This idea came from an article out of a 1980’s National Geographic.
Rose had never seen a Chinaman before, sure, this was pretty crazy given that this was the twentieth century, but not many people from China came though her small town. It was only recently that more and more people began coming thorough the town of Mainz to visit the miracle mines, but mostly it was white people. The town was predominantly white. There were a couple of Native American families, but most of them lived on the reservation. There were not many young people. Many of them had moved away to find work in other places. Soon there would be no one left but Rose, her soon to be born baby, and some old white people.
Rose liked people, she wished she could go into the cities and see all the different colors and shades of people. People who weren’t white, but pink, peach, olive, eggshell, gold, red, freckled, pale, and people who were not black but, ash, copper, chocolate, cocoa, gold-red, deep raisin. She wanted to see Puerto Ricans, Vietnamese, Persians, Russians, Oaxacaians, Peruvians, Irish, Spanish, Samoan, and all the beautiful mixing of blood. Rose could not be limited by primary colors. She looked at the skin tone and hue of the Chinaman looking at the menu, he wasn’t yellow.
“Your skin is a kind deep olive, like a spanish olive with a hint of orange, but a real healthy orange.” She said this to him involuntarily like she was a five-year old without a filter for her thoughts.
He looked up at her for a moment and then glanced at his exposed arms. He set the menu on the counter and then loosed the rolls of his sleeves and pushed them down and covered his arms to his wrists. Rose fumbled with the corner of a napkin that she had in her hand.
“I’ve got some orange too. My skin as a bit of the orange hue, see?” She held out the soft inside of her forearm toward his face.
He glanced at her arm and then to her round brown eyes as she blinked at him. He gazed at her for a moment then said, “I read you are famous for pies.”
“What?” Rose said, dropping her arm back down to her side.
“Here.” He said pointing to the top of the laminated menu. “It says, ‘we are famous for our pies’.”
“Yeah, sure, famous in Mainz, but we are also the only diner in Mainz.”
The sound of a truck passing on the dirt road behind the diner, caused their ears to perk, like cats in play, but both of them kept their eyes locked.
“So. You want some pie?”
“Yes. What do you have?”
“We have pecan and lemon meringue, but I think the pecan is best.”
“I’ll try the lemon.” He said.
“Okay.” Rose wander over to the case and pulled out the pie to cut a slice. As she turned from the case she rested the pie on her belly as she closed the glass case door.
“You are very pregnant.” He said. “You look young.”
“I’m not.” She said setting the pie down then pulling a knife out from under the counter. “Young that is- I’m twenty, and that’s old enough.” She place the pie in front of him.
“Yes, old enough.” He said.
“and there ain’t no father so don’t go askin’ me about him.”
“You don’t need a father to be a good mother.”
She stared at him as he pushed his fork into the pie. The wiped shyly at the crumbs on the counter that had dropped in front of his plate. “Yeah.” She brushed the crumbs into her hand and then shook them into a garbage bin. “It can help though.” She watched him take a bite of the pie.
“Yes. It can.” He said in between bites. “If he is good enough. Tough job a good father, not many to fill the role, but, there are some.”
“Not this one’s.” Rose said rubbing her belly.
“Obviously.” He said.
Rose watched him eat. He chewed deliberately, the small muscles in his jaw worked slow like the gears and the wheels of a train moving through a train yard.
“You don’t sound like you are from China.” She blurted. “Are you from China?”
“Yes.” He said setting his fork on the edge of the thin plate. “May I have some tea?”
“Yeah. Sure.” Rose turned to grab a tea bag from a sealed jar. “Is black okay?” She asked looking back over her shoulder at him.
She pulled the tea bag from the jar, dropped it into a cup and pour steaming water from the percolator over the bag.
“What makes you think I don’t sound like I am from China?” He asked her.
“Well, you don’t have an accent.” She turned and slide the cup of tea toward him. “I mean you have a slight accent, but you don’t talk like the same as they do on the movies.”
“Hmm. You mean like: YOu sign say you make good piee?”
“Yeah. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound rude. I like it when people don’t sound like they do or act like they do in the movies.”
“Some people do, some don’t. It depends on the quality of the movie, and its actors.” He took a sip of his tea then set it down.
“Do you like it?” She asked.
“No.” He said. “It tastes like a commercial.”
Rose smiled at him. ” I like when people are not like the movies, it helps make other places real, you know? I just get so excited. It helps me believe that there all kinds of people in the world, like there isn’t just this one type of man in China. Like they all are wise and can do Kung Fu.”
“Oh but that it true.” He said as he took another sip.
This made Rose smile again. “I thought you thought it was bad.”
“It is.” He said, “but my expectations were low.”
Rose grabbed his pie plate and placed it in a dish tub at the end of the counter. “Are you here for the mines?” She asked him as she washed her hands in the sink.
“The mines?” he asked.
“The healing mines. People are starting to come here to sit in the mines. To heal their bodies.”
“No.” He said. ” I am here to find my great-great grandfather.”
“Oh wow.” Said Rose as she dried her hands on her apron. “I think you may be in the wrong town. I’ve lived here all my life, and I’ve never seen a Chinese person in this town.”
“You never would see him. He lives under the ground, in an unmarked grave, like all the other Chinese buried on the side of the hill near the mines they dug.”