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Doing Dishes

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The first time I do dishes is when after the birthday ends and the guests leave, my mother sits down on a chair in the dining room and sighs. She looks at me in English and asks me to do the dishes, and of course I want to be a good nine year old and nod yes. I look around the kitchen table, covered with platters of leftover palabok and fish and rice and lumpia and duck and dumplings—the yellows and whites of boiled eggs and red sauce and pale oil and brown crunchy duck skin, and strong green and deep red and yellow vegetables, and the creepy dead fish head that could almost see the red sweets and brown spices and green bitters and pale yellow sours in the colors of the food—a rainbow of smells and banquet of sounds jumping through the air and crowding my tongue and stampeding through my nose to get a slice of the view.
I gather all the plates in my soft hands and pile them next to the sink. I elbow the faucet on and cold colorless water falls over my hands and around the grey steel sink and down the drain, drowning out echoes ringing in my mouth of adult language I was just beginning to wrap my young head around – Hokkien and English and Filipino and Mandarin all mashed together into my parents' house. One by one I pass each dish under the faucet and watch the colorless water chase food and sauce and sound and smell down the drain. Leaving empty white plates and cold grey steel sinks. My mother is standing behind me. I rinse off the last fork. I face her. Good job, she says, smiling. These plates are cleaner than I could have done. I turn around.  I see lights and smells and colors gone, only empty plates, stainless steel sink, flat black granite countertop, and colorless water still running. I face my mother. I nod slowly, my ten-year old eyes now understanding. I will not let the water wash out my colors.

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