**** Inhumanimal ****

Official website of Devin Hansen


| Published 2006 |

It was raining when we walked to Yong’s Restaurant. Anna was on my shoulders. She held the umbrella while I held her shins.

The wind kept turning the nylon umbrella into a tulip and we had to stop twice to fix its skeleton. Realign the membrane. Which was just enough to cover my daughter and my shoulders.

Anna was smiling through it all. And laughing. Partly at my wet misfortune, but mostly because we were on one of our daddy-daughter adventures. This time to seek out her favorite meal. Spicy chicken from Yong’s, where the air was oily, and all the tables were within spitting distance of the wok.

When we walked in Mrs. Yong scowled at my soggy clothing and bloodshot eyes. I set down Anna and shook the umbrella. The tiny woman let out a sigh, and glared at the puddle we left.

We went to the counter. Even Anna’s four-year old smile couldn’t break the woman’s frown.

Mr. Yong waved at us from the kitchen. As usual he was sweating over a trio of hot woks. He gave a wide, squinty grin to Anna.

“Number 14?” Mrs. Yong said more than asked. Her vocabulary was small, but her memory was stellar.

“Yeah, the General Tso’s Chicken, and–” I scanned the wall-to-wall menu hanging overhead. It was full of faded stock photos of Chinese dishes, and held together with invisible tape. Some of the photos were mismatched and the tape had yellowed.

“And then I think we’ll have — umm — some crab rangoon…”

Anna panted like a puppy dog, saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

I smiled. Mrs. Yong didn’t. Then I added, “–and two lemonades please.”

She screamed the order back to her husband, though he was just a few feet away. Then she scooped ice into two big cups.

Anna began to sing and twiddle her fingers in the air. A young couple, the only other customers in the restaurant, giggled at her antics.

Mrs. Yong put our drinks on the counter and told me the total. I reached into my wallet.

There was only one bill. And it wasn’t big enough.

“Um, can we cancel the lemonades please,” I whispered.

The woman’s face scrunched as she poured our drinks down the drain.

Anna kept singing to herself. Oblivious.

Mrs. Yong told me the new total.

Still too much!

“Can we skip the crab rangoon too?” I said humbly.

“No rangoon! He no money again!”

Mr. Yong nodded his head. The young couple went quiet.

Anna stopped singing and looked up at me. A puppy dog again, but this time not happy.

“I’m sorry, baby.  Daddy thought he had more money.”

I wanted to crawl into myself. Take back the last few hours. Get back the dollars I dropped on liquor and empty laughs.

“That’s ok, Daddy,” she said. “Can we still have the chicken?”

“Yeah, baby,” I sighed. “We can have the chicken.”

Mrs. Yong handed us two paper cups of water.

We walked through the five-table restaurant, past the young couple and their big trays of food. Plates that reached from shoulder-to-shoulder filled with fried rice, battered meat, and eggrolls.

Anna hurried to “our” booth by the front window. The furthest from the heat of the kitchen.

She smiled as we talked about the animal zodiac on our placemats. She laughed when I told her, yet again, that I was born in the year of the dog.

She reveled. I reveled. Soon she forgot about the rangoon.

But I didn’t.

The young couple got up. No take-home bags. No little cartons of rice for tomorrow. They walked by us, the young girl stopping to admire her own reflection in the window. She smoothed one hand across her belly, then chirped goodbye to Anna and followed her boyfriend to the car.

I downed my water and headed to the counter for a refill, slowly passing by the couple’s plates to see what they had left. Amidst the scraps of rice and half-eaten eggrolls, I found two rangoon. Two glorious fried moons stuffed with cream cheese and pink fish. Untouched. Unsauced. Sitting and waiting for me to toss them into a napkin and present to Anna.

I went to the counter, and looked back to make sure Anna was distracted. She was coloring on the placemat with the pink crayon from her pocket.

Mrs. Yong refilled my water and hurried away.

I grabbed a napkin from the counter and shot a wink to Mr. Yong. He smiled as he tossed our broccoli and chicken. He was a chef and a juggler.

I unfolded the napkin and turned for my salvage. To thieve the leftovers and save my fatherly honor.

But there was Mrs. Yong, clearing the table and grinning at me. Deviously. The rangoon crushed between the heavy plates. Mashed in sauce and rice and noodles.

I wanted to kick that smug little face.

“You food be ready in-a minute,” she said.

She knew. She smelled me. She knew that stench of cigarettes and beer. She knew why I had to deny my daughter. And now she was making me pay.

I slowly walked back to Anna.

“Look, Daddy,” she said proudly, showing me the placemat and the stub of her crayon. There were pink stripes on the tiger. Pink scales of the dragon. Pink fur on the terrier of my birth year.

“That’s nice, Baby,” I managed to say. “Good job.”

Sometimes her innocence made me want to cry.

Mr. Yong appeared at our table. A plate of steaming chicken in one hand. A small take-home box in the other.

He set the big plate in front of Anna. The box in front of me.

“Thank you, princess” he bowed and went back to the kitchen.

Anna began to spear pieces of chicken with the sharp end of her chopsticks.

I opened the box. Inside were three golden rangoon. I set one crispy piece in front of her and she squealed.

A joyful laugh came from the kitchen, followed by a bit of  shouting. But the Yong’s spat didn’t last long.

My daughter and I smiled at each other. Listened to the koto music. I ate the pieces of chicken she didn’t want. The ones that were too ugly or spicy.

“I love this dinner, Daddy.”

I smiled.

That was all I needed.


Categorized as: Fiction

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