Of Jumping Shrimp and Brooklyn Boys

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This story was contributed by KateLorraine


My best friend, Victoria Namura, always told me never to go to the basement of Gold Monkey Supermarket in Flushing. I asked her if there were demons, ghosts, or mean tuberculosis-carrying homeless people there. No, she said, that's where the dweebs hung out after school.

When I was in high school, I teetered on the edge of losing my status as one of the cool girls when I met Brian from Brooklyn. He was a kid who used to play Magic the Gathering on the sixth floor of Stuyvesant High School.

My father always told me that playing Magic was a form of Satan worship. That's how they get you, he told me. First, you play pretend, then the next thing you know, you're smoking pot, having sex and dancing with the devil under the blood moon.

I was a good girl back then. My life was simple - study hard, get good grades, get into MIT, get an engineering degree, marry a good Chinese boy who goes to church on Sundays. Brian Mangal was not a good Chinese boy. His skin was rich and dark like the most luscious dark chocolate, his features sharp, proud, suave like an Indian Rhett Butler. Brian wasn't as tall as the football players, and perhaps that's what made him such an undesirable phantom to my popular friends, but he was Brian enough for me.

Our friendship started when I checked out a copy of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time from the library. That was my one act of rebellion, the ten minutes a day I spared from studying from my AP Calculus or AP Economics class to wander through a land of magic, swords, and prophecies. On the sixth floor of Stuyvesant High School, that's where the games were held. The denizens of that floor were the outcasts, the rogues, the kids who didn't spend every waking second gunning after the Ivy Leagues.

Once, I bought a box of Magic Cards by saving up my lunch money. It wasn't easy back then. Twenty dollars was a lot of money. But a greater rebellion was sparing my time, knowing that every second I devoted to my dreams, I lost my dream of going to HYP. But every teenager needs a little bit of rebellion, even at Stuyvesant, where the cool kids were the ones who studied all day.

I gave the cards to Brian to keep for me because he sat next to me in homeroom. I couldn't bring them home, or my father would find them. He promised to teach me to play that night if I met him at Golden Monkey. I never saw those cards again.

You see, Brian died that night.

He died in the basement of Golden Monkey Supermarket.

He wasn't supposed to die. There was a flash storm that night, and Brian was stranded at the supermarket. I heard on the news that a man with a gun robbed the Tai Pan Bakery in Golden Monkey Supermarket around ten o'clock. He shot the kids in the basement as he tried to flee with about two hundred dollars in sticky, rainwater, and bubble-tea stained bills. No one knows what really happened except that there was a pipe burst and the basement flooded. It took the police days to drain the waters and recover the bodies. They said the waters that flooded the basement of Golden Monkey were black with the smell of decay and sewage. The owners of the supermarket never opened the basement to the public again.

Now, I'm twenty-five and married to an engineer  like my father. Jimmy Wang is kind, stable, and he never talks about magic. We have two daughters together, who are both strong and dull like their father. That's when the Magic Cards started to reappear. I found the first one while I was digging through the live-shrimp box at Golden Monkey.

Each spring, the supermarket had the best stock of succulent, jumping, freshwater shrimp that were newly torn out of the water and left to flop about on a bed of ice. I felt the wet, squirmy shrimp bodies under my fingers as I selected the best ones for Jimmy and my daughters. The translucent bug-like creatures stared back at me with their pleading, bulgy black eyes, twisting and squirming about as though they desperately didn't understand why their swimming appendages didn't work on land. Maybe if they flopped one more time, they could land back in the stream they had come from and escape to freedom.

As I caught a bag full of reluctantly resigned shrimp, my fingers came on a soggy playing card. It was Teferi, the Time Raveler. His dark, mysterious face was still recognizable in that torn, worn card. His brows were furrowed with intent as though if only I looked hard enough; I could take his hand and find my way to the freshwater stream.

I couldn't go back to the seafood section anymore after that. It wasn't just the shrimp. The fish, in their too-cramped swimming boxes seemed to stare back at me in unison. Their mouths opened and closed, whispering to each other in fish-language. They knew my secret. They knew why Brian had died. He had been waiting for me.

Slowly, over the weeks, I started to unravel. I took my daughter Leanne to buy a bubble tea from Kungfu Bubble Tea a month later. As the cashier handed me back my receipt, under it, I found a Nicol Bolas card, its sinewed horned body staring back at me like Thomas Harris' Red Dragon. I screamed and dropped the bubble tea on the floor.

Splat!

My daughter cried at what I had done. We were drawing a crowd. The black tapioca bubbles seemed to look back at me like a million dilated pupils.

They knew my secret. Everyone knew.

Don't go to the basement. That's where the dweebs go.


All the onlookers - even the grannies with their pulley carts - knew that I once loved a sixth-floor boy who was so wrong for me, he had to be right.

I didn't go back to Golden Monkey after that until Halloween. We lived in an apartment complex just off Main Street, by the public housing complex. On Halloween, we always got the unexpected trick or treater or two. My husband didn't believe in that rubbish. He was busy writing code. Time to dream, time to play wasn't a luxury immigrants like us could afford. We were just lucky we were keeping our small, overpriced apartment heated and lit.

On Halloween, I rushed into the supermarket to buy a last-minute bag of Snickers for the kids who would come knocking on our door. I liked Snickers because there was something reassuringly American about a hunk of chocolate with peanuts. It made me feel better than giving out White Rabbit candies with the edible paper foil or the preserved plums that my father loved.

"We're out of that," a worker with a bloody apron told me as I pointed at the discount Halloween sign. "Let me check downstairs."

He was gone forever, and I was getting impatient. I wondered if he went to tend the butcher stand and forgot. As I walked over to the door, I saw the flood waters of the basement had returned.

"Xian-sheng?" I yelled. "Are you down there? Are you okay?"

A muffled sound came from the darkness. The only light bulb by the stairs flickered. I took a step down the stairs.

My friend's voice came back to me. Don't go down there - not you chica - you're not like the rest of them.

I never told Victoria, or anyone for that matter, that Brian had been waiting for me. I couldn't bring myself to confess that I was one of the weird ones, that I wanted to pretend to battle with imaginary monsters, instead of real-life ones. For people like us, there's no time for pretend

The water seemed to grow darker as I stepped closer. There something floating just beneath the surface. For a second, I thought it was a name tag. Maybe the worker had dropped it in his haste to retrieve the Snickers. As I reached down to grab it, a hand came out of the waters and grabbed my wrist.

Come play with me. I waited for you.

I stared down in the darkness until Brian appeared, holding my box of Magic Cards in his open hand. I stepped down into the flooded basement. I felt tears appear as I realized he waited up that night - the night he was shot - for me.

I've been waiting for him too. Everyone needs to dance with the devil under the pale, moonlight — even the good girls. 


Althea Liu lives in New York City with her husband, son, and two Pomeranians. She earned a degree in Medieval English from Cornell University. She currently works as a physician and she has a very bad and expensive addiction to Hermes Birkins. Read more of Althea's stories here .


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