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Cleaning Out the Old Year

By Ziyun Peng

I take off my shirt. I put on my red sweater. I put on a smile and insert it into the crowded living room. Some waves at me. Some complimented my sweater. Humans are naturally attracted to fish tanks. I might want to find those crayon drawings of sea animals going to kindergarten together that my cousin gave me before she wonders where they are. Goldfish swim. Bubbles swim. The TV is live-streaming a song, A Night to Remember. A boy’s finger swims in the water until his mother tells him to stop. Dragons. Dumplings. Comedy with propaganda. I watch them to kill some time. I watch them year after year. The show in 1998 is rumored to be the best of all time. Grandparents hand out red envelopes. Parents instruct kids to take them with dry hands. Parents instruct kids to take them after a fake rejection and a real thank you. Rice is essentially sugar. One of the young people should stand up now, they say. I give a different toast to everybody in the room. According to biology, many things are sugar. Health. Happiness. Good fortune. I forget if she’s the friend of my second aunt or the cousin of my third. Happiness it is. I shouldn’t repeat myself. Bright oranges twinkle on a plastic tree by the windows. I know my favorite dish on the table. The third time I try to pick something from it my mother tells me to stop. Wine glasses cling to one another. Air pollution. New train stations. An unknown relative expresses his concern about the rapidly rising price of pork and what that says about the entire economy. Grandmother convinces me that according to my zodiac sign, I may engage in a relationship this year. Uncle says I should go into business, and he can teach me a thing or two. Grandfather says I should work for the government when I grow up. Mother says I should just nod to everything the elderly people say. What is the midpoint of being a government official and being a writer anyway? Topics intertwine. I nod. I nod. Scientists have made it possible to grow tomatoes on plastic. I nod. My parents were once my age. They were once holding up a cup of beverage among adults with their alcohol. I say goodbye to my relatives. After a subtle rotation of the door, I forget some names. Sometimes the host on the TV smiles in Chinese. I hide myself in my room. The biology worksheet on my desk is half-blank. Sometimes the graph of a dissected rice grain looks like a rose. A firework unfolds up in the night sky and it looks like a rose. Violets are blue. Sometimes I scold myself for looking at the fireworks instead of studying. If I study tonight, it will be as if I studied a whole year. The countdown starts. Like a child I wish this year will be better. Like an adult I pray for it to be. Like a not-child but definitely not-adult I stop thinking about this. This city rests on neon plates. This city rests on engines. This city rests on rice shells buried for miles and miles and miles. Fizzling firecrackers baptize our vices. The blossom outside my window might turn out to be a red plastic bag tomorrow morning. The city puts on a smile. Nothing offers a higher chance of revival than a city in red.

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