Is the rose stuffed in an Oi Ocha bottle.
Is the first blood, but not those after, oxidized and darkened. Her body moves slower than it should, faster than she’d like, trying to clasp time in cuffs.
Is the color of the qipao she wore to her wedding banquet, after peeling off the white organza dress, after strangling her waist with an elastic band. The strapless bodice skirts her bare shoulders, a reminder of what she lacks.
Is the lobster after it has been steamed, crustacyanin unveiled, astaxanthin released. Not everything dies pretty, she tells her daughter who thinks Sleeping Beauty is dead. She dreams about scratching at a board, her body wrapped in twenty layers of silk, sealed in four coffins, one enclosing the other, her stomach full of melon seeds that sprout and slip through the cracks in her body so they can grow.
Is the parasol she holds over her head to block the sun. She pulls her daughter tight to her body, under the refuge of shade, but her daughter wrenches herself free and skips into the UV. Your skin will grow spots, she warns. Like tapioca pearls floating in milk. Like frog eggs abandoned in pools of water, cradled by the bromeliad plant. Why do you have to carry that thing out, her daughter says.
Is the bracelet her daughter wears when it’s the Year of the Ox, her zodiac year. The bracelet is from grandmother, but the only reason it gets worn is because it’s too difficult to take off. At the end of the year, her daughter cuts it off with a Swiss Army knife. Says it gets stuck in zippers and hair.
Is the last blood and all those before. Her limbs combust at night and she pulls herself out of bed, opens a computer, looks up pink bibs and pink stuffed toys for her daughter’s baby shower, decides on a crimson set that might be more gender-neutral. She scavenges the cabinets for dried ginseng root and honey dates. Packages them in a box. Tapes on a mailing address label. Wonders if her daughter’s body has begun to burn, when she’ll realize it was always burning.
I wrote “Qualia” after reading too many research papers on quantum theory, artificial intelligence and consciousness. Qualia became a focal point to reflect on a conversation I recently had with my mom about life as a daughter, wife and mother, and my memories of growing up as a second generation American.
Lucy Zhang writes, codes and watches anime. Her work has appeared in Midway Journal, Hobart, The Cortland Review, Invisible City and elsewhere and is included in Best Microfiction 2021 and Best Small Fictions 2021. She edits for Barren Magazine, Heavy Feather Review and Pithead Chapel. Find her at kowaretasekai.wordpress.com or on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.