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a prose piece by Hannah Chen

The other day, I burnt the rice. With my mom away in quarantine and my sister unable to cook rice at home, I––the type of person who could only cook mac and cheese, and cup ramen––was in charge of cooking the rice. Following my mom’s instructions via text, I put six cups of rice into a pot, rinsed it several times until the water became mostly clear, and started the heat on high. I set the timer to twelve minutes.

Within eight minutes, I could smell something burning, but I wasn’t sure. I checked on the rice, and there was a faint smell of burning accompanying the steam that arose. However, being the clueless person I was, I figured that the smoking was normal and continued to let the rice cook.

A few minutes later, the smell became stronger. I called my dad, who also sensed the burning odor upon his arrival. We immediately turned off the stove and took the top off the rice, and yes, the rice was burnt.

He was annoyed (maybe it was a mixture of hunger and the fact that I couldn’t even cook rice correctly). Sighing, my dad scraped the burnt rice into the trash can while I stood awkwardly by the entrance of the kitchen, apologizing. Somehow, I had made a mistake when cooking the rice. He asked me if the fire was too high or if I had added too little water. He asked me what I did wrong, but I couldn’t respond. Unsure myself, I texted my younger sister, telling her that our dad was furious.

She replied, “Did you put the rice on the small burner?”

It hit me––I had stupidly used the larger burner, not thinking about the difference in heat.

When I told my dad (reluctantly), he reached the peak of his anger, resulting in a long lecture about how I need to “think” and “use my brain” and not go through life acting “blindly” like “everything will be okay.” My soul felt backed up into a corner, the words surrounding me and allowing no escape. He went on: “I keep telling you that you have to think. Use your brain.

Question things. That’s the only way you gain depth. You need to wonder. Like, how does a car get made? What are the parts needed to make a car? Where do those parts get manufactured? Does that play a role in trade? Just think, Hannah. I keep telling you this constantly. Use your head, for once!” His tone was acrimonious, bitter. Lines creased his forehead.

I had simply burned rice. It was a stupid mistake but a fixable one. Did he need to get so exasperated?

He finished rinsing and cleaning the pot before heating himself lunch from some leftovers. Since I didn’t want to eat the leftovers from the night prior, I waited for my sister to help me prepare lunch. My dad didn’t talk to me for the rest of the day. When I walked into the kitchen for water while he made himself a protein shake, his eyes were averted and glued onto the floor. I sighed and acted as if nothing happened since that’s the way things often worked at home. Conflict to silence then wading it out. I hated it. I could never understand my dad.

In the end, the rice that my sister made was dry –– she didn’t add enough water. Since my dad often got in these fits of anger, all I had to do was wait. And the next day, we went on to talk about his new swimming gear for exercising, and I went to discuss my anxieties about school. And so, we moved on. But I stopped trying to make the rice.

Cover Photo Source: Seizure

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