We are proud to welcome “The Dumpling Makers” by Kristina Ten to our New Voices library. This story made our anthology shortlist and, when it was not selected as a finalist, we jumped at the chance to publish it on our site. This lovely tale is at once clear-eyed and mystical. It traces the invisible, invincible ties that bind us to our families, even as we assert our individuality. Read on.
“Making dumplings was a methodical, time-consuming task, and in most households, exclusively a social one. Doing it alone, you would go insane. Some parties were assigned to mixing, rolling, and cutting the dough; others to grinding the beef and placing the filling delicately in the center of each flat circle. Then everyone would come together to form the dumplings. The repeated series of steps—folding, pinching, joining the ends—was as distinctive to each family as a surname or crest.”
If you let you a leaky ceiling break you now, Nadia, then you deserve whatever dull, unexceptional plans this world has for you. That’s what Nadia told herself as she pulled the last glass from the cupboard and set it under the leak that had sprung overnight. Over the course of a week, her apartment had become a garden of cylindrical things: glasses, coffee mugs, buckets, a vase. And she tended it routinely, emptying each container as it filled, replacing it wherever seemed most urgent.
The landlords lived in the main house just across the yard from Nadia’s, though they were currently out of the country on something called a luxury treehouse tour. They had been gone two weeks. It hadn’t rained in four.
At first, the leak was kind of a thrill, something Nadia could tell the other research interns about when they exchanged renters’ grievances in the break room at work. It was the first time any of them had been on their own, and as they told their stories—one intern’s noisy neighbors, another’s knocking pipes—through their eyerolls and grumbling, their voices betrayed a certain pride.
By this point, for Nadia, the novelty was starting to wear off. Her white tomcat, Eggy, was a different story. He walked slowly through the new obstacles as if considering their fate, deliberating whether to lap up the water from this cup or paw at that one until it overturned. Nadia was cleaning one of his spills, Eggy grooming himself maddeningly across the room, when she got the call from her mother: The great chef Galina was dying five thousand six hundred miles away.