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  • Julie Chen

It Wasn't Supposed to Be

Waigong, smoking is bad,”

my squeaky six-year-old voice protested

as my grandfather lit a cigarette

while we waited for the school bus.


He looked up from his lighter,

an amused smile making its way across his face.

“Where did you learn that?”


Waipo told me.”


“Your grandmother’s too paranoid.

I’ll be fine, child.”

he took a long draw from the paper-wrapped stick

before exhaling into the icy, Michigan morning air.

The wisps danced delicately,

curling tendrils of silver

that then dissipated

like departed souls.

_________________________________________________________________________


“He wouldn’t stop,”

I pouted to my grandmother,

as she set her freshly baked brownies onto the counter.


“Then you can throw his cigarettes away.”


“Why can’t you do it?”


“I think he’ll listen to you more than me,”

she cut the chocolate cake into squares

and handed me a piece.


But when my grandfather found his red and white

Marlboro pack in our kitchen garbage bin,

his eyebrows furrowed in annoyance

and the corner of his mouth twitched.


“Little kids shouldn’t stick their noses in the business of adults,”

he grunted in Mandarin.


So when we waited for the school bus again

the next morning,

I didn’t say a word

as he burned the end of yet another cigarette,

its embers glowing

like fireflies in June.


After a week, we barely remembered this incident ever happened.


It was supposed to stay that way.

It wasn’t supposed to be a moment that summoned a suffocating tide of “what if I had done this instead”s and raging hurricane of “it’s my fault”s.

It wasn’t supposed to be a memory that I wanted to forget, but couldn’t.


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