Lisa watches her name get crossed off the payroll list. “Last one hired, first one fired,” her boss says, adjusting the tortoiseshell glasses sliding down her nose. “Budget cuts.”
Lisa holds back the tears, staring instead at the carrot orange stains covering her hands. How would she tell her daughter? Will Ma have to bail her out?
Her boss glances up. “What are you waiting for?”
“I was just leaving, ma’am.” Lisa lowers her eyes as she backs out the door.
She makes her way down the dingy hall to the “employees’ quarters,” a tiny cubicle of a room adjacent to the kitchen. Gleaming metal lockers line one wall, but Monroe Senior Home didn’t provide a unit for her belongings. Her battered brown purse lies in the corner, hidden by a hamper of dirty linens. She pulls off her own food-splattered emerald apron and drops it into the bin, feeling a twinge of regret; the fabric boasts one of the few colors that complement her yellow Asian skin.
As the apron lands there for the last time, she notices her nametag pinned to the fabric. It’s a hideous beige plastic chunk with her name embossed in 40-point font, the letters already fading from a year’s worth of service. Still, it’s hers, so she yanks it off. She can add it to the collection of souvenirs from her other failed jobs: the parking attendant’s neon orange vest, the grocer’s puce uniform, and the frayed poodle skirt from the 1950’s diner.
She passes through the dining room one more time before leaving. She hears the usual complaints from the grumpy residents about the filet mignon lunch: the bloody lump of meat, its rubber taste, and the home’s lack of vegetarian options. Nobody seems to enjoy their meal at Monroe Senior Home. Instead, diners feel obligated to gripe about their entrees and demand customized food. For the amount their families pay for the private housing, she supposes that the residents have the right to alter their menus. As their grumblings fill up her head, she’s glad she’s no longer a kitchen helper.
She pauses at the receptionist’s desk. Tina, a pert blonde, has always been nice to Lisa. Plus, the receptionist keeps an excellent stash of chocolate mints in her desk drawer which she’s invited Lisa to share in. Tina’s not around, and Lisa assumes that she’s busy escorting a rich family for a tour of the grounds. It’ll take a while because the two-story mansion boasts multiple private suites and an elaborate French garden.
Lisa grabs a handful of mints from the drawer. Since they won’t be giving me a good-bye gift, I’ll get my own. She spies two blank memo pads with the elegant Monroe Senior Home insignia and swipes them. She spots a couple of file folders underneath and takes those as well. She’s always liked the client file folders with their creamy vanilla exterior and their multiple interior flaps. Maybe she could use one as a career portfolio. At thirty-two, she still has time to excel at something. In fact, she plans to polish her résumé at once. With the new elegant carrier, she’s bound to secure a dozen job offers in no time. She smiles all the way back home, through the twenty-minute bus ride on the sputtering Fairview Express, the sole public transportation in town.
Her optimism diminishes as she enters her studio apartment. Tomato sauce-stained napkins from last night’s dinner drown the coffee table. The nearby ratty black sofa that her daughter sleeps on remains clear and unsoiled, though. Lisa’s own full-sized bed in the corner unveils rumpled bed sheets and a heap of old, unwashed clothes.
She walks over to the neglected (and therefore) gleaming kitchen. Perching on one of the barstools, she runs her hand down the cool, clean white-tiled countertop. Maybe I’ll use one of the creamy folders to store gourmet recipes. Abbey could use a decent home-cooked meal for a change.
When she picks up one of the folders to start her recipe list, she’s surprised to see the neat typewriting. “The Chens” covers the upper-right hand corner. Under the label, a large sticky note dated 3/18/80, from three days ago, reads, “Tina, Jack is missing. Please locate him.”
The file contains information on Jack and Fei Chen, one of the few couples who live at Monroe Senior Home. Now that she thinks about it, Lisa hasn’t seen Mr. Chen in awhile, but she remembers his yellowed tea drinker’s smile. He was one of the few seniors who actually thanked Lisa for her efforts. She wonders if his gratitude had anything to do with her ethnicity, since Fairview contains few Asians. No, she’s seen Mr. Chen complimenting the other kitchen helpers and staff around Monroe Senior Home, too.
She scrunches her eyes as she attempts to picture Fei Chen. She recalls an impression of a flighty woman with near-translucent skin stretched across her bony figure. She didn’t see Mrs. Chen in the dining room often. Lisa asked Mr. Chen about it once, and he had shrugged his shoulders. “She doesn’t like to sit still for very long,” he’d said. Without fail, though, Mr. Chen always asked for a second portion of lunch to bring back to his wife.
She taps the closed file with her fingertips. I’ll need to let Tina know. She’ll understand that it was all a mistake. I didn’t take sensitive information on purpose. Besides, she shouldn’t keep client info lying around in her drawer anyway. She picks up the phone to call but stops when she hears the key turn in the lock. Her daughter enters with her shiny obsidian hair and high cheekbones, looking like a younger and more famished version of Lisa. “Mom, I’m starving,” Abbey says.
Lisa peeks at the clock. It’s six, and Abbey’s spent the last three hours studying and completing homework after school was dismissed. She gives her daughter a guilt-stricken look and studies the refrigerator’s contents. Nothing in there except a half-gallon of questionable milk. She opens the freezer to check its supplies and sees a package of fish sticks. She grimaces but turns to face Abbey with a fake grin, showing her the ice-covered box. “I can heat these up in the microwave real quick, dear.”
Abbey tries to hide her sigh. “That’s okay, Mom. I’ll dial.” Her daughter picks up the phone and proceeds to place their usual order with Antonio’s Pizzeria. I guess the gourmet meals will have to wait until tomorrow.
Martin Sisters Publishing (7/25/2013)
Three generations in an all-female Taiwanese family living near Los Angeles in 1980 are each guarding personal secrets. Grandmother Silk finds out that she has breast cancer, as daughter Lisa loses her job, while pre-teen granddaughter Abbey struggles with a school bully. When Silk’s mysterious past comes out—revealing a shocking historical event that left her widowed—the truth forces the family to reconnect emotionally and battle their problems together.
A novel of cultural identity and long-standing secrets, The 228 Legacy weaves together multigenerational viewpoints, showing how heritage and history can influence individual behavior and family bonds. (ISBN#9781625530394, 322pp, $16.95 Paperback, $6.99 eBook)
About the Author: Jennifer J. Chow, an Asian-American writer, holds a Bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and a Master’s in Social Welfare from UCLA. Her geriatric work experience has informed her stories. She lives near Los Angeles, California.
Her fiction has appeared in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, IdeaGems Magazine, and Mouse Tales Press. Her Taiwanese-American novel, The 228 Legacy, made it to the second round of the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest and was published by Martin Sisters Publishing in August 2013.
Buy the Book:
$16.95 Paperback, $6.99 eBook