—for Kif Augustine, written at the Linden Center
At the Bai family wedding puffed kernals of rice floated to the top of the glass of rice wine we were handed, bobbed against our lips when we drank. The groom’s retinue of pink-balloon-festooned cars weaved through the cobbled streets prepared to answer absurd questions: What food flavor does she like best? What was her favorite cartoon growing up? What bra size does she wear? Until his answers, and red moneyed envelopes slipped beneath the door, secured her release. But then he’d have to seek out the missing shoe-Cinderella’s fella—ransack the house with praises for her delicate feet, and carry her on his back back to the black snake of cars. They were playing their way towards marriage, while upstairs children jumped on their marriage bed, aided and abetted by the elders who clapped their hands. On the dowry table paired shoes (fertility), rested on stacks of clothing with bottles of clear feijiu and a fly-anointed pig’s head—snout curving towards noon’s sun—and everyone sat on benches chewing the sweet, red-bean-speckled cake while we waited for the new couple to return and erhu players plied fiddle-like strings without a break (except to pray), and whole cauldrons of fish and chicken mounted on concrete blocks stirred and bubbled over coal brickets. And each of us who was old enough remembered what we’d come through, the beatings and the blessings of marriage, the make-shift bedding arrangements and the in-laws nosing-ins, the queer uncle who wouldn’t ever get this, the alcoholic grandfather who drank up food money, then cried until she comforted him. At last, when car horns announced they’d come to be pelted with grainy symbolism, our discrepant marriages thronged the cigarette-wreathed courtyard and spilled over into the alley to beat on the windows of the cars and welcome and warn the bride and groom about what we couldn’t say—to usher them into this house that would become her home.
—David Allen Sullivan