by Ken Liu
Every year, I get two letters from Nainai, my grandmother: one for my birthday, one for Christmas.
A disk-shaped crystal sits on my desk: about an inch in diameter, a quarter of an inch thick, heavier than it looks. In the four o'clock sun on this New England winter afternoon, it scatters the light in rainbow-hued bands to the ceiling and dark corners of the room.
Nainai gave it to me as a farewell gift when I left her to live with my mother.
The night before my departure, I trembled in the bed that Nainai and I shared, the darkness outside the window as frightening and unknown as the country across the ocean.
"Why would a boy be afraid to see his own mother?" she whispered to me.
But of course I was afraid. I didn't remember my mother. She had left me behind with Nainai to go to America and start a new life when I was a baby, back in 1980. I knew her as black-and-white photographs and a voice on the old Bakelite phone twice a year: Chinese New Year's and my birthday. I thought of her as a ghost who lived in the earpiece, and I never knew what to say to her.
Nainai held me tight so that I could hear and feel her heartbeat. She stroked my back again and again until I fell asleep.
In the morning, she made me drink a bowl of hot, sweet soymilk and eat two whole youtiao, still warm from the vendor's fryer. Then she handed me the crystal.
"What is it?" I asked.
"When you miss me," she said, "just squeeze it in your palm, and you'll feel my hand squeezing back."