The Burning

Tianxing Ma

By This Time Tomorrow

        Maria made potato fritters. The recipe called for a pound of potatoes, two eggs, half a cup of flour. It was a recipe for latkes originally. Maria wasn’t Jewish, but she had gone to take out the trash just a half an hour before, and something in the blueness of the night, the needling of December into her face had sprouted this idea in her. In the winter months, potatoes lived in a mesh sack in the corner of the garage. She had reached a hand inside and touched some potatoes near the top that had rotted soft. Disgust spread through her chest. Even in the garage, her breath clouded white in the air.

        She didn’t want to measure out a pound, just prodded around until she felt she had enough firm potatoes. They would only be for her and Lai, anyway. Lai was usually meandering through the internet at this hour, though whether he was catching up on the day’s news or giggling at memes she wasn’t sure. He didn’t come out of the office as she set a pot of water to boil. She cut each potato in half first, inspecting for black blooms within the flesh. She didn’t trust the recipe, that potatoes would cook sufficiently in hot frying oil if not boiled first. The texture came out mealy, like mashed potatoes, instead of the fine shreds of real latkes. She called them fritters.

        They didn’t taste bad. She salted them straight out of the oil and took a plate to Lai. He sat in a dark office and didn’t look away from the screen when Maria turned on the light.

        “What’s this?”

        “Try it.”

        He started to pick one up. “It’s hot,” Maria said. He blew on it, mouth ovaling around the stream of air. After a bite, he licked salt off his lips.

        “How is it?”

        “Good. Too salty.” He looked at the plate in her hands. The square of paper towel beneath the mound of fritters leaked, yellow and greasy. Only its edges retained some white.

        “Are those for me?”

        “Not all of them.” Maria smiled. “Should I go put some on a plate for you?”

        “Why’d you bring all of them here if I can’t eat all of them?”

        Maria shook her head. She bent her face to the screen. “What’s this?” she said. “‘The New York Times?’”

        “Just some culture stuff.”

        She put down the plate and started to reach for the mouse. “We don’t have a subscription.”

        He tossed the last bite of fritter into his mouth. “I’m using my parents’.”