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Funeral by the Arcade

In video games, the fear of the sudden propels you forward. Not so in life.

By Leland Cheuk
December 9, 2016 / Everything,Fiction,Intro Home

Eddie Wu and I weren’t close. I was just his English tutor. When his granddaughter informed me he’d been killed by a hit-and-run driver, I was sad and shocked, of course, but in an unsettled and detached manner—like one might react to news of the passing of a distant friend on Facebook. To my surprise, I was invited to the funeral in Monterey Park, where Eddie lived, my hometown.

On the morning of, I froze at the sight of my black suit hanging from a towel rod like a headless torso. My air passages narrowed.

I didn’t want to go.

The population of Monterey Park was nearly two-thirds Chinese. More storefront signs were in hanzi characters than in English. One year, during the Chinese New Year’s Day parade, the city put up banners that misspelled the town name (Montrey Park). My parents didn’t have a single non-Chinese friend or acquaintance and couldn’t read or write English. I was over that world. The insularity. The expectations. The guilt.

It took me two hours to get there from Manhattan Beach thanks to rush hour traffic. During the drive, I tried not to think about how close the funeral home was to the house I grew up in, where my mother still lived. Just a ten-minute walk away, a ninety-second drive.

At the funeral home, the parking lot was full, so I parked around the corner from my mother’s house and walked over, holding a large bouquet of flowers. A van pulled into the lot. When the driver got out and began unloading funeral wreaths on easels, I realized that bringing flowers like I was going on a first date was a mistake—not a custom in a traditional Buddhist funeral. I returned the bouquet to my car, checked my reflection in the window of the back seat. I looked strange. My spiked hair was especially coarse and unkempt, and my skin tone resembled that of someone who’d just stepped out of a tanning salon. I hadn’t worn my suit in years, and it was too big for me now; I looked like a kid wearing his father’s clothes.

Near the entrance, a shrunken, silver-haired woman wearing a black embroidered vest was surrounded by a cluster of high-school aged girls, one of whom I recognized as Eddie’s granddaughter. Eddie’s wife and the rest of his grandchildren, I presumed. I introduced myself to Mrs. Wu as Eddie’s English tutor and offered my condolences in broken Cantonese. Eddie’s granddaughter, who dropped Eddie off at my place for his lessons, shook my hand and thanked me for coming. I blanked on her name though, so I just said, “You’re welcome” and smiled dumbly. She waved me through the entrance, emanating pity or amusement—I couldn’t decide which.

The interior was deep and wide but low ceilinged, the size and feel of a hotel ballroom rented for small tradeshows. A long table stretched across the center of the room and featured a red and gold papier-mâché shrine that displayed a photograph of Eddie in an ornate frame, cardboard staging props of a toy race car, and a flat screen television. Nice cars and TVs. Things Eddie liked. In the photo, he looked bewildered, trapped. There were several rows of chairs on either side of the shrine, stretching toward the entrance. Against the back wall, the wreaths stood next to a brick fireplace.

In front of Eddie’s photo, there was a sand-filled urn pierced with numerous burnt incense sticks. The man in front of me drew a fresh one, fired it up, squeezed it in his palms, bowed several times, and inserted it in the sand. I followed suit. Lighting the red end, I speared my stick into the urn with authority. Even my father might have been proud of the force with which I speared said stick. Then I noticed my offering looked different from the others. The red end was supposed to be in the sand. I had never lit incense before and had fired up the wrong end. Embarrassed, I spun and bumped into a man who said something in Mandarin, which of course, I didn’t understand. I pretended not to hear him and milled about, not knowing what to do next. No one was sitting. People were wandering just like me, like we were in an art gallery. In a far corner of the room, there was a red tent inside of which four monks were getting dressed—buttoning red robes, putting on round, black hats. About a dozen mourners stood outside, scattered in groups of three or four. They appeared solemn, but no one was crying or even teary-eyed.

Was this what my father’s funeral was like? Did many attend? Probably. He was popular in the community. He was known as King Needle. His face graced a billboard on Garvey Boulevard. People must have cried for the King.

After I got all As in seventh grade, I talked my dad into buying me a computer game of my choosing. Quake was the gift he would come to regret giving. The moment I set foot on the pixilated corridors of that dungeonesque military base, I was teleported—slipgated, if you will. Quake became my daydream machine. The discipline I’d previously poured into schoolwork went into these deathmatches. I began an Olympian’s training regimen. I played eight hours a day, every day. I cut classes to work at a place named The Arcade, where, in exchange for my sitting behind the counter while Walt the owner went surfing, I got to practice on the PCs and consoles. I became so good that when I’d play kids in my neighborhood, they’d rarely inflict damage on me. The Arcade was about a mile from where I was now.

I began competing in tournaments and winning. A thousand dollars here. Five grand there. I got my first corporate sponsor after winning a tourney in Santa Monica. My parents knew about my growing gaming powers, but they didn’t understand why companies sent me these big checks to deposit into my college fund. They thought I was involved in some form of illegal gambling. I tried to explain the world of competitive gaming numerous times, but after thousands of puzzled looks, I stopped trying.

I was just seventeen when I won an all-expenses-paid spot at the World Series of Gaming in Amsterdam. My handle was DiggNiddy; it was what I let my opponents die with. Had my monitor not gone on the fritz for a split-second versus The Slovak, I would’ve been champ. I never told my mother I was going to Europe. She thought I was at some science camp. She called the mothers of my friends and discovered I was overseas, and there was no way to reach me. I didn’t have an international cell phone plan. My mother didn’t use email. I had no idea that, while I was killing opponent after opponent on a screen, a heart attack had killed my father.

I got home two days after he had been buried. I rang the doorbell with my ridiculous silver trophy inside the duffel slung over my shoulder, and my mother opened the door and screamed that I was not her son, that no son of hers could be so heartless, that no good son would have left her to bury my father alone. She said she didn’t want to see my selfish face again. Then she inadvertently called me by my father’s Chinese name. She slammed the door in my face, didn’t answer my calls in the subsequent days, weeks, and months.

That was ten years ago.

Outside, steam rose from an open tent at the other end of the parking lot. The smell of wok grease sweetened the morning air. A round, broad-shouldered, and tall young man – an XL-sized kid, really – appeared at my side.

“If you want something to eat,” he said, motioning toward the tent. “Feel free.”

I told him no thanks, even though I was hungry. I had forgotten to eat breakfast.

“How did you know Grandpa?” he said.

This kid was twice Eddie’s size. When I told him I was Eddie’s English tutor, his eyes widened, and his mouth gaped. “He told me about you!” he exclaimed. “You’re the video game king! You’re DiggNiddy!”

“I was never king,” I said. “I finished second once.”

“Second in the world, man!”

“That was a long time ago.”

“Do you still play?”

I had been retired for five years. I had bought a place with the money I made from my branded computer mice, mouse pads, and laptop cases. “It’s a younger man’s game,” I said. “You’d be the perfect age. Do you play?”

“Fuck yeah, I play.”

“You good?”

“I’m not bad,” he said. “I play online.” He clapped me on the back, grinning down upon me like a Laughing Buddha. “Damn, I’d love to play video games professionally.”

“Do you know The Arcade?” I pointed west, in its general direction. “That’s where I practiced.”

“So, are you, like, rich now?”

Chinese people are blunt, I was reminded. “I’m lucky,” I said.

He introduced himself as Calvin.

I said I was sorry for his loss, and his eyes clouded. “It was an accident,” he said, kicking a gravel pebble onward. “There was no way he could have avoided it.” The quiet way he said those words twisted something tender inside, made me think of the suddenness of my father’s death, and how one’s game could end at any second. In video games, the fear of the sudden propels you forward. Not so in life.

Calvin leaned toward the food tent. “I need to eat.”

My stomach growled more insistently, so I followed him.

We ordered bowls of congee and fried dough sticks. I missed Chinese food. When my father worked late, instead of cooking in, my mother would buy roast pork, heat it up, and sauté some Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce and garlic. That would be my death row meal. I gave up Chinese food for gaming. Too much gluten. I feared mental lassitude. You need a responsive, active body to be the foundation for what your eyes see and what the mind interprets.

Calvin said he was a senior in high school planning to go to Pasadena City College. His parents wanted him to be an investment banker. I nodded, pretending to be thoughtful, even though I didn’t know anything about investment banking, community college, or the alleged existence of an overlap of the two worlds. I never went to college, because I went into the pro-gaming circuit. Calvin asked where I lived, and when I answered Manhattan Beach, he looked at me like I’d said Kyrgyzstan.

“It’s a great place to live,” I said. “I run on the beach every morning. It can’t get much better.”

“Isn’t West L.A. like super-white?”

“There are people like us there.”

“Wow,” Calvin said, shaking his head, slurping the remains of his congee. He motioned one of the servers for another bowl. I hadn’t finished half of mine.

Calvin out-ate me five bowls to two. By the time we returned to the funeral home, a crowd was slowly entering. Many of the seats inside were now occupied. The funeral was finally about to begin. Being around this many Chinese people again made me jittery. I felt all eyes were on me, like it was only a matter of time before I’d be put in front of the room, inspected for my muscle definition and dental health, and sold to a pair of authoritative parents seeking a child to spirit off to medical school.

One other person appeared as out-of-place as I felt: a dark-haired white man in his thirties. He was checking his phone, saving the open seat beside him with a messenger bag. As I looked for an unoccupied chair, the man cleared the seat without looking up.

I thanked him as I sat. “How do you know Eddie?”

He had a stubbly, sharp chin and a nose that was Z-lined from being broken and improperly set. “I’m a friend of his grandson.”

“Him?” I pointed to Calvin, whose back was turned to me as he greeted one of his relatives.

“No.” The man returned his attentions to his machine.

One monk unfurled a sizable rug in front of Eddie’s shrine. To the women in the room, a second handed out pointy white cloth caps. Rounded caps, each marked with a red dot, were given to the men. A third monk motioned for several people to remove their shoes and kneel on the rug.

I put on my cap and asked Calvin what was happening. He said the hoods warded off evil spirits, but then confessed he really had no clue. In Cantonese, Calvin asked his mother, who was among the kneelers. She didn’t reply because another woman tapped her on the shoulder and they hugged each other and began bawling.

“I’ll ask her later,” Calvin said.

He began to banter idly with Eddie’s granddaughters. They poked fun at him for once admitting that Ariana Grande was hot. Calvin issued firm denials. He was a Taylor Swift guy. Ooh, you prefer older ladies, one of the cousins teased. Calvin guffawed, bear-hugging the twig-limbed girl until she almost vanished in his grasp.

Eddie’s family seemed to genuinely care about each other. Their filial fettle probably had something to do with Eddie. Eddie and my dad were born the same year, and they were nothing alike. Eddie embraced just about everything about his new country. He was fearless when it came to chatting up people of all races. He desired English fluency so he could apply for American citizenship. He said he didn’t want to be like his son, who owned a chain of Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley and bragged that he had made his millions without learning a word of English, without ever voting. He asked his granddaughter to use “Goo-go” to find a tutor who wouldn’t speak Cantonese to him. When we first met, he was dressed like a character out of the musical Grease. His gray hair was slicked back with goop, and he wore a white, short sleeve dress shirt and a skinny dark tie.

“Chinese,” he said in English during our first lesson. “We get so comfort! Even my grandkid don’t go out from Mon-trey Pok. We come from so far China, and now we never leave one small village?”

“I left,” I said.

Eddie guffawed. “You still in L.A., man!”

He learned to speak English really well, but struggled with reading and writing. I made him read tabloids aloud because the written English was roughly third-grade level. He loved repeating the headlines. When his granddaughter picked him up from my place, Eddie would show off.

“Katy Perry and Tay-la Swift talk on phone this week and Katy still very mad!”

His granddaughter giggled. “It’s Tay-lor.”

“We’re working on the names,” I said.

We spent one session diagramming sentences. Man, did he hate that! I knew he’d hate it too. Anything that involved putting pencil to paper, Eddie despised.

“Object…proposition…werb…who care?” he growled, his hands grasping the air. My father used a similar hand gesture when he was frustrated. Like every time he told me that I’d never make as much money gaming as I would performing acupuncture.

“You want to be an American citizen, don’t you?” I said to Eddie. “The test will require that you write.”

“Re-kwai?”

“It means ‘you have to.’ Like my dad used to say ‘you have to do well in school.’”

“I talk very good.”

“You speak well. I agree. But there are no shortcuts.”

Eddie sighed and laid his pencil on the table. He raised the workbook to his face, his nose nearly grazing the pages. He seemed to be trying to decode something. Then he flattened the book and picked up the pencil. “No short cot,” he muttered.

He sounded exactly like my father when I’d tell him gaming was work. King Needle would say: No short cot in life. Work no fun; that’s why it work.

The monks chanted in a barely comprehensible dialect. A dense smoke stung the eyes. A gray-haired woman fed pastel-colored funny money one slip at a time into the now-lit fireplace. It was raining outside, and all the doors were closed. Thirteen people, Calvin included, were on their knees, squeezed onto the rug. They were Eddie’s immediate family: his siblings, children, and grandchildren.

There had been a number of rituals – lots of chanting and bowing – and all of it was lost on me. One of Eddie’s sons was inconsolable; he had been sobbing continuously for an hour. At first, I felt sympathy, but soon, I wanted to hit the mute button. I straightened in my chair, trying not to yawn or roll my eyes. A woman handed out bottled water like we were participating in an athletic event.

When others got up to stretch their legs, I followed. I paced the length of the windows and considered walking over to The Arcade. I imagined The Arcade of my adolescence. The bright blue awning. The white letters. The green neon open sign. A gong sounded. I experienced a sudden yearning to play there again—a reflex, long lost.

A monk announced that Eddie’s grandchildren were allowed to break for lunch. Calvin limped stiff-legged to my side, and we headed out into the rain toward the meal tent.

“My mom said that in the old days, back in China, they’d be on their knees for a week,” he said. “They’d have to crawl to go to the bathroom.”

“How long is this going to last?”

“I think they’re serving dinner.”

I cussed silently. The white man passed, walking in silence beside a Asian one of roughly the same height. They spoke without looking at each other.

“That’s my cousin,” Calvin said.

“Yeah?”

“He and that guy are…you know.”

“Together?” I said, not entirely surprised. “They’ve been fighting.”

“Nobody wanted them to come,” Calvin said. “They’re disgusting.”

I grew up with many children of immigrants like Calvin, and there were two camps: those who didn’t question traditions and those who did.

“They’re happy,” I said. “What’s the big deal?”

Calvin’s eyes hardened. “Maybe that’s the way they think where you live.”

“Nobody wins trying to keep others from being happy.”

“You won!” Calvin exclaimed. “You’re the video game king!”

“That’s not what I’m saying.”

“You’re King DiggNiddy!” he said, his smile lambent. He smacked me on the arm and repeated who I used to be.

Inside the tent, steam billowed from large pots and woks. We sat at a ten-top with Calvin’s cousin, his partner, and six sexagenarian women I didn’t know. Servers brought out plates of ginger chicken, roast pork, and fried catfish. We took off our absurd white hats and ate.

A Kangol-wearing woman asked Calvin’s cousin whether he had a girlfriend yet and opined he needed one soon because he was getting old. Calvin’s cousin half-smiled and agreed, but said he was too busy. His partner typed furiously on his BlackBerry. The woman eyed him for a long moment before asking Calvin whether he had a girlfriend.

“I have lots of them,” Calvin said in Cantonese.

Laughter around the table.

The woman squinted and pointed at him. “Don’t play around. Forget girls. Focus on school.” Then she turned to me. “What’s your family name?”

“I don’t speak much Chinese,” I said in English.

The table quieted, and the woman’s shoulders sagged. “Another one of them,” she said in Cantonese to the rest of the table.

“He’s from Monterey Park,” Calvin blurted. “He’s a championship video game player.”

“Ask him his family name,” the woman said.

Calvin forked chicken and ate. “What’s your last name?” he asked, mouth full.

I cleared my throat and said my last name in Cantonese.

“Oh, he speaks!” the woman said. “He speaks pretty well. I thought you said you didn’t speak.”

“Only a few words.”

“You’re still speaking!” she said. “I know your mother. Have you seen her since you’ve come home? She says you never come home.”

My insides tumbled. For a vertiginous moment, the women all looked like my mother: unusually tall, hunched, eyes wide apart, high and prominent cheekbones. Her hair would be gray now. I sipped tepid tea, felt the pulse in my neck, tried to appear unmoved.

“Jimmy was Eddie’s English tutor,” Calvin said.

“Your mother misses you,” the woman said. “She told me.”

A bitter lump rose in my throat. I shrugged dumbly, as if the past decade – being separated from her, from my hometown – meant nothing. My mother gave up on me. She told me never to return. She never sought me out. But these were words I couldn’t say in Cantonese to this stranger.

The others asked the woman who my mother was. Some knew her well. She was managing a Chinese restaurant. They agreed that my absence explained a lot. They had always assumed that she was just sad because she was a widow. One woman joked that she wouldn’t be sad if her husband died because she’d been looking forward to claiming his half of the bed for decades. The rest of the table laughed, but I couldn’t. I tunnel-visioned the food. The catfish was eviscerated, its spine twisted so that the bones pointed skyward, the gaping mouth pleading for help not given. Calvin’s cousin’s boyfriend stood, wearing a plastic smile.

“You lovely ladies have to eat!” he exclaimed, ladling roast pork onto plates. There was sarcasm in his outsized and sudden display of charm. He and I exchanged glances. He was trying to divert attention from me. He thought, as I did, that the Chinese were being intrusive. Calvin’s cousin glared at him, while Calvin held a hand over his plate, refusing to be served.

I pushed back from the table and escaped into open air. The rain had stopped and the sun had emerged. I stood in the parking lot, between two cars, one a Mercedes, the other a pickup truck. Both license plates were personalized with the owner’s last names (in this case, Lee and Lam) and then 168, numbers that, when spoken in Cantonese, rhyme with the phrase “one road to riches.” That was the problem with the Chinese. There was only one road to riches. The road your elders approved of. I slowly got wet. I shouldn’t have come to the funeral, I thought. I wanted to keep moving forward. On to the next level of my game.

With each passing year, my mother had become a tumescent presence inside me. In dreams, I saw my mother’s face that day I returned home from Amsterdam: twisting, wringing, the stretching and melting of her hard features. I sometimes tried to remember my mother well—draw a version of her that included good memories. But I mostly remembered the criticisms. She didn’t like my hair cut, too spiky. She didn’t like that I sat around gaming for hours; it made my butt big. She didn’t think I drank enough milk or water; that’s why I wasn’t tall like white people. Like my father, she wasn’t an affectionate person. There was one thing she could always be positive about:

My baby pictures. “You were so cute back then,” she said once, while showing me yellowed photos she planned to frame. Then she looked me up and down. I could see her resisting the urge to physically inspect the high school version of me: my skin, my tongue, my limbs, everything. She turned away, ever disappointed.

Calvin emerged from the tent. “Sorry about my aunt.”

“I should have stayed home today.”

Calvin smacked me hard on the arm. “Aw, come on! Then you wouldn’t have met me.” He flashed a wide, whisker-framed grin that made me smile.

“You’re lucky to have this,” I said, motioning toward the Chinese masses in the tent.

Calvin looked upon me like he was questioning my sanity. “Why don’t you ever come home?”

Air passages were narrowing again. Anxiety, a friend, my tutor. “Long story,” I said, inhaling the comforting scent of wet asphalt.

“Wanna swing by The Arcade?” I said. “It’s not far.”

“With DiggNiddy?” Calvin exclaimed. “Hells yeah!”

We walked along the boulevard several long blocks, passing a bubble tea joint, a noodle house with no English name, a restaurant named the Hot Pot Spot, a post office, and an East West Bank. Then there it was, The Arcade. That bright blue awning I had imagined was now faded and tattered. The white “r” and “e” had fallen out of the name, leaving “The A cad.” The windows were tinted black.

I stopped. “It’s not open.”

Calvin kept walking. “Yeah, it is,” he said, opening the door.

Inside, there were no customers. A pimply teen with dyed blonde spiky hair was behind the counter, rapid-thumbing a Nintendo 3DS. We walked up to an old NEO-GEO cabinet, but the screen was black. The games had been unplugged. The kid said that if we bought tokens, he’d start up the machines. His English had a heavy Vietnamese accent.

I used to be good enough to put a quarter in a game like Mortal Kombat and play for hours. I took out a dollar bill and asked the kid where the token machine was. He reached into a shelf below the register and pulled out a Tupperware full of tokens and said there was a twenty dollar minimum.

“Who plays twenty dollars worth of arcade games?” I asked.

“Why you think there no one in here, doo?” the kid said.

I told him I used to work for Walt.

“Who dat?”

“Who owns this place now?”

“My uncle.”

“Who’s your uncle?”

“Who ack?”

“I used to play here all the time.”

“He’s DiggNiddy!” Calvin said.

“Twenty dollar, doo.”

I eyed the dead games, statues commemorating a bygone time and place. The Arcade smelled of carpet mold. The mauve walls were badly in need of a fresh coat of paint, and there was an unpatched hole kicked into the side of the Street Fighter machine. In the back, a red curtain had replaced the door to the storage room. “What goes on back there?”

“We do gambling in here,” the kid said. “Pok-uh, doo. We be selling banh mi so the playas can eat, doo.”

“What about the games?”

The kid shrugged. “We play Xbox and Playstation online.”

I looked at Calvin, who shrugged.

“I feel old,” I said. By the register, there was a stack of red business cards with golden Vietnamese words. All I could read was the phone number. I put one in my pocket.

As Calvin and I jogged back toward the funeral home through what was now pounding rain, I felt defeated. I wanted to show him the prize I’d won from my exile. Who needed Monterey Park and its insular, bull-headed, traditional Chinese culture when you could become the world’s second-best gamer for a year? After I left home, I moved into a house with five guys in Pasadena, shared a room that was furnished with the latest and greatest in adolescent microbacteria. I went on training road trips to places like Phoenix and Dallas and Kansas City and slept on the crumb-sprinkled floors of strangers I only knew by their handle. I’d often hear my father at night. No short cot in life. Work no fun; that’s why it work. Now, years later, I still wanted to do something meaningful with my life. I just had no idea what that something was.

Back inside the funeral home, the attendees waited in line in front of Eddie’s shrine to make another offering. The monks began to chant again. Their words sounded like music, an incantation. I could only understand a few phrases at a time. They said Eddie had five children and eight grandchildren, and he was a good person and deserved a peaceful afterlife. Was my father remembered the same way? Credited for the number of children and grandchildren he had, like a video game score. That meant my father’s score was one. Did that mean he was suffering in the afterlife now?

The rain returned, slapping the windows, sounding like tearing sheets of paper. The things we do to pretend we’ve healed. Move away from where you’re from. Pocket a few extra dollars so you don’t have to worry. Life’s just a series of gaming levels consisting of split-second decisions you make based on how your mind interprets a few pixels of information. But in life, when you mess up, there are no do-overs. How long did my mother hold that front door open to yell at me after I returned from Amsterdam? Two minutes? Five? When she said she never wanted to see me again, she couldn’t have really meant never. I interpreted those moments incorrectly. If I had a chance to do it over–to replay that level–I wouldn’t have turned tail. I’d have dropped my duffel and apologized. I’d have stayed on that doorstep until she let me in. I’d have done the right thing, even if my mother were too distraught to do the same.

Calvin’s aunt found a way to get in line with Calvin and me. She called me by my Chinese name. “I can tell her to come,” she said in Cantonese. “She made a mistake. She knows that. But you made one too.”

“Please, this is not your problem,” I said in English.

“Dude, she’s your mother,” Calvin said. He said the word with the same level of reverence as he’d said my gaming handle.

“She cries for you everyday,” his aunt said.

In Cantonese, I tried to say: then why hasn’t she tried to find me? The words that came out were “why,” “she,” and “me.”

Calvin’s aunt clucked with exasperation. “So see-care!” she said in English.

We were handed incense sticks as we got to Eddie’s shrine. I looked at his photo and told myself to get it together. Eddie was making me diagram my sentences. I lit the correct end of the incense stick this time. My palms met, and I bowed. I inserted the offering into the urn with care, as gently as an acupuncturist would.

The monks rolled in Eddie’s open casket. We lined up for the viewing. The monks banged a cowbell rhythmically like a heartbeat and led us as we snaked around the room several times before finally passing Eddie. He was wearing a silk skullcap and an embroidered red suit. He appeared small, asleep, and in peace. The color of his long and gaunt face was an unnatural waxy tan. People began to weep. Even big, Taylor Swift-loving Calvin. I can’t say that Eddie and I were close. I can’t say that my tears were all for him. But I couldn’t stop my eyes from brimming, couldn’t stop a few orphan tears from escaping.
The monks slowly unrolled a scroll that led to Eddie’s shrine and asked a group of us to stretch the fabric taut. On the scroll, one of the monks laid a small plastic tray carrying a bowl of roast pork, a cup of tea, and a stack of paper money. The tray was passed slowly from one end of the fabric to the other. Calvin’s aunt and I passed the tray to Calvin and his cousin’s lover. They passed it on to the next set of hands. We did this until the tray reached Eddie’s shrine, delivering a final takeout meal and a little pocket money for the afterlife.

About a month after the funeral, I called the owner of The Arcade and bought the place. I plan to make it a penny arcade with stations to play console games with friends. I’m going to name it “Eddie’s Arcade,” because had I not gone to the funeral that day, I wouldn’t have met Calvin and his aunt. Had I not met Calvin and his aunt, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m about to do.

 

Today, I drive to the old family house and park my car at the end of the street. I put on my sunglasses, and through a pair of binoculars, I spy. After some time, my mother emerges, carrying a bag of mulch for a front garden I’ve never seen. She’s grayer and smaller. Her gardening gloves cover the whole of her arms. I can still see the hardness in her, the way she walks with chopped, bowlegged steps, the pinched expression in her face, and her high, tense shoulders.

I’m going to get out of the car and walk up to the house. Then I’ll take her to The Arcade to show her what I’m building. I’ll show her the framed picture of Eddie Wu that will hang behind the counter. I’ll tell her that Eddie was a friend who helped bring me home. I’ll tell her that I haven’t been angry, just scared, all this time, and that I am ready to be her son again, if she’ll have me. I’m telling myself all this as my mother looks in the direction of my car, lifting her sun visor because she thinks she sees someone she recognizes.

I put down the binoculars so she can see my face. The car starts; we move forward.