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Clumped Dough by Lucy Zhang

When Sister was born, the old lady who ran the biang biang noodle street stall accidentally tore through her clump of noodle dough as she was slapping it on the counter. That old lady never made a mistake when she pulled noodles, not even when she received news that her husband had passed in a construction accident, or when her son left the country to “soul search” with only a backpack and passport. “Soul searching” was code for losing mian zi, a level of shame not even worth uttering. But when Sister arrived tan-skinned instead of pale and wet like an oversized piece of natto, screaming as though she’d been burned at stake in the previous life, the old noodle lady cursed and tossed her broken dough ball into the furnace, claiming it was an inauspicious day and any child birthed that day would live in eternal loneliness. Mom claimed the noodle lady shouted so loudly, you could hear her through the operating room. Sister was the least lonely person I knew. She’d disappear with boyfriend X or Y and return home late at night after I was asleep, and the next morning we’d see empty plates in the sink, leftover steamed fish and wood ear from the night before devoured. When I asked her when she’d marry, she laughed and said boyfriend X didn’t have enough ambition and boyfriend Y was too awkward in professional social settings and boyfriend Z wasn’t active enough to join her bouldering adventures. “You’re going to end up forever alone,” I joked. I eventually married the first person I dated, and all Mom could do was visit me and sit on the rowing machine, gliding back and forth like a lost, directionally challenged squirrel, counting the seconds passing until Sister’s ovaries expired. I was starting to think Sister’s expectations for a partner were too high. She kept iMessaging me pictures of ramen she ate alone since her current boyfriend only ate burritos and pizza. The pictures were zoomed in so much you could see how light reflected off each strand of noodle and how smoothly they wrapped around her chopsticks. Mom didn’t know how to long press the screen to play the Live Photo, so she never saw the camera flick to the side, capturing a table surrounded by empty chairs and the single bowl losing steam to the cold.

Hear Lucy Zhang read her story

Lucy Zhang writes, codes, and watches anime. Her work has appeared in The Worcester Review, The Pinch, The Baltimore Review, Southern Humanities Review, and elsewhere. She is the author of the chapbooks Hollowed (Thirty West Publishing, 2022) and Absorption (Harbor Review, 2022). Find her at or on X @Dango_Ramen.

Statue Forest by Tara Campbell | Elizabet by Jonathan Cardew | Love Taker by Michael Czyzniejewski | (Parenthetical Asides) by Jacqueline Doyle | Lace in Your Hands by Lydia Gwyn | I Wouldn’t Know It & He Wouldn’t Know It by Kara Vernor | Clumped Dough by Lucy Zhang