“The House of Aunts” by Zen Cho
Card picked: Jack of Clubs
From: Available online at GigaNotoSaurus
The first time she saw the boy across the classroom, Ah Lee knew she was in love because she tasted durian on her tongue. That was what happened–no poetry about it. She looked at a human boy one day and the creamy rank richness of durian filled her mouth. For a moment the ghost of its stench staggered on the edge of her teeth, and then it vanished.
She had not tasted fruit since before the baby came. Since before she was dead.
After school she went home and asked the aunts about it.
“Ah Ma,” she said, “can you taste anything besides people?”
Ah Lee is seventeen. She lives with her six aunties—her grandmother, her great-grandmother, and four of their daughters. All the women aside from Ah Lee are over age 55, the generation “gap” is more like a chasm. The aunties want Ah Lee to be a good student, to get a scholarship, to get a career, and to be an independent woman. These were all things that weren’t as possible for them. All Ah Lee wants is to be an average teenager, which is already complicated by being dead. Ah Lee and her aunties are pontianak, entrail-eating “ghosts” of women who died while pregnant. Ah Lee develops a crush on Ridzual, the new boy at school. Both are on the outskirts of social circles at school and they become friends…until Ah Lee tells Ridzual her secret.
Here I am, two weeks into the year, I have a strong contender for my 2017 Top Ten. Cho does a wonderful job with the aunties’ cross talk and tangents and their firm belief that they are doing the right things for Ah Lee. Ah Lee is pitch perfect too, full of all the frustrations and small secrets of being a teenage girl.
Zen Cho‘s “Monkey King, Faerie Queen” was one of the highlights of my July 2016 #24in48. She is a London-based Malaysian author and editor. Her debut novel is Sorcerer to the Crown.
I have a soft spot for any magic involving birds that isn’t a dove act. Here is Malaysian magician Andrew Lee and his beautiful assistant Snow.