Theme X: Family, Introduction

With Thanksgiving approaching, writing pieces on the strangeness yet familiarity of family relationships seemed only fitting. Whether you’re anticipating your classic drunk uncle and his off-beat humor, your grandma who’s offended that you’re vegan now and can’t eat her creamed spinach, or your sister you’ll immediately pick back up a conversation you left three months ago, all is fair game with family. Whether those bonds through the mama drama and the sibling rivalries end up good or bad, conflict creates story — and our writers this week explore their own views of family.

Happy Reading!

Hannah Treasure, Under the Arch Editor



Fishing Trip” by Bourrée Huang

Memorial Day, 2015” by Tia Ramos

Uncle Jim” by Sebastian Muriel

Very Cold and Early” by Nicholas Ng

Abuela” by Nikolas Reda-Castelao

Theme X: Family, “Fishing Trip”

by Bourrée Huang

Dad and I never went fishing together. Not once, not ever. Not even at those cheap, make-believe fishing stalls at carnivals, where they put the fish in colourful plastic bowls, and all you have to do is sit there and wait for the fish to come to you. You’d have to be pretty stupid to not catch any, stupid like Tommy from school.

I think Dad and I never went fishing because he doesn’t know how to fish, so if we were to go fishing together, he’d be a fish out of water. Dad always likes to pretend like he knows what he’s doing, even when he clearly hasn’t a clue. Like that one time he tried to impress the pretty waitress by ordering our weekly fix of Chinese takeout in Chinese. “My college roommate was Asian,” he assured us. Only, what came out of his mouth was not Chinese. It sounded like he was rolling down a very wet, very thorny hill with two baby seals playing volleyball in his mouth. We ended up eating in that night.

Or when he insisted on teaching me to bike, even though Grandpa told me en confianza that the training wheels on Dad’s bike never came off (Grandpa made sure I understood what en confianza meant.) When Dad first made the announcement, Momma was also in the room. Momma and I looked at each other for a good second, like a neon pink meteoroid had just landed in our backyard. I gave her a please-don’t-let-him-do-this-to-me look. She thought for a bit, like she does when deciding for how many days to ground me, then responded with an it-will-be-fine-honey. Or maybe it was a this-won’t-end-well-for-you-but-do-it-for-your-dad. I’m not sure. Our language needs perfecting. So without the time for even a pathetic little whimper, I was car park-bound, hanged, drawn, and quartered.

Really, it didn’t matter to me that we never went fishing. I didn’t care if Tommy brags on the school bus every Monday just how many fish he caught, because I knew his dad caught all of them, because Tommy will always be a schmuck. But I did want to do something adventurous with Momma and Dad, just like those white American families you see on television –– they always look so happy. I knew sailing to our summer house in the Hamptons was out of the question; we drove a second-hand sedan. The great American road trip would also be hard because Momma always gets carsick. That leaves hiking as the last option, and as soon as I brought up at dinner how Tommy’s dad didn’t have a beer belly, Dad crawled into the basement, digging for his old trekking pole.

The day of departure was a historic one because Momma made her signature fish tacos, and Momma only ever makes fish tacos on historic days. The last time Momma made fish tacos was on Día de los Muertos, and when we begged her for more, she simply put her hands on her waist and said: “Well, Manny, maybe your father should learn how to cook.”

At the foot of the mountain, Momma decided that she would just stay and wait for us. “You boys go ahead –– Momma was not built for climbing mountains.” “Don’t worry son, we’ll conquer la montaña just the two of us,” said Dad, fist-pumping into the sky.

It was a big mountain. There were many trees and not much else, but a winding path and some steps leading into the green blur. During the hike, Dad and I talked about many things, just as we should, because real men talk good –– that’s what Dad always says. “But you can’t just talk the talk,” he adds. “You can’t yackety-yak all day like Tommy’s dad does. Real men have to be able to walk the walk, too.” We played a lot of games, like taking turns to list all the words we knew for each alphabet letter, from a all the way to z and all the way back. I always win this game. Dad says he goes easy on me, but I know it’s because his English isn’t very good. After playing all the games we knew, Dad began talking politics, something about how the system no es transparente, and how the government is lying to us. I don’t know what that means. Sometimes I think Dad just uses big words to sound smart. Then, he went on about man’s conflict with nature, about the existential attitude and the absurd, before holding me violently by the shoulders, looking me dead in the eye, and reminding me to never forget my roots.

Before we knew it, the sun fell away and we were the only ones left in the mountain. Dad pretended to look calm, but he was fidgeting with the compass. I knew he had no idea where we were. I started to panic. Dad told me that when he used to serve in the army, he would parachute onto deserted islands and into great rainforests; he’d been lost so many times he’s lost count. He survived for weeks on a vegan diet. This was nothing to him. Nada. He told me that if we were to run into a brown bear, that I must play dead. “Remember Manny,” he says, “the best offence is a good defence.” But if it’s a black bear, I must fight back with everything I’ve got. “Punch it, kick it, bite it, do everything you can to get the damn thing away from you.” Finally, he told me that in case we get separated, that I shouldn’t go back to search for him. “You hear me? Don’t you come back lookin’ for papa.” He made me promise that I would stay in school and get good grades, because then I could go to a good college, then make enough money to take Momma on fishing trips. He made me promise that I would take good care of Momma, because I’d be the man of the house, and real men take care of their families.

Just as soon as Dad finished his sentence, two park patrol guys appeared out of the bushes. We were escorted back to the foot of the mountain, where Momma was pacing around like a mad witch, mumbling and cursing to herself. She had never been so happy to see us.

Back home, after a warm bath and some television show about a fishing expedition, we found fish tacos in the kitchen. “Eat up,” Momma said, “It’s a historic day.”

Theme X: Family, “Memorial Day, 2015”

By Tia Ramos

“Welcome to the West” my aunt said when I came home from college
as we were standing in a cemetery in Industrial Denver.

black clouds were seeping into the blue sky, pulled by cowboys on horses I’m told

This is the hope?
Three Japanese sisters looking down at the gravestone of their grandparents
Grandma came to the US and died of pneumonia leaving grandpa with 8 little ones, loneliness, and alcoholism.

In the oldest cemetery of Denver, sometimes you can’t leave because the only entrance is blocked by a railroad track and you have a view of tall skinny factories that look like remnants of a plastic polly pocket mold and the cemetery now doesn’t have any money and you wonder when some contractors will come down and plow over it to build some new hip condominium with awkward windows and some other cemetery will now be the oldest (on condition) and my great-grandparents will now really die with hundreds of other great-grandparents who have probably already died based on the weeds and dried flowers around the grave.

So this is the West they all boasted about. An old white guy on a tractor with a large teepee like the Native Americans on his property. A storm coming in from the north with hail that dents cars and rain that creates deep puddles in the oldest cemetery in Denver. Three Japanese-American sisters who only pull out their culture and incense on days when they should, only remember on days that they should. A juiced-out lighter and incense that won’t burn.

Theme X: Family, “Uncle Jim”

By Sebastian Muriel

A father and his daughter wait for an elevator in the lobby of an apartment. The father just got out of work and is exhausted. The daughter just got out of school is is elated. Her colorful backpack radiates with a joy that is truly reflective of her unwavering smile. “Daddy, what are you getting for your birthday?”she asks her father. Something about the question strikes the father deep within the fabric of his memories. He longingly remembers how he once felt joy and wonder, but now his daughter’s inquiry reminds him of his confinement to stress and anxiety. “Nothing sweetie, money’s kinda tight right now.” the father lovingly responds, effectively repressing all sorrow and anguish behind the brutal fact of his starvation of joy.

The daughter looks up at him with a gaze so endearing, so innocently reassuring, the father cannot help but to smile while sharing with her their current financial situation. She produces a worn out doll, a doll that seems to have been part of her childhood for as long as she can remember. Holding out the doll towards her father, she says, “Well, I got you something.” The father sees the doll and is lovingly caressed by a distant time of prosperity and wonder when he and his wife were first learning how to be parents, and the only thing they could really afford to buy their daughter was this doll. The enigmatic thing, though, is how his daughter managed to preserve her joy even in the midst of a deprivation of what kids her age find joy in—toys, mountains of dolls, amusement parks, loads of candy. His daughter seems to have attained a joy that is beyond the economy they live in, for this doll was the only symbol of material joy in her life–and she is willing to give it up in a heartbeat. Speechlessly receiving the doll, the father utters a ‘thank you’ and lets himself be clothed in this joy.

BUZZ-BUZZ! The father’s phone is ringing. It’s his wife. He hands the doll to his daughter and walks away to take the call. His wife needs groceries, so he writes the list on the back of a flier hanging on the wall. Curiously, he turns the flier around to see what it says: “BEWARE OF LOCAL KIDNAPPER. DO NOT LEAVE CHILDREN UNATTENDED.” The wife’s voice is gradually blotted out by the rumbling pulse of fear, as the father looks over to where he left his daughter. She’s in the elevator. A man in a black hooded sweatshirt stands behind her. The doors close, effectively piercing his heart with a ruthless blade of remorse. He runs to the stairwell.

Running up the stairwell is a merciless reminder of his physical ineptitude, as he struggles to maintain a sprint—even when the life of his beloved daughter is at stake. He feels vulnerable, because he is completely at the whim of his circumstances, and his physical incapacity could potentially be the barrier between him and saving his daughter. The ominous thought of failure elicits a surge of motivation within him, and he painfully increases his pace. He gets off on the fifth floor to check if his daughter is there. He sees the doll on the ground, in the middle of the hallway. He runs over to it, picks it up, and holds it with a childish fear of possession and attachment to something far deeper than a mere doll. It is an embodiment of the remains of his daughter, and he’s holding her as she slowly crumbles away as her kidnapper gets further away. He sees the elevator signage display that the elevator is still going up—to his floor. He runs back to the stairwell.

While running, he hears his daughter’s voice cry out his name in a sing-song, playful manner. He runs even faster. Even if her tone of voice was still the precious joy of a child, the father knew that she did not know the grave danger that she was in. Her joy was not going to be shattered by this unknown perpetrator of fear and terror. He was going to deliver her from the tyranny of reality and human brutality. He ran with more alacrity than ever, effectively rendering his physical ineptitude nonexistent as he flew up the stairs like a hero.

He barges into his hallway. He sees the hooded man standing beside his daughter at the front of his door at the other end of the hallway. With the doll in his hand, the father marches down the hallway towards the kidnapper and mercilessly beats him with his daughter’s doll, preaching his face off with a sermon of joy that will not be shaken from his daughter’s life. The kidnapper is knocked out by the father’s relentless beating, and the daughter stands in sheer terror of what she had just witnessed. “UNCLE JIM!” the daughter shouts. The father curiously looks at his daughter then fearfully examines the body and sees that… it is in fact, Uncle Jim. A wave of immense guilt comes over him. His front door opens. Slowly, the father looks up from the body and sees his family and friends. They’re crowded in his living room, dressed in party attire, ready to surprise him. They all stare at him in disbelief and fear. The father cannot believe what he has just done. He drops the doll, and faithfully surrenders to the favor the world does have for him.