China Doll “Nelson!” she stood at the screen door and yelled out into the street. “Shen- Ming! Mama and Baba are home, and I’m finished making dinner. Come eat!” She didn’t hear his reply, so she pushed open the door and let it swing shut behind her. The days were quickly getting shorter, and the smooth brick steps felt like ice under her bare feet. She didn’t want to wear her shoes because she was embarrassed of them. They were boys’ shoes, from Weber’s Footwear, which was on the second floor of the tiny grocery store a few blocks away. Mama said that boys’ shoes lasted longer. She got to school early every day so she could already be seated with her feet tucked under her chair by the time the other girls came in. “Nelson!” she yelled again as she ran down the empty street. Her feet felt numb. At least it didn’t snow here like it had in New Hampshire, or Chicago. She liked Los Angeles better, if only because she could avoid wearing her ugly black boys’ shoes more often. She turned another corner and headed towards the school. Maybe Nelson had finally made some friends, and he was playing soccer on the school field like all the other boys. No, they would be done playing by now; darkness was settling around her and the familiar street ahead looked suddenly foreign and menacing. She could barely make out three figures a block ahead of her. “Shen-Ming, is that you?” she called out to them. “Come on, its dinner time and its getting dark anyways.” One of the figures replied in a deep scratchy voice. “Shen-Ming? That’s a girl’s name, ain’t it, china doll?” The boy standing next to him turned to face the third figure, who was standing further away in the safety of a streetlight. This second boy laughed, and his voice cracked as he spoke, “Yeah, chinaman, you look so much like a fat little girl that they even gave you a girl’s name.” She could make out her younger brother standing beneath the streetlight now. He was shaking, but maybe part of that was the cold. She felt afraid of these two boys, but she also knew that they wouldn’t go further than insults, and she was more than accustomed to those. She waved at Nelson to come, but he shook his head slowly and his eyes nervously flitted back to rest upon the two boys. The night was sucking the warmth out of the air quickly, and the darkness around her was growing more solid. “Nelson, if these idiots try to beat you up, I’ll call the police, okay? They’re not going to do anything to you. Let’s go,” she said as loudly and firmly as she could manage. Both of the teenage boys spun around. “You wouldn’t dare call the police, china doll,” the one with the raspy voice declared. The boy whose voice kept cracking stepped towards her in anger. A string of curses tumbled out of his mouth, but she didn’t understand any of them. And suddenly the locked up part of her - the part where all the shame and all the insults and all the anger lay buried – seemed to explode and engulf her mind with an impenetrable fire. She backed slowly away from him, vaguely aware that she, too, was shouting something. She was screaming out insults, insults that another teenage boy had taught her once on hot dripping days spent lying on itchy dry grass far away from this cold black street. Through the fire in her mind she realized that the insults she was screaming were in Chinese, and that both boys had stopped walking towards her and were staring at her, surprised and a little nervous. They glanced at each other, almost in embarrassment, to avert their eyes from this crazy girl. She turned and ran, and the words she was trying to scream died away as she choked on the sobs in her throat. She didn’t know why she was running. She could hear Nelson’s heavy footsteps and his gasping breath behind her, but the two boys weren’t following. Her mouth tasted like salt and wetness was dripping off her chin and the darkness in front of her looked blurred. She had simply called him Guh-guh, older brother, although they were not siblings. In turn she was Mei-mei, little sister. To the rest of the world they were cousins, but neither one remembered a time before she had come to live with Guh-guh and his parents. Aunty often told Mei-mei stories about her real parents, how her handsome father was so smart that he had gotten a job in the United States as a professor. How her beautiful mother, with her soaring soprano voice, had joined him there two years later, after Mei-mei was born. Mei-mei listened to these stories, but to her they were always stories and nothing more. Aunty told so many stories, and to Mei-mei none of them ever smelled of real things, of heat and dirt and old dry rice and sticky rotting fruits. Guh-guh was five years older than she, but Mei-mei was a smart kid and strong, despite her skinniness. She kept up with him, and he enjoyed the respect and adoration he received from her. His parents hoped that she would be a good influence on him. Their niece was such a quiet, obedient child that they frequently wondered why she got along so well with their son. He was a sort of delinquent, though of course as Chinese parents they would never admit such a thing to the neighbors or friends. The summer after she turned seven years old, he taught her to play fortress. He was tired of lying on the itchy grass all day long, and even with all his obscene vocabulary he had run out of curses and vulgar insults to teach her. They carefully selected the softest stretch of dirt, far behind the house. He showed her how to dig the best kind of trenches, which slanted out over you and provided more shelter. They called them “fortresses”; it took days to dig two. Then they gathered small stones from the garden in front of the house to serve as ammunition. They added smaller holes inside the fortresses to store the ammunition and to hide the cigars that Guh-guh loved to steal from his father’s study. Mei- mei hated the way they tasted and smelled, and secretly Guh-guh did too. But he loved to steal them, and she loved him for these daring acts of bravery. Their battles had no tactics or goals. “Today you’re Japan,” Guh-guh would say, and each would throw stones at the other’s fortress until exhaustion or dinner produced an armistice. It was at the end of that summer that she saw her first airport. Uncle, the man who had been her father all her life, had received a letter from her father in America. He told Mei-mei that they were going to see the feijis, the airplanes. Aunty, who had put her to bed with a hug every night of Mei-mei’s memory, was in her room, packing up her clothes. “Aunty, what are you doing?” Mei-mei asked. Aunty did not answer; she was crying. Mei-mei thought that maybe she was jealous because she didn’t get to see the feijis too. “Where’s Guh-guh?” Mei-mei asked her uncle. “I sent him to visit cousin Tung-ing,” he explained with uncharacteristic patience. “He’s not coming; he’s already seen the feijis.” In the airport Mei-mei ran to all the windows, leaving behind her a trail of handprints and fading steamy patches. Her eager eyes followed the feijis as they rose into the sky, into the beckoning mysterious blue. She wondered what they found up there, but the back of her mind also considered that there might not be any satisfactory trenches to play fortress up in the sky. Mei-mei’s uncle walked towards her, speaking quietly to a flight attendant who bobbed her head continuously, nodding. “Mei-mei,” he instructed. She thought that his voice sounded funny, like maybe he’d just dropped her luggage on his foot. She checked, but the suitcase was sitting harmlessly by his side. He continued, “Sit right here on this chair and don’t move until this lady tells you too. Do whatever she says, okay, Mei-mei? She’ll take you onto the feiji, and then you’re going to go see your parents. Okay?” She couldn’t understand the last word he said to her. He swallowed so hard that he choked it off before turning and rushing away. She thought that “your parents” meant Uncle and Aunty. She thought that they must be getting on the feiji before her. The nice lady would take her to them, and when they were done exploring the feiji, they would go home and she would play fortress with Guh-guh until dinnertime. She sat on the chair and watched the feijis while she waited. The stewardess took her onto the feiji, and she waited for sixteen hours in the middle seat of the middle section where she couldn’t see out the window to watch her home and her family fall away. She waited in the Seattle airport on a black plastic chair until the stewardess handed her suitcase to a man and a woman Mei-mei had seen in a photograph. The woman held the hand of a four-year-old boy. She smiled at Mei-mei and spoke to her husband. He took Mei-mei’s hand and told her that they were finally going home. She wanted very badly to go home and play outside with Guh-guh, so she left with this family. She hoped that Guh-guh would be back from cousin Tung-ing’s by the time they got there. She was still waiting while she drove with this family in the back of a coughing station wagon. She waited for the two years they lived in Seattle, the year in Chicago, the three years in New Hampshire. She was still waiting to go home when they moved to Los Angeles, until that one night, the night when she realized that the waiting would never end. She ran through the darkness to the front yard of her house. Then she suddenly understood why the tears were rushing down her face. She was never going home. “Goodbye, Guh-guh,” she told the dirt. ~*~*~*~*~*~ Please review! I've been told that it's kind of confusing, so please tell me what you think, thanks P.S. how do you indent?