Her skin was the color of the old catfish that my father dredged from the bottom of the lake. Her skin was like its skin: mottled and blotchy, a yellow bruise. The yellow-browns and the brown-yellows leaked like watercolor. She said she had been playing so hard at the pool; she said she had just been flirting so much at the pool and had just splashed around and jumped around in the water too hard and that’s why she had such a blossoming of splotches.
My mother and BaNoi grind the pork into the little baby pool; sister and I smash the garlic with the mortar and pestle and throw it in, too. Fishsauce and rice and all afternoon, BaNoi and my mother at it with a funnel and chopstick stuffing the sausages.
All afternoon, even the chickens and the seesaw and the canna lilies so dizzy; the toadstool so dizzy; the pompous grass—such a little breeze to ruffle it up today—so dizzy; the bee bush so dizzy.
In Thai, noi means a small thing, a very small thing.
Our Pekinese has puppies; our Pekinese has twelve puppies. We keep the twelfth one, because, mom says, she once had a twelfth sibling who disappeared into the jungle after she was bit by too many mosquitoes. She names the puppy Twelve-Twelve.
In BaNoi’s backyard, the chickens tipped over their blood as they ran; the heads were worms by her feet.
BaNoi was only 4’11”. She got up and danced, made hollering noises in front of everyone in the theatre when she took us to see Cheech and Chong.
I know now that one does not die from alcoholism, but rather from complications from alcoholism. We were not allowed to see her; our father kept us in the waiting room.
She will let me play in her life-sized doll’s dress, all satin and lace and ruffles; she will want me to let her kiss and smell me. She will tell her son to beat her daughter’s forehead against the nail in the wall; she will take the cleaver and bring it down hard on her daughter’s arm; she will lock her daughter up in her room, make her drink water only from the bathroom; when she finds out, when she finds out that her daughter has been sneaking some sweet cupcake topping from the pantry, she will make her daughter a bowl of noodles and dump each and every sweet bottle of candy beads and candy sprinkles and colored sugar into her noodles, and we will just sit there and watch her eat.
She takes up the meat cleaver and brings it down hard on the chickens’ necks; the neighbors have complained about her chickens, so she is bringing the cleaver down hard on their necks.
BaNoi wants Twelve-Twelve; she wants Twelve-Twelve more than anything so my mother gives her Twelve-Twelve even though she has named the puppy for a dead sibling.
She was too sick to even cast her fishing pole; we had to turn around and go home.
Her son whispered to us: I saw a body with a piece of paper tied to its toe.
In her home country, that is just how it is: everyone has chickens; everyone is hanging pork and rice sausages to cure in the sun.
When I am older, I meet the son that she left in that country.
We were not allowed to go in and see her; we were not allowed to go to the funeral; we were never taken to place orchids on her cemetery stone.
Noi means a small thing, a very small thing.
Mother says she would not like to die in this country; she says that when she dies, if she should die here, please take her home; she does not like what they do to dead bodies in this country; she says she will need monks to help carry her home.
When I am stung by the bee, it is BaNoi who, despite the blood on her hands, holds me.
This winter, shortly before Christmas, BaNoi’s daughter shares a picture of her mother’s cemetery stone. On it is a name I never knew BaNoi carried; it says Choom; she carried this name to her grave. She wasn’t even buried with her proper Thai name; Choom is also merely a nickname; it means something like a refreshing wetness. She loved to drink; she loved to fish; I don’t know what to do with this.
Jenny Boully is the author of not merely because of the unknown that was stalking toward them, The Book of Beginnings and Endings, [one love affair]*, and The Body: An Essay. She has a book of verse and prose poetry forthcoming from Coconut Books. She lives in Chicago and teaches nonfiction and poetry at Columbia College Chicago.
Artwork by Gabrielle Katina