All I can remember is Mother eating my necklace.
I do not remember leaving Vietnam. I do not remember the boat, no matter how small and stinky everyone said it was. I do not remember the night we hid in the jungle, even though everyone said to watch out for scorpions. I do not remember anything except that the necklace was my favorite thing in the world. Its slender body of flat gold links always caught the sun – tracing a halo around my neck. Dad said it made angels jealous of me.
After Bà had given me the necklace for my twelfth birthday, Mother took a stainless steel wire and twisted it through the clasp. She had said it would keep me from ever losing Grandmother’s necklace.
“Hurry, go call Anh Bình and Chị Phôi.” Mother told me. I ran out into the field and found my older brother and sister busy pitting their crickets against each other.
“Má said to come home.” I said to my brother. He pushed me aside and shouted at his cricket to kick more butt. My sister caught me by the arm so I would not fall over. She reached out to snatch my brother’s ear. He yelped and I laughed as she pulled him away.
Inside the house, we watched as Mother rushed about, throwing all of the jewelry onto the kitchen table. Some of the rings and bracelets I had never seen before. My sister helped Mother sort the jewelry into smaller piles.
“Children, do as I say. Men are coming, and they do not like people to have nice things like gold. We are leaving with Daddy when he comes home. We can only bring some of these with us.”
“Má, are we going to Nha Trang?” I asked. I loved Nha Trang. I learned how to swim there and can still remember how the warm Eastern Sea washed my young skin.
“No.” Mother said.
“Is Bà coming with us?” I worried about Grandma.
“No. We are going on a boat and it will take us to a better place.”
I looked around our home and tried to imagine the better place. Would it have crickets for us to catch? Monsoons for us to play in? Red dirt to stain our feet? Was it Nha Trang?
Then Mother filled some glasses with water and set them on the table. She picked up a ring, put it into her mouth and drank it down with a few gulps of water. I thought she was taking medicine until my sister and brother did the same.
I watched them eat gold and jade, and I started to cry.
Mother swallowed a short necklace and coughed, spitting water out from between her pressed lips. Her eyes became red and her face became purple. She drank a whole glass and breathed heavily.
When my brother took a necklace, Mother grabbed it out of his hand.
I touched the necklace around my throat. Mother noticed and tried to unwind the steel wire. Although she barely touched my skin, I could feel her rough hands struggle. The necklace tingled me as it squirmed in Mother’s fingers. When I was younger, I had felt a little snake slip over my bare foot. I began to panic and had to remind myself there was really no snake over my collar.
The wire had cut some of Mother’s fingertips. At first I squealed and thought they were snakebites, but then reminded myself again. She wiped the blood off onto her pants and washed my halo in a shallow dish basin. It felt strange to have nothing tug at my neck anymore. I rubbed my throat – looking for gold. Then Mother looked at me. She tore the wire off the necklace and beckoned me over.
“Will you let Má keep this for you?” She asked.
I could not say anything. I just stared at it, and at the blood dripping out of her fingers into the basin.
“Má will keep it safe until we are safe again.” She promised. I nodded and watched her head lean back. Her hand dangled the shimmering string over her lips, and then she dipped it into her mouth.
That is all I can remember.
I do not even remember the storm that drowned Mother in the sea, even though everyone said I watched and cried.
Copyright © 2009 Evan Pham