Her mother clicks the cartoon off. She ignores her daughter’s pleas. She was in mid-chorus; singing along with the princess, dancing when the TV’s screen went blank. Now her mother heads to the bins where she keeps her toys. In her arms she carries all her dolls with their pretty dresses, the princesses and princes. She follows her mother to the kitchen. She plops them on the counter and one by one removes the dolls’ clothes. The pink heart-shaped dresses and golden tiaras lie next to the naked dolls piled on top of each other. It’s an obscene scene and the little girl blushes. Her mother ignites the burner. Under the flames, the tiny-stitched clothing melt. The smell of burnt plastic stinks up the kitchen. When the mother finishes, she turns around to reprimand her daughter. “Don’t cry.”

She takes the girl’s hand. Out in the backyard she places her daughter’s hands on the oak tree. “This is your husband,” she says. She plucks a flower. “This is your lover,” she says. They lie their backs on the wet grass and watch the wind blow the clouds. “These are your friends,” she says. In the kitchen, she removes the Diet Coke from the fridge and takes a half of a packet of Mentos. Dropping the Mentos in, the soda explodes twenty nine feet high. “This is your life,” she says. Days afterward the floor tugs the bottom of their feet and their arms are covered in the sweet brown liquid that drops from the ceiling.

The girl grows up. She forgets. When she arrives home crying over a broken heart, when she bursts through the front door sobbing over her divorce, the woman takes her by the hand and leads her toward the backyard. She spreads her hands and says, “This is all yours.”

  Years pass. The girl remarries and gives birth to more children. They both grow older, but the mother grows older still. And when the girl, now a woman not worth your salt, hears the news, she arrives at the burial site. Her hand reaches up. From the sky she plucks wisps of clouds and sprinkles them over the grave. The grandchildren standing by her side grow impatient. “Nana, why must we be here?” they ask. She leads them to the tree standing nearby and wrap their hands around it. “This is your spouse,” she says. Among the weeds, she collects flowers and twists them into crowns of glory. Placing them on their heads, she says, “These are your lovers.” They run to the creek that sweeps along the graveyard’s edge. There they fall on their backs to count the clouds. When they reach a thousand, she rises and spreads her arms. “These are your friends.” They laugh and laugh and laugh, for never before have their hearts been filled with so many good things. It feels wonderful.

***

Xenia Taiga lives in southern China with a cockatiel, a turtle and an Englishman. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions and is part of Best Microfiction 2019 Anthology. Her website is http://xeniataiga.com/. Her abstract artwork is available on Etsy.

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