​​         Chinese Stories in English   

​​Burned Cloud (continued)
HERE to return to p. 1


      Another guest came at three the next afternoon, carrying peaches, bayberries and some boxes of nuts as though he were visiting relatives. He thanked the fellow at once. The visitor waved his hand straightaway and said, “I was here two years ago.”
      He looked at the man carefully and thought, “He was fatter then, maybe, and carried himself like an official.... now he’s lost a little weight and his clothes are wrinkled linen.”
      The guest introduced himself and said that he was currently involved in a School for Spiritual Rejuvenation in the suburbs. It had levels for Masters, Advancing Students and Regular Illuminates. The students lived together and spent their days mainly in farming and meditation. They were not given good food, good accommodations or good equipment, and the fruits of their labor were all donated to nursing homes. All admission slots were filled each semester and there was a one-and-a-half year waiting list. Among the students, the Masters could choose from a smorgasbord of courses to which admission was competitive.
      The visitor’s tone of voice was as unpretentious as could be. He periodically mixed terms from Chinese Civics lessons into what he was saying. Throughout he fussed with a shiny walnut in his hand.
      He listened in silence. He was a little hungry but hesitated about having his usual afternoon snack. At the thought of soda crackers, he suddenly remembered her. She usually woke up at this time.
      “You surely realize, Layman. Where did my inspiration come from? It was after visiting you last time that I got the idea,” the visitor continued smoothly. “This School for Spiritual Rejuvenation, I’d’ve been finished if I hadn’t done it, but once I did, the world was my oyster. All roads opened to me. The people who come and go through that school are all high class.”
      A third of Layman’s attention was on the side door.
      “I’ve been thinking, do I want to go a little further and add a super-distinguished level. I’d clone your ‘contemplative retirement from the world’ model. For example, what about calling it the Cloud Gate level?
      At that moment she pushed the door open. She still seemed half asleep. The guest stopped speaking abruptly and stood up. He tried hard to hide it, but his face turned an odd color.
      Despite her look, she was sharp-eyed and noticed the peaches and bayberries right away. Like a cat spotting a fish, and walked straight to them and picked them up. “You guys go on with your talk. I’ll go wash these.”
      The spiritual rejuvenation visitor put down the walnut in his hand, took off his bead bracelet and began to count prayers on it. After praying for some time, he seemed to come to a realization. “One sees the mountain, then rejects it, then accepts it. Layman, this means you’re at the third level.”
      Layman rose half out of his chair and opened his mouth. He really had nothing to hide.
      “No, no.” The spiritual rejuvenation visitor hurriedly waved at him to stop. “You don’t need to explain, Layman. I understand. This word ‘mountain’ can be a reference to food, money, women, accommodations, gratitude and grudges, anything in the world of mortals.” The visitor’s expression showed admiration and a little excitement. “Suddenly, I have a hunch that your situation here could be a great spur to the development of courses for my next level, super-distinguished class. True spiritual rejuvenation is in the area of fame, profit and enjoyment. Nothing should be avoided and nothing should be taboo.”
      She’d put the fruit in a small bowl and was eating some as she came back into the room. She directed a broad smile at the visitor. Her teeth were stained purple. “Bayberries are my favorite. You did a good job choosing them, too.”
      “I happened to see them at a roadside stand and they looked quite fresh.” The guest gave out a laugh. “I’ll come back and see you guys again after a while.” He got up and said his goodbyes, eager to dive into the planning for his new enterprise.
      “Yes, please do, and bring fruit with you next time, too.” She followed him out, offering to have him visit again as though she were the master of the house.
      He opened the box of crackers and began to chew dryly, but the hunger had left him. The visitor had been too clever. His “you’re at the third level” statement had alleviated Layman’s awkwardness, but he didn’t remember it fondly. He never took his visitors’ opinions to heart, but this one’s arrival and the way he acted were like a knock on the door from the outside. He’d suddenly realized that she’d been here for five or six days, and nothing especially untoward had happened.
      “Why aren’t you eating? Are you afraid they’re sour? I’ve tasted them and they’re sweet.” She spoke in an everyday, family style voice. Her teeth made a brisk, juicy sound biting into a peach. He got up quickly and headed out to sit in the courtyard.
      The sun shone at a slight angle on the wood wall, leaving it half shadowy and half bright. That’s how it always was – even though only the two of them were there, and even though it had only been a few days, Cloud Gate was gradually turning into the mortal world. The feeling of his unsuitability in the old days welled up inside him – changing clothes night and day, talking about food, cushions year-round, and a beautiful ring-your-bell table setting. These things were just like the soft chairs he didn’t want to sit on.
      She hadn’t been looking at his body language to see what he was thinking. She’d focused on talking through her mouthful of juicy fruit. “When I was pregnant with my second child, I couldn’t get thoughts of eating bayberries out my head, but they were out of season. I obviously knew I couldn't get any to eat, but I still made a big show of wanting them for a while. In fact, it wasn’t so much wanting to eat some, I just had to have a 'pregnant woman' look. The first time I’d had to fucking cover it up like I was a criminal. Sorry for swearing again. I didn’t only scream about what I ate, I screamed for an abortion, too, and about staying in bed to prevent a miscarriage, about a lack of amniotic fluid, about the fetus being in the wrong position. Of course I didn’t leave out complaining about my complexion, the long wrinkles on my belly, my swollen calves, and the rest of that stuff. I almost had the whole shebang. Luckily the cook was pretty good to me, but the better she treated me, the nastier I got. Did I tell you about the cook?”
      He shook his head. All of a sudden he got up and went off to copy sutras. He didn’t want to hear any more about pregnancy and giving birth. These are things of the flesh which easy produce reflection and refracting. Blood drags up profound shadows, and things long buried in the lees rise to the surface.
      Who first had the idea of copying sutras? At its best it proceeds stroke by stroke, word by word. He recognized and was mystified by each and every word, and the more he copied the slower he got. It was like engraving in gold or etching in silver.


      A heavy rain started to fall that afternoon. It poured down everywhere with a huge clamor. She woke up earlier than usual and sat there, trembling, holding a glass of water in front of her. She couldn't get it to her mouth for a long time.
      “You get heavy rains a lot here?” she asked brusquely, a rare note of fear in her voice.
      “Well, this one is,” he answered, not quite confirming it.
      “I don't like heavy rains. If I did, I wouldn't be like this. I did really well all the time I was in Nanjing. I worked a bunch of temporary jobs like passing out flyers, selling sushi, marketing mobile phones, seating passengers on long-distance buses. There’s this thing about me, any job I got didn't last long because I got a boyfriend and resigned right away. I didn't pick them, but whenever one picked me I went with him. It was better than being alone, anyway. It’s just that, every single one of them, when they found out about my past, they looked disgusted. Before long they couldn’t stand it anymore and started complaining about me all over the place. So I split. And every time I changed boyfriends, I changed jobs. The silver lining is, I got used to breaking up and changing jobs. It doesn’t hurt or even itch, it’s just an everyday thing.” She almost looked happy about it.
      Looking at the curtain of rain outside, she asked again, “Is it like this a lot here?” She’d forgotten that she’d already asked, and forgotten that he’d been noncommittal.
      “I was walking around the streets one day, turning my head to look at the shops and stores on both sides of the road. Suddenly I got this déjà vu feeling – and then, oh, wow, I realized how many small shops I’d worked in and how many small shops I’d had boyfriends in. I couldn’t say whether it was something I should’ve felt happy about. The weather changed all of a sudden while I was thinking about it and the rain came pouring down, bucket after bucket, like it is now. Everyone on the street picked up their heels and ran, waving their arms. Me, too. I ran for a way and then stopped. They all had somewhere to run, or were running for someone. Where was I going to run? It wasn’t funny. So I walked like I always did, not fast, but not slow, either. I got soaked through but felt quite happy nonetheless."
      She brushed her hair and wiped her face, as if the rain had been pouring on her head until now.
      “She’s too talkative today,” he thought. He was a little tired. He liked it when the weather went nuts. Best was when the wind blew like crazy and a huge snowfall made things miserable. The more it resembled the end of the world, the more he felt a transcendent happiness. The day he’d left, the wind and the sun were beautiful, a pleasant spring scene, but in his imagination, he was walking in a colorless, black and white world. He saw himself shrinking from big to small, step by step, until he was a little black dot, until he couldn’t be seen clearly, until he was completely gone.
      “That was the day I changed my ideas and thought about living a simple life. That way, the next time there was a heavy rain, I’d have somewhere and someone I could run to. I was carrying trays in a Sichuan restaurant at the time, and there was a young cook who thought I was something. All right, when opportunity knocks, answer the door. So it was him. This time I’d learned from experience and didn’t tell him anything about myself. When we got intimate, I played a little trick and threw some ‘first time’ blood on the bed. The cook was from the country and got so scared he took me home to meet his parents. Look, that settled it.” She repeated it in a loud voice. “That settled it! My belly got big before I knew it! We were going to be a family of three!”
      He looked into the distance. He felt like he was going to doze off.
      “Man! It got irritating right away,” she announced, a little apologetically. “Think about it. How could I get into a simple life, really? Especially since the cook started treating me better and better and ran around buying a bunch of children’s clothes. I was on edge, and more so every day. I couldn’t sleep for anything. I felt like there was a big pit waiting up ahead for me. I ask you, if you were me at that time, would you have told the cook the truth?” She asked the question like a teacher would. “You have to say something. Otherwise you’ll fall asleep.”
      “Me?” He straightened his lapels. His back itched. It was like a hula hoop, itching all around his waist. He resisted scratching it, but it kept him from thinking of anything to say. “I always take people at their word without asking for an explanation. I think that’s the way it should be between people.”
      She just shook her head. “Not me. It's better for me to calm my nerves by jumping right into the pit. I jerked up in the middle of the night, lit the lamp and shook the cook like all get out until he woke up. Do you know how I got my first train ticket from my hometown to Nanjing?’ I asked him.”


      A strong wind blew that night, and the wooden door in the courtyard banged the entire last half of the night. He thought about going to close it but decided to heck with it, listening to the commotion was all right. The two halves of the door knocked against each other, sometimes frequently and sometimes sparse, like a question-and-answer dialogue. They had their own rhythm, long moans mixed with short sighs. It was fascinating.
      He woke up early with a problem – things from the past were billowing out of the darkness like milk-white mushrooms sprouting right and left. They seemed like blind kittens, too, lurching around in his mind and running into each other. He controlled himself for a while, but then extended his right hand to rub the base of his left hand ring finger, where there was the deep impression of a ring. He’d been really uncomfortable when he’d first taken it off, rubbing it constantly to see if it was there, like a tongue licking the gums where a tooth has just been pulled. How many things leave an impression on one’s body when they’re removed, an impression that needs to be stroked.
      He knew himself. He still tended toward the worldly thoughts and couldn’t help it. He kept thinking of what she’d told him the day before, what she’d said about voluntarily jumping into the big pit. He was rather frightened by the idea. A kind of masochism ran consistently through her crudeness – you could almost say she was feeding herself to a tiger. If they really opened themselves up for comparison, he wasn’t necessarily any better than her…. Suddenly he turned over in bed and looked around. He felt a pain deep in his heart.


      She looked around for chores to do. She fenced in the vegetable garden and searched out weeds as soon as they sprouted. She carefully moved spider webs from the wall to the outside (she believed the spiders would be better able to find food there). She polished the few kitchen utensils and furnishings over and over until she could see her reflection on the table, and even polished the stone pavers and steps in the hallway. She cooked new things – vegetable dumplings, dough-drop tomato soup, flat-bread cakes with leafy vegetables, hand rubbed noodles. She even thought of buying a baking machine and a set of molds.... She only crossed them off her list when he reminded her that there was no electricity on the mountain.
      That shopping list already filled almost two pages, about half a page of which she’d written the day of the heavy rain. She wanted to buy some colored beads to make a bracelet and a necklace; and some blank fans on which she could paint pictures – she’d studied painting with watercolors for a semester in her early childhood; and a full array of colored woolen yarn and large knitting needles to make sweaters and scarves. She seemed to derive a great deal of satisfaction muttering over these things.
      He only cared about copying sutras. He doubled his efforts and copied without interruption. He also set a goal for himself. In the future, when guests came over, he would give each one a handwritten copy of the
Heart Sutra.
      Indeed, several groups of people came visiting during the first weekend of the year.
      The visitors panted their way to the top of the mountain, each with a breast-full of worries they urgently needed to unload. When they found to their astonishment that there were two laypersons at Cloud Gate, a man and a woman, not a one failed to pale in horror. Some of them managed a few perfunctory words as they looked with annoyance at the baskets of gifts they’d brought. Others made a big show of their disappointment, as if heaven and earth had been turned upside-down. Still others showed mischievous, knowing smiles, and thought the situation was uniquely amusing.
      His mouth was half open in preparation – if anyone asked, he would tell them exactly what had happened. But no one asked. They hurried away, each with their own conjectures, and fled down the mountain in what seemed like two or three steps. He could tell from their receding backs that they’d never come up the mountain again.
      She felt deeply that that was regrettable and urged him straight out, “I really think it’d be better if you left Cloud Gate sooner rather than later. The way things are is a hinderance for me and for you, too.”
      He turned a deaf ear and continued to copy the page at hand. He had a feeling that the number of visitors wouldn’t decrease for the time being. Indeed, there might even be more for the next two or three weekends. There'd always been people who came out of curiosity just to see what was going on. Now, some people who had never thought about coming to Cloud Gate might change their minds. It might get lively for a quite some time. He figured that, for a long time, the mention of two laypeople at Cloud Gate would be a cause for loud laughter for the people down the mountain. He wasn’t afraid to be the butt of a joke, but it was too bad about Cloud Gate. He still had that bunch of copies of the Heart Sutra that he’d made, but it wouldn’t be appropriate to hand them out, now.
      The pavers and steps had gotten dirty from guests walking on them, and she scrubbed them like her hands didn’t know the meaning of fatigue. A realization came upon her suddenly: “No, I can't blame you, and I can’t blame them. I blame me. Myself. As soon as they see me they get like that to some degree. Even if the cook threw both me and the baby out, men still came to my door. They’d beat around the bush, but before they’d said two or three sentences they’d want ‘that’ with me. I’m really curious, why, why did they come to me? They’d eat and they’d laugh, then they’d come at me with everything they had. ‘You’re so easy-going,’ they’d say, and ‘You’re great to sleep with.’”
      He’d just put down his brush and rolled up the scroll after finishing a page when he happened to look up and catch sight of her. She’d tied her hair back to do the cleaning and her forehead wasn’t covered, making her eyes look longer and the bridge of her nose look higher – he was surprised but not inclined to think more about it. Then he remembered that he hadn’t looked in a mirror for a long time. Nowadays he could only shave by feeling his beard and his head with his hand, and he just didn't know what he actually looked like.
      “I really can sleep. When I’m alone, I can sleep the day away. When I’m not alone, I sleep when the other person wants to. I’ve stopped working, and I don't want any other jobs at all. It’s strange, now that I think about it, but I didn’t used to like ‘that’ very much.” She was muttering to herself and seemed perplexed. “But then I was willing to the max to do that thing. Plus there were so many people that were still really willing.”
      He put out his hand and pinched the head of the brush until it was half dry. “It’s best if I continue copying. I need to make copies even if there’s no one to give them to. One shouldn’t copy sutras with the idea of giving them away. One copies them just to copy them.”
      “And how about you? Can you really give up ‘that’?” She didn't mean to be acerbic. Her eyes rolled calmly across his face, like she was asking whether he had a craving for meat. She had indeed asked him that latter question. It was while they were eating steamed potatoes that tasted bland and she’d started talking about various ways of cooking various kinds of meat. She’d also talked about vegetarian diets with meatless ham, meatless sausage and meatless chicken breasts, things prepared to have the look and taste of meat.
      “But why do vegetarians persist in eating pretend eat?” she’d asked. Her stomach had growled in dissatisfaction as she downed the dish of potatoes. “I forgot." When he’d been asked about the taste of meat that time, he’d answered, ‘I thought about it, that it would add realism. But if one just waits, one will eventually forget all about it.’” “Can you forget the wind blowing on your skin? Or drinking artesian water during the dog days? Or the touch of a soft pillow while you sleep?” It was a casual retort, like she was thinking out loud, and she hadn’t pressed for an answer.
      Now she continued, “But even when I was constantly doing ‘that’ with a man, always when it came to an end, they got out of the bed. What I was looking at was a child, and not just the one. You don't know, but after the second one landed, I started thinking of the first one, of all things. They cried exactly the same. So what I saw when my eyes opened wasn’t one pair of eyes, but two pairs of children’s eyes staring at me without blinking. That made things especially trying for me.”
      The wind picked up outside, and the irregular banging of the wooden door filled the air again. He’d dipped the head of the brush in ink again by that time. He unrolled the paper scroll and flattened it to write some more.
      She took an interest in what he was doing and stood up. She watched the head of his brush like she’d discovered something. “It’s getting bald. You should buy a new one. I’ll jot it down on the list for you. You should write bigger characters after this. Saves energy. Don't write so well, either. The more squiggly it is, the more you display your expertise.” She teased him happily, having already forgotten the two children she’d been talking about only half a minute before.
      He truly didn’t understand this kind of personality. She was so “stop and go as you please” and “sparse enough to walk a horse through”. He put his brush to paper again, and it didn’t go smoothly. He was listening to her footsteps as she left, not fast, but not slowly, either.


      He couldn't get to sleep that night. His itchy rash had erupted again and spread from his abdomen down to his calves and up to his armpits, covering his entire chest. There were layers of inflammation wherever he had body hair. His fingernails scratched out traces of blood and he’d applied ointment as thick as a brick wall. He was afraid he’d run out of it if he kept on like that.
      Not getting to sleep was good, though. He was afraid he’d dream again if he slept. And what kind of dream would it be? Throughout the night, he was desperately scratching and smearing on ointment. His mind hadn’t rested for a moment, either, scuffling in all directions. Neither his body nor his soul could bear it.


      The next day, the spiritual rejuvenation guy who’d visited a few days previously sent two people over with a pile of stuff. They had to make several trips up and down the mountain, working so hard that their faces turned red.
      “What is all this stuff you’ve brought?” he asked them.
      “The dean’s been working on a new course these days. He’s been so busy we haven’t even seen him. He sent out orders for want he wanted done. These things are our treat.”
      She checked the things out after the delivery men left: a complete set of stainless steel kitchen utensils; an eighteen-place set of tableware, including a pair of teapots with lids, bases and tasteful cups; hand towels, bath towels, sheets and vacuum-packed quilts; two five-liter bottles of salad oil; two bags of top grade flour; a pair of thermoses; a number of plastic basins; and a variety of dried foods.
      She chattered on and on at him, a little euphoric. “Oh, what a great day this is.” She put things away in various places but then moved them around again. She was at it all afternoon. In the evening, she lit a candle to admire the pair of tasteful teacups. The pattern was yellow bottom
Azure Dragon. She held them in her hand and fiddled with the covers, sighing every time they clinked together.” If I’d known then that the guy was so keen to do this, I could’ve given him the shopping list I’d written up.”
      He was a little miffed. The spiritual rejuvenation guest was acting contrary to the slanderous comments of the people. Sending these gifts, with everything in pairs, was equivalent to an expression of solidarity and encouragement. This kind of understanding of the situation was more screwed up than not understanding at all. What depressed him all the more was that the original stock of food here was limited, and given their daily consumption, it would whatever else force a decisive denouement. With the arrival of these things, the two of them could now eat for a long time.
      She noticed his sullenness and became even happier. She even poured tea into the new cups and set them down between them. The unusual brightness of the new cups looked extravagant.
      “I don't drink tea at night. It’s not good for sleeping.” He hadn’t slept well for several nights, but he didn’t feel sleepy. His body clock was ticking away like a perpetual motion machine that doesn’t know when to stop.
      “Well, then, you should have some wine.” She was joking unscrupulously with him. “Wine is a good thing. My best ideas these days come after I’ve been drinking. I don't know who or when it was, but somebody left half a bottle of wine behind, and I happened to see it. When I poured it down, a light bulb went off in my head and I came up with a great idea.” She became thoughtful. “Do you want to write wine on the list? I guess there’s no rule that laypeople can't drink.”
      “Don't do that,” he dissuaded her bluntly. He felt a trace of fear.
      She glanced at him and laughed, again showing her scar. “That idea I had, it was really wonderful. You could even say it was a perfect plan to resolve things once and for all. Why shouldn't I turn this child over to someone else, too? It would set the brothers on the same road, and no one would have to stare at me ever again. Tell me, wasn’t that just the ultimate! This time I’d have experience, and I’d never been so capable.
      “Buyers would come from all walks of life, and I’d be able to tell clearly who was first and who was last. I’d contact each of them in turn, and patiently put the price on the table. That’s how it is. The cheaper your price, the less people will take notice of you, but if you go the other way, people will fight to buy. Bottom line, it’s like an auction. They each call out their price to me and I put them all together and reveal the highest offer, which starts a new round of bidding.... I really didn’t get shorted any money this time. I even thought, I just might get with men and make eight or ten more kids and deal them off the same way. Hey, take a guess, how much did I end up getting?”
      “I haven't got a guess.” He forced the words out. At the same time, he inexplicably felt like he was surrendering to her.
      “Come on, put your mind to it. Since I’m asking, you ought to make a guess.” She narrowed her eyes and took on cutesy look.
      “So why,” he interrupted baldly, “why’d you come to Cloud Gate?” He’d never wanted to ask her that. How many times had he been asked that question by people from down the mountain? He thought it was a most inappropriate question to ask.
      She, on the other hand, didn't feel it was untoward. “Don't interrupt. Do you really need to ask? You really are a waste as a layman. You might as well leave the mountain. You still ought to guess how much money I made.... In fact, you’ve seen it! Isn’t it just that red car of mine down the mountain?” She clapped her hands in disappointment and told him the answer.
      “The car.” He nodded stiffly.
      “Such a big pile of money, and I just decided to spend a it all at once. I happened to see a commercial for a small car on TV so I told myself, ‘Go ahead and buy it.’ I had just enough to cover the price. I didn’t remember until I got to the dealership, ‘Damn, I don't even know how to drive.’” She laughed heartily.
      “Then it was useless getting it.” He thought not buying would’ve been better.
      “Yeah, I had to put it in storage at the dealership straight away. Right up until I came here. Then I had them deliver me and my things here.” She pouted uninhibitedly.
      The tea in the new cups had gotten cold. She was disappointed and collected the cups to go rinse them out. She brought the shopping list back with her and added wine to it. “Don’t worry, I won’t buy red or white. Only rice wine will do. Laypeople can always drink rice wine, I think. Well, I’ll have to add a small pot for heating the wine, and some preserved plums, to heat up and drink when it gets cold and snows. I’ll deep-fry some peanuts, then, too.” A look of cheery delight crossed her face.
      He closed his eyes and could clearly see the snow covered scene, and the two of them drinking wine. His heartbeat suddenly slowed down, being pulled in every which way. “This isn’t good, really not good. “To every thing there is a season,” he thought, “like the
poem: 'With the Autumn moon, hundreds of Spring flowers, The Winter snow, and breezy Summer air….'” He remembered it all suddenly. It was so mournful, being back there again, and his heart stirred.


      He'd made plans to go down the mountain after breakfast the next day. Before he left he sat in the courtyard for a while, by himself, looking around. There was no wind, and he couldn’t hear the sound of the wooden door.
      He waved to her. “I’m going down to buy some medicine. The stuff I bought last time is almost gone.”
      As usual, she was going to take a long morning nap. When she heard he was going down the mountain, she ran off to get her shopping list. “Oh, take this with you. Buy whatever you can.”
      ”It’d be better if you shopped for things yourself next time you go down there.” He didn’t reach out for the list.
      “Ah, you’re afraid I won’t give you any money. I told you, didn’t I? I’m going to sell the car.” She held out the list again.
      “That’s a good idea,” he answered politely, keeping both hands clutched around his bag. He’d gotten this little bag ready the previous night but wasn't taking much in it. What he had in his room was mostly the sutras he’d copied. The ink was old, and he’d almost used up all his paper. He was taking his three pairs of shoes. They were old and worn to their most comfortable, and suitable for walking a long way.
      “But first, you should go ask around about the second-hand price for me, or find an intermediary.” She covered her mouth and half yawned.
      “That’s also something you could better handle yourself.” He didn’t want to make any casual promises.
      She’d just turned her head toward the woodhouse when he said that. She stopped in her tracks and turned around halfway. Her voice was much clearer. “Medicine? What’s wrong?
      “It’s nothing, a minor problem.” When he said it he remembered that it hadn’t itched at all the previous night, and in fact it seemed better. He’d rubbed it with his hand in the dark and felt nothing.
      “You’re only going to buy medicine?”
      “I’ve got something else to do, too.”
      “If you wouldn’t mind, you can take a look for me and see if my car is still there. I imagine it’s all dusty and covered with leaves and bird shit.” She spoke haltingly and didn’t look at him. He thought, “She understands.
“    “Ok, I’ll take a look. I’ll see it as soon as I’m down the mountain.”
      “Are you worried about Cloud Gate?” She smiled. Even now she still didn’t know how to smile.
      “Nothing to worry about. Cloud Gate isn’t mine.”
      “You know, this list, I was just writing things down.” The wrinkled, two-page shopping list whooshed through the air as she waived it around. “I wouldn’t have ended up buying any of this stuff.”
      “Writing things down is great. I’m always writing down sutras, aren’t I?”
      “Writing down sutras is just like a layman. I’m not like that.”
      “What’d’ya mean? You’re more like that than I am.”
      “They’re oh-so serious and very tedious,” she responded. The sun was already high in the sky and felt a little hot on his face.
      He took the opportunity to start down the mountain. He was no longer a layman.


      There was a large fire at Cloud Gate one night a few months later. Fortunately a heavy rain fell in the middle of the night, and also, there wasn’t much vegetation around the building, so the fire didn’t spread too much. Several of the wooden rooms fell in and others were about to, and ruins were scattered around the grounds. What was left was shapeless. Even Layman’s wooden Cloud Gate tablet was destroyed.
      The body of a woman lay behind the woodhouse door. It couldn’t be determined whether she’d been trying to open the door or to close it. The body was reportedly in good condition – the woman had died only from smoke inhalation. Things might have been different if she’d been able to open the woodhouse door.
      An inventory of the remaining materials found only a small quantity of household implements and articles. The oil and rice had all been used up and nothing edible was left. Gossipers shook their heads and tsk-tsked, and came up with all kinds of theories, but it really wasn’t a very interesting story. When this last bit of news ran its course, Cloud Gate passed away with the wind.

2017年中国短篇小说精选 Best of Chinese Short Stories 2017, p. 060
Translated from 传送门 at

also at https://www.douban.com/group/topic/132185679/?_i=9200128YWBhDYw

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