Perfect Gifts For Mothers

ZYZZYVA, Winter 2008, Vol. XXIV, No. 3

From The Review Review:

"This is a brave, touching story that exposes a mother's greatest fears—an inability to protect her child from the world, and an inability to protect herself from her child."


After dinner, I seek out my husband in his workshop. Over the years, An-din has taken over the room that for a century had housed the girls born into his family, the room that we had intended for our second child. An-din now spends his evenings there, if he is not at the archery range, fashioning bows and arrows for a hobby he once took up with our son.

            I cross our concrete courtyard to the opposite arm of our U-shaped compound. A pungent and eye-watering substance keeps me outside his door. Hunched over one of his hand-built workstations, An-din scrapes a lone arc of wood propped between two blocks. Next to him, a viscous liquid gurgles in a small pot while a fan blows at the rack of bows curing in the corner.

            My heart aches as I watch his sinewy arms bulge and flex over a long strip of black sheep horn—the material that gives bows their snap.  An-din has remade himself into the kind of man he wishes our son to be. The sound grates at my insides before he peers over his bifocals and notices me.

            I smile. “BaoBao told me today he wants to get married.”

            My husband studies me for a moment before repositioning the bow.

            “Why not?”

            The glue pot burps.

            An-din stirs it with a brush and dabs the liquid in even intervals along the black horn. “You know why not.”

            “You never want to help him.”

            “You can fight his battles, be his mouthpiece to the world. You can find him a job—even be responsible for his performance at work. But you know you cannot get married for him.”

            His oh-so-reasonable tone digs at my insides. “I am going to find him a wife.”

            “And then what? Move into their bedroom?”

            “Wouldn’t you like a daughter and grandchild? Someone who’ll talk to you?”

            “You’re setting him up for failure and us, if we are lucky, with a grandchild we will never see grow up.”

            I know An-din’s fears are not unfounded, but I hate that he has reconciled himself to our son’s limitations and accepted it as our life sentence. “You don’t want him to be happy.”

            An-din scrapes his stool across the concrete floor and positions the bow onto another wooden horse. He clamps down one end and threads a string walker.

            “He is content with the way things are now.” He grunts as he wraps the horn to the middle of the bow. “I don’t need to tell you he is not interested in people. You yourself say he can’t make friends.”

            “That’s never stopped you.”

            An-din tightens the string, and the curved bow tip snaps and clangs onto the cement floor. He groans and slaps the bow down. “Why don’t you help him with something he can be good at?”

             I cannot bring myself to say that our son is not good at anything that matters. “What are you afraid of? We have so little to lose.”

~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~

            After dinner the next night, we play our conversation game. Our thirty-seven-year-old son has been diagnosed with everything from brain damage to attention deficiency to emotional retardation. The last doctor we consulted in Taipei showed us this game. He told us that BaoBao’s condition has no cure, that his impairments will drive him deeper and deeper into himself.

            We are to force our son to interact daily with a predictable set of people. With relentless intervention. So we play this conversation game every night.


To read the rest of the story, just let me know where to send it.