Squidgate by Ploi Pirapokin

Squidgate

My father hates raw fish yet insisted to my mother and I that we should still have some. We were celebrating Christmas in Kyoto’s austere Tsukiji Sushisay, and my father was convinced that I wouldn’t “get this kind of quality sashimi back in America.”

I told him we didn’t have to eat here; I was perfectly happy with anything he liked — ramen, tempura, or even grilled meats. He slid a menu across the table and said, “Order, and quickly because we’re hungry.”

“There’s nothing she doesn’t eat,” my mother said. “You look first.”

There’s nothing she doesn’t eat is my mother’s reason for why I’m fat and unmarried. She throws these little barbs when I’m back, like at our recent meeting with life insurance agents. My parents had rejected all of their offers for plans that included beneficiaries, because my father looked me up and down before saying: “At this rate, you’re probably not going to wed or have children so there’s no point in paying for a higher plan to include them.” His point: you’ve spent eight years writing and no book, husband, or baby to show for it. Their stereotypical Asian-parent put-downs do not scare me, it’s wondering how much they’ve already maimed me that does.

“See how much your father loves you? He’s willing to eat sushi today,” my mother added. How much they love me was counted by the ways in which they’ve sacrificed their preferences in favor of mine.

Our sushi sets arrive, and I’m overjoyed by the fresh colors and clean display of seafood rolls. Right before clipping my chopsticks around one, my father said: “I know how much you love salmon, so I’m willing to trade mine for your squid. Would you like to swap?”

I thought: Salmon is easier for people who don’t like sushi because of its mild taste and smooth texture. He was offering to take the chewy, salty squid as sacrifice.

“No thanks!” I said.

He withered into his seat. “That hurt my feelings, but I’ll let it go for now.”

“Oh, then you should have the salmon if you want it,” I said. “I’ll eat the squid.”

Suddenly, my father slammed his chopsticks on the table. “You really hurt my feelings. Everything you’ve wanted, I’ve given you. You want to come to Japan? We’re here. You want to eat sushi? I’m here. I ask for one thing, and you deny me. Now I know how little you think of your father.”

“Well if I had known it was to prove what I think of you, then of course you can have the squid,” I mumbled.

He shook his head. “It’s too late. Now I know that you don’t love me.”

“I thought you were genuinely asking me a question, I thought you were trying to exchange something you liked for something I —”

“How can you be so stupid?”

“Please take the squid.”

He flipped his plate of sushi. Pieces dropped splat on the floor; plates bounced before settling. Diners around us avoided our eyes and restaurant staff scurried further past their posts.

This was not the first time my father had thrown food off a table, nor the first time he had yelled at me in public, but still I bawled. The hot towel they provided us to wipe our hands turned into tissue. I rubbed my hot eyes with more steam.

My mother chimed in. “While I was also shocked that you would say such a selfish thing to your father, I understand your ignorance. How would you know? You’ve lived in America for ten years. You’ve forgotten that all of our questions are not just questions.”

I know this is crazy making, having endured comments that aren’t simply comments, and questions that are not questions all of my life. I wished I had intuited the correct answer and that answer would not overturn plates. I tried to find an exit, only escaping never guaranteed that I wouldn’t be tested during my next visit. To walk out would also mean that they were right — I couldn’t see how much they loved me and was selfish for not erasing my whole self as sacrifice.

When the pandemic hit and borders shuttered, they called to ask why I didn’t move back, “Remember our last fun Christmas?” They followed up with, “How much do you weigh right now?” “Take a photo spinning around so we can see!” “Are you dating anyone?”

I will never forget those sad pieces of sushi melting on the floor.

Back in Tsukiji Sushisay, I wanted to shout: My answers will never be enough, will they?

Instead, even though I must’ve looked pitiful, I said: “What did the salmon ever do to the squid to deserve such a grisly fate?”

My parents did not laugh, but I continued anyways: “What did the salmon say to the squid before it got thrown on the floor?”

My mother asked me to stop. My father straightened himself in his chair, as if disenchanted from a spell.

“I can’t stay angry at you long. You are after all, my daughter,” he concluded.

No apologies for Squidgate — neither of them ever brought it up afterwards.

I used to believe that by saying nothing, they would stop throwing food down in the middle of restaurants. I used to pray; I must survive this to return to my life without them — a life of sharing sushi over dinner with people who asked about my day.

In month six of quarantine, I still feel a writhing squid in my throat when they call. I’m grateful for this pandemic; it forces me to maintain the distance. Should they want to reach over this ravine, they must ask themselves, “What did the salmon ever do to the squid?” What did I do to deserve them? Only then will they realize that this divide is my sacrifice — a daughter in exile for a chance to forget that image of sushi melting on the floor.

Ploi Pirapokin was born in Thailand and raised in Hong Kong. She is the Nonfiction Editor at Newfound Journal, and the Co-Editor of The Greenest Gecko: An Anthology of New Asian Fantasy forthcoming from Wesleyan University Press in 2021. Her work is featured and forthcoming in Tor.com, Pleiades, Apogee Journal, The Offing, The Bellingham Review, and more.

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