寄明月 Remembrance of the Bright Moon

3 min
Image of Fall 2020
Image of Short Fiction
They come out of the oven shapeless and slightly burnt. She pokes at one, eyebrows knitting together when the hard dough-shell stays unyielding. Well, this wasn’t supposed to happen. Mooncakes are supposed to be soft, regardless of whether or not they’re professionally made.

It must be the recipe. She followed the instructions to a capital T, so it must have been something wrong in the recipe itself. Maybe it’s not authentic, maybe a Chinese recipe would have been better, or maybe the ingredients are wrong. Two cups flour, one teaspoon baking soda and water, two cups honey... Oh, was it because she had skipped the milk powder?

No. A few lines down, she sees the ingredient she had missed: one-and-a-half cups glutinous rice flour. Well, that explains it. That’s why her dough had ended up flaky, and why the finished mooncakes weren’t springy when touched. A flare of annoyance rises in her chest, and she throws away the piece of paper, electing to ignore the fact that her mooncakes were far from perfect. It’s fine. They’re still mooncakes. They’re still edible. She still tried.

She tried.

Her phone buzzes suddenly and she jumps, fumbling to pick up the video call. “Mama,” she says in rusty Chinese. “Zhong Qiu Jie kuai le.”

“You too, daughter,” her mother responds in English. A Chinese drama plays on the TV in the background, the characters dressed in garish colors. “Happy Mid-Autumn Festival. And Happy National Day.” She’d forgotten about that—a glance at the calendar hanging on her wall tells her that today is indeed October 1st—but it’s not like it matters here, in America. “You buy yuebing? Can you find in Missouri?”

She pronounces it the Chinese way: Miss-oori. “I wanted to make them myself,” she says, flipping the phone camera. Her mother lets out a noise of approval. “But I don’t have molds, and I accidentally made them wrong.”

“As long as you can eat. Oh, dui le, guess what?”

She hums absentmindedly, distracted by the drama in the background. It’s familiar, old, the first part of a series that mother and daughter had watched together back when it first came out ten years ago.

“Yesterday, movie theater was playing that movie you like. Crazy Rich Asian.”

“What?” She tunes back in, makes a face. “I don’t like that movie.”

“Eh? No way, I remember you like before. You went to see with your friends when it release. Anyway, I watched, and I think it was—how you say? Not real story. Not good acting. But pretty. I liked grandma. Who you like?”

That brings a smile to her face. Yeah, her mother would like the grandma character. “Well, back then, I liked the main character. I felt like she was me, you know? Judged for not knowing Chinese culture, but also not connected enough to learn. I felt heard, like the directors knew a part of my life.”

She hesitates, and her mother waits patiently, the blue glow of the phone screen reflecting off her wrinkle-lined face. “But it’s just a love story,” she finally says. “She didn’t learn the culture because she wanted to. She learned it for a man.”

“Hm.” Something flashes in her mother’s eyes, but she doesn’t press the subject. “The trees are all red now, here in south. Hen piao liang, very pretty. You have time to relax and see?”

“Not really.” She glances at the calendar again, the lunar one, embossed in gold, used mostly to keep up with the holidays that her parents celebrate. The ones that she used to celebrate too. “I’ve been busy recently. I have midterms next week.”

“Take care your body.” Her mother seems worried, a frown creasing her forehead. In the background, a character in the drama bursts into tears. “If you have time in Thanksgiving, why don’t you take break? Come visit us.”

That’s as close of a ‘I miss you’ as she’s ever going to get from her parents. “I’ll try,” she promises. “I’ll definitely be back for winter break, though.”

“Great. Then two months later, in New Year, we visit you. Make all your favorite buns. Mantou, doushabao, jianjiao, whatever you want.”

The call ends with last-minute reminders—weather become cold, wear coat, exercise sometime—but after hanging up, she wishes she could call again. Mama, she wants to say, you be careful too. Don’t worry about me, dress warmly, I miss you.

The smell of burnt dough lingers in the kitchen. She stares at the darkened phone screen, then puts it facedown on the counter. The mooncakes must be cool enough to put away by now. Roughly, she shoves them into a gallon-sized ziploc bag and throws the bag into the pantry. They can stay there until she craves them again.

A few words for the author? Comment below. 17 comments

Take a look at our advice on commenting here

To post comments, please
Image of Sui Ching Ng
Sui Ching Ng · ago
All the best Maggie!
Image of Maggie Liu
Maggie Liu · ago
Image of Josquin M. Aubert
Josquin M. Aubert · ago
This is lowkey, sad, and relatable; I'm not from a Chinese family but a French one, many things are actually similar to the not-expressing-feelings Chinese way. You made a reader connect to a character and get invested in a few words, wanting more, congratulations. Keep writing; you're talented.
Image of Maggie Liu
Maggie Liu · ago
thank you for your comments!! i'm glad it's relatable to you as well :D
Image of Mysterious Moon
Mysterious Moon · ago
Very nice!
Image of Maggie Liu
Maggie Liu · ago
thank you!
Image of Nicholas LeBlond
Nicholas LeBlond · ago
Very well done. You have a true talent.
Image of Maggie Liu
Maggie Liu · ago
thank you!
Image of Benjamin Vance
Benjamin Vance · ago
Great story! I really enjoyed it.

Also, did you perhaps mean 记明月? 寄 is also fourth tone but means to send or mail something. 记 means to remember as in 记不住。

Image of Maggie Liu
Maggie Liu · ago
thank you! i actually took the title from a song (i remembered way too late that i'd be publishing this story so i totally forgot to change it... don't worry, i do know my chinese HAHA)
Image of Benjamin Vance
Benjamin Vance · ago
Gotcha. Just listened to it ha
Image of Sydney Mabry
Sydney Mabry · ago
this is amazing!!
Image of Maggie Liu
Maggie Liu · ago
thank you!!!
Image of Scott Dodelson
Scott Dodelson · ago
Image of Maggie Liu
Maggie Liu · ago
thank you!!
Image of Aditi Mojumder Alok
Aditi Mojumder Alok · ago
This is beautiful <3
Image of Maggie Liu
Maggie Liu · ago
thank youuu!!