Published in Overland Issue 222.5 Autumn fiction Uncategorized We don’t use language like that Jessica Yu Part One i) Ah Ma when my hair was still no talking cut straight across my forehead I was watched by my Ah Ma’s wooden back-scratcher legs together it baby-sitted my blinking always waiting for my body to stray out of bounds sit quiet quiet me and Ah Ma we watched the Lion King II together every day of the school learn good good holidays after Maggi Noodles with black sauce and frankfurters sliced ii) Bonding I slid my pirated copy of the Lion King II out of the plastic sleeve protecting the sun-smeared colours of Pride Rock and put in into the VCR player and my grandma’s voice faded into the sound of the TV TV TV TV TV TV TV TV TV TV TV TV TV TV TV TV TV TV TV TV TV TV TV it was about a girl lion called Kiera Nala falls in love with Kovu a boy lion and even as a kid I could tell he was total eye-candy because it was the nineties Kovu’s mane had a love lock that hid his bad boy scar he had tan skin and round peppermint lolly wrappers for eyes but according to Simba Kovu is bad because he is related to Scar who killed Simba’s dad when I got a bit older I wondered whether this was a tacky as hell black/white/segregation/Romeo/Juliet story because Kovu’s skin is the colour of chocolate ice-cream and Kiara’s is the colour of a fifty-cent cone two lions who fall in love with each other against their parent’s wishes isn’t that just so nineties? interracial love taboos iii) Show and Tell when I told my Ah Ma that my boyfriend was no longer a hypothetical she asked me if he owned property what colour his skin was his vocation and told me not to change my mind then she said no don’t tell me don’t tell me and no I know I know you like Ang Moh (and laughed and it did me good to hear her laugh because nowadays I miss the days when she disciplined me because at least she was alive to me then now I’m not always so sure she knows what’s going on and it hurts me more than her back-scratcher ever did) in Chinese-Hokkien Ang Moh = red hair = White People I wonder if Babel Fish would have translated my grandma as saying I know I know you like rangas Or Or Or I know I know you like baboons because in Chinese-Hokkien ang kah chui = red butts = baboons I told my boyfriend about the mistranslation and he didn’t find it as funny as I thought he would Part Two i) Nonna when your hair was still overgrown and you showed your two front teeth in photographs you slid your long belly and enoki limbs under the pleather couch hiding from the bulldog your nonna kept to protect her and only her its eyes were like thrift-shop china cracked and pink and polished in front of the TV you ate soccer ball ham cut thick from its paper wrapping ii) Bonding when you were old enough to drive your Nonno’[sign of the cross here]s battered Corolla Nonna would sit in the passenger seat and love you more times she would love you more times over than the rosary you’re wearing purple today Nonna sexy! only son of her only son she would slip fifties Ooh new glasses Nonna cicci bella in my car into your back pocket as you drove her to the cemetery and her mouth was always full of small talk family small talk how are the children? she would ask of your little sisters your little sisters too jealous to speak to you when you drove home bloated with love and warm-hued oil be careful driving home and when you cross the road drive slowly no risks you come for lunch again this week? iii) Show and Tell you were too afraid to tell your Nonna about me she would have too much advice about meeting and marrying and it doesn’t matter no I don’t mind just take all the time in the world of course are you sure? no yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes no yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes well okay I’m okay if you’re okay we’re okay okay Part Three i) The End the day we drove past your Nonna’s house on the way to the supermarket and you pointed it out to me on the corner of Eliza St and Droop Pde it’s very Italian you laughed it looks like any suburban house looks I didn’t say I was thinking aloud less and less often around you in those days should we go in? you asked me always daring yourself to do things always proving to yourself that you were unscareable that you could laugh at things that made me scream Yeah sure if you want I was always ready to tell you yes or okay or sure not on purpose it wasn’t really conscious but sometimes you’d tell me something you wanted to do or eat or see or whatever and just the sound of you saying what you wanted made me start to wonder if that was exactly what I wanted all along only you had articulated it for me perfectly like a book and so I would say yes yes let’s do it you did a U-turn and braked outside her house you opened the gate for me it was such a tiny gate well it’s the thought that counts I said with my heart and not my mouth a-Nonnnnnnnnaaaaaaaah you sang like it was a musical that we were starring in you knocked and rang and knocked and rang knocked and rang knocked and rang knocked nothing I’m worried. Where else could she be? She doesn’t go anywhere. do you wanna call? she won’t pick up should we break in? let’s just try the gate she might be in the backyard your Nonna opened the gate for us she was like a human that had been made in half-size a family mascot her eyes and chin a symbol of you I was always bowing when she spoke to me because I didn’t want to tower over her you made a racist joke about this in front of your mum and she made excuses for you or maybe for me Nonna this is my girlfriend she tried not to let her eye-line bump into mine I went to the bathroom to be alone with myself and I heard the wallpaper saying is she a sensible girl? yeah way more sensible than me Nonna no you are good boy you are sensible when I came out unsure of whether I wiped my sweaty hands on the right towel she smiled and talked about silverbeet and the neighbour’s birthday cake and shoved a tenner and a fifty into your board shorts does she speak English? of course do you love him? we don’t use language like that Nonna I think so you said it like she’d sworn at me I told her and tried not to look at you is she a good girl? yeah Nonna no alcohol no tatts no gambling no swearing even if you’re a good girl I’ll like you she told me like a truce or maybe it was a threat how old are you twenty-one you’re such a skinny girl it’s beautiful shyness doesn’t equal respect here you whispered in my ear you are beautiful too I told her going against the grain of myself come on Nonna it’s my cicci bella! be happy for me I am I just don’t feel too good today no bad feelings just don’t feel good I am does your grandmother want anything from the supermarket? I needed you to translate something not language but something else I couldn’t quite spell out Artichokes soccer ball ham she told me her face changing for the better when you cross the road take care of each other look for cars no risks no risks you both come for lunch this week? hold each other’s hands when you cross the road, you hold his hand so he doesn’t take risks and oh mama no showing off she told you as if she could stop you ii) Coda you unlatched the tiny gate for me and clicked it back in place I think our grandmas have some things in common they would be friends if we if we if we oh if we if we if we if we if we we if we we if we if we I thought but did not say to your face beautiful – Image: Antifama/Flickr Jessica Yu Jessica Yu is a Creative Writing PhD student at the University of Melbourne and the founder of Betanarratives. Her writing has been published (or is forthcoming) in The Best Australian Poems, Overland, Cordite, The Lifted Brow, Award Winning Australian Writing, The Saturday Paper and more. She is a monthly faith columnist/interviewer for Right Now. More by Jessica Yu Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places. If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate. Related articles & Essays 1 First published in Overland Issue 228 3 February 20233 February 2023 Fiction Fiction | Romeo and Juliet II: Haunted rentals Georgia Symons The hauntings are actually quite flamboyant here, though. Yeah, come in, come in. Not like my friend Moya’s house—it just has a tool shed that sometimes isn’t there and that’s it. So boring. 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