It wasn’t until Aksel and I saw the puppy that and we realized Meiying’s idea was more than just some childhood whimsy. And this was no ordinary puppy – at least not by earthling standards. It was pudgy, like a normal pup, with shiny, adoring eyes. But his fur was a strange mixture of bright green and blue, as though he had been painted by a class of hyper kindergartners. Even stranger, he didn’t bark. He was the quietest puppy I had ever seen.
“We should name him Chaplin,” said Aksel. “After that actor in the silent films.” I grinned. Chaplin it was.
“I wonder where he came from,” I said, watching as he chased Meiying, lost his balance, and tumbled over. “I haven’t seen any dogs around here, or even in town.”
“I got him from Carrie,” said Meiying. “He was a present.”
Aksel and I looked at each other, alarmed. “Meiying, who is Carrie?” asked Aksel.
“The lady from the graveyard where Isä and I go camping sometimes,” said Meiying, as though we should already know.
“Was she – did Carrie have skin and ears like us, or was she…one of the others?” I asked, my heart racing. If some alien had met and spoken with our human daughter, then everyone on the planet would be alerted to her presence by now. There were no human children on Bixsi.
“No silly,” Meiying giggled. “Carrie is a ghost lady. She told me about the place of the sun and the moon, and she gave me my present.” She skipped away, Chaplin following close behind.
A ghost. Of course. That explained everything. Well, not to Aksel, so I tried my best to fill him in on my family’s history with ghosts and ancestors.I didn’t know who Carrie could be. But maybe she had appeared from beyond to help us somehow.
Meanwhile, in my other life, I continued to try my best to offer Jia pieces of a normal childhood. I sewed a stuffed bear for her using scraps, then sneaked it into her house to play with her. Jia was delighted when I pretended to make the Sir Bear talk to her and tell stories. Unfortunately, her grandmother later punished her for engaging in make-believe play. After that, Jia wouldn’t even look at Sir Bear.
The strict, stifling household was even worse than my home in China. I hated what it was doing to my daughter’s spirit. But even that was not what finally drove me to do what I did.
“We follow the plan,” Aksel had said. “We will not use the gun unless it is absolutely necessary. Understand?”
I nodded. Of course I wouldn’t use the gun. I was not a killer.
But one night sort of changed all of that.
Arvid had kept his distance from me for the most part since the girls had been born. Maybe he had an alien girlfriend – who knew? But I was grateful to not have to pretend anymore. I was grateful that I could be loyal to Aksel. However, that night, while I was at their home for a visit with Jia, Arvid grabbed me by the shirt and pulled me toward him for a wet, sloppy kiss.
“Come on,” he said when I shoved him away.
“You’re drunk!” I said in disgust. “Get away from me!”
He narrowed his eyes. “It’s him, isn’t it?” When I didn’t answer, he grew enraged. “You know where he’s been hiding, don’t you? Two little secret lovebirds. I’m going to hunt him down and kill him. And you – ” He sneered. “You belong to me. You will do whatever I tell you to do. Or you can forget about ever seeing Jia again.”
“No!” I cried. “Okay, I’ll do it. I’ll do whatever you say.” Just don’t take my family away from me, I pleaded silently. Don’t hurt Aksel. With a smug expression, Arvid shoved me toward the bed.
Afterward, I sobbed, overwhelmed with shame. Arvid stood over me, glaring. “Tomorrow,” he said, “I plan to move in with you at the garden house. And if I even suspect that you’re sneaking off to be with him,” he spat the word, “then you’re both dead.”
Both of us. And Meiying would have no one to care for her. And Jia would be raised by psychopaths.
And that was it. I snapped.
When Arvid headed off to shower, I pulled off my torn clothes and changed into a clean outfit. Hidden in the bottom of my bag was the pistol, which Aksel had polished until the metal gleamed. I closed my hand around the grip and released the safety. I felt an eerie sense of disconnect, as though I were in a dream. When Arvid returned to the bedroom, I stood slowly. Then I turned around and pointed the gun directly at him.