We try spitting on the envelope to see if our saliva will flap open the lip of the letter. Didi draws back his lips over his teeth and hocks a glob of clear fluid from the back of his mouth. It only makes the envelope soggy in one place until the paper dries in waves. The seal on the envelope is shaped like a rose, bumpy to the touch. We sand it down with our fingertips, marveling at the way a flower could feel so firm, its petals calcified into crust.
We slit the lips of the envelope with a paring knife, the leftovers of pears still clinging to the paper. Ma calls Gege Damn city boy under her breath. Fancy envelope, fancy words. Didi parrots our mother, chirping Damn city boy in different cadences, like he’s trying to find the right rhythm that will reincarnate his nameless brother, the one that left for the city before he was born. In his letter, Gege writes that he is coming to see us. He says that he can only stay for an hour because he has a very important woman to meet in the next city over. Ma turns the paper over, desperate to see what else his fugitive handwriting has to offer, but the backside of the paper is blank as blood, waiting for someone else to come and diagnose it.
Didi twitters City boy city boy city boy like a canary in a coal mine. We watch our brother’s luxury car scroll down the road that passes in front of our house. They call it a four-wheel drive in the city. Ma says he’d be better off riding a four-limbed animal. More real, she says. To feel the wind on your face and the ground underneath you. We can see his arm cuffed in a navy blue suit, elbow leaning on the seam of the window. Ma is wearing her patched green dress patterned with white chrysanthemums, but she keeps tugging at the waist, begging it to balloon outwards to make space for her oldest son.
Suddenly though, Gege withdraws his arm from the window, and we see a thick black sheet of glass begin to come up and cover his face. The car is not slowing down. We abandon our precarious positions on the porch and begin to chase the car, praying for the wind to kite us into the car. Didi is still yelping cityboycityboycityboy as we tear down the street. The car’s smoke smears out the sky and blinds us so that we can only see the exhaust pipe clefting itself into death. Our little canary stops singing then.
Ma stops running, moves off to the side where the grass is littered with soda tabs sun-shredded from the days we used to hide in the rice field, fishhooking metal into the mouths of three-eyed fish. Her hands are fisted into the pleats of her skirt, forming wrinkles in the chrysanthemums so they look like paper lace. She cries out his name, the one that belongs solely to her. The car falters for a moment. It’s enough for my mother and she spills off the street after him. The car begins to speed up again. We remember his letter, but we struggle to recall what he signed off with. It started with L and it ended with a sound that jingled like gold and tasted like rust in our mouths.
Gege is not dead yet, but my mother has already begun to pluck the chrysanthemums from her dress. We will mourn a ghost that’s been haunting our footsteps for the last six years. By now, we’ve already erased his city name, while Gege is pretending like he’s too good for a name that feels like fire fleecing itself into the sacred city.
Senna Xiang is a teen writer. Her work is published in GASHER Journal, Peach Magazine, and other lovely places.