Carlee and Gavin had been fighting for ten straight minutes. Where to eat, who had to sit in what seat in the back, who was taking a shower first when we got home, who called who a butthole – you name it and they were fighting about it. My wife Melissa had not taken her medicine today, left it back at the house this morning, and it was showing. The definition of malcontent. She was staring out the side window, her mind in some other place far from here.
I told them to please hush for the fifteenth time and then threatened to ground them both when Carlee hit Gavin and he called her the B word. Melissa was ignoring the whole thing, me included when I nudged her on the leg to get her to help. When she finally did swing around, it was to ask what they were fighting about. She hadn’t even been listening and now they both launched into simultaneous tirades concerning the last fifteen minutes of arguments.
I was getting a headache and my back was tensing up. I asked Melissa for four Ibuprofen and she was too busy ignoring the kids’ heated and unruly answers to pay attention to me.
“Jesus Dad, I’m freakin’ starvin’,” Carlee whined.
“Yeah, food would be nice right about now,” Gavin agreed. Then went back to texting.
But they had both agreed and that was like the planets aligning during an eclipse. That’s when I saw the Chinese restaurant down the street behind Kellerton Mills. As far as I could remember, that old place had been abandoned since I was a kid. It had been an ice cream shop, the kind that would slop a big gob of ice cream right in your Coca-Cola. I made a U-turn and headed back. It held a nostalgic attraction.
Nobody was paying attention as we drove up, but when Melissa looked up and saw the brightly colored green and yellow neon sign, she looked around like she was lost, crinkled her brow, and said, “Yea. Chinese.”
The name of the place was New China. We got out and noticed a green VW was the only other car in the small parking lot. It had flowers painted on the side. It made me smile until Gavin slugged his sister in the arm, a little harder than necessary, and claimed, “Punch bug, can’t punch back!” Carlee chased him through the doors, cussing him every step of the way. Melissa rolled her eyes and jerked the door open like she was a hostage.
“I want the pot-stickers and the lobster seafood stuff,” Gavin demanded.
“If he gets that, then I want the cream cheese thingys and the shrimp platter,” Carlee grumbled.
“I’m not eating here,” my wife said, finding another window to stare through while we were here.
I noticed that the Chinese lady at the counter had been watching us all very close ever since we entered. She didn’t seem annoyed, just mildly curious with a poker face of sorts.
“Um, hi,” I offered with a smile. She smiled back. The first smile I had received back that day if I remember correctly. “I’ll have the Lobster, number 8 there, and some wantons and… um, the shrimp platter, number 4 that is, and um… let’s see… how about some Kung Pao chicken, and then a Dr. Pepper, sweet tea, and a Coke with no ice. Thanks.”
She smiled back but did not make a move to record my order. There was a moment of uncomfortable silence, perhaps only on my side, and then she looked over at my table. Carlee kicking Gavin underneath the table and Gavin threatening her with bodily harm. Melissa was parking lot catatonic.
“Happy family,” said the Chinese lady with a slight smile.
“Oh, uh, well,” I fumbled. Was she making fun? “We have our days, you know.” I tried to smile.
“No. You try Happy Family.” She pointed above her head without looking up. “Number 11. You lucky number today.”
“Oh, gosh no. Trying to the keep the kids, you know, happy,” I said. I was gesticulating now and for some reason felt like I was apologizing, why I don’t know.
“You like Happy Family,” she stated plainly.
I was tired. “Really… just the original order’s good, I think.”
“You like Happy Family. If you don’t like Happy Family, you no charge.”
I just didn’t feel like arguing any more and this lady wasn’t understanding at all. I could have walked out and told her never mind, but that would have led to even more ruckus in the car.
I shook my head in resignation. “You know what? Sounds fine. Let’s try it.”
“Good man make wise choice,” she said. Then she broke into a smile wider than I’ve ever seen. Her teeth were perfect and white and her eyes seemed, now that I was closer to the counter, dilated like she had been to the eye doctor. I had a very strange sensation on the back of my neck, like I had just walked through a spider web backwards. I reached for my wallet and it wasn’t in my front pocket.
“Sorry. I left my wallet in the car. Be right back.”
I went to the car to retrieve my wallet, noticing on my way out a small women coming out of the bathroom. She smiled at me as she walked to the counter to get her food. My second smile of the day. Upon reentering the restaurant, I noticed that there were other people in there I hadn’t seen before. My table was empty. As I handed the Chinese lady my credit card, I turned to watch two Oriental children quietly doing their homework at a nearby table. My crew must be in the bathrooms, I thought.
There was a very attractive Asian lady picking up some napkins from the front. Must be their mother. As she turned to me, I noticed just how amazingly gorgeous she was.
“Duck sauce, babe,” she asked? She smiled. Smile number three. And a little mischievously I might add.
“Come again?” I said.
The Chinese lady at the counter caught my attention and said, “Sign here please.”
I was still looking at the beautiful Asian woman who had obviously misspoke when I grabbed the pen.
“Oww!” I meant to holler, but felt like I was at the bottom of a dream well. My ‘Oww’ came out softly and without conviction. I looked down at the receipt. It was such an odd looking receipt, this receipt that the blood from my finger was oozing down on. How clumsy of the lady to hand me such a sharp pen. I signed my name with quite the flourish. It was unlike me to do so, but it felt good just the same. I was feeling giddy.
“Duck sauce is good, honey,” I told my smiling wife. I grabbed our meal from the nice lady and my children, Yang and Wei, started helping each other get their books together. I smiled back at the most gracious Chinese lady as a cook pushed through the swinging doors that revealed the kitchen. As I glanced into the kitchen, it for some reason reminded me of a glorious painting by Hieronymus Bosch.
As my Happy Family and I left New China, I smiled at the VW lady who for some reason did not look to be enjoying her Pu Pu Platter.
Don’t forget to check out my project on