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Masterclass

We're privileged once again to publish a story by Cassandra Khaw.
"Even Jesus had a mother." Mei Yin smiled, expression reptilian.
A thin laugh broke across the group. There were twelve women that evening, all Chinese, although the varied tonality of their complexions suggested that some had more complicated ancestries than others--a drip of Javanese blood, a hint of pale-eyed European. Not that it really mattered, Mei Yin thought as she paced away from the backboard, heels clicking like talons on the linoleum.
"The instinct to obey a matriarchal figure is built into the human DNA. In that way, sexism has been rather helpful." More laughter. "We credit fathers as the fun, indulgent ones. Mothers, on the other hand, are seen as caretakers, nurturers, both the ones who protect and the ones who must be protected. We--"
Soo Ling--shapeless in her sweater, bony knees drawn under the fabric--raised a slim arm. "But aren't fathers the ones expected to defend their households?"
Mei Yin shrugged. "Physically, yes. And stereotypically speaking, only ever to a certain extent. Yes, they're expected to throw themselves into the face of danger. But mothers are meant to do so. They're expected to embrace it. Mothers--" And she grinned as she said the word, teeth dragging over the sibilance. "- are the ones who lift cars, the ones who dive into burning buildings, the ones who endure grotesque bodily harm. Note the choice of words. Fathers are permitted to consider personal risk. Mothers are not."
"I don't see a point in this conversation." A bored voice from the third row.
"The point is that we're built of previous conditions. We're conditioned to pause when a mother speaks. We're conditioned to flinch from contact with hot surfaces. We're conditioned to retreat at the sight of a predator--"
Someone huffed. "Not all of us."
"No." Under the glare of white fluorescent lights, Mei Yin's eyes were gold, not brown, and her teeth ware unusually sharp. Good women filed their dentition down. But Mei Yin didn't subscribe to such idiocy. It was a waste of one's natural gifts. "Which brings me to my next topic."
She extracted a cigarette--black, with the tiniest banding of gold around its middle--from a pocket and held it to her lips. Mei Yin breathed out. Flame plumed from between her lips. "The 'dragon lady' trope is one we're all familiar with. Although applicable to women of any age, it is most commonly associated with those in the late twenties and above. It is a term intended to derail from the power we accrete across the course of our lives, hard-won from those early years of suffering. It is meant to debase, to minimize. A dragon lady is not a human woman, but an animal that exists out of polite categorization."
Another ripple of laughter, this time rueful.
"Well." Mei Yin sighed. "Fuck that. Today, ladies, we shall examine the intersection between mothers and dragons, the places where the two meet, and how best to bring out the qualities of both worlds."
A hand shot up from the back. "Will you teach us magic today?"
"I'll do you one better." Mei Yin, her shadow serpentine on the wall and her ribs incandescent beneath their sheath of white cotton, grinned wide. "I'll teach you fire."
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

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