Unpacking — by Yennie Cheung

He helps his teenage daughter unpack the things he could not buy her: electronics, designer clothes, a poster from some pop idol’s concert for which she’d had third row seats. She has many of these things—so many boxes and bags and suitcases full of things—that he feels squeezed out of his own home.

He doesn’t understand why she’s moving in with him. She could be spending two years in France with her mother, sunbathing on the Riviera, kissing boys with fancy accents. Instead, she has chosen his second-floor apartment overlooking the alley of a pan-Asian noodle house. He listens to the cooks on their smoke break talking in loud, guttural Mandarin, and he is certain once again that he has failed her.

She says, Remember the night I broke your toe?

Of course he does. It was the night her mother announced their divorce. They’d fought so loudly that their terrified daughter stomped on his foot to make him stop screaming. He remembers scooping her into his arms and limping away. He remembers wincing as she screeched into his shoulder and apologizing as he tucked her into her purple unicorn sheets. He had only one job back then—one goddamn job—and that was to keep his family happy. And he remembers, more than anything, hating himself for her tears.

It must have hurt badly, his daughter says now. Your foot? But you stayed at home and sang Beatles songs to me.

Not songs, plural, he says. Just one: “Golden Slumbers” over and over.

You didn’t go to the hospital until I fell asleep.

Of course not, he says. You’re more important.

Remember what Mom was doing? she says. Packing. She was packing.

She takes the poster from his hands and tosses it back into the box.

These aren’t staying, she says. These are to sell.
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Yennie Cheung
Yennie Cheung holds an MFA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside-Palm Desert. Her writing has been published in such places as The Los Angeles Times, Word Riot, decomP magazinE, and The Best Small Fictions 2015. She lives in Los Angeles.