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When they were children, both my grandmothers had their feet bound; thereafter they had to learn to balance their feelings very carefully. The pain too will pass, Renoir said in 1903. Renoir was to become a friend of my mother Katherine who was not yet born at the time he first said these words; but he repeated every word in 1910 when she was two and they became friends. This time he was however not referring to the pain which accompanied Katherine's mother's bound feet when she was a child, but instead anticipated the alienation that Katherine was to feel later from the Tai Chung community for not binding her feet. Strangers sitting on the stoops of their houses and shops all over the city would point to her outsized feet and untethered walk and whisper comments along under their breath.

At five Katherine said to Renoir, I will never drop an egg from the high beam.

Later she went to school abroad and met her husband shortly after he had publicly cut his cue in a Berkeley demonstration.

Then the magical happened in 1944 in Chungking: overnight Katherine disappeared from our lives, followed by absolute silence. In the first forty-three years after her disappearance, not a whisper was said in the family about Katherine or her disappearance, at least not within my listening.

But now the children and the other children are beginning to dissent. First there was the memory that would not go away. Then there was the garrulous word Renoir, eventually hatching question. Then the whispers ripped the shaded heart. Soon the nights were humming with telephone conversations. We made contact with the secretary of immigration, the archivist of birth records, the alumni minister; we poured over maps and old driving records; we interviewed postal carriers, tricksters, insurance chancellors, and even tried to get into the Mormon Redemption Center. We looked up every taxonomy and geography, and collected everything tangible from both sides of the Pacific.

We are here for the duration, carefully balanced between address and rumor, carefully watching those who are siphoning from our pain, allowing us to go on. In the early morning our children will thrust from our thighs and float away from us, like chilled stars.
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Title Annotation:short story
Author:Kuo, Alex
Publication:Chicago Review
Date:Jun 22, 1988
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