Last Reviewed on February 12, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1159
"Memory is a choice," Rose once said to Little Dog. Little Dog thinks this sounds as if Rose were a god; but if she were, she would have seen her son lying under a bridge with a friend, both of them covered in blood, singing "This little light of mine." Instead, she was across town staring out the window, while Little Dog thought that it felt as if a bullet had lodged inside him. Lying under the overpass, Little Dog asked his friend, Trev, to tell him a secret; when Trev asked him to go first, Little Dog confessed that he was no longer afraid of dying.
Little Dog ruminates on Rose's work-roughened hands and the fact that the children of many Vietnamese women are essentially raised in nail salons, which serve as classrooms, kitchens, and community centers. Many try to secure better jobs but ultimately return to the nail salon, the only job they can find, even though it offers no salaries, healthcare, or contracts.
Little Dog remembers a Sunday in the salon when he was ten years old. Rose opened and ran the salon on Sundays. An older lady came in for a pedicure, but when Rose tried to maneuver her feet into the water, the woman removed the lower part of her right leg—a prosthesis. Without hesitation, Rose performed a pedicure on the one good foot and then, when asked, addressed the phantom place where the other foot once was. The woman said she could feel the touch there, too, and tipped Rose a hundred dollars. Afterward, Little Dog rubbed his mother's back as he had done many times before, until she fell asleep, surprised all over again by how much darker his skin was than hers.
When Little Dog was fourteen, he got a job on a tobacco farm near Hartford but told his mother he was working at a church on the outskirts of town instead. This was 2003. Rose was beginning to suffer frequent nightmares and worried about how to save for a "secret bunker."
Little Dog rode his bike out to the tobacco farm, where he found a row of Spanish-speaking workers, most from Mexico and Central America. The farm was run by Mr. Buford, a tall white man who advised Little Dog to simply do what Manny, the crew leader, dictated. The work entailed cutting down the tobacco crop with machetes, and when the tractors were full, they would be driven back to the barns to be stored. Little Dog learned to speak in gestures to those he worked with, even when they shared no verbal language.
In the nail salon, the word "sorry" was the one most often heard, as workers apologized continually, hoping to remind the customers that they existed; hoping for a tip. In the tobacco fields, the same was true. All the men were working for something different—to buy houses for their mothers; to send their children to university; to fund surgeries and healthcare. They needed to say "sorry" in order to keep their jobs and achieve their goals.
"Sorry" was the first thing Little Dog said to Trevor, too, when they met. Trevor was Burford's grandson and taught Little Dog that "there was something even more brutal and total than work—want."
Little Dog found Trevor again in the barn after work and admired his face and lips. He felt that Trevor had been watching him earlier while he worked and wondered why, having always felt invisible. Trevor told Little Dog that this tobacco crop was low-grade, then admitted that he hated his father. Little Dog averred that he hated his father, too, and the pair bonded over this. Little Dog was, at this time, a freshman in high school, and Trevor a junior.
Little Dog remembers that, at the age of six, his mother locked him in the basement in the dark for wetting his bed. He remembers thinking that his superpower was "to make a dark even darker than what's around me." He remembers another moment, later, when Rose had come home after overtime at the clock factory to...
(The entire section contains 1159 words.)
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