Condolence

It is the year we have boarders, two college students from Thailand: long-legged and dusky Mu, pale and flat-chested Pom. For breakfast they like things like coconut jam on bread. One Saturday they’re showing my parents how to make a sweet-salty dip with shrimp paste for tart green mangos, and Thai iced tea. When they serve the drinks I watch the dense layer of sweetened milk make sinuous curls through the red-earth-colored liquid in tall beaded glasses. I know this milk is something that also goes into custards and flan, but you can spoon and eat it straight from the can with the red and white striped label. I don’t know why my father keeps mentioning this milk— “Condolence, my condolences,” he says into the phone— when a friend calls to say his mother has died. Perhaps this sweetness is a cure for sorrow. Perhaps its creamy thick ribbons wrap the throat and tongue in a cocoon to make them impervious to the dark salt of tears.

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