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Curl my tongue around glass

by Chloe Chen

In the thick of roasted oolong tea and spicy Sichuan pungence, Nainai nudges me towards a chicken vendor.
“When will you learn?”

 She wants me to practice my Cantonese even though I can barely utter my own name in my mother tongue. I heave a sigh and shuffle along towards the stout chicken vendor woman who sits on a three-legged wooden stool, counting curled up bills in a lacquer box. Behind her, whole chickens rotate above a charcoal grill.
She looks up at me. “What do you want?”

I want to talk to you. I want the English in the slums of my tongue to slowly rot away. I want to carve every stroke of Mandarin on the roof of my mouth. I want conversation. The wafts of honey-glazed chickens, now sour and tangy. I open the mouth cage to unleash the untamed and unknowing tongue. Choppy Cantonese.
Sticky apprehension drifting in the air settles in between cage and creature. Loose accents slip and tumble out. Word fragments. I point to one of the chickens. She gives a quick nod yanks a knife out of her left apron pocket and lodges it deep inside the meat. It moves through thick flesh, in sync with the industrial pulse of the city. Shreds and skins.

The knife is tempting: Clasp it tightly, run it down the foreign beast of my tongue. The pink muscle parts down the middle. I speak English with one half— broken china Cantonese with the other. The woman tosses the sliced meat into a greasy package, throwing it into my hands. The meat feels heavy and so does my tongue.

chloe is a sixteen year old from CA, USA. in her spare time, she enjoys learning how to cook dishes from different cultures and (guiltily) reading trashy romance novels. her work also appears in aster lit and numerous anthologies. 

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