The Shine Journal

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Hong Kong Karma




Kevin Brown




The summer I realized girls didn’t have cooties, my father died of liver failure.  I was not present at my father’s death, but figured it even, as he was not present for most of my life.


The man I refuse to call “Dad” worked for people who never looked at him.  Walking by, they’d say things like, tea or coffee, or just snap their fingers while my father smiled so wide his eyes closed and bowed until they’d passed.  He smiled so much at work he developed a facial tick at home, and believed the only way to relieve it was to never stop frowning.


At home, he rarely spoke when he talked, and never looked at Mom and me for more than a second.  He’d drink bottles of Dynasty X.O., then snap his fingers for his shoes.  He’d slam chairs and glasses and doors as he left the house, coming back late smelling not like Mom’s perfume.  Mom would cry and yell while he sat in his chair, swigging brandy, his cheek nerves twitching.


“It’s not our fault you’re just a corporate world eunuch!” she’d scream, and I would close my eyes and sometimes hear a sound like slippers slapped together and my mom crying even harder.  Most times, I just heard snoring.


His proudest memory was that he’d smelled Bruce Lee in person.  He had the chance to shake his hand, but when the star walked by my father smiled and bowed, his eyes closed in instinct.  “His cologne was so strong,” he’d tell me, his words slurring, his watery eyes upturned to the ceiling.  “It was the smell of an important man.”


One night, my father left to get right and never returned.  The last time I saw him alive was the afternoon Mom and I went to yum tsa in Victoria Harbor.  He was leaning over the railing, staring at a junk crossing the sea, the dark water like dragon scales in the breeze.


“Father!” I said, waving my hands over my head like scissors.  “It’s Cheuk Fan!”


He gripped the rail until his knuckles went white, lowered his head, and walked away.


Liver failure was listed as his cause of death because, Mom said, “You can’t just put ‘failure’ on a death certificate.”


At his funeral, a woman we had never seen before cried.


Mom did not.


It is Chinese tradition that if a son is not present at his father’s death, the son must crawl toward the casket, wailing for penance.  On my hands and knees, pushing his memory out behind me with each touch of palm and knee to the floor, moving toward the man who had always moved away from me, I could not help but marvel at what I didn’t know was karma—that finally, someone is bowing to my father, except that now, he is flat on his back.


BIO: Kevin Brown won the Permafrost Literary Journal's Midnight Sun Fiction Contest, the Touchstone Fiction Competition, and placed third in the Cadenza Fiction Contest.  He was nominated for a 2007 Journey Award, and has published in Alligator Juniper, sub-TERRAIN, Rosebud, New Delta Review, Underground Voices, Conclave, Crannog, Mississippi Crow, Flash Me, and NANO Fiction.  (Note: This story was published in issue 20 of Flash Me Magazine last year.)

Motivation : I got to thinking about what the biggest moment in my life so far was, and thought it would be sad if that moment was something as simple as smelling a person I felt was important.  I looked up at a poster of Bruce Lee, and there it was.

Photo by: Mee Lin Woon



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Email TSJ: Editor: Pamela Tyree Griffin

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