to help you with those,” I’d said, standing over Mimi in her ruffled Minnie Mouse apron. She looked up at me with the same intentional bewildered expression she used when the Salvation Army asked her for money in the street and she wanted to pretend she didn’t speak English. This was enough for me to back down.
I asked again a few years later, thinking maybe that first time I just hadn’t been accepted into the family quite yet. But the result was the same, this time accompanied by a gentle smile of pity. I wondered if Chihiro asked to help would Mimi say yes? I thought I was the daughter she never had?
Every year, as Mimi grew older and her hands more arthritic, I awaited the word, lingering in the kitchen, ruing each unforgettable dumpling bite. But that word never came. I was left to my breadcrumbs and my carrots and my tight smiles.
Story by Kate Fustich
I took her picture just as the policeman appeared at the door (she’d wanted me to record her new dress and the special celebration dinner). At first, Jun couldn’t understand him. Her English isn’t very good and the policeman was talking too fast. I translated it into Japanese for her. It wasn’t good news–her husband had been very seriously hurt in a traffic accident and was now at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center. He tried to reassure her it was one of San Francisco’s best.
Evidentially, Takashi had been walking home along Geary Boulevard when it happened. From what they were able to reconstruct, a three-year-old boy suddenly broke away from his mother and rushed into traffic. Takashi ran into the street to try and save him. He managed to push the boy to safety but was hit by a speeding taxi. The policeman said she should come to the hospital–right away.
In that one moment I saw Jun’s world change. For her whole life she had been a proper housewife–cooking good meals, keeping an immaculate house and dressing well. Their comfortable existence lacked only one thing–a child. They had been trying for several years to have one and that was the happy news she was planning to tell him over dinner. She found out she was pregnant.
Now, however, an avalanche of worries buried that wonderful news. Questions raced through her mind: How badly hurt was Takashi? Was he going to die? Who would run their store on 12th Avenue? How would they survive financially? And, what about the baby?
She had always taken pride in being obedient to her husband. In fact, her name meant “Obey.” Takashi was a serious man who took charge of everything, but what if he wasn’t there? She quickly turned off the stove and put on her coat. As she closed the door she wondered what it would be like if there was no one to obey but herself.
Story by Will Conway & Run Juan Huang