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  • Writer's pictureThe Blue and White Magazine

Mother's Birthday

By Renny Gong



It’s my mother’s birthday. I call her to say, I’m gonna dress like a slut tonight. We switch to FaceTime so I can show her the fit. I’m so proud of you, she says. 


I’m supposed to meet up with friends inside, but when I walk in, I see you almost immediately, so I spin around and leave. 


Outside, shivering in the cold, I call M, but she’s already inside—maybe it’s too loud—so I call C, momentarily forgetting that she lost her phone last week. I want to call mother, but it’s her birthday, and I don’t want to soil her special day with this, so I call J, and then R, and then L, but nobody picks up, so I walk and walk until my face numbs, until I am so cold my fingers stop bending the way I want them to, until I am in Hell’s Kitchen, or maybe Midtown West, who knows. Some bullshit motherfuckers might even say Chelsea. It starts to rain ice. 


I duck into a bar called Clock and Crane—warm lighting, bottles of whiskey on the wall, lesbians everywhere. A man sits in the corner eating a massive chicken finger sub so structurally unsound that tendies fall out with every bite. 


Two Tequila Pineapples please. Strong and I’ll tip you more. I try talking to the bartender, but I can’t really follow. I keep saying, “What?” That distant hum grows louder—your half-smiling face through the crowd, those white pants I’d never seen before, that shirt I once held up to my face and sniffed until my breath ran out, the nape of your neck, the unfurling of our mattress, your sleeping form, the afternoon sunlight coming in. 


M calls, but I don't pick up. M calls again. Sorry, I text. Forgive me. I might be a while. 


Look me in the face, bartender. Now, Two Vodka Crans please. Strong. 


The next morning, I am doing okay. I am happy, even. I ended up in my own bed, that’s good. I write. It’s alright. I get lunch with M. I apologize. It’s all good. I try my best to learn how to strum a guitar and sing at the same time. I fail miserably. I make three hundred dollars. This is a lot of money. I am proud of myself. 


M says that we should go out. I think so, too. We go together, so she can keep an eye on me. M is so good to me. I cannot believe how good she is to me. On the train ride downtown she keeps an eye on me. In the club she keeps an eye on me. A girl falls on my shins. The biggest bouncer I’ve ever seen tries to get her out the door. She says, I’m fine. I’m fine. 


“Stop thinking!” M yells at one point. She slaps me across the chest. “Just for once, will you have some fun? Here, drink this.” 


“I’m not!” I yell. “I’m not.” I drink.


In line for the bathroom, I see you through the crowd. I see your friends, too. 


The bathroom is single use, thank god. I heave, but nothing comes. The sharpest loneliness is to cry in a new place. I hold on to the walls, wishing for a solid thing. I want to be home. No, I want to see someone, anyone at all. I try to think of something else, something that might press me in on all sides, something M said maybe, something mother said, but instead I think of that time you bit my lip so hard you drew blood and how nobody will ever bite me as hard and now the dude outside is banging on the door. 


Outside the club, the cold takes me by surprise. I call mother. Happy Birthday, ma, I say. It’s late where you are, she says. Are you outside? How much did you drink tonight? 


I didn’t drink at all tonight, I say, which is true, except for five bodega Fireball shooters, which by the way, if you didn’t already know, those things are like the scam of the century. They come in at 16.5%, so you’re basically taking little sips of wine. What unbelievable mockery of the shooter experience.


I make my way to the train station and transfer at Times Square. I take it all the way to the end, to Flushing, where mother lives. I knock on her door. Surprise! She cannot believe it, jumping up and down and hugging me so tightly. Ba! Look who's here! 


Ba stumbles out of the bedroom and has a big silly grin on his face. His glasses are kind of lopsided. Oh, you knew! mother says to him, and he smiles even bigger. 


Yeah, I told him beforehand, I say. Just to make sure you guys weren’t gonna be somewhere else. Look!


I brought wine! And cake! 


We sit down at the wobbly-ass table and I say, ma, there’s something else. 


Oh, enough with the surprises, she says, and they both lean in. 


I’m seeing someone, I say. A healthy pour for the three of us. You know how they say you’ll know when it happens? Well it happened. I laugh at how stupid I sound. I push through. What is it that they say? I could die right now. 


Oh, don’t say that, she says. 


No, ma. I promise you.


That night, I dream of the two of us in a dark room, laughing, talking again. Your mouth again. Complete relief. And upon waking—if you called then, I would have said, yes, yes. No, I would have kneeled in front of you and said, again. 


In the morning, I get out of the train station and you’re waiting for me. I’m so happy to see you. I have never felt happier, actually. We walk together the whole day. We pick out a plant for our apartment. We live together. We go to the stationary store. We sit at a nice cafe. There are so many things I have left to say to you still. 


At night, I leave my room. It’s nice out. Today will be better. I am getting better. I call mother. It’s her birthday today. She says don’t do it. 


How do you not understand, ma? I can’t stand another day of this. There’s nothing here anymore. I need to get out. I’m sleeping on the ground, ma. I’m cutting myself open. I’m screaming now.


Baba interrupts, gets on the phone. Stop yelling at your mother. And okay, but you can’t do it when you’re angry. Calm down for a few days. Think about it. Really think about it. If you do things in the heat of the moment, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.


Mother takes back the phone. She says don’t be a bitch. She says I love you. She says give it some more time. She says thank you for the birthday gifts. I show the bouncer, the biggest bouncer I’ve ever seen, my little paper bracelet, so I can go back inside. You’re waiting for me at the door, with flowers, with origami paper, with a knitted scarf, with green, the color green, with so much contempt in your eyes, with your hand on my tummy, telling me shh, shh. I kneel, like I said I would. 


It’s my mother’s birthday. I am calling her. This time, it’s different—I’m somewhere upstate, in an open field. What do you see? she says. 


There’s a dog. My dog, our dog, angry, feral, wet, gnawing on a bone. 


What else do you see? she says. There’s nothing else. So I say nothing. And she says nothing. We stay like that. 


Tell me something, I say finally. Will I ever find a way out of this? 


I feel so bad for her. She is trying so hard to say the right thing. I don’t know, she says. But what if you don’t? Find a way out of this, I mean. 


I think about this with my eyes squeezed shut. I think about this for a very long time. I am still thinking about this. Well, then I don’t want this, I say. I don’t want an open field. I don’t want something nice. I want it all back, just once more. 


I wait for her to say something. I hear nothing but wind. Mama? I ask. Are you still there?


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