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Dad lifts me above the crowd in Chinatown so I can see the lion dancing in the street. Mouth flapping and tassels shimmering, the lion crouches and leaps.

“You see him?” Dad says, thumping my chest to the drum’s rhythm. It hurts. He doesn’t know his own strength.

Dad points at the lion. “That’s Nián, the evil sea lion who came ashore and ate the Chinese villagers alive, every Lunar New Year. They made loud noises to scare Nián back into the ocean.”

Someone takes a lighter, and ignites the firecrackers hanging above the street. They explode and pop, smoke rising, red debris flying. The lion rears up, tongue unfurling, eyelids fluttering. Smoke fills my nose, burns my eyes.

Dad says something with his brow scrunched up. I think he’s saying, “Where’d your damn mother go?”


Inside the Lu Hong Bazaar, I’m running my fingers over red paper-wrapped firecrackers.

“You’re making us late again!” Dad yells, glaring at Mom. She’s looking at the floor. In her arms—boxes of Botan Rice Candy, tubes of Haw Flakes, bags of Shrimp Chips, all my favorites. She’s waiting in the checkout line.

“Because of YOU, we’ll miss our reservation!”

Dad stomps outside, a flurry of red paper debris blowing around him.

Mom unloads her armful onto the display counter, then trails after Dad, while I slip packs of firecrackers into my pocket, without looking back.


In our living room, Dad lights a cigarette, scroll painting of misty mountains behind him.

“How did I marry someone who’s so slow? Because of you, we missed dinner!”

“That’s enough,” Mom says, voice trembling.

“Slow. LIKE A SLUG!”

He raises his hand above Mom’s face.

I grab Dad’s lighter from the table, and feel for the red packs in my pocket.

There’s crackling and flashing, smoke and shards of red paper flying around Dad’s feet, and he’s dancing, his eyes so wide, he’s shimmying and ducking and leaping, with Mom covering her ears, her face with tears, and me yelling, “Go back! BACK TO THE OCEAN!”