When Lan Yuan was ten years old, a woman came back from the dead.
It was a Tuesday evening in winter. Lan Zhan was driving them home from Lan Yuan's piano lessons through stripes of orange lamplight in the darkness. The news was cold and clear on the radio:
"A 38-year-old woman has been returned to life after a reported case of administrative error. Sources say that the woman, a mother of three, appeared in the resurrection unit at Toronto Western Hospital at 3:45 PM this afternoon, after being deceased for over four years."
"It doesn't happen often at all, it's like a one in one hundred thousand chance, so when it does, we all get pretty excited," said a second woman's voice, brimming with disbelief.
"That was Dr Simone Yang of Toronto Western Hospital, speaking to us this afternoon. We'll have more—"
Lan Zhan changed the station. Lan Yuan could never remember the music that played afterwards—it was classical, he thought, something with strings; he would only clearly remember that it was night, and that his dad was silent in the driver's seat beside him, his eyes on the road ahead, and that Lan Yuan had felt tiny and confused.
"Dad," Lan Yuan remembered asking, "did that lady really come back?"
A breath's silence. Then: "That's what the news reported."
Lan Yuan looked down at his hands in his lap. "Why did they pick her?"
Lan Zhan swallowed, blinked, kept his eyes on the road. "The reporter said that someone in Heaven made a mistake taking her. To fix it, they sent her back. They don't want to look bad."
Toeing his backpack, tucked under the glove box before him, Lan Yuan was very confused. Of course he knew he should not say anything, because he was often called precocious by adults, and that meant that he ought to understand things like this without great effort.
"Do you think they'll send Baba back?"
Lan Zhan did a loud shaky inhale. At first he did not respond. First he had to turn tight concrete corners to park underground at their condo complex.
Once they were home, Lan Zhan crouched to untie his shoes. When he was knelt, Lan Yuan grabbed the seam at his dad's shoulder and tugged. "Dad?"
Shoes first. Then Lan Zhan looked up into his son's face, and even at 10 years old Lan Yuan could see that he was working hard to stay calm.
"I think it's very unlikely that they will send your baba back, A-Yuan." Lan Zhan reached over to brush Lan Yuan's hair away from his face. "But we can respect his memory by taking good care of ourselves. Do you understand?" He took Lan Yuan's hands in his own.
Lan Zhan had said ourselves, not yourself, and with this tiny shift he had begun sharing his long-held grief; at least, that’s how Lan Yuan would remember that night, later on, when he could better pick out the edges of their loss and where it rubbed against other parts of their lives.
"I understand." Lan Yuan was ten years old, and he was longing for something he could not remember and would never get back, and on this night, in saying he understood, he had made his very first lie.