Voiceless She sucked on the thick piece of licorice trying to mask the taste of blood in her mouth.

The candy was a trick that her father taught her as a child. Fifteen years later, the dark sweetness found a way to soothe whatever pains she had, emotional or physical. Saliva mixed the metallic twinge of her blood and the processed sugar of the black lacquered candy into an old memory that Bai never enjoyed. Bai closed her eyes and thought about how Frank Sinatra never sung in Cantonese. The secret of the chewy licorice laces was revealed a month before her eleventh birthday. Bai and her father were living in a small house in an Ohio mill-town when Bai’s mom felt like she needed to see America. She left the two of them without any motherly hesitation and never returned. Bai’s dad was quiet about it, and whenever Bai asked about her mother, he’d always tell her that she was looking for America and would come back after she found it. He was a good father who provided everything possible for Bai. The only thing that he couldn’t provide for Bai was her mother or a replacement mother. For Bai’s dad, being a midthirties, ex-Army, blond haired, blue eyes, tall, well-built man of German descent wasn’t an obstacle to meeting a new woman to share his life with, but everything crashed down when a prospective girlfriend met his daughter. Having a ChineseGerman daughter seemed to scare away most of the women in eastern Ohio. The leaving of Bai’s mother and the refusal of women to get into long-term relationships because of his daughter took its toll on Bai’s dad. She heard him crying in his room one night, yet he refused to show the emotions to his daughter. The only time Bai’s dad ever showed his feelings over his Hong Kong bride was when he took an axe to the kitchen in his quiet, repressed fury. Bai’s dad dropped a plate on his way to the sink after dinner one night. It shattered into pieces before Bai’s eyes. His head fell, mumbled words rolled from his mouth, and he told Bai in a whispered voice to go to her room and listen to a record. Bai quietly obeyed in the proper Chinese way her mother taught her before she left to see America. She went to her room and picked out her favorite record, an old Sinatra record. Bai’s father bought it for her mother on their first date in Hong Kong. With the muffled sound of a record needle hitting the rim of

the record, Bai heard the front door open and close. The orchestral flourish leading to Frank’s opening vocals was preempted by the door opening and closing again. By the time Frank reached his first chorus, Bai and the rest of the neighborhood could hear the axe rising and falling with an accompaniment of glass and wood in the kitchen. Bai resisted the urge to make Frank louder and listened to the screams of wood and Formica that were dying at a swiftly swung axe. The record took on a staticky tone, like it was being played over a camp loudspeaker. With Frank’s voice slowly being consumed by static, Bai took it upon herself to investigate the noise in the neighboring room. Like a Communist solider silently threading her way through the reeds of a jungle, Bai closed on the kitchen to find her father lost in the physical exertion required to create the massive carnage of silverware, dishes, glasses, pots, pans, canned goods, shelves, cabinets, china, appliances and fruit. An unspoken word from Bai barely found her dad’s ears. Like a radio operator hearing the final static-laden cries of the near dead, he pulled the axe head from the counter, quickly spun on his heels and sent a fist-sized chunk of Formica countertop across the kitchen and into Bai’s mouth, splitting her lip in two places. Blood flowed into her mouth and Bai’s hand leapt to cover her lips in an attempt to catch a drop or two of her flowing blood before it could make a mess on the kitchen’s shrapnel covered floor. The cradled axe fought its way free and fled for the freedom of the floor with a bouncing, clattering thud. Two steps carried Bai’s father over the kitchen debris, to where his knee buckled and brought his blue eyes level to Bai’s dark eyes. Bai’s eyes were wide in shock at the injury done to her as a little bit of her German-Chinese blood began to struggle its way through her fingers. Bai’s dad’s voice was weak, “Darling, I’m sorry. Please don’t cry, I never meant for this to happen. I wasn’t thinking. I-I…” Confused and unsure of what was happening, Bai wanted to cry or scream or yell or smile or frown or something, anything. She wanted to show her father that she was okay and reacting to the situation. The trauma of being struck maintained its hold on her, and she stood shell-shocked as blood rolled down the back of her hand and began to decorate the floor. Through the throbbing of her lips, Bai finally saw that her mother’s leaving sliced a long and unhealed swath through him and his state of mind. It was a

hero’s sacrifice to keep his loss inside, only to be undone by a slippery dish. He turned their kitchen into the ruin that long years of loneliness and caring alone for his daughter had created inside of him. Bai wanted to explain that she understood, she empathized and everything was okay. She could only verbalize an empty “eep” that caused more fear to shoot through her father. Bai’s father gave her a hand motion to stay still, crawled across the debris towards the cupboard, ransacked it and soon returned from a decimated length of a shelf. “Honey, I need you to put your hand down for a second.” He made a feeble pawing motion at Bai’s bloody, makeshift hand bandage. “Kiddo, I need you to move your hand. I’ve got some medicine that’ll deal with the hurt.” The hand remained firm upon Bai’s mouth; her body was listening to the loud quiet of shock rather than her own nerve impulses. Slowly, Bai’s dad’s hand cautiously slid up her face, his fingers hooked under Bai’s and gently pulled her hand down. Bai’s lips were thin an outlined by fresh blood from her mouth. A smeared handprint covered her chin and the palm of her hand showed the same. Her lips were cut in two places, but there was more blood than damage done. Bai’s father was relieved when he saw Bai’s face. It was small, wouldn’t scar, and be barely visible in a few days’ time. His voice found renewed strength needed to comfort. “Aw, sweet pea, it’s nothing. Just a flesh wound.” He deftly used his fingers to part Bai’s lips and teeth enough to slip a small piece of licorice into her mouth. “I’m going to tell you a secret,” he said as he sat down on the kitchen floor. “Whenever you taste blood in your mouth, put some licorice between your teeth and suck it into nothingness. When it’s gone, the hurt will disappear with it. They go away together. Licorice is made special like that. The black color is especially made to absorb pain and other bad stuff.” Bai’s stance softened for the first time since entering the kitchen. With her newfound control, Bai nodded lightly to show that she understood. Her father’s face broke into a wide smile and gave a mischievous laugh. He drew Bai close, gave her a monster bear hug with her bloody mouth leaving a firm, red stamp on the shoulder of his shirt. A quick glance over his shoulder revealed the absolute ruin of the kitchen and its appliances. His dirt and dust covered hands wiped at the corners of his eyes leaving long streaks of dirt across his face. “Don’t worry, peach, we’re still okay. We’re going to have to

eat out for a little while until I fix the kitchen,” said Bai’s father. A short, curt hm from his daughter was Bai’s way of agreeing, but he had grown used to such an answer from his daughter. With a middle-aged groan, Bai’s dad got back on his feet, picked up his axe and set it on the counter. Hands firmly set up to support his 180-pound frame against the chipped and chopped Formica, head slouched against his chest, and felt the need to say something conversational, something normal. The best he could come up with was his trademarked line to change the subject. “Y’know, I’ve always wondered why Frank Sinatra never sung in Cantonese.”