Snails

For the past few weekends, I was away. I was on “vacation” on those weekends, short trips to Palm Springs, Las Vegas and San Jose, but there is nothing more relaxing than waking up in your own bed on a warm weekend morning, no alcohol in your bloodstream, no loud music from the night before, no sore soles from high heeled dancing shoes. Self-inflicted torment, I know. On Sunday evenings I would arrive home, exhausted from the drive and the combination of sleeplessness compounded from both the preceding workweek and the resulting weekend. YOLO, my friend Drake likes to say.

YOLO indeed, but there are many ways to YOLO.

This weekend I was at home for the first time in a long time. A delicious, nostalgia inducing state. I was reminded of those lazy summer days of my youth (and in truth there are about to be a lot more with my impending unemployment) where my sole responsibility was to make sure I swam after 4PM, when the sun was not so scorching. And even though this weekend was similar in its simplicity, it is never the same as when you were young. But I tried. I tried.

I ate popcorn and watched a string of Tom Cruise movies (“A Few Good Men” and “Jerry Maguire” – I know he is a crazy Scientologist but man can he deliver some lines!), read magazines from June and July, and went swimming to assuage my growing likeness to a beached whale.

Socially, I spent much needed time with family; lunching with them at a hot, crowded noodle house in Rowland Heights with slow service but enormous dumplings and then cooling off in my cousin’s airy new mansion with green carpeting and onyx vanities. We cooed over their new baby boy. In the afternoon my cousin came over to swim and we paddled and talked while my father dozed in the living room. When we came dripping inside, he gave us fresh cut watermelon. We showered and lounged on my brother’s bed, watching Jerry Maguire propose to Dorothy Boyd.

In the evening, I cut yam leaves from my mother’s garden and blanched them for dinner. It was an eyebrow raising dinner: an odd combination of tomato sauce on yam leaves, with some Parmesan sprinkled on top. My carb-free version of spaghetti. I ate before my mother came home from her line-dance class and when she returned and sat down to eat with my father, I for some reason wanted to stay and talk to them instead of retreat to my room as I normally. I ate a bowl of shaved ice while my father gnawed on leftover pork knuckles. My mother finished the fish she made two days ago.

We were very happy.

After dinner I started to write this, then stopped. I had spend enough time in front of a screen, probably enough for my entire life, though certainly there are several thousand hours ahead. I looked up across the street and saw my neighbor’s car pulling in. I imagined him giving his wife a peck on the cheek as he set his keys down on the kitchen counter. I had been in their house once as a child, and knew the layout. It was the same as ours, except with a second floor. I saw a couple walking their dog after their evening meal, most likely discussing their grown children who lived in other cities. My parents were less than a hundred feet away – we were at the same address and yet I often wondered what they were doing.

I stood up and walked to the living room. My father was asleep in the massage chair. There was a travel show playing, showcasing the gorgeous scenery of some place in Sichuan China. The back door was ajar and my mother’s house slippers at the threshold. It was getting dark and I wondered what my mother could do in the garden.

I called her name and I think she heard me better than I heard her. She was on the hill, crouched in the vegetable patch my father had built for her. The sun was gone and by what light was left I could make out a small plastic bucket in her left hand and the swift plucking motion of her right.

Dunk, dunk.

Whatever she was plucking made a small, satisfying percussion as they hit the inside of the bucket.

“Mom?”

“Hmm?” Her voice was almost singsongy, and though I couldn’t see her face I knew her expression – the slightly wan, but contented look she gets when she’s spent a few satisfying hours in the garden. Hours well spent.

“What are you plucking?”

Dunk, dunk. 

“Snails,” she said, “They come out after dark to eat my precious leaves.”

Dunk, dunk, dunk. 

“Sounds like there are a lot.”

There are. It’s terrible.”

“What do you do with them?”

“I dump them somewhere else.”

“Don’t you think it’s disgusting to touch them?”

Dunk, dunk, dunk.

“I did,” she said, then paused to examine a particularly large one, “I used to use chopsticks. But not anymore. It’s much faster this way.”

I could hardly see my mother then, and left her to her work. Walking back into the house my father stirred.

Where’s your mother?”

Plucking snails in the back,” I said, “They come out at night and snack on yam leaves.”

My father shifted in the massage chair, nodding as though he knew all about snails and yam leaves, “Yam leaves are very good for everyone.” Then he noticed how dark it had become.

Go help your mother,” he said.

I wrinkled my nose, “I don’t want to touch snails or step in the dirt. I’ve already showered.”

“It’s dark,” he said, “You could hold a flashlight for her, couldn’t you? Bring her a light.”

I guess so. I didn’t feel like writing. Not yet. I went to my father’s cabinet, where he kept random things like flashlights and radios and took out the most powerful flashlight he had. The kind that cops use when they are suspicious of someone. The kind that doubles as a weapon. It cast a cold beam, but was sufficiently bright and would illuminate a slimy snail on a clean yam leaf like a helicopter following a car on a high speed chase. Fox News with snails.

Wordlessly, I went back to my mother and clicked it on right where her hand was reaching next. She showed no surprise, as though she’d known all along I would come back with the light.

Point it here,” she said simply. I did as I was told. I held the light for her as she seized the frozen snails. I don’t think she got them all.

“I could never get them all,” she said, “but I did get many of them.”

She told me about a friend of hers who made a funny sort of escargot with the snails she found in her garden.

But I wouldn’t do that,” she said. The little bucket appeared to be about full and I stayed away, purposely not shining the light into the bucket. I think it would have made me squeamish. But my mother took the bucket to a withered avocado tree several feet away from the garden patch and turned the bucket over. She whacked the bucket against a branch. The snails tumbled onto the ground, a confused bunch writhing in the dark.

My mother smiled at me as she came up the cement steps.

“Don’t touch me,” I said.

She laughed. “Of course not. Thanks for your help.”

We stood for a moment and looked down into the garden. A shadowy patch of yam leaves freed from the at least one night’s onslaught of snails.

My father dozed in the light of the living room. My mother was very happy. Poor snails. All they wanted was a twilight snack.

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