Day 21: Eight Treasures Rice Pudding by Annie Bien

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On the 21st Day of Christmas Annie Bien gave to me…

Mommy lifted the lid. The sweet aroma of sticky rice filled the kitchen.

“You girls couldn’t be more different. Your sister wants everything American: a white fake tree, cotton snow, ornaments, wrapping paper, colored lights. That costs money. Is she mad because she thinks I don’t want it?”

Mommy didn’t wait for an answer. I learned from Daddy that meant Mommy was asking a rhetorical question, a question where you don’t expect answers.

“I take you to the department store. You refuse to line up for Santa because he smells like alcohol, leans too close, wears too much aftershave. I buy Pillsbury cookie dough to make chocolate chip cookies for Brenda’s party. Your sister complains it should be gingerbread. Now you want to make Eight Treasures rice pudding for Brenda’s Christmas party?”

I nodded. Brenda had invited me to my first party ever.

“Are you sure?”

I nodded.

“And wear your Chinese jacket?”

I nodded.

“Are you just nodding meaning yes, for sure? Do you really mean it, Mei Mei?”

“I mean it Mommy.”

“What’s going on?”

Could be rhetorical or maybe not. “Mommy, why would someone nod yes, for sure if they don’t mean it?”

Mommy ignored my question. “What’s your plan?”

“Here’s a tree mold.” I showed her the cardboard tree I had cut and taped. “Green candied fruit for the tree, cherries for ornaments, raisins for trimmings.”

Mommy’s pursed lips curved up, her dimpled chin disappeared. “Okay. Let’s center the mold for your tree. The rice will have cooled by then. I’ll cut the candied fruit smaller to fit in.”

“Thanks Mommy.”

Mommy cut, watching me squeeze the fruit into the mold. She adjusted the cardboard when it sagged, pressing sticky rice around it to stiffen the shape. She gently withdrew the tree shape, placed another sticky rice layer over the fruit tree, filled in a bean paste middle, topped off with rice. “Let’s hope it unmolds in one piece.”

The Eight Treasures Rice Pudding fell out intact. Mommy smiled, “Looks good. Here’s a jar with the sweet sauce icing.”

My sister walked into the kitchen. “That’s for the party? Americans don’t like sticky rice. Take this package of cookies. Put it in this tin. Do you know how bad you’ll feel if no one eats it?” She held a biscuit tin and a bag of cookies.

I looked at Mommy. Her jaw had clenched again, the dots back on her chin. “Maybe you should take the cookies, Mei Mei.”

“I got this just for you, Mei Mei. I’m the most experienced with Americans here. I’ve gone to school the longest of anyone, right?”

I didn’t think my sister asked rhetorical questions. I took the cookies.

My sister left. My mother washed the rice container.

“Mommy? Could we bring both? I want to give the Eight Treasures Rice Pudding to Brenda. I’ll tell her it’s okay if she doesn’t like it, she can eat the cookies.”

My mother wiped her hands on her apron. Turning, she nodded.

Annie Bien

Annie Bien has written two poetry collections—Under Shadows of Stars (Kelsay Books, 2017) and Plateau Migration (Alabaster Leaves Press, 2012). She has published flash fiction in print and online magazines, is a Pushcart Nominee, finalist and shortlisted with Strands International Flash Fiction, A3 Press and Review, and Reflex Fiction. She is an English translator of Tibetan Buddhist scriptures for 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.

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