map Home Is Where the Heart Is

by Allison Li

Published in Issue No. 252 ~ May, 2018

You live in a city where food poisoning is commonplace. Granddad tells you that the ice blocks you drool over are made from footbath water. It doesn’t stop you from eyeing the popsicles your classmates are devouring, but you dare not take a bite. The protocol is flipped sideways when you cut your arm on a rusty nail and receive the most painful bum jab one can be subject to in life. You drag your dead legs behind you, pigtails shaking, while your arm throbs like a live thing. Granddad takes one look at your misery and escorts you to the department store. Moments later, you are holding strawberry ice-cream in your hand, everything else forgotten.

The public park is the closest thing to nature in your industrialized hometown. Grandma sees the way your eyes light up when you sniff the peach blossoms and takes you to see them every day. You seize her hand in excitement, scamper up the hill, but lose your footing and the two of you roll down in a heap. It is not until you return home that you realize grandma is scratched and bruised. You are sore all over and wonder why she is smiling. She produces from her bag as if it were a magical hat, branches of the fragrant blossoms you adore. Teary-eyed, you pick out the leaves that are still sticking out of her hair.

Dark skinned and wrinkly, you do not look like much for a baby. Your face is made up of fishing line eyes, a pudgy nose, and a mouth large enough to swallow the globe. It doesn’t help that grandpa makes a habit of shaving off your hair so your head is cooler in the summer heat. Each morning, Grandma feeds you a revolting mixture of boiled egg yolk and milk– the ultimate brain food, or so she insists. You learn from early on that looks doesn’t matter and go through life to beautify your spirit.

Your grandparents call you their ugly duckling but hold you dearer than a princess. Their love has no limit and does not expect anything in return. As you mix their ashes together to scatter into the sea, you think that you have been born a generation too late.


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Allison was born in China but is a kiwi at heart and calls Auckland her home. She studied psychology at university and currently works in the caring profession. Her writings have appeared in Potroast, Landfall, Blackmail Press, and The Cortland Review.