Obaasan only wears jewelry once a year, to the Japanese Association Bingo. This time, she selects a gold-banded ring, four teeth around a black stone. As our family drives through blonde hills, she flags her jeweled hand out the window, displacing air. From the backseat, I ask if one day I can have her ring. She turns around, locks her hands over my knees. “You won’t want it,” she says. The gathering takes place in a dirt lot along a cliffside, fifteen long pine tables, sanded by paper plates and salted elbows. In the distance, waves find their shape and make their way to shore. When the water splits on the rocks, it froths, like the crackle of spit when a word takes time to speak. Already the boys with tight stomachs have been dispatched to rearrange the tables, creating one long corridor between them. The prize table is strategically placed at the back to discourage dining and dashing, a passive-aggressive reminder of what you would be forgoing. Bulk purchases throne atop it: tubs of lavender-scented detergent, towers of off-brand ClingWrap, six-packs of disinfectant wipes. The top prize is always a giant thing of toilet paper, jumbo rolls, the kind that you find in warehouses and stingy restaurants, as thin as tracing paper. Last year, Obaasan’s friend won and so she guards the table smugly, dimpling her chin at the rest of us who haven’t been so lucky. Before sitting, we load our plates, their bottoms flexing under the burden. I only select foods that I can find in Obaasan’s refrigerator: triangles of onigiri, inarizushi that my parents call pillows because it’s simpler that way. At the table, I pull off their tofu cases and let them go slippery in my palm. At the front, bingo balls rattle around in their cage like loose teeth after the undercut. The ball collector wings his hands to catch each orb as it tumbles forth. He calls out the numbers and presents them to the woman beside him, the second set of eyes, who confirms his truth to the crowd and records it in a notebook. After that, anyone can ask to reference the notebook. If the two leaders are caught colluding, they can be ousted, banned from next year’s event. Even though for many the United States is not their first country, they understand checks and balances. Children aren't allowed to participate so we sit wedged between our parents. Next to me, a group of boys fit watermelon rinds to their teeth. I writhe free until I can see Obaasan’s bingo card, translucent red buttons pebbling its grid. When I tug at her arm, she ignores me but in a way I respect, like it's the apocalypse and I’ve already been shot in the leg. After a half hour, when their parents are no longer able to still them, the children funnel out to the beach. Ojiisan understands the pressures of single girlhood and hands me a kite with bent stripes like a prism. It works. I hold the kite against my body, water lapping at my feet. The boys notice and try to win my favor by throwing rocks into the ocean, their faces like fruit going soft in the heat. At last, one gives me three bottles of Yakult he stowed in his pockets before they ran out. I applaud him for his foresight and hand him the spool. As the first drink runs syruppy down my throat, the kite launches skyward. When I get back up to the bingo tables, it nosedives out of sight. I don’t realize my error until it’s too late, a colony of women surrounding Obaasan with bright voices, my father lofting the loot of toilet paper into the car. It’s so big that I have to sit on it for the whole ride, and no matter how I adjust, my butt cheeks fall into its shallows. At home, Obaasan punctures the plastic with her fingernail and eases it down like a second skin. I hand her each roll and she feeds them through the frame of the cupboard, stacking them as carefully as you would CDs. Obaasan gives me a roll of my own for my assistance, and I accept because sometimes love operates in returns. I cuff my wrist with the roll and promise to use it well. She cradles my face, ring cold against my jaw, her eyes fattening in the light. She lets her hair out of its clip and takes off the ring, nestling it in a felt-bottomed box. When I look inside, the black stone glitters like a hard body of a cockroach.
Nicole Tsuno is a chronically-ill writer and post-undergraduate of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bending Genres. Some of her favorite things are as follows: dogs that look like their humans, anything peach, and toilets that play music. Twitter: @nicoletsuno; Instagram: @nicoletsuno.