We are proud to present Stacey Wang’s first story: “The Engagement.” A story of generational and cultural differences, Wang deftly illustrates the strain these differences can place on familial relationships. Wang commands attention with this powerful debut, and we are thrilled add “The Engagement” to our New Voices catalog.
At the Thanksgiving table, I bit my tongue and swallowed my food. I didn’t want to embarrass you, so I pretended not to notice that you had stopped talking. Instead, I offered you some tofu. Here, daughter, I wanted to say. Mama knows what it’s like to be told by a man, to shut up, to stop being an embarrassment. Mama knows. Have some tofu.
The world was too new for you. You lacked words and understanding. Flailing fists and splitting cries, you made your suffering known.
In those first days of your life, we lived on the grounds of the Tianjin New Star Textiles Factory, in a square room with a bed and table. The paper-thin walls conducted the cacophony of lives. Woks hissed and beds squeaked. You wailed, but our neighbors were kind. “She is a singer,” said Old Man Lin, insisting that your cries didn’t bother him when we visited for the Mid-Autumn.
Your father spent most of his time at the Factory, but I didn’t mind. It gave me time to be alone with you, to study the dimple in your cheek, the silk of your feet. One flesh cleaved in two. Wo de nu er. My daughter.
Somewhere I heard that if you looked at beautiful girls, your daughter would be beautiful, so I cut pictures of pretty women from magazines and taped them above our bed. I studied those photos, even held you up close so you could see them too, because I believed then that if you wanted something badly enough the universe might pay attention, might mold your wanting into reality, and I wanted you to be beautiful. Beautiful girls attracted the best husbands, and a good husband was the key to a good life.
I read that if you ate walnuts your breast milk would produce a compound that made your child clever, so I went from vendor to vendor until finally I found someone who sold me a half-kilo for two weeks’ salary. “Foolish woman. How could you be so wasteful?” your father said when I returned with nothing from the market other than that bag of walnuts. But I was happy. I ate the half-kilo in three days, munching on the walnuts even after they started to taste like chalk and blister my mouth.
Your father was right. I was foolish. Wasteful. I spent my energy asking the universe to give me a beautiful, smart daughter who could make it far in life, who could achieve things. I forgot to ask the universe to teach you respect, and now you are a daughter who hangs up on her own mother.