Illustration by Lisa Lim
How big is your stove?
She placed her chest against the hot stove and measured: 4 1/2 breasts.
He liked how her odd mouth conjured surprise like a jack in the box. She liked how he used his bathtub as a closet.
Why is there a tricycle in your tub? she asked.
You’re lucky it’s not a rat. We live in New York City. It’s about being creative with space.
He then opened his oven. Look, my pots and pans.
Shifted the couch to reveal a hidden corner exploding with mold and endless stacks of art books and expired medications. And finally his closet. It was a haven for all lost articles.
Have you ever heard of Saint Anthony, the Patron Saint of Lost Things? Am going to light a candle for you, she said.
Yes, she found this man with the tricycle odd and funny too. That was never the problem. It was his microwave.
Of course she understood. They were both native New Yorkers. It reminded her of the time she used to visit her great grandfather who lived in an old Chinatown tenement on the Lower East Side. He had a spit can near his lazy boy and a porcelain tub that converted into a dining room table. It was where she and her family ate Sunday dimsum spitting loud Toisan in air, marveling at his great hacking skills, complimenting how young his feet looked, and watching baby mice run across floors to eat scraps of tripe and pork belly.
Yes, she found this man with the tricycle odd and funny too. That was never the problem.
It was his microwave.
It disturbs me, she said. It bothers me that you heat up my ramen in a microwave with Jackson Pollack splattering resembling diarrhea. I’d rather you cook it in a pot if you don’t mind.
I do mind. It’s another pot I have to clean.
But then my ramen will have splattering of last year’s meatloaf.
It was strange to be with a man who didn’t mind his soiled microwave. Her last boyfriend was pristine. He nearly broke up with her after he found her drinking from the park water fountain.
Homeless people take full body baths in those fountains! Do you know how many germs are on that water fountain spout? And you kiss me with that same mouth! After that, they kissed less.
One time she took off her heels and walked bare foot on the cobbled streets of DUMBO. What was she supposed to do? Her feet were killing her. He nearly lost it when she accidentally stepped into a warm puddle of piss.
The best was when they were in the ER late one night because of his hernia and a homeless man in the next bed started urinating on her favorite yellow bag. She quickly grabbed it to wash. He screamed and nearly fainted from disgust.
At home, it destroyed him to find pieces of egg yolk on newly washed silver spoons. She felt suffocated by his cleanliness. And he felt sullied by her careless dishwashing. It was an unlikely match. But they did love each other deeply.
Everyone thought they broke up because he didn’t want children, but she knew it was it was because she couldn’t point out North America on a map.
She remembers the day. It was a rainy night when she opened up her umbrella. Standing inside, you could see a large map of the world. He said something about North America and she asked, Where is that exactly?
He turned pale. What do you mean? he asked.
He grew angry with her for missing great bodies of knowledge.
She immediately imagined holes in her and wondered if parts of her were missing.
Yes, she did not know what Chernobyl was, but she did know that furry bear caterpillars play dead when discovered. She could not point out North America on a map, but she’d gone through three passports while his still looked like an empty notebook. She sometimes said a “taller order” instead of a “higher order.” She didn’t know about condensation, but knew the coagulation cascade by heart.
Yes, it was true for a long time, she imagined the sun to be the moon and discovered it was not on a road trip in California where she noticed the sun on one side and the moon on the other.
So what? she would say. So what? Leave me alone. She was comfortable with the way she saw the world.
What would you teach our children if we did have children? he asked. The comment still stung her.
All this didn’t stop her from loving him, or he her. They shared a deep love. When they weren’t fighting about having children or about drinking from water fountains, they played games. In her favorite one, they would stand at far ends of their small studio apartment stark naked. She’d run towards him and jump to slap his belly. Like high-fiving but with bellies. She still misses their percussion. They were like children in a sandbox with hand sanitizer always at their disposal.
She believed in portals. Windows. Doors that opened and closed at whim. She didn’t know how to control them. She would tell him that she had two ways of being. Heart closed. Legs wide open. Or heart open. Legs closed. She found it difficult to open both at the same time.
Maybe it was the lack of doors. Or was it not being able to point to North America on a map. Or was it really because he didn’t want kids. It’s hard to remember now.
I don’t feel well these days, she used to say after they broke up. She missed him dearly, but knew she had to move on. To the man with the tricycle in his bathroom.
Could you blame her? She was starved of affection as a child. Asian parents don’t embrace or kiss you. They complain that you could do better. They beat you with bamboo feather dusters until your ass corrugated.
You’re always complaining, the man with the tricycle would say.
It started the first day she slept over. He had a sleeping bag with zippers that felt like someone was rubbing cold pennies on her while sleeping.
He was sweet because the next day he replaced the sleeping bag with blankets. She appreciated it. But she couldn’t help herself.
It’s too cold, she said. He placed more blankets on her. It’s too hot. now. Her legs kicked the blankets off. Lady, you’re such a pain in the ass, he said smiling.
Yes, she liked to complain. Not just of her body temperature. Of how her body wasn’t being squeezed tightly enough. She desired full body embraces. Like wrestlers in a ring. If every limb wasn’t wrapped tightly around her she would squeal like a hungry boar until the limbs succumbed to choke hold her.
One man used to sing to her more more more more more more more more. You always want more. I can’t give you an inch because you will want more until all of me is spent and I only have two cents left. You are worth two cents he used to say. This made her smile.
But not the zipper that felt like cold pennies. That annoyed her. It didn’t stop her from asking to be held all night.
Could you blame her? She was starved of affection as a child. Asian parents don’t embrace or kiss you. They complain that you could do better. They beat you with bamboo feather dusters until your ass corrugated. She and her brother would cry so loud trapped on her father’s knee flailing like fish in a butcher’s hands in the kitchen. Afterwards, they’d run upstairs to their room to peer into mirrors.
Look at mine. It didn’t even hurt, her brother would boast.
Mine feels like fire, but a good fire, she smiled.
We can cook an egg on it like in cartoons. They both giggled.
She told him how her and her brother pet these welts like precious stones. Shiny and throbbing welts that would turn into bruises they would later pinch to renew and remember and laugh again into mirrors.
You are one sick lady, he said. But he loved that about her.
As a child, she would scratch her father’s back while he watched long golf games eating plates of blue crabs from Chinatown. He was allergic to seafood and his entire back would hive out, but he loved crabs. Her child fingers took pleasure in petting and scratching the large, raised, itchy welts. She scratched so hard, his skin and blood grew trapped inside her fingernails. It was the only way she knew to show affection.
Wow, you are so needy, men would say. Because she clung onto skin like an octopus. Suctioning herself and clawing at their backs. It’s easy to understand why one night stands ran for their lives. Why so much cuddling and clawing after sex? They scratched their heads rushing to fix socks on feet. Ready to run after cumming. She didn’t mind. She thought it quite funny. Besides she didn’t like to share her bed these days.
All she needed was her comforter she called ten men. It was so heavy and warm. It felt like ten men on top of her. Or sometimes for affection, she would rub against furniture like cats in heat. Her neck slid against the arm of her sofa so much so, she wore the velvet thin.
But no matter how much she liked this new man, she couldn’t stop the nightmares of living in a mouse hole with him. The dream was always the same. It would always start with them sitting in the kitchen eating unsalted burdock and snow peas and drinking oolong tea. At one point in the dream, she would always have to pee. When she’d go to the bathroom, she’d see the red tricycle in her great grandfather’s bathtub, the one that converted into a dining table. It filled her heart with great panic and adrenaline.
Why is there a tricycle in your dream? he asked.
It was the same one she rode down the kitchen stairs to the basement as a child. The kitchen door was open that day. And she believed the stairs would magically flatten and travel her to a magical realm. Instead, she tumbled down the stairs, her body slamming against the cold concrete basement floor. She still remembers the fresh smell of silver spoons. It was a blend of steel wire, nickel, and chromium tools and the metallic taste of blood rushing down her head. It scared but thrilled her, the fall.
You’d think she learned her lesson. But months later, the kitchen door would charm her again like cobras in a Moroccan square. She found herself racing down the kitchen stairs again, tumbling against stairs and reopening her forehead stitches on concrete. She remembers looking in the mirror as the candy red blood painted her face. She heard herself cry out loud, but saw herself smiling inside.
Can you see why I can’t be with you? she asked
Yes, he said as he shut the door for good.
Lisa Lim is both an artist and a writer. Her art and fiction have appeared in The Agriculture Reader, Kill Author, InDigest Magazine, Nashville Review, and Pank Magazine. Find more of her storytelling at chineseladybug.carbonmade.com