My grandmother told me that in the best restaurants, the chefs tore the lettuce into the smallest fragments. So, I set to work. Tearing smaller and smaller into the salad bowl. Feeling useful. Staying out of the way while she and my sister prepared Hungarian Goulash or Cornish Game Hens.
When we passed the Santa ringing the bell, my grandmother put a dollar into the slot of his metal bucket. The Salvation Army does wonderful things for poor people. I carried this lesson, too. Made a point of giving bell-ringers the change after I bought my Hootie and the Blowfish CD at FYE.
I grew up in a place and time that were safe. We locked doors more out of my father’s city sensibilities than necessity. Never heard of any meaningful crime on the news, and I walked up and down the street to my friend’s house at all hours of the day and night without fear.
Then my sister’s friend got mugged. Knife point by a man in a ski mask.
Days later, we sat at my grandmother’s table. This girl was still shaken. A tall, pretty girl with close-cropped blond hair. She recounted the story. More vulnerable than I’d ever seen her. I thought maybe I should take her hand or something.
My grandmother put her wrinkled, liver-spotted hand over the girl’s smooth, tan fingers and gave them a squeeze. (I thought that to be a lesson). She waited for the girl to finish the story. All she could remember of the man who attacked her – the only identifying characteristic – was his hairy, hairy hand.
My grandmother asked, was he black?
Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and is an alum of Oregon State’s MFA Program. He won Bayou Magazine’s Knudsen Prize for fiction and his work has been published in journals including The Normal School and Bellevue Literary Review. He can be found here or on Twitter @miketchin