You say that like I’m going to die

by Lucy Zhang

Before I sleep, I photocopy my pocket-sized notebook, email the images to my parents, tell them all my passwords are there, cancel my Netflix subscription if you’re not going to watch anything. To be honest, I’m already signed into all of my accounts, if only they had faith in password managers, although the notebook is the only reason why I can still draw characters rather than pray a pinyin keyboard can read my mind. You should always be able to write your name, my parents said, so all of my passwords contain my name albeit in English, because the language input method gets disabled as soon as I click into a text field, but I pen the passwords in Chinese because look mom, I’ve never forgotten, not the héng zhé gōu, the diǎn, the characters for rain and road, stacked to make dew.

Before I sleep, I ask Dad to pry out one of the Peel and Stick Vinyl tiles in our kitchen floor, a square with a maroon rose centered on a backdrop of white, chipped along the edges where we’ve dropped steaming pans, and even so, Dad refuses to switch to engineered floor so I always return home marveling at all the new dents I mistake as dirt—don’t bother Mom says when I clean the floor, but I forget every time, trying to scrub away wounds. I can’t find these tiles anywhere anymore, although I’ve only checked Home Depot and Amazon and Dad is even worse at googling, so instead Mom will force him to replace the kitchen floor, finally, and it’ll look new and smooth, which I’d have loved as a child who avoided slippers and collected dirt on my socks even as my parents yelled at me. A renovated kitchen floor, the thing of dreams. I will frame the kitchen tile, hang it on the wall above this Stryker Secure II, imagine I’m home.

Before I sleep, I imagine everything as math: I am a derivative of a function describing the dopamine high I get whenever Mom texts that she’s coming to drop off Taiwanese pineapple cakes which I used to hate but I guess taste changes. When I’m not eating the cakes, my body eats my heart at an exponential rate, the only calculable pattern its constant descent to disorder, electrolytes thrown off balance, vomiting pegged to Michaelis-Menten kinetics, another rate of change so fast it’s easier to imagine everything as standing still. I count the dwindling days constant to a trigonometric curve. The nurses seem restless. I turn off Read Receipts so Mom can get used to not knowing if I’ve seen her latest text message: three to four messages per sixteen waking hours per twenty-four hours a day—the probability I’ll have read her message immediately after she sends it: high, because if I’m not staring into the LCD screen I’m staring at the wall, waiting. I turn the phone on silent so I can get used to it too.

Lucy Zhang writes, codes, and watches anime. Her work has appeared in THE BOILER, Fractured Lit, Contrary, New Delta Review, and elsewhere. She is a finalist in Best of the Net 2020 and included in Best Microfiction 2021. She edits for Barren Magazine, Heavy Feather Review, and Pithead Chapel. Find her at