I recently stumbled upon this short story, The Paper Menagerie, by Ken Liu, which won the Hugo, the Nebula and the World Fantasy Awards. I like how the fantastic elements of the story are presented in a pedestrian way.
One of my earliest memories starts with me sobbing. I refused to be soothed no matter what Mom and Dad tried.
Dad gave up and left the bedroom, but Mom took me into the kitchen and sat me down at the breakfast table.
“Kan, kan,” she said, as she pulled a sheet of wrapping paper from on top of the fridge. For years, Mom carefully sliced open the wrappings around Christmas gifts and saved them on top of the fridge in a thick stack.
She set the paper down, plain side facing up, and began to fold it. I stopped crying and watched her, curious.
She turned the paper over and folded it again. She pleated, packed, tucked, rolled, and twisted until the paper disappeared between her cupped hands. Then she lifted the folded-up paper packet to her mouth and blew into it, like a balloon.
“Kan,” she said. “Laohu.” She put her hands down on the table and let go.
A little paper tiger stood on the table, the size of two fists placed together. The skin of the tiger was the pattern on the wrapping paper, white background with red candy canes and green Christmas trees.
I reached out to Mom’s creation. Its tail twitched, and it pounced playfully at my finger. “Rawrr-sa,” it growled, the sound somewhere between a cat and rustling newspapers.
I laughed, startled, and stroked its back with an index finger. The paper tiger vibrated under my finger, purring.
“Zhejiao zhezhi,” Mom said. This is called origami.
I didn’t know this at the time, but Mom’s kind was special. She breathed into them so that they shared her breath, and thus moved with her life. This was her magic.
Dad had picked Mom out of a catalog.
One time, when I was in high school, I asked Dad about the details. He was trying to get me to speak to Mom again.
You can read the rest of the story on io9 here.
What do you think about the story? Do you identify with the narrator’s struggle to fit in? Why do you think the narrator took out his struggle on his mother? Was it because she was an easy target, or an ‘Other’? Have you ever done something when you’re younger that you reflect on as an adult and feel deep shame about? Do you feel like this story is sci-fi or fantasy or neither?
I suppose this too is a bit of a late Mother’s Day post. I love you mum! You’re the best!