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Homesick (想家)

Story by Nathan Xie (Read author interview) June 20, 2022

Art by Volodymyr Hryshchenko

The son reads but never responds to his extended family’s WeChat messages. Yet they still bother to tell him his grandfather—his yeye—has passed away. He deliberates over their words, then closes the app and pretends to sleep a little longer. His train comes at dawn; the light breaks soon. Outside, dusty blue salt has been scattered over the city, frozen tears in the melting snow.

His mother’s parents passed away first: his popo in the spring last year, his gonggong the summer after. Then his nainai on his father’s side in the autumn. His extended family sent him videos of the funerals in China he couldn’t attend, the lit incense sticks over each grandparent’s black coffin. They asked him to light some too, wherever he was. He took a cold shower instead.

The son almost slips on a pool of black ice, then at the last moment bounds over it. On the train, he texts his boyfriend about his yeye and, as before, asks for no comforting words. High-rises reflect sky and horizon as he approaches his boyfriend’s apartment. I love you, his boyfriend says, but these words leave him empty even though he desires nothing more.

The son spent most of his childhood convincing himself his parents were already dead. When he left them for good, his parents did not consider him similarly dead. In the first few months, they sent him emails: receipts charging him for living in their home, demands he relinquish his new address to them, reminders of how men like him should be stoned. He left their words in his spam folder, read but not deleted.

At the apartment, he and his boyfriend stay in bed where they do not take off their clothes. His boyfriend spoons him and their legs intertwine. Under the blankets, the heat feels like a hot spring. His boyfriend says his skin scalds, and they check for fever, but the son does not shiver or have a runny nose. The symptoms are wrong; somewhere deep inside he is incurably cold, and that is all.

His parents’ last email came after his nainai passed away and his yeye was driven to the hospital. They described the precious nature of family in lofty Chinese idioms and emotional pleas, but the son did not run the email through Google Translate to confirm his understanding of the more unfamiliar characters. He stared at his parents’ grief long after midnight, the blue light passing through his retinas, his mind then throwing it back out, over and over again.

We will die last, he tells his boyfriend. All his cousins are female. And of course, his parents will die before him, his mother first, then his father. But when the son says they will die last, he means that he will have no children, the family name ends with him, as languages and animals go extinct, as the earth itself is dying. When the son is cremated, his ashes will be the same color as the final winter’s snow.

About the Author

Nathan Xie is a writer from Connecticut. His work appears or is forthcoming in The Margins (AAWW), Gone Lawn, Janus Literary, and more. His website is nathan-xie.com.

About the Artist

Volodymyr Hryshchenko is a photographer from Korosten, Ukraine.
This story appeared in Issue Seventy-Six of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy-Six
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