A Stellar Flare of Young Adult Writing and Visual Art
BY SUMMER LIU
Yujia swayed in the cramped subway like a string of seaweed on the ocean floor. The crowd pushed against her in all directions possible, that she neither could or had the need to grab onto a handle. The smell of sweat bloated in the airtight space, then exploded into drops of sweat in her clothes and her ponytail.
Through the layers of heads, Yujia spotted a small girl of six or seven sitting on the lap of her father. The little flower bud, wearing a rose pink dress with pearls stitched to the brim, was laughing with a small boy of two or three. They had the same round eyes. The siblings reminded Yujia of her and her brother, but a strong hate soon swashed over her so that she had to look away.
Yujia had wished for a rose pink dress with pearls when she was six too, but her parents wouldn’t have cared what she wanted. No fault of Yujia’s in particular, but the pronoun ignited her parents like a lit match does dried hay under the sun. The birth of a “he” converted all her parents’ hate into love, though not for her. She remembered the day she first saw her brother. The fresh new cradle held a pale fat baby, nothing extraordinary at all, but his blue knitted hat indicated privileges to come for having the extra part down his pants that the sisters all wished they had. Yujia had never seen her parents smile so genuinely, not even when she scored perfection on her final exams in fifth grade like they wanted her to.
Life started to spiral like a tornado, and in the peaceful tornado eye stood her angelic little brother — angelic because their parents thought so; Yujia spun around as gravity peeled off her skin, her flesh, then her intestines. Yujia, what have you done! How are you ever going to marry if you can’t even take care of your own brother! Her mother yelled while smacking her in the face. Yujia, if anything should happen to your brother while we’re gone, you can go starve in the streets. Her father looked her in the eyes while the toxic words seeped out the corner of his mouth. Yujia, that is not how you talk. You’re a girl, save some face for yourself and be a good role model for your brother. Her mother glared while smacking her in the arm. Yujia, don’t talk some bullshit about love, leave that broke scumbag right now! We didn’t raise you so you can waste money marrying some broke carpenter. Her father chided while piling new toys for their beloved son.
Having to take care of her infant brother 24/7 while going to school, Yujia failed middle school. However, she didn’t fail her parents. At the age of twenty-one, she married the richest man in town, a stout, balding middle-aged man whose beer belly took up half his weight. On the same day that Yujia announced her marriage, her little brother got his first one-hundred percent on a test. At dinner, the whole family drank and celebrated as Yujia and her parents depleted two dozen beers. Laughter and alcohol soaked the air, bloated in the airtight dining room, and exploded into tears on their faces. Her parents howled about the hardships of raising her, how undocile and obstinate she used to be, and how hard they tried to make her the perfect bride so that they would see her in matrimony with the proper man. Yujia cried too, although she hadn’t heard a single word her parents said because the beer corroded her hearing.
Yujia went to the city that day to secure a place for her oldest daughter in the best boarding middle school in the province. She could’ve taken a taxi or traveled with her husband’s driver, but instead, she chose the crowded subway just so that she could see with her own eyes. She had heard tales of limitless opportunities in the city for men and women alike, and it was true.
As she stepped out of the enclosed space and onto the platform, this mother of three children breathed a superfluous amount of the stale underground air to calm the burning sensation of hate from seeing the little girl in the rose pink dress. She couldn’t locate for whom or what she felt it, but it continued to burn until the heat coated every fiber in her body with a layer of hellish misery. Yujia didn’t know if she simply yearned for more or regretted what she had lost — a middle school certificate, her sweet carpenter, or perhaps something else. She had no means to verbalize the thought; it was never taught to her. The burn just fluttered; it pushed in every direction possible that she swayed helplessly for a moment like a string of seaweed on the ocean floor, then it was gone.