the short story project




Ma painted all my walls three coats of white. She said she almost fell off the ladder when she was painting the upper-right corner of the wall. I looked at the spot she pointed at, the almost-fell spot, and tried to find any mark, any stroke, that would indicate that Ma did almost fall off the ladder. 

She dragged the smallest luggage by my bed, gripping the handle so tightly that it made me scratch my neck.

After a few minutes of chit-chat about my flight, she finally left me alone to unpack. I could hear her humming in the kitchen, and soon enough, the smell of sauteed garlic and bok choy filled my room. I welcomed this familiar scent from my favourite meal and allowed myself to feel nostalgic.

I remembered my childhood friends and searched for the scrapbook we made in 8th grade. I went through my dusty bookshelf still filled with young adult fiction I used to love: the secret teenage spies, the Greek gods and goddesses, the shadowhunters and the witches. I found my halloween costumes and tried them all on again. And under my bed, a box of old love letters. 

I noticed a very faint orange streak on the wall which had turned darker under the white paint. I thought that it could very well have been part of a marigold I painted there before. Maybe it was one of the petals. I wanted to trace the orange line with my fingers, to feel the paint under my skin, but it disappeared as soon as I moved closer. Three coats of white, I reminded myself. 

“Luna, come out for lunch,” I heard Ma call out.


“Ma,” my voice sank lower than I intended.  

“Ma, this fish is delicious,” I finished. 

“It’s from Lake Huron,” she said while placing another chunk of meat on my plate. 

“Thanks, Ma. That’s enough,” I stopped her before she added another. 

“Did you finish unpacking? We can visit your uncle’s store tomorrow if you’re done,” she said.

If I said  ‘no’ then Ma would expect that there was more to unpack. If I said ‘yes’ then Ma would assume that this person in front of her… what she had, what she showed, what she said, was everything she needed to know about her daughter who was away for four years. But this was nowhere near the truth. Nowhere near the full story, nowhere near all of me. In my room, a small suitcase remained zipped tight— there was so much more to unpack.

I reached for the plate of jackfruit on the table. I hoped that she wouldn’t bring up how I used to hate them. There were a lot of things I used to hate and I admit that I didn’t have good reasons for most of them and maybe there were a few I regret making a fuss over— but I’m here now for the things I love and I wish she’d notice that instead. 

“Do you need help unpacking?”

I should be able to unpack on my own since I also packed them alone. I folded them neatly, stacked them carefully, pruned them to bring out the shape. I increased the contrast, sharpened the focus, I laminated every page and then salted them a little because I heard that helps in preservation. I did everything to make them perfect. Everything was soft and light, alive and bottomless. Everything was prepared to withstand my mother’s touch, all I had to do now was to take them out.

“What do you think of your room?”

Ma painted my walls three coats of white. There was not a single trace of the bright yellow and orange marigolds I painted in high school with my girlfriend… when she was still my girlfriend, before Ma found out we were dating, before she banned her from coming over. The marigolds were massive, with each flower big enough to cover a face. The colours were so strong that you could smell them, or at least thought you could. They seemed to grow back then. Every time I looked at them, they seemed bigger and brighter. They slowly took over my room and pushed everything else to the side. And they became so huge that their scent filled the entire house. So strong that I left it. That summer after high school, I flew to Ontario to study at McMaster. And throughout my undergrad, I worked every summer, even during the holidays. I rarely went home.


The golden light from my desk lamp shone over the single remaining luggage. It was my smallest one but it contained the most. I stared at the bulkiness of it and through the blackness of the leather, I remembered what it contained. I could see my ironed out and neatly folded pride flag, photos from the photo booth with my girlfriend, and a pile of love letters accumulated from our two years together. I could hear Ma singing in the kitchen and my hands started sweating. It didn’t help that these white walls felt like they were growing taller and moving closer to me. I stared at the emptiness of it and through the whiteness of the wall, I remembered what used to be there. I remembered what happened to it, what happened to me, what happened to us. I felt suffocated in this shrinking box. I held my neck as if I couldn’t breathe. 

“Luna,” I heard my mom call from outside my room. I quickly hid the luggage under my bed. She entered with a plate of freshly cut apples. 

“Do you want some fruit?”

I looked at the plate of apples— washed, peeled, and cut. All I had to do was put them in my mouth, chew, and swallow. I said ‘yes’ because I have yet to learn how to say ‘no’ to some of Ma’s affection. She smiled as she placed the plate on my desk and left the room humming. 

I ate the apples one after the other as if it was a task I needed to check off from my list and almost choked on a seed. I held my neck as I tried to cough it out. I eventually swallowed it with ease. 

Then, I heard a knock on the door. 

“Where do you want me to put this?”

Ma came in with a large picture frame. She turned it to show me that it was a photo of my marigolds. It looked as bright and smelled as sweet as I remembered them to be… before the fight, before I threw orange paint on it. I held it in my hands and watched the marigolds grow by the second. 

Ma went to the empty white wall where the marigolds used to grow. 

“What are you painting next?” she asked. 

“What’s your favourite flower, Ma?”

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