“Let me! Let me!” I begged between games when one brother or the other would sit back with a deep sigh of relief and victory, the other annoyed, unable to let go of the outcome. Vincent at first refused to let me play, but when I offered my Life Savers as replacements for the buttons that filled in for the missing pieces, he relented[.]
A man who watched me play in the park suggested that my mother allow me to play in local chess tournaments. . . . I desperately wanted to go, but I bit back my tongue. I knew she would not let me play among strangers. So as we walked home I said in a small voice that I didn’t want to play in the local tournament. They would have American rules. If I lost, I would bring shame on my family. “Is shame you fall down nobody push you,” said my mother.
The Chinese bakery downstairs from our flat displayed my growing collection of trophies in its window. . . . The day after I won an important regional tournament, the window encased a fresh sheet cake with whipped-cream frosting and red script saying, “Congratulations, Waverly Jong, Chinatown Chess Champion.” Soon after that, a flower shop, headstone engraver, and funeral parlor offered to sponsor me in national tournaments. That’s when my mother decided I no longer had to do the dishes. Winston and Vincent had to do my chores.
“See,” said my father as we both looked at the crib. “Nesting instincts. Here’s the nest. And here’s where the baby goes.” He was so pleased with this imaginary baby in the crib. He didn’t see what I later saw. My mother began to bump into things, into table edges as if she forgot her stomach contained a baby, as if she were headed for trouble instead. She did not speak of the joys of having a new baby; she talked about a heaviness around her, about things being out of balance, not in harmony with one another. So I worried about that baby[.]
“She’s just tired,” he explained to me when we were eating dinner at the Gold Spike, just the two of us, because my mother was lying like a statue on her bed. I knew he was thinking about her because he had this worried face, staring at his dinner plate. . . . At home, my mother looked at everything around her with empty eyes. My father would come home from work, patting my head, saying, “How’s my big girl,” but always looking past me, toward my mother. I had such fears inside, not in my head but in my stomach.