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"Misfortune" by Zi Chen


Jade thrusts the marinated fish into the wok before instinctively flinching. The oil jumps up from the wok immediately, just as she anticipated; one pop after another. The little girl struggles to keep her balance atop the splintered wooden stool, despite her toes being firmly planted. The cabin is not evident of any signs of life, with the dead silence only disrupted by the sizzling of vegetable oil. She adds a spoonful of salt and mixes it around with a chuan, routinely. She grabs a large cleaver, and with tiny porcelain fingers gripping onto the oversized handle, begins to chop up a head of cabbage. Boom! Boom! The abrasive tool swiftly slices through the veined petals of the white vegetable. The high-pitched hissing of frying oil radiates a pungent odor; a curious concoction of fish guts and fresh chili peppers permeates throughout the enclosure. A single oil lamp illuminates the dim room. The light flickers up and down inside the lamp—there exist moments where the cabin is embraced by the warmth of flame and the next instant is possessed by a darkness in which Jade is uncertain if her finger would be chopped up like the cabbage clusters and subsequently served with the fish head for dinner.

Presented on a miniature wooden table by the end of the evening is a plethora of delicious dishes. These dishes were not delicious in any conventional sense, but the hunger that consumed the residents of this cabin rendered practically anything a divine delicacy. Jade swings open a rickety window barely hanging onto its rusting hinges, and looks outside for something.

“Dinner! Come in and eat!” She hollers loud enough for them to hear.

While she waits, Jade proceeds to boil a small kettle of tea. She flings a log of wood into the industrial fireplace, clearly bringing out its ire as it retaliates in a tantrum of fiery red sparks. The fire can provide sufficient warmth for most of the cabin. The kettle shrieks, letting it be known that the tea had reached its tipping point; it too, was exhausted. At that moment, her 3 younger brothers burst through the tottering door, enabling the harsh wind to intrude into their cozy home.

She ushers them to the dinner table, where she assists them with taking off their worn jackets, sopping wet with snow, mud, and other ambiguous fusions of earth. The 4 kids begin to wolf down their dinners, and the once silent little cabin becomes lively with the 3 kids jumping in bouts of oblivious, innocent bliss.

“Shush, sit down now and finish dinner.” Jade attempts to quiet down the wild kids. She reaches for 4 cups and begins to pour some tea from the kettle she was boiling earlier. She leans in closer to take in the steam as the trickling tea vaporizes. On the last cup, the kettle lets out no more than a single drop of tea. Jade sighs and places down the kettle, and it subtly clacks as it meets the table. She dons her warmest jacket and bids farewell to her brothers before her extensive journey.

“I’ll be back in a bit! Don’t cause a ruckus while I’m gone and eat the fish, it’s good for your health, little ones.” And with that, she opens up the shabby door and embarks on a trek down to the stream.

As she crunches through a narrow path freshly blanketed with snow, she clenches a wooden bucket with both her cracked hands. She trudged slowly through the dense forest, bearing in mind the precaution not to slip and fall on the ice. Jade can see her breath in the freezing cold air, and it was at this moment that the world seemed surreal. Every breath she took instantly evaporated into frosty oblivion; she squinted her eyes as she peered above at the limitless blue stretch of sky. Life outside of the cabin always catalyzed a deep episode of inner-contemplation for Jade. She was only a thread in the tapestry out there, especially in such a remote location. The snow capped tree branches rustled in the merciless wind, powdering the ground with snowflakes of various sizes.

By the time she reaches the stream, Jade squats down by the water source and begins scooping it into her wooden bucket. One scoop after another. This process was tedious, and she’d have to repeat it every 2 weeks or so. Since most of the water had been frozen up already, this bucket-full will last her and her family just 1 week and a half or so. They had to make the most of the good water, because soon enough, she’d have to start melting snow for water. Jade observed the small schools of fish swimming in their own family units, downstream to wherever they were bound by the decrees of fate. She wasn’t alone, that was certain. Her and these creatures were united under the fact that living wasn’t an experience served on a silver platter. After all, no one can find comfort in places where it simply does not exist.

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omg! boy oh boy, great job zi!

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