--Maybe it will lift, Mom says, let's hope for the best.
--Maybe it will lift, says Lizzy, imitating her. Let's hope...
--Elizabeth Bailey Wong, says Dad. Stop now.
He twists his head clear around like an owl, practically, so we can see how his neck skin always wrinkles in a kind of spiral when he does that. Dad's parents were Chinese Chinese, like from China, so he has the same kind of skin as me and Lizzy, soft smooth like a hill of snow nobody's walked on, only kind of tea-colored in the summer, and creased like in a couple of places, it makes you realize that every time he turns around he does the exact same thing. Over and over. But he keeps on doing it anyway, just like Lizzy keeps on being Lizzy, if she didn't we'd probably all float up to the ceiling with happiness and bang our heads.
--Maybe it will lift, says Lizzy one more time, in her imitation-Mom voice, and then says, in her regular voice:--When I grow up will I also spout inanities out of nowhere?
--And what if we don't like her? says Lizzy. Can we send her back to China?
--Can we send her back to China, sighs Mom.
Lizzy is wearing a nose ring and earrings, and henna tattoos in the shape of snakes. Thank god the tattoos at least wash off and that short short blond hair will grow out too, Mom says, but of course not in front of Lizzy, because she completely knows what Lizzy will say back. Namely, Why shouldn't I bleach my hair, it's no different than you highlighting yours, and besides why shouldn't I be blond when my mother is blond?
So instead Mom just says things like how she doesn't like that phrase, sending people back to China. Because people say that even to people who speak perfect English and have been here a long time, she says, and how are you going to like it if people say that to you?
--They aren't going to say that to me, says Lizzy.
--We hope, says Mom.
She doesn't twist around like Dad to talk to us, she just looks in the mirror on the back side of the car visor. Mom is like the complete opposite of Dad. Dad is muscley. If you threw him in the ocean he would sink plunk to the bottom, while Mom would bob right up, Dad calls her za-za vavoomy. And she's like colorful. We can see her in the mirror, those blue blue eyes and that blond blond hair and those pink pink lips. It's the complete farm girl look, Lizzy says, that being where her family is from originally, on her mom's side anyway, a farm in Wisconsin where people were real and not phony. Of course, she herself grew up in Connecticut. Still who would've thought she'd end up in a place where people actually buy those black designer diaper bags? That's what she wants to know sometimes, I guess she always figured she'd kind of drift back to the farm someday.
But like here she is.
--We hope, says Mom. But even if they don't, in our family we don't talk about sending people back to China. Because some of the people who get told that aren't from China to begin with.
--Some of them are from New Jersey, says Dad.
--Some of them aren't even of Chinese origin, says Mom.
--You mean some of them are who-knows-what, says Lizzy. Right? Japanese, or Vietnamese.
--Or mixed-up soup du jour, like me. Right?
--You're too sensitive, says Lizzy.
Mom flips the visor back up, making that little light next to the mirror blink out. Which was the maybe brightest thing I've seen all day, I realize, that's how gray it is out.
--And how is it that the honky in the family gets to explain this? Mom asks the air.
Dad puts the windshield wipers on high even though it isn't really raining.
Excerpted from The Love Wife by Gish Jen Copyright© 2004 by Gish Jen. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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