pages Water Hands

by Lucy Zhang

Published in Issue No. 288 ~ May, 2021

Because my hands turned into water, I asked my mother to hang a bucket on each arm for my hands to rest without spilling. I set the buckets on the kitchen table, a cedar top stained with simplified Chinese characters, back from when I’d keep sheets of vocabulary under the clear table cover, spending mealtime cramming for quizzes. Mother scooped rice into my bowl and plucked bits of duck dipped in chili oil with her chopsticks, dabbing them on the side of the sauce plate before resting them on top of the rice. She selected a few strands of the greenest gai lan decorated with minced garlic and placed them next to the duck. I opened my mouth and she fed me with her chopsticks. I waited quietly as she assembled the next mouthful, staring at her bowl, the rice at the surface drying out, hot steam no longer floating up into oblivion. When I finished eating, she followed me to my room where she helped pull my dress over my head and folded back the duvet so I could lay on the mattress. I sat the buckets on the floor and climbed into bed, using my elbows to pull myself up. I felt stupid, like a penguin flopping on land, inefficient and non-aerodynamic and in no way built for this world. Mother unraveled the covers back over me and flicked off the lights. This was my favorite part of the day: watching light creep in from the door crevasses, counting the steady blinks of the carbon monoxide detector, letting moonlight conjure shadows from the face-changing Sichuan opera dolls standing on my drawer, colorful plastic bodies faded to black silhouettes, pressing my elbows into the mattress so the water leaking from my wrists percolated to one place. The sheets grew damp beneath me and the next morning, I sniffed my arms and shirt to confirm that I hadn’t wet the bed. I rolled out of bed and hung my arms over the buckets, waiting for the water to drain. When mother held my sweater up so I could wriggle my arms through, my sleeves hung a bit longer over my ulna compared to yesterday. I’m shrinking like you, I told mother whose vertebrae of discs had surely already dehydrated and compressed, transformed from petite to dwarf. She lifted the buckets over my shoulders; it was getting precarious with them balancing in my elbow joints, who knew when those would go too. Like every morning, she pestered me to learn to use dictation features so I could type even though I hated speaking out loud, and I reminded her that I didn’t have a job anymore—the computer was just a chunk of metal serving as storage space for family photos. Mother said I was like my grandparents, unwilling to learn anything new, especially when it had to do with technology. What did it matter, I wondered. We walked down the stairs to the kitchen. The carpet had recently been replaced with hardwood so it’d be easier to sweep, easier to slip. Mother gripped my elbow and waist as we descended, buckets swinging steadily below my armpits like she thought I wouldn’t be able to catch myself if I fell like I’d leak away before her own Move Free-fueled joints finally decided to yield.




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Lucy Zhang writes, codes and watches anime. Her work has appeared in Superstition Review, Midway Journal, Hobart and elsewhere, and was selected for Best Microfiction 2021 and Best Small Fictions 2021. She edits for Barren Magazine, Heavy Feather Review and Pithead Chapel. Find her at or on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.