Author: Tai Dong Huai
Tai Dong Huai’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Smokelong Quarterly, elimae, Pindeldyboz, Thieves Jargon, Apple Valley Review, Annalemma, Wigleaf, Word Riot, 971 Menu, rumble, Hobart,
and other terrific places. Her 2008 story, “Scent,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
My best friend, Lily Zhu Silberman, won’t take off her costume. She’s dressed as a cowgirl, and last night at our school’s Halloween Treat Street, Ms. LaMonica told her she looked “like a picture torn from the American West.”
“I always wanted to look American,” Lily tells me on the bus ride home.
“You’re Chinese,” I remind her. “An adoptee just like me.”
“But I look American,” she says.
Lily continues to wear her costume the next day as well. The pink felt cowgirl hat, the brown vinyl fringed skirt, the white western shirt with the embroidered red roses and phony rhinestones, and the black rubber boots I recognize from last winter.
“Some of the other fifth graders are starting to say stuff,” I report at dinner that night.
“I’m surprised her mother hasn’t stepped in,” my adoptive dad says as he leans across the table to spear a baked potato.”
“A good thing she hasn’t,” my adoptive mom says. “It could have lasting impact on the poor girl’s self-image.”
“There should be a man in that house,” my father says, but he knows better than to push the point.
It’s Thursday, four straight days as a cowgirl, and Lily refuses to take off her costume even for gym. She does put on sneakers and lets the cowgirl hat hang back between her shoulder blades—supported by the cord around her neck. When she does jumping jacks, her fringe skirt flies up and her non-western underpants show, with "Hello Kitty" stenciled across her bottom.
Then, during recess on Friday, tragedy. People have had all they can bear. I’m with my music teacher at the time, whining about not being first violin, so I only know what I hear in the girls’ room later that day. What I hear is that some of the other girls, led by Megan Spitz, cornered Lily on the playground. One of them shook a can of grape soda and sprayed it all over her white blouse. Another grabbed the fringe on the bottom of her skirt and tore straight up. “At least she changed her underpants,” somebody laughed. Megan, herself, knocked the hat from Lily’s head, and the other girls took turns stomping on it. By the time a monitor showed up, there was little to be done.
On the bus home, Lily is hurt but dignified. She’s been given "lender clothes," plucked right from the school’s Lost & Found—a pair of paisley pants two sizes too big, and a t-shirt that says, PINOCHLE—IT’S A GREAT DEAL. I put my arm around her.
“Feeling all right?” I ask.
She rests her head on my shoulder and sighs. “Feeling Chinese,” she answers.