Huina Zheng

Lunar Curse

During the Mid-Autumn Festival, Sister and I compete in a duel of crafting the perfect mooncake. Under the moon’s amber scrutiny, we knead and roll the dough, our hands moving in a rhythmic trance. The kitchen becomes an alchemist’s den, with fillings of lotus paste and salted egg yolks transforming into golden treasures, and the air thick with the scent of sweet osmanthus. The winner gets to wear the family’s ancient, jade rabbit mask and, shrouded in moonlight, wanders through the whispering bamboo grove. The loser, however, must visit the forsaken temple beyond the forest’s edge, offering mooncakes to the forgotten deities, seeking liberation from the haunting moon’s grasp. We were born under a waning moon, our lips twisted in a rabbit’s grimace, one arm elongated, the other stunted, the left hand with only four fingers while the right boasted an extra six. When people caught sight of us, they’d turn away, murmuring as if to dispel the lunar curse that clung to our being. In the kitchen’s dimmed glow, flour and water merge at our fingertips, our uneven digits weaving an unsteady dance. The dough undulates in our hands, being pushed and flattened. Sister tells me my hands shape the mooncakes as deftly as the Weaver Girl spins her celestial silk. I tell her that her mooncakes hold the warmth of the Monkey King’s fiery gaze, capable of melting even the frostiest of hearts. Persisting, our arms, uneven, quiver in effort. Our fingers, coated in flour, resemble a bizarre forest blanketed in snow. We imagine the baked mooncakes smoothing our lips, tearing off the extra finger from the right hand to attach it to the left, stretching the shorter right arm until we become as normal as anyone else. When we put the mooncakes into the oven, we crack a smile at each other, the slit in our upper lip forming an irregular arc, as if enough optimism could bring us good fortune. The loser must don a heavy cloak, to ward off the bats lurking around the abandoned temple in the forest. The winner dances and sings under the moonlight. I can see Sister struggling, the shapes of her mooncakes bizarre, like the remnants of a moon in eclipse. Each mooncake is twisted and uneven, one side thick and the other almost transparent. My mooncakes, while baking, split open, the filling flowing out like lava. Together, we sigh and step into the night bathed in moonlight, holding these peculiar mooncakes, heading towards the old temple. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Huina Zheng holds an MA with Distinction in English Studies and works as a college essay coach. She’s also an editor at Bewildering Stories. Her stories have been published in Baltimore Review, Variant Literature, Midway Journal, and others. Her work has received nominations twice for both the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. She resides in Guangzhou, China with her husband and daughter.