By Annabelle Larsen
Before you left for Vietnam I proffered up a wax-paper Archie’s comic strip tucked inside my bubblegum wrapper that smelled like pink dust.
Is it funny? You asked.
Only want it if it’s funny.
At our kitchen door, a pocket of silence before Ma’s chin started to quiver, before she grabbed you and sobbed.
Ma tied up her auburn hair in a kerchief and brought out the Sunbeam Mixmaster to make brownies. Silence aside from the whirr of beaters swirling through batter. Her lips pursed as she scraped the tip of a rubber spatula along the inner rim of the silver bowl. Then her fingers paddled against the outside of the cool silver while her other hand palmed the bowl around and around the turntable spinner. The scent of chocolate wafted from the oven. Once cooled, placed in a tin, and wrapped up in a paper bag from Jewel Grocery, Ma sent them off to you. I sat on a stool at our Formica kitchen table licking the melty chocolate remnants from the mixing bowl and imagined the brownies being flown over your base in Bien Hoa and dropping down, down, down.
A Polaroid of you, Ma, Dad, and me taken days before you left. A scrawl in her handwriting on the back, Mitch ’67. Ma in her checkered apron cinched around the waist with a bit of a smile she is seated on the kitchen chair looking exhausted in her blue dress. Dad next to her in a white T-shirt, spent and unshaven with flecks of white paint in his hair. He holds me, almost as an afterthought, on his lap. Standing behind Ma your hand rests on her shoulder. You’re wearing a white button-down shirt and black pants. Looking off to the side eyes cast down, mouth slightly open, unsmiling.
Mothers experience strange compelling dreams, in which the spirit of their boy (their lost son in heaven) speaks to them. They consult a geomancer who is able to locate for them which of the dozens upon dozens of unknown martyr’s graves contains the remains of their son. There are 82 such graveyards in Vietnam. And slowly, in the last few years, the spirits of the lost are finally being located—after a decades-long hiatus in which millions of screaming souls circulated unendingly through the ether, without a firm place to land.
The only thing I have carried with me throughout my life is the Sunbeam mixing bowl. My kitchen fills with the scent of chocolate and clouds of vanilla and this is when I think of you and Ma standing at the door in the impossible notion of that day.