by Jen Soong
February 1, 2022
Dear Xiao Pang,
Too many years have passed, decades now. You probably not recognize me. Old man with shiny head. Lao tao. Less hair, more belly fat. Intermittent fasting no good. Weak eyes, fixed cataracts. Hearing fine. That mean I can’t turn down dial on wife, always nagging me. Memory fading. Too bad they don’t sell memory pills at Costco.
Remember our last conversation? Year of the Fire Pig. You, bragging about how it was your turn to kill the pig for your family’s New Year’s feast. You claimed you could do it much swifter than your brother. Your eyes, shiny like flashlights. Your hands going swish-swoosh through the air, master butcher wielding an imaginary knife.
I was always hungry back then, rumbling belly. Our cupboards bare, yours full of treats: persimmons, crackers, bāozi. I taste your excitement. Winner, winner. Every time you beat me in basketball. I replay my mistakes at night in bed. Too short, too slow, too stupid. My old man told me, stick to books. His belt was loud. He said your father show off, greedy loudmouth. He think it more honorable lose his earnings at the opium den, slippery like a silverfish. It didn’t matter. There was no way out of the village for me.
On New Year’s Eve, I snuck over, cloaked in darkness and threw the wood axe I stole from Fat Liu over your fence. The chickens scattered, an owl warned of a raid. No one home, you all still at your cousin’s party. The pig awoke with the first blow, shrieking like a train whistle. Every hair on my body, electrified. I used all my might, striking over and over at the heart—blood, intestines, skin bits spewing everywhere—but it took a long time for that stupid pig to die. After what felt like hours, I was covered in blood and mud, smelled like urine and death. A foul victory, hollow inside.
Yes. It was me, your best friend. I killed your pig. Me, jealous of your fast feet, your good smelling kitchen, your clean future in the capital. Your family move away after that. You no say goodbye. I heard your father was frightened of mafia revenge hunting since a band of murderers had pillaged your feast. Something died in me too. I quit basketball, no competition no fun anymore. Studied till the old man died and then studied some more until finally earned a bus ticket to the big city. He never imagine I’d get golden ticket to America. My pantry is stocked but I still think about those lean years.
Sometimes I still hear the pig’s shrieks in my dreams. Pitiful, sorry squeals. Anyway, I saved you from years of torture. Happy New Year, old friend. Year of the Tiger. Don’t worry. No tigers to hunt anymore.
The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Jen Soong grew up in New Jersey and now lives in Northern California. An alum of Tin House and VONA, her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Audacity, Jellyfish Review, Cosmonauts Avenue and Waxwing. She received her MFA in creative writing from UC Davis. Her memoir-in-progress is a reckoning of myth, migration and memory. Find her work at jensoong.com.