Eating Alone

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Author: Jenny Wu
Date: Fall 2019
From: The Literary Review(Vol. 62, Issue 2)
Publisher: Fairleigh Dickinson University
Document Type: Short story
Length: 3,560 words

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The crowd in front of the noodle shop was spilling onto the other side of the street. The noodle shop was holding a special event--half-price ramen--in honor of the Dragon Boat Festival. Bebe was unsure where the line began or ended, so he stood apart, under a neon sign dripping lavender and aquamarine dews, reading his comic book, trying to look busy. He wondered what the size of this crowd said about the state of Hong Kong's economy.

His grandmother caught up to him, rubbing her ribcage with her left hand. "Did you get a spot in line?" she asked.

Bebe said, "I tried to, but I don't know where the line ends."

"Well," said his grandmother. "Let's find out."

She hobbled a few steps on her wide haunches, asked, "Are you in line?" to a group of young women, about Bebe's age if not still in high school.

"Yes," said one of them, hostilely, Bebe sensed.

He held out his hand, offering his grandmother the spot in front of him. But she insisted he stand in front of her. He opened his book and went on reading.

"You'll finish that book before we get to the front of the line," his grandmother sighed.

The young woman who'd spoken earlier turned her head to look. The line inched forward. Bebe and his grandmother entered the shop and sat down at a table together. They'd been seated in the back, where the tabletops were sticky contact paper. His grandmother looked around the room and sensed there was a ghost. They traced their hands through the air to try to find the ghost.

"Do you feel that?" his grandmother whispered.

Bebe felt the foot. The wrinkles were deep, but it was most certainly a child's foot.

He handed the foot to his grandmother, who said, "Yes. It is a bit dry."

The rest of the ghost could be made out--the air was wavering a bit as when there is something hot. The ghost was a young boy, they sensed.

He was floating horizontally between them, on top of the table. A long ghost. "We should feed him," said his grandmother. They felt for his mouth. When the mouth opened, they could--although the ghost's outer form was still obscure--see inside him. The ghost's mouth was all teeth--enormous and crooked, white rectangles and cubes, crowding out of his mouth.

In every room there was a ghost, and every ghost could be fed. Once you fed a ghost, it would accompany you wherever you went. This was the first lesson Bebe's grandmother taught him after she took him in. She sat on her little plastic stool snipping the kumquat plant on the terrace, and he sat beside her on the tile, hugging his knees to his chest, humming the tune on the radio. Whenever he tried to flick a dangling kumquat into the mouth of a ghost nearby, she slapped his hand away. The kumquats were not for ghosts.

With his grandmother's money, Bebe took...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A613203624