‘Flesh’, First Place in Fiction


by Grace Wang

After the funeral, I begin to dream of hunger:

In one dream, Grandmother is butchering a tuna on my wedding day. I walk into her kitchen wearing a red qipao, and she stops filleting the fishy carcass for long enough to admire me.

“Pretty.” She says it noncommittally, but I can tell from the upwards turn of her wrinkled lips that she’s pleased, and I feel a certain sense of pride when she takes a piece of tuna from her cutting board and offers it for me to eat. I put it whole in my mouth, savoring the fatty meat. From the kitchen counter, the dead tuna stares at me with empty eyes.

“I’m getting married today,” I tell Grandmother, hopeful that she’ll offer me another piece of the fish as a blessing.

All she does is hum in response. “To whom?” she asks. Her knife makes a soft motion through the fish’s wet body and a big red loin falls to the floor, muscular and pulsing at my feet.

I try to think of who my husband is, but I have no recollection of his face. “I’m not sure.”

Grandmother shakes her head. “You must know.” “I must,” I agree. “I’m marrying him, after all.”

She doesn’t speak. The scent of raw fish leaks from the tuna and pervades throughout the kitchen. I breathe it in and feel it in both my nostrils, thick and familiar. It makes me hungry—or perhaps greedy.

“Grandmother,” I say. “Give me another piece of fish.”

My words linger momentarily in the kitchen, emphasized by the soggy slap of tuna against counter. Grandmother looks up from her neat handiwork. “Why should I?” she asks.

It feels like a taunt. I square my shoulders and stand up straight, hoping my wedding gown makes me look grown up. “Because I’m hungry.” My voice wavers. “B- because I want to be stronger.”

Grandmother stares straight at me and an uncontrollable quiver skirts down the length of my spine. I blink and she has left her butcher’s position behind the kitchen counter. I swallow the spit in my dry mouth and she is in front of me, nothing separating us but a slender crevasse of piscine air.

She brandishes the knife close to my face and I see how sharp the blade is, glistening with flecks of red flesh.

“If the knife is sharp enough,” Grandmother says, “you do not need to be strong. Only fast.”

Then she shoves the knife into my stomach. I look down and see it punctured through the tender silk of my dress. No blood spills. Like the tuna, I’ve been pre-drained.

When I wake up, my body is raw, Grandmother is still buried in her casket, and my tongue aches for another taste of tuna.