Go to bed, Mom-everything's fine." Wearily, April closed the front door of the house and climbed the stairs to her two-room apartment. Dim Sum joyously yapped at her feet and her mother followed close behind.
"That big rie, ni. I see you on TV, small news tlee time." Skinny Dragon Mother began to wheeze. For almost ten years, since she'd stopped working, she'd gotten no exercise. Leisure time hadn't been good for her. "What's long with boyflen?" Even though the front door was closed and Skinny didn't have to show off her English for the neighbors, she screamed in English anyway.
"Go to bed, Ma." April's nose told her that her mother had had a big day. She'd walked three blocks to the beauty parlor. The chemicals that curled her two inches of naturally straight gray hair into a fine frizz and dyed it black and shiny as shoe polish smelled like a combination of ammonia and artificial raspberry jam.
"You look great, Ma. Did you get your hair done today?"
"No!" Skinny slammed the door as hard as she could. "Don't cly," she ordered. "Get betta boyflen. One two tlee."
"What makes you think something's wrong?"
"Call tlee time."
"I told you. Everything's fine." April threw her purse on the hot pink tufted sofa from Little Italy that she'd bought both as a great luxury and a rebellion from the hard Chinese chairs in the living room. The effort of not thinking about Carla's long tanned legs made her head feel as heavy as a brick.
Skinny Dragon Mother flashed one of her powerful silent messages that only an idiot wouldn't understand. Message 403 was a bit of detective work worthy of any squad in the city: Everything couldn't be fine. Worm daughter slept at home last night and night before. Came home tonight again. Tomorrow day off. If everything so fine, why no boyfriend for three days? Skinny was so excited by the prospect of April's failure at love with a Spanish ghost, she'd stopped the wheezing for the moment. Her renewed health didn't help April's morale one bit.
"One two tlee," she repeated, about getting a new boyfriend.
April didn't miss much, either. Usually the Dragon- real name Sai Yuan Woo-was happy to show off her brightly colored, look-like-silk blouses that didn't match the patterns of her slacks and jackets. This was her attempt at scaling the peaks of high American style. But tonight she'd dressed down; she was wearing her peasant outfit. Black peasant pants, shapeless black cotton jacket, black canvas shoes with the rubber band across the top. She must have changed when Mike called those three times trying to reach her. Whenever the Dragon dressed this way, she wanted to hide her true motives and true self. Her goal was to appear humble and simple to the daughter she wanted to control, and nothing special to the gods who ruled the heavens and earth so they wouldn't confuse her prosperity in Astoria, Queens, USA, with happiness and cause her harm. Whenever Sai became a peasant, ten kinds of bad luck for April were on the way. The outfit was as lethal as a voodoo hex.
The phone rang, the dog started barking, April stood there, certain that pins were sticking in the real her. The ringing phone caused her mother-way overbalanced at the moment with aggressive male yang-to grab her arm and roughly shake her. Skinny was several inches shy of five feet and weighed about three and a half pounds, but she spun April around with no trouble. The phone rang a few more times. April ignored it. "Maybe boss," Skinny screamed. "It's not my boss."
"How know, nil Maybe lose job." Sai punched April's arm. She didn't want worm daughter to lose job until she had a rich Chinese husband. When she wasn't calling April worm daughter, she called her ni, which was just plain old you.
"Okay, okay." The screaming that passed for love in the Woo household propelled April into the bedroom just in case Maslow had been found in the last hour and she'd missed it. But they both knew the caller was the Spanish threat to the Han dynasty.
"Sergeant Woo," she said into the receiver.
"Querida, why are you acting like this? Are you crazy? Carla is nothing to me. She's just a mixed-up girl I helped once. I told her all about you. She has the highest opinion of you. You're overreacting. You know what girls are like. This is nothing." Mike blabbered into the phone.
"Mi amor, I know what girls are like. La puta was wearing my nightgown, demanding money from you."
"What's this puta?" Skinny Dragon screamed.
"Ma!" April put a finger to her lips.
"I can explain it," Mike insisted.
"Well, explain some other time. Stealing my case and cheating on me in one day is more than I can swallow."
"Bu hao waiguoren, guole," the Dragon muttered happily. Looked to her like the Han dynasty was safe for another day.
"That's not fair," Mike protested.
"Fair has nothing to do with it." The teenager was in his apartment. She was scantily clad and she was not his sister. Mike didn't have a sister. And she wasn't his cousin because she didn't speak Spanish. April knew Carla was one of those girls on the phone that Mike talked to longer than he should. He was certainly guilty of letting her spend the night. And he was guilty of not saying a thing about it this morning.
Skinny picked up a pillow from April's pathetic single bed and started whacking it with gusto. She was having the time of her life. "New boyflen, one, two, tlee," was her new chant.
"April, I don't want to end the evening like this. I made a mistake. I had a couple of beers and let her crash at my place. She slept on the sofa. I swear I didn't touch her," Mike insisted. "I never promised her any money or any clothes. Trust me on this."
Oh, now he'd been drunk. It was sounding worse and worse. "Thank you for sharing that. I happen to know that men will do anything when they're drunk," she said softly. "What do you think they invented alcohol for? I love you, but don't call me back tonight, okay? I just need to calm down." April hung up. She didn't want to fight with her mother listening.
Skinny finished punching the pillow and patted her new hairdo. "You hunglee. I got good dinna. Happy famree clab, Oh Oh soup, flied lice, ramb and scarrions." Skinny reeled off the menu.
Her mother's cycle of batter then feed filled April with a deep sadness. Why would her mother be glad to see her lose face? Her cheeks burned yet another time and tears that she would never in a million years let escape prickled painfully behind her eyes. Why couldn't she have a sweet and sympathetic mother? The phone started to ring again. She decided not to answer it. Skinny's silence as she trotted down the stairs for food from her kitchen spoke loudly. Triumph had never been sweeter.