BY JEFFREY MILLER
She shoved the stalks of lemongrass into the fish’s gaping mouth and threw it on the grill along with skewers of chicken and pork. The fish was her specialty. The lemongrass delightfully seasoned the white, moist meat with a lemony, sour taste. The secret was knowing just how much lemongrass to use as well as salt generously applied to the sides of the fish.
She learned how to prepare it from her mother, who died in a motorcycle accident last year that left her father paralyzed.
It wasn’t easy to sell to passengers on buses that sometimes stopped in her village; instead, it was for travelers with time on their hands who could sit down underneath a banyan tree and enjoy the fish with sticky rice and spicy papaya salad she prepared.
She kept a close watch on her eight-year old brother who helped sell the skewered meat; both of them should be in school, but they had meat and fish to sell.
Whenever a bus stopped, the girl and her brother rushed to join the other vendors that crowded around it, waving the sticks of meat above their heads. Crumpled, damp bills passed through windows in exchange for their meat. At the end of those long days measured out in sticks—the days when no one bought the fish that had slowly grilled all day, the fish became their supper. By then, the sweet, flaky meat had dried out and the fish, they slowly and quietly chewed, tasted bitter.
Originally from LaSalle, Illinois Jeffrey Miller has been living and teaching in Asia since 1989. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Artful Dodge, Bartleby Snopes, Full of Crow, Grey Sparrow Journal, Magnolia’s Press, Negative Suck, and Orion headless.