Like most Chinese-Indonesians, I come from a humongous family. My dad has six siblings, my mom has eight, and I have over forty first cousins. There are different loyalties and feuds among my aunts and uncles that are always shifting depending on who said what about this cousin or that in-law. Basically we’re a real-life telenovela. For the longest time, I hesitated to write about a Chinese-Indo family because, I guess, writing about family drama hits too close to home. Then inspiration struck: What if I included my absolute favorite trope? Accidental murder PLUS a meddlesome family? Thus was Dial A for Aunties conceived.
Everything came together naturally, and I found myself cracking up several times as I wrote. None of the characters in Dial A was based on specific people (I swear!), but they all felt so real to me that I knew exactly how each one would react in every scene.
The best part of this whole experience was the number of people from different cultural backgrounds who reached out and said that Meddy’s family reminded them of their own relatives. I hope you enjoy the read, and that it gives you some joy in these difficult times.
I’m stuck in a nightmare. I know it. Maybe I got a concussion from the accident. Maybe I’m actually in a coma, and my comabrain is coming up with this weird-ass scenario, because there is no way that I’m actually sitting here, in the kitchen, watching my oldest aunties eat a mango and Ma and Fourth Aunt argue while Jake lies cooling in the trunk of my car. Just when I’m about to scream, Big Aunt puts down her fork with a meaningful clatter.
Everyone sits to attention.
“So,” she says, turning to me and switching to English. Behind the kindly wrinkles that I know so well I could sketch in my sleep, her gaze is eagle sharp. “Tell Big Aunt what happen. Start from beginning.”
I don’t hesitate. There’s just something about Big Aunt, a mix of firm authority and motherly warmth which nobody can say no to. I’m feeling so guilty about having them rush here in the middle of the night—to help me with a dead body, no less—that I try relaying the story in Indonesian. But not even one sentence in, Second Aunt tells me my atrocious Indonesian is giving her a headache and I should just stick to English. With some relief, I tell them about my date with Jake, about how he insisted on driving me home, and the things he said.
I’m suddenly the subject of four pairs of shrewd gazes once more. I try my best to not cringe away from the attention. Big Aunt exchanges a look with Ma. Though the question is unspoken, I know what she’s asking Ma: It’s your daughter, what do you want to do?
Ma straightens up. “We are not going to police. No, I don’t trust them. We don’t know what they say. They might say she temperating the body—”
“Tampered with the body, you mean,” Fourth Aunt says.
Ma shoots her a look of pure venom. “They might say she block justice—”
“Obstructed justice,” Fourth Aunt says.
“It’s very clear what I mean!” Ma snaps. “Yes, we know your English is very good, no need to show off, okay?”
Fourth Aunt throws her arms up. “I’m just helping!”
Big Aunt catches her eye and gives a small shake of the head, and immediately Fourth Aunt deflates, her breath coming out in an angry sigh. She mumbles, “Do whatever you want.”
It’s as though there’s a fire under my skin. My cheeks are red-hot. My mom and aunt are fighting because of me. I mean, okay, Ma has never gotten along with Fourth Aunt, and they fight every chance they get, but still, it sucks to be the reason they’re fighting now.
Big Aunt nods. “Okay, no police. Come, we go see body.”
I have to turn away from the body. The sight of it brings back the trauma of the accident, and I can’t stop seeing flashes of Jake, again and again. Of him smiling, his hand on my knee. Now his hands are lying limply against his hips.
“Now what?” Second Aunt says, going through her Tai Chi moves a lot faster than they call for. “This boy so tall. How we get rid of him?” She shudders before going into a different pose with arms outstretched. “Maybe we can chop him up, cook some curry then throw away bit by bit?”
“That’s a lot of curry,” Fourth Aunt says.
My stomach lurches. Calm. Down. They’re not being serious. They’re not. They’re just being their usual selves. Their usual murdery selves. What is going on right now?! Maybe one of the Chinese dramas they’re always watching is a crime show. Or maybe this a mom thing, like once you have a kid, you lose the ability to be truly shocked by anything? I mean, this is not normal, right? RIGHT?
“No curry,” Big Aunt scolds. Second Aunt glares at her.
“You got better idea is it?” Second Aunt says.
Big Aunt sighs. “I think first.”
“Um,” I squeak, and they all look at me. I charge ahead before I lose whatever tiny bit of courage I have. “Maybe we should take him to the desert and bury him there?”
They mull this over. We’ve been on family trips to Vegas a couple of times, we all know the route well, the empty desolation between California and Nevada that people pass through and never stop at.
“Good idea,” Ma says, smiling with obvious pride at me.
Second Aunt nods. “Yes, very good.”
“Better than your curry idea,” Big Aunt chides. “Okay, we do that when we come back from wedding island. Definitely got no time to do tonight, we need to be at pier tomorrow by eight-thirty.”
Oh my god, in all the panic and confusion, I haven’t forgotten that we still need to work a wedding tomorrow, but I have forgotten the details of it—the fact that it’s at Santa Lucia and that we have to congregate tomorrow morning at the pier to catch one of the private yachts that will be taking us to the island. The thought of it exhausts me. Driving to the desert, digging a hole, filling it, and then driving back is out of the question for tonight. As it is, I can barely stay on my feet.
“We cannot leave him in trunk for whole weekend,” Ma says. “Later he will stink up my house, then will be very hard to get rid of smell.”
Big Aunt nods again. “We need to put him in fridge.”
Lord help me, we are literally talking about fridging the dude.
“My fridgerator not big enough,” Ma says.
“Only you got fridge big enough,” Second Aunt says to Big Aunt.
The only sign that betrays Big Aunt’s dismay at the realization that it would have to be her fridge is a flicker of displeasure, but then she nods and says, “Okay. Anyway I will feel better with body in my fridge than if body in someone else fridge, who knows, maybe that person is not so responsible.” She gives a side-eye at Second Aunt. Second Aunt’s nostrils flare and she opens her mouth to speak, but Big Aunt says, “We go now.”
From Dial A for Aunties published by arrangement with Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2021 by Jesse Q Sutanto.
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