Diving for Water Monkeys: Part 2


The next day, Daniel is practicing violin by the window of his and Lily’s bedroom. The bruises around his ribcage have blossomed into a deep indigo purple. The bandages Lily wrapped around them are a bit tight and they cut into his chest every time he breathes, but he likes them that way. They’re a reminder. 

There’s a commotion outside of his room. His father runs past his room; his mother is close behind. He’s carrying a silent Lily in his arms. This worries Daniel. After bandaging Daniel up, Lily had been up all night coughing so hard that the wooden bunk bed creaked in protest. She had coughed so much that she ended up going to sleep in the apartment’s living room so as not to keep Daniel up with her coughing. Daniel wants to ask his parents what’s going on but he knows better than to stop them when they’re in a rush. He tells himself that he’ll just wait for their phone call. So he picks up the violin and tries to forget the tightness in his chest. He tells himself that the tightness is because of his bruised chest; he’s not worried. Lily will be ok. She has to be. Lily is always ok. That’s why Daniel gets hit. Not Lily. 

At least, this is what he tells himself. This is what he tells himself when he puts his violin away and goes for a run. This is what he tells himself when he duly repeats back to his Yeye the poems he has memorized for today’s Chinese homework assignment (it’s never truly summer vacation at the Sun’s house.) This is what he tells himself when he braids Rose’s hair and tucks her into bed, something that Lily always does. This is what he tells Rose when she asks Daniel if he knows what’s going on with Lily. 

This is what he tells himself when he wakes up the next morning and he doesn’t hear his sister’s even breathing coming from the bunk above him. This is what he tells himself when his parents send him the hospital address and a text that reads “Come quickly. Bring the entire family.” This is what he tells himself when he gets his Yeye and Rose into the Uber, making awkward conversation with the Uber driver about his daughter’s piano recital that was yesterday and went very well, thank you for asking. This is what he tells himself when they take the elevator up to the Children’s Ward of the hospital and Rose slips her little hand into his and squeezes three times outside of Room 293. 

Lily is fine. Lily is always fine. 

This is what he can no longer tell himself when he sees his eight-year-old sister swallowed by antiseptic hospital white. He swallows. Once. Twice. Then rapidly. Squeezes Rose’s hand back three times. There’s a whimpering sound. He’s not sure if it’s come from him or Rose. Lily looks so pale and so small. She looks…dead. Daniel bites his tongue so hard he can taste metal. She’s not dead. She can’t be. Lily is always fine. 

He squares his shoulders and tries to breathe when he’s enveloped by his mother. Rose lets go of his hand and throws her body at her father, big sobs shaking her little body. His mother smells like citrus and comfort, and she’s crying. Daniel is frozen and slowly wraps his arms around his mother’s shoulders and pats them. He feels something burning in the corner of his eyes and tries furiously to blink it away. His mother has never cried. He pulls back to study her. She’s a mess. Her hair is slicked in grease. She smells like old hospital food. She has exchanged pressed linen shirts for a hoodie with a cartoon monkey and gray sweats. His father doesn’t look much better: rumpled shirt and bloodshot eyes. 

“Is- Is she ok?” Daniel manages to croak out. 

His mother bursts into tears once more and throws herself at her husband, pushing her youngest daughter out of the way. Rose shuffles over and slips her hand back into Daniel’s while their father attempts to calm their mother down. The children wait patiently for an answer to Daniel’s question. Their Yeye is standing near Lily, stroking her face and chanting what sounds like a Buddhist prayer underneath his breath. 

“Your sister,” his father explains while trying to comfort his mother, pushing wire-rimmed glasses up the bridge of his nose, “is sick.” Daniel wants to scream no shit but he doesn’t feel like being yelled at so soon after yesterday. His dad coughs. “Lily is very sick.” He settles their hysterical mother into a chair with a large tissue box. “The doctors aren’t sure what she has, but it’s not good.” He walks over to Daniel and squats down to Rose’s level. “She’s going to have to stay here for a little bit while she gets better. She’s going to need us to be brave.” 

Bullshit! Daniel wants to scream. Bullshit! If she just needed us to be brave, she wouldn’t be here! All we have ever done is be brave. Instead, he swallows and asks, “How did this happen?”

“The doctor thinks she got sick when you kids were playing by the water yesterday.” There’s a sinking feeling in Daniel’s gut. Rose squeezes his hand but he can’t bring himself to squeeze her hand back. Is it his fault? “They think she might’ve caught something while you were by the river. It’s just a little something worse than a cold.” His dad smiles but the smile doesn’t reach his eyes. “Nothing to be worried about.” He pulls the children into a hug. Daniel knows the sinking feeling in his chest is not from his injury. He feels like drowning. He can taste the lie in the air and it tastes particularly metallic right now. 

“Is it bec-”

“It’s because of you! You little 败家子, bastard! You did it.” His yeye is rounding the corner, headed straight towards Daniel. Daniel squares his shoulders and lifts his chin. Rose stiffens next to him and squeezes his hand so tightly that her knuckles turn bright white. His yeye looks so angry that Daniel wouldn’t be surprised if his yeye beat him up there and then even in front of his parents. “You selfish 败家子! Because of you the water monkeys got her! The 水猴子! They got your sister! They’ve made her sick. I can feel it.” His yeye’s eyes are bulging outwards. His face is so close to Daniel’s that Daniel can smell the pickled radishes he had for lunch. “This is your fault.”

His dad pulls his yeye back gently. “Ba, there’s no such thing as water monkeys. Calm down. Lily’s just got a little cold, that’s all. 就受凉了而已.” Their mother blows her nose loudly. “Nothing a little medicine can’t cure.” 

“狗屁!” His yeye cusses. “What would your Western medicine be able to do? We need to take her back to China!” He’s wringing his hands and pacing now. Daniel tracks his movement warily. “It’s the water monkeys. I know it’s the water monkeys. Your bastard son brought the water monkeys to Lily. I told you. I told you to stay in China. Why wouldn’t you stay in China? Why did you have to come to this godforsaken countr-”

Daniel’s father is normally quite the patient man but even patient men have their limits when their daughter is in the Child Ward of the hospital. “你给我闭嘴!哪有水猴子?” Shut up! Show me where these “water monkeys” are? 

Daniel’s yeye rears back as if he’s been slapped. His son has never spoken to him in this way before. No one has. He draws himself up to full height and looks as if he wants to reach over and hit his son as he has countless times before back in their old village in Hubei. But Daniel’s father’s eyes glimmer with a dare; they say “you hit me this time and I’ll hit you right back. Harder.” This is a fight he could’ve won fifteen years ago but not right now. Definitely not right now. Daniel watches in astonishment as his yeye shrinks inwards for the first time, slinking into the corner of the hospital room, muttering prayers underneath his breath. 

The rest of the visit goes by in a blur of white, silver, and the green beeping sound of Lily’s heart monitor overlaid by their mother’s sobs. Rose refuses to go up to the bed because she’s scared of the way Lily looks. Daniel is fearful himself but what kind of man would he be if he couldn’t even stand next to his sick sister? Daniel’s yeye continues to mutter from the corner of the hospital room, glaring at his father who bounces Rose on his knee in an attempt to get her to smile. Daniel’s mom asks him about school in between blowing her nose. Daniel informs her that it’s July and school doesn’t start until September. All the while the yellow eyes of his mother’s cartoon monkey hoodie watch the family knowingly – almost accusingly. And once again, Daniel can’t shake the feeling that he is being watched. 

He can’t shake the feeling of the cartoon monkey’s yellow eyes on the Uber ride home with his yeye and Rose. This time the Uber driver isn’t very talkative. He can’t shake the feeling of being watched when they get back to the apartment and Rose refuses to get into the elevator because “Daniel, when people die, they go to heaven in an elevator and I don’t want to die.” (She doesn’t say not like Lily, but it’s implied.) He can’t shake the feeling of being watched when he carries Rose up seventeen flights of stairs, humming her favorite song under his breath while his ribs ache. He can’t shake the feeling of being watched when he sits at the foot of Rose’s bed because she’s too afraid to sleep alone tonight. He can’t shake the feeling when his yeye comes into the room to tell him about how his grandmother, who Daniel has never met, and some dead uncle he’s never heard about until now had died from water monkeys in the village. He can’t shake the feeling when his yeye’s story devolves into a verbal bashing. He can barely even hear his yeye. All he can see are the yellow eyes of the river. All he can force himself to believe is that Lily will be home soon. 

Lily is fine. Lily is always fine.

Thank you for reading part 2 of Diving for Water Monkeys by Amanda Chen. Read more about her here. Stay tuned for part 3 of the series (10/14) and future literary works by Amanda and our other writers.

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