1. Lone Noodle
In the house you grew up in, nothing worked, or was on its way to not working. There were five broken televisions sitting in the garage; the toilet in the bathroom would not flush, or else would flush for days; a strange smell came regularly from the kitchen sink. Doors came off hinges, light bulbs blew, and there were holes in the walls, from when your brothers had wanted to say something but couldn’t find the words.
Where my parents lived, everything seemed pristine clean and overdone. Like the bin in the kitchen that held two bags, one just for lining, and the brush that was kept in the shower for daily scouring. Years ago there had been holes in walls and broken things — coffee cups, glasses, plates, kitchen things mostly, smashed or flung or thrown. When someone had wanted to say something but could not find the words, or perhaps wanted them to be louder. Afterwards the glass was always swept, the holes plastered over.
One night our Chinese dinner spiralled around the room like little torpedos, after our father had sent it flying. Days later, long after the fight had been forgotten, a visitor noticed—inquired after a lone noodle hanging off a light fixture close to the ceiling. We all looked at the noodle, gleaming as it was in front of the light, electric yellow, and none of us knew what to say.
I hadn’t left my house in months. I found I had no reason to. I ordered food and books on the computer. I slept through the day. I had a sister who would visit about once every two weeks. On the day before she’d arrive I’d clean the dishes in the sink and throw bleach all over the bathroom. I’d hide my dirty clothes under the bed. My sister often tried to lure me outside. She’d talk about the sun and about fresh air and about my heart being blocked with hate. It didn’t bother me. This was a woman of sixty-five who wore hemp pants and paid money to sit in silence with strangers for hours. Well, I said, when she told me that one, I do that all the time but alone and for free. She was the only family I had left.
On the day I got the news I washed my face, put on some slacks and took a bus into town. In a brightly lit department store I let a young woman apply thick caramel-colored paste all over my face and neck. I listened while she spoke about the dangers of the sun and the ozone layer. She carefully pointed out the lines around my eyes, forehead, and at the edges of my mouth, saying, here, here, and here. She told me: Frowning is bad for wrinkles; so is smiling and smoking cigarettes. She applied a balm that she explained was made from beeswax to the disappointing areas of my face. She had thin, delicate fingers, and they rotated in perfect tiny circles. Her hands were so gentle, her movements precise, and her voice soothing. I could have sat there for hours. I closed my eyes and thought about my mother’s own hands, how they’d stroked our hair when we were young. When I opened my eyes the woman was smiling at me. She wanted me to guess her age. I calculated what I thought and added five more years. I was wrong. Ten years too young. Happily, she told me she’d spent her youth in Singapore but that she’d been careful to stay out of the sun. I told her that my sister and I had spent our youth at the beach but that we had also hidden from the sun, because we did not want our skin to get darker. At this, she nodded approvingly.
3. World Without Young People
We often wondered about the world and what it would be like without young people, and then one day they left us, and we were alone with our sore backs and wringing hands. We’re not sure where they went, but we know they won’t be coming back, and that no one else will replace them — they stopped having children long ago. When we remember what it was like when the young people were here, we can hardly believe that we miss them. Truly, it was intolerable. They rolled their eyes at us; they shook their heads; they thought they knew better. My god, those egos! The way they’d walk around with shirts untucked and underwear hanging out, the girls with their breasts spilling over. All that public kissing and licking, their “try before you buy” attitude to intimate relations. It made us squirm. Not to mention all that gender nonsense. All of a sudden boys couldn’t be men and girls refused to be ladies. The way they’d go about shouting and swearing. Just lousy, provocative behavior. Bad hair and bad attitudes to boot. Don’t get us started. They looked ridiculous, like something left over from the apocalypse. They looked like little cockroaches crawling out after a bomb. Incompetent, sullen, and mumbling — that’s how we remember them.
It’s true that as they grew older we hated them a little less, but only a little. It would be wrong of us to deny that we found some enjoyment in the problems they faced as adults. We can only say that it gave them a certain humility. But their problems became laughable. The sun, they said, was much too hot. The world, they said, was going to melt. Such waffle. They became opinionated and we grew bored. Where were their babies? It was selfish of them. That’s what we think: They were selfish to not give us grandchildren. Back when our children would visit, they’d bring us something nice to eat. But during conversations we felt their eyes drifting over our prized possessions, looking for things to steal. We had our suspicions and so we called the police. But the police were also young and quite obviously biased. It was after this that the young people insisted we start taking medicine; they took us to see doctors who were still in their diapers. We certainly didn’t take their little white pills. Our children fought with us and then they stopped visiting altogether. We thought we heard them late at night, creeping around our houses, looking at our things.
Not long after this they left for good. The streets are quiet, the shops are closed, the cinema stopped playing movies, all the remote controls are broken, our toenails need cutting, our backs need rubbing, our cupboards are empty, we’re short of breath and out of joint ointment, things need lifting.