Youth in Asia (a mondegreen) by L. Acadia

“You can’t have a dog while you still suck your thumb,” Ma debated, after the last brand of chili-flavored nail polish failed to break Amy’s habit but trained her to forever love spicy food.

“It’s embarrassing, and it’s unsanitary” Ma maintained. Amy glared until guilt softened Ma’s frown. It was Ma’s fault Amy didn’t have any friends in this new place. Amy had begged to stay in Taipei, and let the whole family move abroad without her.

“We’ll start thinking about it, so when you stop sucking your thumb, we’ll know what puppy to get.” Ma took Amy to the public library, where they checked out dozens of dog books to choose the perfect breed and teach research skills—there was always a pedagogical dimension. After much cross-referencing and indexing of traits, their research results were that an active, semi-urban nuclear family should include either a Norwegian Elkhound or Bouvier des Flandres. Neither breed would be suited to Taipei or Georgia’s hot, humid climate, but they ignored this consideration, focusing instead on how these breeds promised to be optimally cuddly companions, guarding (or herding) children, and teaching empathy.

Puppy-obsessed, Amy eagerly went along to the pound to meet potential playmates. She scanned the cages, trying to match the dog to their optimistic doggerel bios written by pessimistic volunteers:

I had a rough start, but give me time. There are worms in my heart, but soon I’ll make you mine. This was the homage to a scrawny pittie, though the sign listed the breed as ‘Cuddlebug.’ Amy didn’t remember that breed from the Kennel Club books.

Don’t let the mange totally hide my beauty; your love and a good diet will make me a cutie. Ma laughed and Amy puzzled over why the brown dog trying so hard to wiggle through the bars to them was named “Sugar Pea.”

A snarl is just a smile with a little extra tooth. The smudged and tattering sign announced this chihuahua was 6 years old, just like Amy (well, 6 years and 4 months). Ma asked whether she understood what would happen to them if Amy didn’t stop sucking her thumb.

One afternoon around Lunar New Year, Ma and Amy visited the pound again to cuddle dogs in cold fluorescent-lit concrete cells, then walk them on very short leashes in the parking lot. Everywhere smelled like pee. But also like puppies! In dog-delirium, it didn’t occur to Amy that the mutts in the pound were neither Bouvier des Flandres nor Elkhounds. Ma listened to Amy chatter on once again about each dog they met, then asked solemnly: “do you know what euth-an-asia is?”

For the first twenty hours after coming home from the breeder, the Elkhound puppy quivered and whimpered beside her water bowl, fluffy curlicue tail tucked between her legs. “What fun is a puppy?” Amy pouted. But she didn’t suck her thumb. 

L. Acadia is a lit professor at National Taiwan University and member of the Taipei Poetry Collective, with creative writing in Autostraddle, New Orleans Review, Strange Horizons, trampset, and elsewhere. Connect on Twitter and Instagram: @acadialogue.
grayscale photo of lost dog sitting on grass
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on
Share This