Old Enough To Understand

(Originally written: April 26, 2021)

The light from the open door shined onto the narrow hall floored with perpetually creaky wood. Tiny motes of dust and hair floated between the peeling walls, shining in their temporary visibility. Down, down, down they drifted without any protest. Onto the floorboards where they’d get pushed to the side by passing feet. Or in the cracks between the wood where they could settle permanently.

Min’s shadow extended into the hall. At 10 years old, her shadow depended more on the placement of light to appear large. With the sun mostly directly behind her, Min’s shadow looked tall and lanky as she took her shoes off and rummaged in her backpack. The shadow’s movements were rigid, displaying none of the grace that joints provided. It reminded Min of the way spiders walked.

She shut the door and killed her shadow. 

Her home was dark again. And that was fine as she could find her way around it with her eyes shut. She turned left into the small, dim kitchen. A table, with two chairs tucked against it, was shoved into the corner of the room to her right. A single light was available in the middle of the ceiling and was waiting to be coaxed on by a flick of the switch. It would take roughly thirty seconds to turn on. Min could see just fine using the slivers of sun that were coming in through the shut blinds above the dripping sink. She placed her report card next to the covered plate on the table and went to shut the sink off. Twisting the handle tight slowed the rhythmic drip but didn’t stop it. The water continued to leak out of the faucet and plop into the sink with a moist thump. Min wished it was a little louder so that it could at least become background noise. Instead it was just barely loud enough to stop her from concentrating if she decided to do her homework in the kitchen.

Min uncovered the plate and saw a peanut butter sandwich made with white bread. One of the bread slices was the heel of the loaf. She poked at the sandwich with just enough pressure to see if it was spread with smooth or crunchy peanut butter. No peanuts poked back, so Min picked up the sandwich and took a bite. There was enough peanut butter for her to ignore the presence of the crust but that meant that each mouthful was extremely sticky. The peanut butter wrapped itself around her small teeth and coated her throat. She wormed her tongue against her molars but it was ineffective at freeing them.

She set her sandwich down. Min got a small glass from a cupboard and opened the fridge for some milk. The fridge door was lined with mostly empty condiment bottles. The small compartment meant for butter was instead stuffed with packets of soy sauce. The shelves had a carton of eggs that, when opened, revealed itself to be empty. Min shut the fridge door and threw away the empty carton. It landed on a crumpled up plastic bread bag and a jar that had been scraped clean. After putting the small glass back into the cupboard, Min ate the rest of her sandwich slowly so her own spit could have time to break away the peanut butter.

Min placed the empty plate directly under the dripping faucet, picked up her report card, and went down the dark, creaking hallway. The living room was empty but the T.V. was on. Min watched for a little while but wasn’t able to follow the quickly speaking reporters. Her teachers spoke slowly at school, repeating themselves until Min understood. It was like pulling teeth at times – a phrase that Min had overheard them say and only recently got – but the girl always got it in the end. She had the report card to prove it along with some encouraging comments that Min would have to translate. She turned the T.V. off when a commercial began playing and left the room.

The bathroom sink wasn’t leaking but the toilet’s water pipe was. Min tugged the ragged towel off its holder and jumped in surprise when the metal bar clattered to the ground. She left the towel on the floor while she struggled to put the bar back in place, eventually smiling with relief when she fixed it. Then Min turned the toilet’s water pipe off before wiping the floor dry, making sure there were no wet spots behind and around the toilet. The towel was returned to its holder, the light was turned off, and the door was shut. 

The light was on in the bedroom but it was still dark. Much less sunlight was able to stream in through the blinds on this side of the house. Min could still see well enough. She shivered despite the ceiling fan being off. Both of their twin beds, in their respective corners, were made. Min’s stuffed bear was waiting for her on her bed, leaning against the pillow with his arms spread wide. The bed on the right had nothing but a pillow with no pillow case and a faded blue blanket folded at the end of it.

The middle of the room had a circular red rug that scratched at Min’s feet whenever she walked on it. It was always drier than dry and her mother would joke that they had their own desert. Presently, though, the rug was wet. Min’s desk chair was laying on its side, two of its legs in the wet spot and the other two up in the air. The shadow on the wet spot was almost a perfect circle. It moved gently from side to side like the pendulum of a grandfather clock. Min watched the shadow, her report card laying forgotten at her feet. Then, when the shadow finally stopped rocking, Min turned off the light.

She could see just fine without it.