ELIOT LI: No Room For Joy

Flash Fiction by Eliot Li

Another Fencing Tournament in Columbus, Ohio

She unzips her fencing jacket, slips her blades into plastic sheaths. Sinks her face into a towel spread onto both palms, kneeling next to her equipment bag. She stays like that for a while.

I want to tell her it doesn’t matter, whether she wins or loses. But if I did, she’d start crying, and she’d say Dad, just go away.

She has an interview later with a Division 1 coach who’s here to find high school fencers good enough to join his college team. Before then, there’s time for her to go back to the Hampton Inn, wash up, eat, and try to find her self-confidence, so she can sell the coach the best version of herself.

I want to tell her it doesn’t matter, where she goes to college. But if I did, she’d say you’re so full of shit.

I walk between the stands at the North Market in downtown Columbus, foraging for something she’ll eat. There’s a ramen shop, though the kids in the kitchen seem to be unwrapping noodles from the freezer. Not like home in San Francisco, where we can walk to Japantown, freshly made ramen heaven. I pay, and they pack everything into Tupperware containers. Before leaving for the cold outside, I buy pink daisies rising from a tall green vase.

The last time we came to Columbus two years ago, I bought her tulips from the same vendor. It was Valentine’s Day, and I thought my daughter should have flowers. She’d just won a silver medal, and earned enough points to break into the top 30 of the national rankings.

With her loss today, another early exit, she might fall off the rankings completely.

I place the daisies on the nightstand between our hotel beds and the plastic tub of noodles on her mattress. She smiles when she sees the flower, and thanks me for lunch.

We do another mock interview. I pretend I’m the college coach. Her voice is soft and distant, her fingers shaking.

When she’s in the shower, I call my wife. We talk strategy, like how she needs to get fired up, and practice harder and smarter for the next tournament. And how I have to police her and make sure she studies for finals, which start next week.

What if we skip all that, and I just tell her I love her like crazy?

Only The Most Delicate Gossamer Keeps A Warm Body From Turning Cold

Auntie Anne sinks into the rented gurney in her living room. Her shallow inhalations. She stares beyond us, toward the photo above the fireplace, of her in the power wheelchair, holding fluffy Bessie’s leash, under blue skies.

Bessie, who’s licking Auntie’s cold purpling fingers through the gurney’s railing.

My little Millie’s on the second floor, playing with dolls, during Auntie’s final staccato breath.

At the playground jungle gym, Millie declares she’s Princess Leia. While she’s pew-pewing invisible storm troopers, I lift Millie up, her gossamer sweater against my ear, her tiny heartbeat, wriggling arms rising toward the blue sky as she breathes.

We Have Grave Concerns About Joy

Joy is not like us.

On Saturday nights, we barricade ourselves in our rooms studying for exams, while Joy climbs down the trellis, Steve’s Honda Civic waiting on the corner.

On Saturday nights, before Joy sneaks out of the house, Mom reads Joy’s midsemester school progress report at the dinner table, says Joy just isn’t measuring up. Tells us that when she was our age, her family had just immigrated, and as the only English speaker in the family, she was the realhead of the household, negotiating with immigration officials and plumbers, all while getting straight A’s.

Mom says Joy is spoiled.

Mom says Dad is spoiled, too. When Dad says he just wants Joy to be happy, Mom cuts him off—We must show a united front!

We try to protect Joy. We don’t tell Mom about how the floor shakes when Joy dances in her room. Sometimes we go in there after she’s snuck out, and we read the poetry she writes, handwritten pages of it all over her desk. I love the slick feeling of the inside of your lips poems, I stare out at the fog under the bridge and think about falling poems, the environmental

Armageddon is upon us and we are all going to burn poems.

Sometimes we hear Joy crying through the walls when she’s on the phone with Steve. Nobody else listens to me except for you, she says.

While we invested our summer job earnings into the stocks Mom suggested, Joy donated hers to The Great Barrier Reef Foundation. She’s such a dreamer.

Mom says we’re the good ones. We’ll get into top colleges, and then on to med school. And later, Mom will fix us up with sons of family friends, respectable Taiwanese boys. We’ll reap the fortunes of all our hard work and sacrifice, like Mom did.

Unlike Joy.

Mom actually said it, tonight at the dinner table. There’s no room for Joy in this family.

Eliot Li lives in California. His recent work appears in South Florida Poetry Journal, Emerge Literary, Cheap Pop, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Citron Review, and elsewhere.

Flash Boulevard is edited by Francine Witte. Banner photograph Wes Candela.

Published by poetrybay

WELCOME TO RADIO POETIQUE: A SPOKEN WORD RAD!O REVIEW Radio Poetique is an online clearinghouse for info, news and notes on top radio, blog and podcast sites streamed on the internet. We compile, monitor and profile the best in current online poetry broadcasts, providing weekly updates on the coolest, the chillest, the classiest and the most cutting-edge poetry sites out there on the internet today. Subscribe to our weekly blog to keep track of our latest news, info and notes. Listen in to the stations we profile! Got a favorite spoken word streamed radio program, podcast or blogging you'd like us to profile? Send your latest recommendations! We're always listening.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: