She Meant To Change But Then She Died

November 1, 2009 • Storytelling

When Jessica woke up that morning, she lost her dream. She took it to bed the night before, dragged it kicking and screaming, bloody and bruised, tucked it under her pillow. By morning it was gone. Or so she thought.

She would find it again one day but in the least likeliest of places. As it should be. But at the time, Jessica didn’t listen very well and the moaning of the old Maus was unexpected.

The phone rang at 9:30 pm. No doubt another telemarketer. The caller ID screen read “out of area,” no number registered. Jessica turned down the TV anyway, just in case. Listened for a message, nothing. Poked at the 4-in-1 fax/printer and tried to block the call. Too late, a message was recorded. She was surprised to hear her dad’s voice, halting, slurred by ill-fitting dentures.

“Send me photos of Chad’s wedding.” Hangs up.

That was most puzzling. Her brother Chad is gay and not about to announce any wedding plans, least of all to an estranged father half a world away in China. She hunts for his new number, dials the million digits, no foreign ring, only a perky female Asian singing in Mandarin, the same lyrics over and over. There is no end to it.

Jessica hangs up, reaches for her cell phone, locates dad’s cell phone number. It’s only been a couple months (only a couple months since Korea??) and she’s forgotten how to make an international call. Dials it, connects. He picks up.

“Ah, hello?”

“Baba? It’s your daughter Yuen.”

“Oh, yes. Yuen. Ni hao?”

“Did you just call”

“Yes, send me photos of Chad’s wedding.”

“Chad didn’t get married. It’s Brad. Brad got married.”


“Cousin Brad. It was Brad’s wedding.”

“You said Chad remarried.”

“No, it must have sounded like Chad. But it’s Brad.”

“I’m going to move to Hong Kong very soon. I have a lot of friends who will help me.”

Jessica struggles, searching for the right words in Cantonese, her limited vocabulary tripping her up. She manages to find out it’s noisy in his new apartment, a poor man’s tenement, second floor. She could hear children playing loudly in the background. But the price is right. And it won’t cost much more in HK, only a few hundred? She wasn’t sure what he meant.

He asked about the photos from their last visit a few months back. Pictures of the cat, your friends.

“I forgot all about that. I’ll mail them this weekend.”

“Whenever. No rush.”

“It’s good you’re moving to Hong Kong.”

“They take care of the elderly there. Unlike in China.”


“It’s my birthday next week.”

“I don’t have a gift for you.”

“Meeting you last time was a gift.”

“I wish you a happy birthday.” He did not realize how sad that made her feel.

She made a few notes in her journal, to remember the conversation so she could report it back to her brother.

‘Well, I haven’t found a translator to help me with your book,” she lied.

“That’s okay. There is no rush. Take your time. When I reach Hong Kong, I can speak more freely. I can’t talk about a lot of things right now. I could not write about everything that I wanted to write about. I didn’t write about the bad bits. The truly bad bits.”

“What is your home number again? It didn’t work earlier…”

“It’s the same number. You’ve called it before. It’s not safe.” He mumbles the number, first in Chinese, then in English. Yes, she has that number. She made a mistake and used an extra zero. So was that singing Mandarin telling her she dialed a non existent number?

This should work. At least he’s doing well, or so he says. At least he’s not asking for money. Because there is none to be had. At least they are still talking. Will he find his way to Hong Kong? Redemption? Belonging? Will she?

to be continued…

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