Contest #150 shortlist ⭐️

71 comments

East Asian Asian American Coming of Age

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Once, when I was a child, my father took me on a day trip to Nagasaki and said, "This is what can happen when you're not careful." He gestured to the Peace Park around us, the chestnut trees and the memorial statue and the plaques commemorating the atomic bombing. We were alone, save for a few crows roosting in the treetops, but he spoke like he was divulging classified information. "Your great-grandfather, for example. He passed away in the explosion, as did many others like him. Unprepared."

He stood with his back to the sun, forcing me to squint every time I looked at him. I was so focused on my eyesight that I said nothing. And perhaps he mistook silence for confusion, because then he whistled, a high-pitched noise that got lower and louder by the second, until he clapped his hands and mimicked the sound of an explosion.

"Just like that," he said.

The finality of his tone knotted my stomach. By way of distraction I pictured my mother as she'd appeared that morning when we drove off. She wore a sun hat and gardening gloves emblazoned with orchids. She waved as we sped down the road, then returned to pruning our cherry blossom tree. I imagined myself by her side, the two of us like a mother-daughter superhero duo, carefully snipping off dead branches and saving our tree from fungi and disease.

It wasn't until later, after my father—knowing I couldn't yet read—had guided me to a bronze plaque cluttered with words and told me that my great-grandfather's name was etched in the tablet, after he'd made me touch it and I cried, that we finally trekked back to the van and drove an hour back home.

The heat from the oven greeted us when we returned. My mother emerged from the kitchen, dusting her flour-crusted hands on her black apron. The smell of matcha cookies trailed her like a shadow.

"Did you have fun, Hana?" she asked.

My father closed the door behind us, stayed beside it and jiggled the knob.

"Yes," I replied, feeling his eyes on my back. And I gave her that same answer when she asked if I wanted to play our game.

We had a routine, the two of us. Every day she would twist my name, adding syllables and letters, teaching me the meanings of new words and phrases.

The day before, when we were in our flower garden, my mother taught me Hanako. Her mouth curved beautifully around the weight of the new syllable, filled the word with promise. "Flower child," she translated in English. She plucked one of her precious hydrangeas, nestled it in my hair.

I didn't know when I'd ever have any use for English. Still, I liked to imagine myself with these names, wondering what kind of person I would've been if only I'd been born as Hanako or Hanae.

That day in the kitchen, with the smell of matcha cookies spiraling around us, my mother closed her eyes and said hanabi. "Fireworks," she clarified, and raised her fist. When her arm could extend no further, she whispered "Bang!" and released her fingers, sprinkling us with imaginary gunpowder.

Feeling particularly clever for catching the connection between this and my father's expedition, I giggled and said, "Oh, like great-grandfather?"

My mother blinked once, twice. Her mouth bobbed. The oven beeped, its timer flashing a parade of zeroes, and she almost dislodged the tablecloth when she jumped to retrieve the cookies.

Later that night, their whispers snaked through the floorboards. I stared out the window at the silhouette of our tree, tracing the outline of its missing limbs as my father's voice grew louder.

"She should know," he shouted. "Why not? She has a right to know these things so she doesn't make the same mistakes."

"What mistakes? She's five-years-old, Daisuke," my mother said. "There's a time and a place for—"

"What time? What place?"

Then my mother murmured something. I closed my eyes, held my breath, did everything I could to hear their words, but the only noise that came after was my father's footfalls on his journey to the couch.

The next day, I found my mother in the kitchen and the batch of cookies in the trash can. When questioned, she said, slowly, "I made a mistake while baking them. I wasn't careful."

"Okay," I said, and decided not to tell her that I tiptoed into the kitchen during the night and ate three of them. They'd tasted fine to me, bittersweet and nutty.

My mother stood at the sink, her hands submerged in the soapy water. "I think it'd be best if you didn't talk about your great-grandfather anymore, Hana," she said. "Okay?"

I stared at the mound of green cookies, stacked like bodies. "Okay."

After she finished washing the dishes I waited for her to broach the subject of our game, eager to hear the other permutations of my name.

She didn't mention it. Not the next day, either. And after a few weeks I gave up altogether, resigning myself to be just plain old Hana.

***

Years later I played the game by myself, sitting before the glow of the family desktop. I limited myself to researching one word per day, and always repeated their English definitions. By the time I was a teenager, I'd amassed hundreds of names and fanciful identities.

This proved helpful when, a week after my sixteenth birthday, my father accepted a job promotion with a twist: he was to lead his company's operations in Seattle.

On the plane ride to America, as the sky darkened under the wing of the 747, my father issued a litany of instructions: no drinking, no drugs, no parties. Then, before he brought his blanket up to his chin, he added, "And no other boys."

He fell asleep before I could ask him to clarify "other," but his tone said it all. In this new world, any boy that wasn't like us was trouble.

***

And maybe it was because he was the first person at my new school to talk to me, or maybe it was because he also spoke with a trace of an accent, but trouble found me.

His name was Cliff. He drove a Ford pickup, worked part-time at a grocery store, and made C-average grades consistently. These I knew because he told me the day I transferred, as though he were in a rush to expose his imperfections before someone else had the chance. 

At first I rolled my eyes, pretending not to notice his glasses or his toned arms. My father's words occupied the back of my mind like an uninvited houseguest who's worn out their welcome. Cliff was certainly an "other" boy.

But somewhere along the line it became another game, just like the one my mother and I used to play.

He would tell me one new thing about himself every day in first period pre-calculus: that he hadn't actually read a book since second grade, that he thought vomit was tougher to mop up than blood in the grocery store, that he believed true love only came around once in a lifetime. He looked right at me when he said that last one and didn't turn away, even when the teacher shushed him.

Maybe that was the moment I knew Cliff was different.

Once, I'd missed the bus after school when my sixth period teacher made us stay fifteen minutes late to punish one of my classmates. When we were released, I dashed to the bus zone but found it empty except for a few seniors' cars. Sighing, I tried to calculate the how long it'd take to walk home when someone behind me honked. Cliff rolled his window down and beckoned. 

Against my better judgement, against my father's forewarnings, when he leaned over and popped open the passenger door, I slid in.

We rolled through the streets with the windows down and the music up. Unlike the Cliff I saw in first period, the Cliff behind the wheel was overly cautious, checking his mirrors and his blind spots with the fervor of a zealot, pulling over to the side when he heard the hint of a siren behind him.

"Tell me something about yourself," he said as we were waiting for the ambulance to pass. "I'm always telling you stuff about me but I feel like I don't know anything about you."

I considered what I had to match his stories, said, "My mother and I used to play this game where we would form different words from my name," and I gave him a few examples with the translations.

He laughed. Hanabi, he said, was his favorite.

Ten minutes later, when we pulled into my neighborhood and made it to the driveway, my heart stopped. My father's car was parked in front of the garage.

He was never home early.

"Let's do this again sometime," Cliff said as I collected my backpack and prepared to alight from the truck.

"Sure," I said, my voice more distant than intended. I turned to thank him, only to feel his lips on mine. My body tingled; my eyelids closed of their own volition. I'd never been kissed before.

Cliff pulled away, a dreamy look in his eyes. "See you tomorrow?" he said. "You know where to find me."

My legs wobbled as I answered, "Yeah," and closed the door behind me. He flashed a peace sign and disappeared down the street in his sputtering truck.

It wasn't until I got inside that I realized what'd just happened. I took a step toward the staircase, hoping to make it to my room undetected.

"Who was that?" my father called from the couch. "Come here, Hana."

"It was a friend from school," I said, and swore under my breath. When I entered the living room, I noticed the blinds were ajar.

He saw. He knew.

"What did I tell you?" my father said, standing up. Then, louder, "What did I tell you? No other boys!"

Something snapped inside me. He had no right to talk about someone he hadn't even met, someone he had no intention of getting to know.

"You don't know what he's like," I shouted back. "You don't know anything. Just because he died in the bombing doesn't mean—"

And I couldn't bring myself to mention my great-grandfather by name.

And then it didn't matter because I recoiled, snapped back into reality by the stinging in my cheek. I felt the imprint of my father's hand before I even knew he'd moved it.

"Don't tell me what I don't know," he said, right before I retreated to my room.

***

It happened months later, on Independence Day.

Our neighbors from across the street decided to host a block party. After months of spending her time sequestered inside the house with no flower garden or cherry blossom tree to occupy herself, my mother leaped at the invitation. She commandeered the kitchen, perfumed the house with the aroma of her matcha cookies. 

She filled two Tupperware tubs by late afternoon. Only when she was stuffing the mixing bowl with more dry ingredients did she realize she was missing something crucial. She called me in from my spot on the couch.

"I need you to pick up some matcha powder at the store," she said. Her hair was frazzled, her apron stained with flour. "The organic kind, if you can find it."

My father, who was at the dining table tucking bits of salmon into sushi rolls, scoffed. "Like they'll be able to tell the difference," he said, and placed $10 on the table.

The Safeway was ten minutes away on foot. Inside, air conditioning flowed freely, putting up a barrier between the customers and the summer heatwave. The place was almost empty, except for the employees.

Maybe that's why I startled in the coffee/tea aisle when I bent to grab the non-organic matcha powder and my name rang out above me.

Cliff stood a few feet away. He looked like a mix between Clark Kent and Superman in his glasses and apron with the red-and-white "S" logo stitched in the middle.

"Did I do something wrong?" he asked before I could stand. "If I did, I'm sorry. Really, I am."

Heat bloomed in my chest, in my cheek where the memory of my father's hand lingered. Cliff still texted me occasionally whenever he saw something interesting or thought of something that might make me laugh, but I never responded. I'd stopped speaking to him in first period after that day. I told myself it was because I wanted to be careful.

The words came tumbling out. "I'm sorry. It was never your fault. I just couldn't," I said, but wasn't sure where to go from there.

He exhaled, releasing his balled fists. His expression was inscrutable, somewhere on the precipice of relief and skepticism.

"I've been wanting to talk to you," he said. "For a while now."

"I know." What else was there to say?

He eyed the tea powder. "Look, are you busy tonight?" he said. "I mean, I know it's a holiday and all, but I was wondering if maybe, if you weren't doing anything, you wanted to spend it together. To catch up. I know this great place where everyone's going." 

The matcha box felt like an anchor in my palm.

"I don't know, Cliff." His name still had an edge to it that I loved, a sharpness.

He held up his hands. "Hey, no pressure. If you change your mind, I get off at ten o'clock. You know where to find me."

"Okay," I said, and forced myself to move in the direction of the checkout aisle. I told myself not to look back, not to be careless.

***

At 9:50, as they mingled with neighbors we'd spent the year living with but had never spoken to, I told my parents my stomach hurt. My father raised an eyebrow, but my mother, the life of the party thanks to her matcha cookies, permitted my return to the house. I closed the backyard gate behind me and continued on down the block.

Cliff stood at the entrance of Safeway, still wearing his apron. Behind him the evening light was fading on the horizon.

"You made it," he said with a smile.

"I made it."

When we got to his truck, he held my door open and waited until I buckled myself to close it. Then he piled in and backed out of the lot and we cruised down the road.

Like the pavement underneath us, our conversation was rough, full of starts and stops, potholes and speed bumps. We drove with the windows down, feeling the wind in our hair and ears. We finally found our rhythm fifteen minutes later when Cliff joked about his job at "Slaveway" and how he could almost afford to buy Netflix with all the money he made.

Another ten minutes later, when we arrived at the place Cliff mentioned, the place where everyone was supposed to be, it was empty save for one other car parked a good forty feet away. The place was a glorified field of grass, rampant with weeds. Insects trilled outside the window. He unbuckled himself but remained seated.

"Where is everyone?" I asked.

Cliff pointed vaguely to a spot beyond the windshield, cut the engine. "Wait for it."

Seconds passed, then minutes. The headlights of the other car beamed for a moment then fizzled into darkness. I stared to the spot Cliff indicated but saw nothing.

Before I could speak, he said, "Hey, can I ask you something?"

It was dark in the car without the glow of the dashboard or any streetlights. It sounded like Cliff was looking at me when he said it, but he could've just as easily been speaking to the steering wheel.

"Yeah?" 

"Did you ever miss me?" he asked. "I thought about you all the time, how you were doing. If I messed things up. I never knew."

"Yes."

But the word didn't seem strong enough. I thought that if I could explain myself, if I could let him know that I never meant for it to be like that, if I could only tell him how this all began, we'd be back to normal, back together.

"My great-grandfather," I whispered for the first time in over a decade, and stopped when a burst of color spanned the length of the windshield. We watched as the sky brightened with bursts of gunpowder. Fireworks crackled to life, bathing us in light one second and shadow the next. 

"I missed you, Hanabi," he said. Then he dipped forward and placed his lips on mine, prying open my mouth with his tongue, and I knew where things were going.

When he pulled away and yanked his apron over his head, crumpling it until the Superman-style logo vanished, I knew it then too.

When he leaned over and unbuckled my seat belt, I saw things in my mind as clear as when I imagined myself and my mother pruning our cherry blossom tree together.

And when he put his hand on my knee and spider-walked it up my leg, I let him, silently cursing my father for being wrong and right. Because Cliff wasn't like the other boys. But I understood too what he meant then, how things could happen when you were unprepared, how you could try to fight against them and still be helpless.

Another firework arced into the sky and exploded, releasing a pinwheel of light in the shape of a chrysanthemum. Just before the sparks faded, I caught a glimpse of myself in Cliff's rearview mirror, and I wondered which version of me I was seeing then: Hana the gentle flower, or Hanabi the dazzling firework, or someone else altogether, someone not yet named.

June 18, 2022 03:57

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71 comments

07:16 Jun 18, 2022

Damn it, why did you have to entice us with this adorable romance, to then take it away with such a shocking twist. Don’t you know your readers have hearts, Zack? 🤣 When I finished reading, I went back and read the first part again, and it took on a whole new meaning - a hallmark of a good story. You said it: the father is wrong but he’s right, too. A couple of notes: I see you were drawing a parallel between Japan and the USA, and the distrust swelling from that, and it’s done well. It was understandable that Daisuke might feel that way....

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Zack Powell
01:45 Jun 21, 2022

Belated, but thanks a bunch for this, Shuvayon! Sorry to say but Romance isn't my forte, so if you ever see anything that resembles something like that in one of my stories, probably best to expect the worst. 😂 More or less, when writing this one, I'd envisioned it as a cautionary tale. No right or wrong answers about your takeaway - a story is what you make of it, right? But I'll say you definitely didn't miss the mark. You're a great reader. (Case in point: I did mean for the flower motif to symbolize exactly what you guessed.) Thanks as ...

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14:27 Jun 24, 2022

Wow, another one! Congrats my friend. Enjoy the parade of yellow dots. :)

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Zack Powell
14:35 Jun 24, 2022

Thanks, Shuvayon! Was a pleasant surprise to start the morning.

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Patrick Samuel
16:39 Jun 19, 2022

Zack, you keep growing as a writer with every new story. It's amazing how you managed to draw us into the mind of that young Asian girl, with such sensitivity you could have been talking about yourself - or ourselves, as this tale of trying to break free from our parents influence is something everyone can relate to. Reading it I was torn along with Hana between two worlds: the new one, unknown, exciting and slightly scary and the other, stifling but familiar. This is so powerful it should be the first chapter of a novel. I hope it will be ...

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Zack Powell
01:32 Jun 21, 2022

Thanks, Patrick! A very thoughtful, incisive comment as always. I'm very glad this piece feels like it's written with sensitivity - that's probably my biggest goal as a writer, to try to portray things sensitively but honestly. I could probably do a short story collection, but I'm really not sure I'll ever write a novel. I don't have many characters I'd want to follow around for a long span of time, or a good plot for them, and short fiction is more my passion (a shame it doesn't sell too well). But this comment is amazing, and I just might ...

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Patrick Samuel
14:39 Jun 21, 2022

Zach, I totally understand your preference for short fiction, it's my favourite form too. Short stories with occasionally recurring characters could indeed be interesting. Have you ever read David Leavitt? His early novels "Equal Affections" and "The Lost Language of Cranes" are two books I've read and re-read countless times for his great characterizations and the fluid elegance of his style. Think a younger, sharper and less self-centered Edmund White without the stick up his ass. Anyway, you might like some of Leavitt's short stories ...

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Zack Powell
17:26 Jun 21, 2022

Funny you should mention David Leavitt! I actually have two of his books somewhere in my shelved collection ("'Family Dancing" and "A Place I've Never Been"). I never got around to reading either of them aside from the first stories in each (not sure why I didn't keep reading since I enjoyed both of them), but I'm definitely going to have to dig them out now. (When I get to "A Place I've Never Been," I'm gonna binge a Suzanne Vega album or two just so I don't miss anything.) Linking/interconnecting stories together like that has always inte...

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Patrick Samuel
18:19 Jun 21, 2022

Ha! I would love to browse your bookshelves, Zack, I'm sure we have more than one book in common. (Well obviously we already have two. And did that sound weird? Sorry, please don't read anything into it.) FYI, the Suzanne Vega album I was referring to was "Nine objects of desire". Maybe it was just me, or the fact that I was re-reading "A Place I've Never Been" for the umpteenth time while it played in the background the evening before I met la Vega. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the stories - especially "Roads to Rome" which reads like Leavitt w...

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J.C. Lovero
03:41 Jun 19, 2022

Hello pen pal! What a complex story you have woven for us here. It's got so many layers of identity going on, with the Asian/American motifs sprinkled throughout. You did a really nice job with the father and mother. As someone raised in a conservative Asian American household, you captured many things that brought me back to my childhood. The symbolism throughout was gorgeous, particularly with the references to flowers. Very Asian-inspired and I was here for it. The ending was haunting. Well-played with the father: silently cursing my...

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Zack Powell
01:26 Jun 21, 2022

My favorite hermit! (Forgive this late response!) I'm glad the Asian motifs/symbolism translated to the page. Hearing feedback from someone who was raised in that type of household helps tremendously - I greatly appreciate it. And the ending (unsurprisingly) is where I spent the most time. "Gave me chills" is a huge compliment. (Side note: Forever grateful for that line edit!) Best of luck this week too! xoxo

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J.C. Lovero
14:19 Jun 25, 2022

Congrats on the shortlist, friend!

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Michał Przywara
18:10 Jun 18, 2022

A lovely, complex story :) What stood out to me the most was primarily that: the complexity. The complexity of human relationships and communication. The line "cursing my father for being wrong and right" sums it up. The concept comes through at the beginning too, where young Hana says "Oh, like great-grandfather?". What a wonderful, skin-crawling scene. A perfect blend of childlike innocence and heartbreaking stepping in it. Other than that, good characterization throughout. Hana is between worlds -- as a young adult, as an immigrant, as...

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Zack Powell
01:22 Jun 21, 2022

Belated but thank you, Michał! I'm happy to know the complexity in the characters/relationships came through - this piece was a toughie to write and I wasn't sure if I'd given enough depth. This is a nice reassurance that maybe I was on the right track after all!

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Michał Przywara
22:40 Jun 24, 2022

Congratulations on the shortlist!

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Zack Powell
04:38 Jun 25, 2022

Thank you! :)

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Riel Rosehill
08:57 Jun 18, 2022

Zaddy! Yay, we're prompt triplets! ❤️ Now, tell me honestly, did you also pick this one to avoid sci-fi, like me? Now... you beat me to Japanese fic?! Damnit. And it's pure awesomene. If I wrote this (I wish I did, it's SO well written) I totally would have titled this "Hanashi" (話し - meaning: story) for the wordplay on Hana's tale as it's a hana-word and also "shi" can mean death witch would go nicely with "or someone else altogether, someone not yet named." for a new episode in life. (Not that there's anything wrong with your title, I j...

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Zack Powell
01:18 Jun 21, 2022

❤️ Triplets! (Side note: Enjoy your France holiday! I just had a mini-vacation this weekend, hence just now responding, and I can't imagine taking one for a whole ten days. I already know my story would never get done. 💀💀💀) And yes, this prompt was 100% chosen to avoid writing SciFi. (31 genres down and SciFi was easily my least favorite to write. Never again.) Seriously kicking myself for not doing the "Hanashi" thing! Curse my inferior knowledge of the Japanese lexicon - anime has failed me. 😭 God, that Death Witch wordplay would've been ...

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Riel Rosehill
06:53 Jun 21, 2022

Heyy, hope you enjoyed your mini vacation! I'm happy you liked my suggestions! Makes me feel like a better writer, haha. Fun fact: in Hungary, you've no choice but to learn two foreign languages at school (so I'm not special) - for me that was English and Japanse and I FAILED my English language exam 🤣 (passed Japanese though! ✌️) - anime's a great supplement for it but definitely wouldn't have been enough on its own for me to come up with the "Hanashi" idea LOL I don't know if I can get a story done this week actually - not started anythi...

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Zack Powell
10:17 Jun 21, 2022

OMG, Hungary is intense. Where I am in the US, we're only required to learn one foreign language in school, and those classes only need be to taken in high school, and only for two years. (LOL too, I can't imagine you failing the English exam. Your prose is too strong for that.) I don't think any of us would blame for you skipping the contest this time around. Vacationing is a perfectly good reason to take the week off and allow yourself to recharge your creative batteries. If/when I take a legitimate week-long trip this year, I'll likely s...

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Riel Rosehill
10:21 Jun 24, 2022

So, although I had an idea and a short scribble, not so much the time, headspace nor equipment, so I'll be skipping this week and cheering from the sidelines! I look forwards to reading your new story and see what tags you tackle this time! Good luck my last minute Lacey! 😁

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Riel Rosehill
14:27 Jun 24, 2022

Hey!! I knew I was going to see this one in the winners' circle! Congrats, have some matcha cookies to celebrate!👏👏👏

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Zack Powell
14:38 Jun 24, 2022

💖 Thank you, my dear (I genuinely don't think I would've been in the winners' circle had the story kept its original "green tea cookies/tea powder" snafu). I hope you're enjoying your vacation. Side note: I'm absolutely gutted that your piece didn't get its recognition. Your story was longlisted until the very end, and you had my vote. If I could transfer my shortlist to your story, I would.

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23:10 Jul 25, 2022

How could a piece of writing literally TUG at my heart like that? I genuinely have no ways to describe how much I loved this, which is weird because I can be quite verbose lol. All I have to say is that you built this up and executed the final few moments beautifully. Loved the spiderman imagery as well, it really helped us understand the sort of endearing nature of Cliff

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민 내이
01:14 Jul 25, 2022

1st story I read in this site since it's black out here in our place and I'm bored. Damn! It was vividly explained. I actually love this short story, it's like I'm watching anime. 💛

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Zack Powell
03:47 Jul 25, 2022

Thank you for reading and the nice comment! "It's like I'm watching anime" has to be one of the best compliments I've ever received.

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10:36 Jul 19, 2022

by "cursing my father for being wrong and right" did you mean that she let him do it to prove her dad wrong aswell as him being right. Making cliff take advantage of her? loved the story and writing btw, keep up the great work. This truly gave me chills!!

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Zack Powell
16:32 Jul 22, 2022

A late thank you! This is a lovely comment. The "cursing my father" line could absolutely mean what you've said. In my mind, I thought that she definitely let Cliff do what he did because it's what she wanted too, but also that it was something that was inevitable and unavoidable, just like her father warned her. Love your interpretation of the line!

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Philip Ebuluofor
15:53 Jun 28, 2022

Zack, wonder work as usual. Congrats on being mentioned. More grease to your elbow and more ink to your pen.

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Story Time
18:03 Jun 27, 2022

Zack, I felt like this story was you really pushing yourself in some new, exciting directions. I love the attention to detail in the language, and the way you interconnected personal themes alongside global ones. What an amazing piece.

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Aeris Walker
23:18 Jun 24, 2022

Congrats on the shortlist!

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Zack Powell
04:31 Jun 25, 2022

Thank you, Aeris! :)

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15:19 Jun 24, 2022

Zack Powell does it again! We'd love you to come on the podcast to share your secrets. Check us out? https://www.readlotswritelots.com/previous/

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Zack Powell
04:37 Jun 25, 2022

Thank you, Deidra! I'm not sure I've got many secrets to share, and I'm infinitely better at the written word than the spoken, but I'll highly consider coming on the podcast. It sounds like a lot of fun. (Be forewarned: I've been told I'm a mumbler! 😬)

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10:23 Jun 25, 2022

You have an enthusiastic if not rabid fan base (see the discord channel) and endless talent. And imma stutterer…so we’ll get along famously 😎 Check it out when your not too busy World Building and conjuring up magnificent tales: https://www.readlotswritelots.com/previous/

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10:24 Jun 25, 2022

Some Reedsy zaniness here: https://discord.gg/bxTWQw3HJR

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Claire Lindsey
14:54 Jun 24, 2022

Congrats on a very well-earned shortlist!! Everything about this story feels meticulous and carefully placed, but it reads with such ease. Your characters are incredible and written with empathy. Excellent work! I’m looking forward to reading more from you

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Zack Powell
04:32 Jun 25, 2022

A late thank you, Claire! My biggest goal in writing is for the characters to come across as empathetic, so this is so lovely to hear. I'm going to check out your new story this weekend - I've heard it's quite good!

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Scott Skinner
04:32 Jun 23, 2022

I liked a lot about this story - the first thing that did it for me was the morning after the parent's fight when Hana noticed the matcha cookies in the trash. I like the symbolism, and I felt that it set the story up. I liked how the matcha cookies also made a triumphant return in the end too. Who knows if you can get matcha at Safeway, though, I usually go to Whole Foods for that! lol The second thing I liked about this story was the dad's distrust of the 'others' and how it ties back to the war. It set it up the scenes with Cliff well, a...

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Zack Powell
15:10 Jun 23, 2022

Thanks for this feedback, Scott! You got exactly what I was trying to do with the cookies and with Cliff's character (bonus points for mentioning the Ford). Hard to say definitively who was right and wrong at the end, though I'm with you on parents mostly being right about these things. Life experience, amirite?

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Jamie Gregory
00:55 Jun 23, 2022

This was such a beautifully crafted story! You are such an incredible wordsmith that it was hard for me to keep track of my favorite lines (because I had so many favorites). The imagery and descriptions were so well done. My heart breaks for Hana at the end as she’s caught in this complex, multi-faceted coming of age dilemma. I’m looking forward to reading more of your stories!

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Zack Powell
01:58 Jun 23, 2022

Thank you, Jamie! Imagery is my weakness, so it's lovely to hear it worked for you. Your story this week was a lot of fun too - can't wait to see what else you've got as well!

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Kelsey H
02:35 Jun 22, 2022

You know I love all your stories, but I have to say this is probably my favourite (actually maybe 2nd after Love Ain't Blind) there is so much I loved in this. I have no idea how manage to write something which goes through so many twists and turns, covers many themes such as parental expectations, the weight of the past, cultural differences, even spans years and different countries, and yet it never feels rushed or like you are skipping too much. I really loved the word play with her name and how it was a recurring theme throughout the s...

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Zack Powell
04:55 Jun 22, 2022

Thanks as always, Kelsey. That's pretty high praise that you ranked this story so close to Love Ain't Blind! (For me this story is steadfastly in the mid-tier of my collection, so it's amazing to hear that this had a strong effect on someone.) Also amazing to hear that this didn't feel like it was rushing/skipping, because I definitely had to cut a lot of sentences/paragraphs for the word count when all was said and done. I think those recurring themes/threads are my favorite things to work into my stories. I love when details/images/lines ...

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Kelsey H
08:38 Jun 22, 2022

It is so hard (impossible?) to judge your own work isn't it? It is such a personal thing too, what resonates with someone as a reader. (so many times I try to read some bestseller everyone thinks is great and can't get into it!) I find it interesting the stories you have listed on your profile as your personal fav's are not the winning/shortlisted stories. Likewise my 2 fav's of my own stories didn't place in the contest. I just have to remember I am not really objective about my own work, which helps when I either think I am the worst perso...

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Kelsey H
04:02 Jun 25, 2022

Congrats! I knew this was going to do well :)

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Zack Powell
04:39 Jun 25, 2022

Thanks, Kelsey! I reread this and I was like "Hmm...might have to reevaluate my tier listing now. Maybe this piece is better than I thought." Weird how that works.

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Ace Quinnton
22:25 Jun 21, 2022

Everything went great, but then a twist that made the cute little love they had together turn into something darker. Unnamed, drifting, LOST. May I suggest a sequel/prequel for this story? Cliff gets caught in the act by some police officers patrolling by silently, in their blind spot. Cliff eventually escaped. Hana was taken in and put into therapy. They meet again, but Hana has a lover, a girl perhaps, that protected Hana. The lover got heavily injured but survived the attack, and Cliff was arrested.

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Zack Powell
23:41 Jun 21, 2022

Nice suggestion, friend. I actually had more planned for these characters in my mind (word limit counts, am I right?), and this gives me even more to think about. I liked Hana a fair deal, so don't be surprised if she pops up again.

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Ace Quinnton
00:45 Jun 22, 2022

I won't be surprised because I predicted that you would write a sequel/prequel. I'm excited to see the next one you write.

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Aeris Walker
12:13 Jun 21, 2022

This story feels like something a Multiethnic American Lit. class professor would recommend as extra reading if you had a hard time relating to John Okada’s “No-No Boy.” This story was so immersive, smooth, and reflective of how difficult it was for many Japanese immigrant families to bridge the generational gap between the highly nationalistic parents, and the curious, more open minded children, who struggled to know where they fit in between these two worlds. You did a fantastic job with this one—great story telling, smooth dialogue, and...

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Zack Powell
14:13 Jun 21, 2022

I'm always on the lookout for new books to buy, so I appreciate the "No-No Boy" name-drop. You covered everything that I was hoping to achieve in this one to a T. Thanks for the deep reading and the great analysis, Aeris! (Thanks also for mentioning the tone/backstory at the beginning - I almost deleted that stuff halfway through, thinking maybe it wasn't important enough.)

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Aeris Walker
20:56 Jun 21, 2022

Yeah, it’s a book from the perspective of a Japanese/American man just having been released from a concentration camp shortly after WW2 as he tries to return to life as normal-which is nearly impossible, as Americans didn’t trust him as Japanese and his parents wouldn’t accept him as American. And yes—I think the beginning was vital. It gives the MC that faint connection to her roots, making assimilation all the more complicated.

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Suma Jayachandar
10:53 Jun 21, 2022

Zack, Let me confess right now. I'll be falling short of words to appreciate this. First thing, you are ticking off one genre tag at a time and totally nailing it. Take a bow. And coming to the piece at hand- Where do I start? The characters, atmosphere, structure- you have meticulously worked out everything and brought them to life. It's tightly knit but at the same time lets the light pass through every bit of complexity- blindingly brilliant! And you have crafted motifs, symbols, imagery and metaphors that are so culture specific, they m...

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Zack Powell
14:27 Jun 21, 2022

Suma! You absolutely didn't fall short of words at all. This comment is amazing and so very thoughtful. I appreciate it tremendously. I'm scared that once I finish my goal of writing all the Reedsy genres, I'll devolve into writing exclusively Contemporary/American stories 😂 But we'll cross that bridge when we get there. Very glad the motifs and symbolism came through positively in this story. I wasn't sure if I was over- or under-doing it when writing. The "cursing my father" line is my favorite, so we're on the same page there. I'm conflic...

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Suma Jayachandar
15:40 Jun 22, 2022

That's what we all are here for, isn't it?😊

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H L McQuaid
09:21 Jun 20, 2022

Great story, beautifully written, with layers and subtlety. I felt like Hana in the truck, wind in my hair on a warm summer night, relaxing. letting the story take me along for the ride.

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Zack Powell
03:25 Jun 21, 2022

Thanks, Heather! Glad to have you along for the ride.

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