Garden Decoration

I thought the baby zebra curled up beside the dumpster was real. A live animal that someone had shipped from the plains of Africa before abandoning on a curbside in Cincinnati, Ohio, along with their recycling. Usually, my dad was the first to sift through others’ trash for personal treasures; this time he drove ten feet past the zebra before my mom leaned into him and murmured, “My kids would love it.”

We went back, and my dad got out of the car and tried to lift the zebra. It was solid stone. Both my parents and my sister wrestled the hulking adorable animal into the trunk of our white Corolla, which settled back on its haunches at the added weight. I stayed in the car with our guest—a girl named Stacey who looked like she could be the long-lost sister I’d never met before we attended the same college in cornfield Indiana.

Turning to her, I said, “Welcome to my crazy family.”

“I’m used to this,” she replied. “My family does this all the time.”

We’d already figured out that our families shared a common Chinese last name as well as a habit of reusing plastic jars to store snacks; maybe it wasn’t a stretch to picture her parents in Maryland also rescuing other people’s garden decor.

The baby zebra languished in the trunk as we stopped at a gas station, went to evening service at a megachurch, and ate dinner at a Chinese buffet that served greasy renderings of our ethnic food. Later, we lifted the zebra onto a dolly outside our garage.

“This probably weighs a hundred fifty pounds,” my father puffed.

“Where on earth do you even find a solid stone statue of a baby zebra?” I asked, trying to picture this creature huddled in some garden center next to a line of gnomes.

My father tilted the dolly backward, and in the light spilling out from our open garage door, the zebra’s lowered eyes remained passively mournful. It didn’t seem to appreciate its new home in our front flower bed. My mother’s menagerie of young piano students—her “kids,” many of them belonging to Chinese immigrant parents—would fondle its chipped stripes while waiting for their half-hour lessons. They wouldn’t care that it didn’t belong.

“I love your family,” Stacey said to me. “It’s so nice to be surrounded by Asians again.”

Refusing our help, my father receded into the darkness with the dolly, levering the African animal up our steep Midwestern driveway.


JOY GRACE CHEN graduated in May 2016 with a degree in creative writing and literature from the University of Evansville. She was the recipient of the 2015 Norton Writer’s Prize and spent the past year teaching English in Poland. This fall, she begins her pursuit of an MFA in creative writing at The Ohio State University.