Rated R for vampires, and their extended families.
The House of Aunts
by Zen Cho
To the women of my family.
The house stood back from the road in an orchard. In the orchard, monitor lizards the length of a man’s arm stalked the branches of rambutan trees like tigers on the hunt. Behind the house was an abandoned rubber tree plantation, so proliferant with monkeys and leeches and spirits that it might as well have been a forest.
Inside the house lived the dead.
The first time she saw the boy across the classroom, Ah Lee knew she was in love because she tasted durian on her tongue. That was what happened–no poetry about it. She looked at a human boy one day and the creamy rank richness of durian filled her mouth. For a moment the ghost of its stench staggered on the edge of her teeth, and then it vanished.
She had not tasted fruit since before the baby came. Since before she was dead.
After school she went home and asked the aunts about it.
“Ah Ma,” she said, “can you taste anything besides people?”
It was evening–Ah Lee had had to stay late at school for marching drills–and the aunts were already cooking dinner. The scent of fried liver came from the wok wielded by Aunty Girl. It smelt exquisite, but where before the smell of fried garlic would have filled her mouth with saliva, now it was the liver that made Ah Lee’s post-death nose sit up and take interest. It would have smelt even better raw.
“Har?” said Ah Ma, who was busy chopping ginger.
“I mean,” said Ah Lee. “When you eat the ginger, can you taste it? Because I can’t. I can only taste people. Everything else got no taste. Like drinking water only.”
Disapproval rose from the aunts and floated just above their heads like a mist. The aunts avoided discussing their undeceased state. It was felt to be an indelicate subject. It was like talking about your bowel movements, or other people’s adultery.
“Why do you ask this kind of question?” said Ah Ma.
“Better focus on your homework,” said Tua Kim.
“I finished it already,” said Ah Lee. “But why do you put in all the spices when you cook, then? If it doesn’t make any difference?”
“It makes a difference,” said Aunty Girl.
“Why do you even cook the people?” said Ah Lee. “They’re nicest when they’re raw.”
“Ah girl,” said Ah Ma, “you don’t talk like that, please. We are not animals. Even if we are not alive, we are still human. As long as we are human we will eat like civilised people, not dogs in the forest. If you want to know why, that is why.”
About the Author
Zen Cho was born and raised in Malaysia. She is the author of Crawford Award-winning short story collection Spirits Abroad and editor of anthology Cyberpunk: Malaysia. She has been nominated for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer and honour-listed for the Carl Brandon Society Awards for her short fiction. Her debut novel Sorcerer to the Crown (Ace/Macmillan), about magic, intrigue and politics in Regency London, won a British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer and was a Locus Awards finalist for Best First Novel. She lives in the UK.
About the Narrator
Nina Shaharuddin betters the world for a living and does stand-up comedy on the side.