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Aki
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AKI / Kathryn Burak AKI LEANS OVER the steaming bowl. The dashi is the color of tea. She watches several oil blobs float on the surface, gently change shape, combine, as she stirs the soup, as she touches her spoon to the tiny circles of green onion that float to the top. The steam smells like nothing but heat. She sips from the spoon. It is without much flavor, but warm, and has an edge of smoke and metal. The taste after fish. She stares off, distracted by a sudden movement in the yellow leaves outside the kitchen window. They will be off the trees soon, she knows. "You'll get used to it," her father says, a kind of smile at the edges of his lips. His voice is soft and low. "And I'll get to be a better chef," he says. She nods back. It is not in the unwinding sense of absence in the house but in the flavor of the everyday food she eats that she misses her mother the most, her mother gone four months. "It's not bad," she says, but she does not look at him and he has begun to learn what this means to her. He looks at the top of her head, her dark hair. "Ice cream for dessert," he says. "Store bought." Then they smile at each other, the father clearing the table efficiently. After dinner, Aki sits in her room, all of her books opened, but piled on top of one another: History, English, Algebra, Biology. In order of what she enjoys. History is first. She notices her face in the mirror across the room. It is a face she almost does not recognize in this light: eyes, nearly invisible nose, straight line for lips. It could be her mother's face as it is in her memory now, a face with indistinct features. She remembers the sound of her mother, her mother's voice, though, and sometimes thinks she hears it in another part of the house or outside, beyond the walls and windows. But the sound is always an animal or a stranger in the distance along the street, or a pan her father has dropped. In the furo tub at her grandmother's ranch, soaking, there with her mother, in the barn in the deep wooden tub, she can remember her mother's voice was odd, empty as any sound over water. The Missouri Review · 267 "They call these hot tubs now," her mother said, her voice bordered with its own echo. "They give them out on the Price is Right." Her mother sat next to her there in the large wooden tub, the tub big enough for five people to sit in with a bench along the sides. Aki looked around the barn; she can remember doing it: looking at the high ceiling, the hay loft, the person-sized tires on the tractor, looking hard at anything, on purpose. She remembers the water as almost unbearably hot, feeling the water in her throat, lungs, as if it had permeated her skin, was absorbed into her organs, was inside every cell. She waved the water around in front of her to circulate it, to cool it, the current renewing the shock of the heat on her skin all over her body. Through the corner of her eye she could see her mother resting her neck back on the rim of the tub, leaning her head back, closing her eyes— was she resting or giving up, her arms at her sides? Aki could see the scar near her mother's shoulder, then—a scar, like a patterned ridge, a line of little chew marks running down her left side, that seemed to swallow her left breast. The other breast was round, sort of droopy—normal, with a dark brown nipple: alone it seemed more strange on her mother's body than the missing breast and the long repetition of the stitching that was like a relief map in the skin. Aki watched the woman as she rested her head back, as the woman ran her fingers from the top of the scar down until the hand...