Excerpt from the History of Clocks by Star Su

Excerpt from the History of Clocks

After my grandmother Bubu buried Agong, we expected her to pack a suitcase with pineapple cakes and Costco gift cards, faxing us the itinerary for her flight. Mama paid me and my sister one quarter to bouquet the cobwebs in the guest room until they were as thick as cotton candy. We thought Bubu might be lonely staying but Mama told us to catch all the stuffed animals, snare their squeaking hearts in garbage bags. We beach them on the sidewalk where Dana-Ayi picks them up. Dana-Ayi lives in the house joined at the hip to ours. Sometimes, their vegetable peels color our water carrot and tomato. Mama pays me and my sister two more quarters to teach Dana-Ayi’s twins how to play Girl with Flaxen Hair. We only have time for the right hand before Mama says hui jia le, pulling the spare slippers from our feet. Dana-Ayi pushes a basket of chocolates and a jumbo pack of Slim Jims into Mama’s arms. They embrace, violent and loving as claiming the check at yum cha. Mama doesn’t even have time to tell her that our Costco receipts must have been twins — the chocolate and jerky are already shrined on our basement ping pong table — before Dana Ayi closes the door, the twins slurring flats where there should be sharps.

When Bubu comes, only Dana-Ayi’s house is lit on the whole street, their living room glowing with the twins playing on a baby grand the church retired. My grandmother asks where the streetlights are bao bei and my sister points to the Christmas tinsel snaking around the evergreen, their leaves splintering yellow toothpicks. While Bubu is in the shower, Mama goes over the rules. If Bubu feeds us anything, we must expand our stomach. If that is not possible, we can leave at most two bites and beg her forgiveness for weak intestines passed down from our father. If Bubu wants to watch Nirvana on Fire, we cannot complain she left usbehind. Mama says this is a game starting now. We understand this is a game with no winners or quarters.

Bubu does the laundry now, cleaning our pockets of sandwich-shaped erasers and mood rings that coin a color. She asks to borrow a pencil and we watch her draw a clock onto the last pages of Mama’s legal pad. Her handwriting is worse than Mama’s, matchsticks falling over the lines, numbers growing tumors where our teachers have told us to cut them out. Bubu says if she doesn’t remember the numbers or the minute hand of the clock, we must teach her how to do it. And so we begin this game secret from Mama. The clock in our living room is of no help. Our father bought it at Sea World, a school of dolphins that chime silver on the hour. Neither our father nor the batteries can be found (even at Costco) so the dolphins swim silently through 12:31, morning and night.

The clock in the kitchen cheats. It has no hands, only pills of chubby green light. While Bubu draws the hands of clocks, my sister and I draw a body, passing the paper like a thinning goose underneath the dining table. I add teeth but not too many because I don’t want them to suffer as I have when Mama handcuffed my molars to the door knob. My sister draws two pigtails and I correct them into circles. Nezha, not Princess Lea cinnamon buns. Today, Bubu takes longer than usual making time and does not ask us to check her work. We run out of body parts to add. Is it possible to forget an organ and be a body, we ask Bubu. She points to the corners of her left eye, where I have always believed she was stabbed with a mechanical pencil. I am missing a tear duct, she says. Missing half my tears, half the water I was supposed to shed for your Agong’s death. We tell her Mama cried, cried enough in the shower to hog all the warm tomato water. Bubu touches the hole on her face and we wait for her tears, a quarter of salt. The dolphins spin, the oven humming a green time just out of view. 

Star Su grew up in Ann Arbor and is currently an undergraduate at Brown. Her fiction is in or forthcoming in Waxwing, Passages North, SmokeLong Quarterly. They read for Split Lip Magazine. Find them on Twitter: @stars_su.

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Image (cropped): Salvador Dali CC2.0

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