Did you have Halloween in China? the son asked,
stationed at the living room table, categorizing
(& gobbling up) his loot. No, the mother replied,
explaining how no one in China would just hand out candy
for nothing. The son pointed at his zombie face, explained
it wasn’t for nothing, it was for dressing scary. You don’t
scare me, the mother said, & picked up a wrapper
from the high heap of the already devoured. So wasteful,
she sighed, smoothing out the slip of silvery
plastic, holding it in her palm. We used to
save these, she said. Save them? The son paused his
sorting & gorging. Of course, the mother said.
She & the other village kids wouldn’t ever crumple up
& toss out a wrapper. It was a bright reminder of the rare
bit of candy they got to taste & a sweet, sweet thing
itself—a flower of impossible colors, with cartoon animals,
words from the West. Between schoolwork & farm chores,
they would sneak out their wrappers, already thoroughly licked,
& gently soap, rinse. The mother, no, the girl
& her best friends would place the delicate, still-wet wrappers
in their palms & watch—they wanted to see how quickly,
how much each person’s strip curled up as it dried.
Then they argued for as long as they could
(as long as an adult wasn’t in sight) over which one
was the prettiest, the coolest, the best.
Yes, the mother laughed, we had a lot of fun that way.
The son watched her admire the wrapper she’d fished
from his trash. How she lifted it up to a lamp, turned it
in the light. After a while, she stopped, turned towards him
& said, Well, that was a long time ago.
& bent down to throw the wrapper away for good—
Wait, he said, keep it. & pushed the piece of silver
back into her hand, its strange glimmer.
Isn’t this one the winner?