The suicide rate of Palo Alto’s high schools is about five times the national average.
After six months, Mama buys a new bag of rice—weighing down her
shoulders on the way home. At once, she spills it all out on the kitchen table.
Say there are 100,000 grains here and say you are one. The marble countertop stands
between us. She bends over and holds a translucent pellet up to me, then throws it back
into the white mass, crashing down like a fist full of stones sinking into a river basin.
I forget that life is more than a granary.
The Caltrain blows in the distance, ghouling, strong enough for me to mistake it with the
perched fan—blustering its breath over us. The way the rice squirms becomes too familiar.
We exist. Silhouetted against the BigTech rail advertisements—remember, we are as
alive as the winter wind accompanying Baba’s nightly phone calls.
Mama tells me to clean up, so I spoon every grain back into the bag, double-checking that each
lands with the rest. Too early on, I assume I am too slow because
she slides her hand through to finish the job for me. Few fall on our
tiled floor and in a sweep, she tosses those in the bin—and like that—vaporized.
Mama, I could have been under the screeching metal—another body in that black mass.
A foot off the blacktop and my existence would linger in every direction. I can only
blame whatever configuration of stars that has placed us here—
far from hungry, but nonetheless, unfed. The absence of one, then another,
become ghosts in our classrooms that I am too scared to begin
counting. And too scared to ask Mama if she knows why. Often, I think
I should just accept the silence; a sickness passing through left to its own accord.
Like always, Mama scoops out three cups of rice for dinner and draws
water to her first knuckle. But the rice is too thick today: reminiscent of pumpkin millet,
of powdered chalk peppered into the wind from the names etched on our school steps.
Chalk carried by the train to Menlo Park, to San Antonio, to Sunnyvale,
over bodies too young to have fallen.
Sophia Liu is a Chinese-American writer and artist from New York. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Sheila-Na-Gig, opia, The Augment Review, Bitter Fruit Review, Lanke Review, and elsewhere. She has been recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, the National Council of Teachers of English, Cisco Writers Club, and Hollins University. She volunteers as a writing teacher for the Princeton Learning Experience and wants a pet cat.