My Father Took Me To Watch

Mai Nardone



First-born, a girl, but anyway his first-born so he brought me to watch when he touched the other woman.

He started his fingers at her lips. And the woman bracing her hips off the car seat, wanting him lower, where she was swollen.

She interrupted herself with clipped breaths. “How—how old are you?”

At home I was old enough to take turns holding my new sister. The baby grasping, leaving spittle. While at the window my mother burned holes through the screen with her cigarette.

But here in the parking lot? In the back seat? I looked down.


Father, hand lower, said, “Old enough to be responsible.”

Between my legs were four sets of noodles in ballooned bags, the broth hot on my thighs. I squeezed and released my knees, timed my breathing with the woman’s.


When she left the car he called me into the front: “First-born, it’s your responsibility to know. She’s pregnant. You’ll have a brother finally.”

“Half-brother,” I said.

“That,” he said, “is why I put you in charge.”

I told him that responsibility is knowing when you’re too drunk to drive. I cranked down the window. “I can wake you in thirty-minutes.”

So he fell asleep with his hand twined through the steering wheel. I turned on the cabin light to look at him. His skin was red. I took the whisky bottle and dipped my finger into it, ran the hot liquor down the middle of my tongue. I dipped again. By the dashboard clock I counted thirty and gouged the leather seat with the car key for every time Father had called her his ‘girl.’


At home I kicked the sisters awake as Father laid out bowls.

“Number one,” he said, hands coming gently down on my shoulders. He touched his daughters only at the round table, assigning seats.

“Number two, what will it be?” My sisters nodding, sleeping still. Father worked the revolving table. “Pork broth? Fish? Three sit here. All the way from Khlong Toey,” he gloated. “I want you to eat while it’s fresh.”

And my noosed mother didn’t ask why Khlong Toey, why nighttime. She looked at me with drawn eyes and handed over the baby.

“Can you keep a secret?” I whispered. I slipped my whisky finger into her mouth, scratched her tongue with it. The burn reached her cheeks and she began to cry.

“Brother. Boy. First-born,” I said. “First-born boy. Now you know.” And I pushed my finger deep into her throat.


Mai Nardone was raised in Bangkok, Thailand, by an American father and a Thai mother. He has received scholarships from the Tin House Writer’s Workshop and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and a fellowship from the MacDowell Colony. His recent fiction has appeared in American Short Fiction, The Iowa Review, Kenyon Review Online, and Slice. He lives in Bangkok, and on Twitter: @MaiNardone