Lunar New Year

In Chinatown, my older brother Wyatt tapped my shoulder, pointed across the way, beyond the golden lion prancing with human legs. The smoke clouds rising from a string of firecrackers exploding in bang bang yellow flashes, mountains of red paper shrapnel swelling on the street.

Wyatt pointed to a stooped gray haired Chinese man. He leaned on his cane, unaware that someone just tucked a smoldering pack of firecrackers into his waistband before disappearing into the crowd. The smoke and flashing yellow lights were now erupting from the old man’s pants, and he tossed the cane, arms flailing to the sound of clashing cymbals and beating drums, before he convulsed onto the floor, people around him kneeling and struggling to free him from his pants.

Wyatt laughed.

I pulled on my father’s hand, but he jerked it away. He was staring at the lion, rising above the smoke and noise, its head moving left to right. My mother leaned against him.

In the back seat of the car, Wyatt couldn’t stifle his snickering. A red paper brick on his lap, Thunder Bombs, maximum blast, a strip of 24 firecrackers coiled into one pack. He’d refused to leave Chinatown until my father made the purchase. Mom protested. “A boy should be allowed his explosions,” Dad said. He accelerated the car.

Mom looked at her hands, resting on her seatbelt.

Wyatt and I returned shirtless from the creek, rolled jeans wet to the thigh, long black hair dusting our backs.

Bulging from the side of Wyatt’s fist, the green head of a tree frog, eyes popping out, its throat sac fluttering. He squeezed his fist hard, and the frog’s mouth opened. He jammed a single red firecracker down its craw. “Kermit’s smokin’ a joint,” he said.

My father mowed the front lawn, white smoke puffing from its chassis. He pushed the lawnmower up the hill, spitting into the grass, v-neck t-shirt soaked through.

A muffled crackle, and a frog landed headless onto the driveway. My brother watched it rise and fall.

Home from school early, I harvested a frog from the creek, cupped it between my hands. Webbed feet pushed against my palms. I tried to squeeze it, but the shifting and grinding of bones under my grip unsettled me. I reached for the lighter in my pocket. The frog opened its mouth, pointy tongue hanging, eyes staring at me. I imagined letting the frog go, watching it hop into the gutter next to the driveway. Weave the firecracker back into the brick on my brother’s desk, like I never took it. Wyatt wasn’t home yet, but I heard his voice. “You’re a retard,” he said. “And a pussy, too.”

I lit the fuse, dropped the frog, and ran without turning around.

I told my mother. She handed me a spade. I stuffed its guts inside a bag and buried it under the lawn. I couldn’t sleep for the next three days.

“Big deal, you killed a frog,” Wyatt said.

“Think before you act,” Mom said. “Remorse afterward isn’t going to bring the frog back.”

In our bedroom, my wife, almost lifeless on the sheets. Until I see her draw a finger across the pillowcase.

“Did she lie on our bed?”

I slump to the floor, just below the gash in the drywall. My cracked grey laptop next to my feet, screen off its hinge.

“Is her hair on my pillow?”

I tip my head back. “I have no excuses—”

She screams, rises up from the sheets. Fists held out, looking around the room—the framed photo of us on the nightstand, our son’s metal robot next to the bed.

She’s got the robot in her hand, her arm cocking back, her fingers barely able to grip the heavy toy. I don’t move, except to cover my head.

The Best Value Inn is a non-smoking motel, but the room reeks of cigarettes. I’ll get used to it. My suitcase unpacked, clothes folded inside the chipped dresser. Through the window, Oasis Coin Wash Laundry on the other side of El Camino.

Wyatt is divorced. He cannot talk about his ex-wife without using the word “bitch” in the same sentence. Shows up at our family gatherings alone, with one finger raised, and goes on and on.

My wife did nothing wrong.

I go to work, come back to the motel, cradle my phone at night.

I call my mother.

“I fucked up. And now she won’t return my calls.”

“You expect her to return your calls?”

“I’m an asshole. No different than Wyatt.”

“You’re not an asshole. But there’s consequences for what you did.”

It’s Chinese New Year. Wyatt and I sit across from my parents at Hong Kong Flower Lounge, table for 4. My brother flashes me a squinty-eyed grin. Welcome to the club, bro.

I pull my phone from my pocket again, glance downward. I know she hasn’t called, but I can’t stop checking.  

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