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Sauce on the Walls Shu-Huei Henrickson I left my parents' house more than ten years ago, but, if I choose to, I can stfll recaU with nostalgia the place I used to caU home. I remember the smeU ofmildew; I remember the smeU oflaundry dried in the sun; I remember the smeU of dust on the curtains; I remember the smeUs of Ma's cooking . Yet some things have a way of making one remember specific events. Many times, as I fly home to the island of Taiwan, instead of seeing the crowded strip of plain on the west coast or the foam racing up and receding offthe shore, dense smog clouds my vision, and aU I see are grayish contours ofthe sharp rises ofthe rugged central ridge. The vague outUne ofthe mountaintops attempting to jut through the thick waUs of smog always reminds me of the two times I tried to drive Ma out of our house. The first time was after she had been having an affair. I was a senior in high school. Many times I would come home from school around six and find her chatting and giggfing softly into the phone. NormaUy Ma was not a soft person. Whenever a customer failed to pay us what he owed, Ma would get on the phone to demand the payment. And when Ma was on the phone, she was brief, assertive, confident, even aggressive. Ma could reaUy raise her voice when she wanted to. She would even jump onto her bicycle, ride over to the villain's house, and buUy him and his wife for the payment. Ba was not like Ma. If Ma was a feisty goose, Ba was a meek duck. AU he could do was complain about customers; Ma would straighten things out. So after I had seen her talking softly into the phone a few times, I became suspicious. I would walk back and forth behind her whüe she was on the phone. I began to notice a pattern ofbehavior: she would glue her Ups to the mouthpiece , raise her shoulders, and let her hair half cover her face. Ma normaUy had her hair tugged behind her ears, Uke in her pictures. Sometimes, whüe she was so pleased with whatever she heard over the phone with her seducer, 13 14Fourth Genre she gathered up strands of hair to twiddle with. The girfish twiddUng made her look like a teenager. I would sneak up to the entrance of the kitchen, hide myselfbehind the waU, and try to Usten in on the conversation. Most of the time, I couldn't catch much ofwhat she said because she was talking ever so softly into the phone. But the few phrases I caught were enough for me to confirm my suspicion. It embarrassed me to hear them. She said things like "Never say never," or "Please, don't say good-bye," and, here is the worst one, "I love the way you smeU." I wondered what kind ofcologne he wore. It had to be cologne. He had to be a foppish rake because ordinary Taiwanese men did not wear perfume. Those courting phrases no longer embarrass me, for I have seen enough movies and soap operas and have been infatuated with a few men. But I was just a high school student, and I hadn't gone out with anyone yet. Back then they taught us abstinence, not safe sex. I was disgusted, appaUed, and infuriated by her infidelity. ? Ba didn't know yet. At that time he had two jobs. He had a drugstore, and he was a sales representative for a pharmaceutical company seUing cough medicine to drugstores and hospitals. He would start making his sales rounds late in the afternoon and didn't come home until around eight. Ma always made sure she got offthe phone early enough to prepare dinner. I was furious at her, and I let her know it, too. I looked contemptuously at her. I didn't talk to her unless I absolutely had to. I remember refusing to have dinner a couple of times. It was difficult not to eat her dinners; they made me hungry...


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pp. 13-25
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