top of page

Michael Chin 




Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and is a recent alum of Oregon State's MFA Program. He won Bayou Magazine's Jim Knudsen Editor’s Prize for fiction and has work published or forthcoming in journals including The Normal School, Passages North, Iron Horse, Front Porch, and Bellevue Literary Review. He works as a contributing editor for Mossand blogs about professional wrestling and a cappella music on the side. Find him online at or follow him on Twitter @miketchin. .




“You should come to the winery with us,” Dad said.


              “It’ll be fun,” my stepmother said.



             “It’ll get you out of your apartment,” Dad said.


            “The wine is very good,” my stepmother said.


            “It’ll be good to have an afternoon together,” Dad said.


            Neither of them said that Charles would be there.


            “The grounds are very pretty,” my stepmother said.


            Charles, whom Dad felt the need to introduce me to, though we’d met before, albeit eighteen years before, at Aunt Rose’s second wedding—the one they did in the backyard of the house she kept from her first marriage, hung Christmas lights from the shingles, and served pizza for dinner at. Aunt Kathy called it tacky and Mom told her to shut up and Aunt Kathy cried. Maybe because Mom hurt her feelings. Maybe because Aunt Rose’s second husband had been Aunt Kathy’s first.


            I was seven then. I had short hair and I noticed Charles looking at me strangely, the way people did when they thought I was a boy, and had only then realized I was a girl.


            Charles played the part at the winery. Shaking my hand like we really hadn’t met, but I rubbed my thumb over his to remind him. Because that’s what I remembered best of all from Aunt Rose’s second wedding. That during the ceremony, we thumb wrestled. I remembered thinking how easy it would be for one of our thumbs to break if the other pressed a little too hard from the wrong angle and how it would more likely be mine because he was a boy and a year older, so his hands were bigger, and he even had fine little hairs between the knuckles on his fingers like Dad, only not as long yet.


            Eighteen years had passed.


            The four of us had a tasting and the three of them spoke of tannins and food pairings. I didn’t like most of the wine, but the port was OK, finally something sweet like a drink made from fruit ought to be.


            Charles talked about his work. He was some kind of accountant or attorney or scientist.


            Outdoors, the grass was very green, and from where we sat, we overlooked rows and rows of grapevines. I wondered if children ever ran through them—they could have made wonderful mazes to play at labyrinth or to play hide and seek in.


            There weren’t any children around.


            Dad said he’d buy everyone a glass of wine, and the three of them agreed on the same one. A cabernet something, and I said I’d have that too, even though I didn’t want it. I was very hot in the face and getting sleepy. Dad ordered a plate of cheeses and pink-brown cured meats, too, and I ate from it hungrily my stepmother said, “my, you’ve worked up an appetite” in the way she used to say it when I was a younger and I ate too much, so I stopped eating so much.


            Charles gave me a smile. A small, sweet, secret smile that was nice. That suggested he didn’t think I was eating too much. His breath smelled of wine.


            Years ago, it smelled of root beer and pretzels.


            I remembered that day at the wedding. That just as I thought he might win our thumb wrestling contest, he left an opening. I slipped my thumb around his, around the outside, and pinned it down. He struggled. His fingers were hot and sweaty, but he couldn’t get out and I had won.























Charles told me about a hunting trip from before he was born. That his father came upon a great big buck who’d been mangled, probably by a bear, and bleeding to death, but it was still breathing, still suffering. So he cradled the deer’s head in his arms, first to comfort it, then slowly to cut off its air, so before the poor deer knew what was happening, it had lost consciousness. A compassionate way to die.

            I told him that I didn’t believe the story.

            “What do you mean you don’t believe it?” he asked. “It’s what my father told me.”

            “I believe he told it to you,” I said. “I just don’t believe the story.”

            He got all bent out of shape about how his father wasn’t a liar, and asked what I was trying to say about his family. I explained it wasn’t about character or about not liking anyone. It was about believability of the story. “Why wouldn’t he just shoot the buck if it were suffering?”

            I told him I understood people told tales sometimes. To entertain. To make themselves more interesting. More impressive. Charles sputtered like he did when he didn’t know what to do with me, when he might have walked away and gotten a bottle of water or a granola bar at his house, or might have ended the phone call, but were out at a restaurant. He filled his mouth with his Caesar salad, so a shred of romaine hung from his lower lip and dressing speckled his clean-shaven chin.

            He shook his head. “You’re impossible.”



I grew comfortable with Charles. Comfortable watching TV with him and comfortable with the idea that we could make out through parts of a show and I could catch up on what I’d missed on Hulu afterward. Comfortable with the way he got nervous driving in traffic and needed to concentrate and not talk at those times, and comfortable talking anyway because it was OK if he didn’t listen to me all the time, and besides, what was he going to do, break up with me?


            We had a picnic at the park by my house. It was loud. Kids to the side of us—playing baseball on the diamond, playing soccer on the basketball court. A man on a riding lawnmower on the other side with big earphones on. It’s weird how something can sound so loud, so aggressive, but still come across as so peaceful. The mowed grass in the air smelled like summer.

Charles sneezed. His allergies were getting to him. I’d gotten comfortable with that, too. The flow of liquidy mucus from his nose. The booger-filled, sopping tissues he’d wedge back into his pockets for lack of a better place to put them.


            It was loud enough that I couldn’t hear the crunch of the lettuce in the sandwiches or the potato chips we picnicked on. We didn’t talk much, probably because it was so loud, and because when we did speak it was more of a yell.


            He was fidgety. Fumbling with his fork, yielding to my hand on the way to the potato chip back. Like the way he’d behaved on our first date, when my father and stepmother set us up and sat with us at the winery. Not himself. I thought he might ask me to marry him and the park would be a good spot because we went there a lot when the weather was good, but I hoped he’d wait until we got to the duckpond because it’s pretty there, and if we went there, I could look myself and him in the water and see us twinned and always know what the both of us looked like in that moment.


            He didn’t wait for the duckpond, though. And he didn’t propose. Instead, he shouted over the lawnmower, “I don’t think we should see each other anymore.”


            It was funny, really, for someone to shout something like that, not out of anger but just to be heard.


            I suppose that’s why I laughed. A lot.


            “Are you OK?” He said it just as loudly and it set me off all over again, and he got that tight-lipped, nose-twitching glare that he did when I danced to a catchy song at the grocery store or when I ate the last French fry from his plate or talked too much during rush hour in the car.


            I caught my breath and realized I was sad, because this was the last I would see of him, at least the way I’d known him these past few months. But you’re supposed to be sad when someone breaks up with you, and there wasn’t anything he was going to say to make me feel better, except maybe April Fool’s! but it wasn’t April Fool’s Day, so that was beside the point.


            I asked him, “Why?” but asked it softly because my throat felt sticky and I had to force myself not to cry. It was too soft so I don’t think he could hear me, or else he chose to ignore me, and either way he didn’t say anything; he just hugged me, gathered the trash from the lawn, and walked away.


            And I walked home alone.















bottom of page