(The Golden Ratio)
With dragging steps, I entered our shop’s darkened door. A rush of air hit me. It was heavy with smoke, yet everywhere clung traces of her perfume: orange, plum, clove, jasmine, peach, and vetiver. Eager to find Māmā inside, I tripped over an overturned clothing rack, and my knees slammed into the floorboards. Come morning I was going to be a solid bruise. Crawling on hands and knees over the wreckage that had been a successful dress shop hours ago, I made my way behind the counter.
I brushed against an assortment of scissors, bobbins of thread, and stacks of price tags before locating a zhǐ xīng jí. The paper crinkled between my fingers. I prayed it was one to light the oil lamp, but couldn’t see my hand in front of my face let alone the number written on the delicately folded paper. It took most of my strength to heft the oil lamp off the counter. I managed to bang it against the counter with a metallic clunk. The inky black of the shop pressed down around me.
The world shrank until all it contained was the hand that held the zhǐ xīng jí and the oil lamp. Even my steady breathing had ceased to exist inside an endless night. I snapped my eyes closed and squeezed them tight, sucking a quick breath and holding it, I lifted the thick glass shade and gave the wick raiser a quarter turn. I sent a quick prayer to Māmā and our ancestors for luck.
I gripped the very edge of the zhǐ xīng jí and said, “Flame!”
A small burst of light shone pink through my closed eyelids as the paper caught immediately. I smiled and held the dancing flame to the wick, a warm glow greeted me like an old friend. I replaced the shade and yanked the lamp back onto the counter. Shadows remained in the corners. The upended mannequins resembled bodies, causing me to shiver violently.