Chinese Stories in English
1. 《Cats》 by Lao She
2. 《On the Way Home》 by Lu Yingmo
There are some eccentricities in cats’ personalities. Honestly, they can be quite well-behaved at times, looking only for a warm place to spend the day sleeping, without a care in the world and concerned about nothing. But when they decide to go out for some fun, they’ll stay out all day and all night and won’t come home no matter who calls them. If you say they just want to have a good time, that's certainly true; otherwise, why would they stay out all day and night? The fact remains, whenever they hear a mouse moving around, oh, how conscientious they are. They’ll keep still for hours at a time, barely breathing, compelled to wait for that rodent come out!
When they’re happy, cats can be gentler and more affectionate than anyone. They’ll rub up against your legs; stretch out their neck to ask for a scratch; and when you’re writing a manuscript, they’ll jump up on the table and make tracks like little plum flowers on the paper. They’ll also meow in rich and multi-chambered tones, with different lengths, thicknesses and variations to avoid being monotonous. When they’re not meowing, they’ll purr to relieve the boredom. But this all depends on whether they’re happy. If they aren’t, oh, they won’t make a sound no matter how many good things a person says about them, and they won’t leave even half of a small plum blossom on your manuscript! They’re quite obstinate!
Yes, cats are stubborn indeed. Look at the lions, tigers, elephants, and black bears in a big circus – even stupid asses – they can all perform tricks. But who’s ever seen a cat putting on a show? (Just yesterday I heard of a circus in the Soviet Union that does have performing cats, but of course I haven't seen it with my own eyes.)
These little animals really are weird. No matter how kindly you treat them, they won't follow behind you on a shopping trip. They’re afraid of everything and always want to hide. But they’re also brave enough to pounce on insects and mice or even snakes, at the mere sight of them, and then play around with them. Their mouths are often swollen from the stings of bees or scorpions.
When one gets into a discussion about whether cats feel love, the conversation will be loud as a street full of people and no one will be able to sleep peacefully. Cats’ cries are so screechy and hard on the ears that people feel the world would be a more peaceful place is there were no cats in it.
Really, though, when a female cat gives birth to two or three kittens as fluffy as cotton balls, you’ll once more stop hating them. The mother is so conscientious in taking care of her kittens that she won’t even leave them long enough to take a tour around the house.
A tomcat isn’t so responsible and doesn't care a whit about the kittens. He sleeps soundly some of the time, and other times he roams around the house whining. He’ll fight with the neighborhood cats whenever he has the chance, so his fur gets matted up like felt and his face is a mess of scratches. He looks terrible, but fortunately he doesn't have the habit of looking in a mirror, so he can still strut around with his head held high. He’ll wolf down a couple of bites of whatever, then he’s at the door challenging you to let him out again. Sometimes he’ll stay away for a couple of days and nights, but just when you think he’s flown the coop, he’ll come limping home from a battle and head straight for the kitchen to get something to eat.
Kittens are really cute when they get past a full month. Their legs and feet aren’t too sturdy yet, but they’ve already learned to be naughty. Their mother's tail or a chicken feather are but toys to them and they’ll play without end. However many times they fall head over heels once they’ve started playing, they’ll bounce right back up to run and fall again. They’ll bump their heads against the door, the legs of the table and each other's heads, and won't cry even if it hurts.
They gradually discover new playgrounds as their courage grows. They come into the yard, which is a disaster for the flowers and plants. They wrestle in the flowerpots and swing on the flower branches. Branches break and flowers fall wherever they go, but you can’t bear to spank them because they’re so full of vitality, oh so innocent and lovable. You also love the flowers, though, so the contradiction isn’t easy to resolve.
But now new problems have arisen. Since the mice have been almost wiped out, what use are cats? And further, without mice to eat, cats have found new experiences: stealing chicks or ducklings. You think that’s not a problem?
Quite a few of my friends love cats. I wonder, have they noticed these problems? I remember when I lived in the city of Chongqing twenty years ago, the cats there were precious, very costly. Rodents were so rampant at the time that kittens had to be kept in cages or the rats would eat them. These days, I’ve heard, it’s not easy to see rodents in Chongqing. Well, where are the cats? Have they been set free from their cages, or do the people there no longer keep cats at all? I’ll reserve those questions for future research.
I also remember eating cat meat on a French ocean liner thirty years ago. I didn't know what it was beforehand because I didn't know French and couldn't understand the menu. The meat wasn’t too bad, though rather bland and not even very unusual. Should we deliver all the cats to French steamers? It’s hard for me to come to a decision.
Cats have indeed lost status and they’ve encountered some minor problems. I really don’t waste much time worrying about their fate, though. Think about it: Would cats’ prestige have been reduced so much if the Anti-Rodent Campaign hadn’t been such great success and eliminated that huge pestilence? Comparing rodent control with a love of cats, the former is a much more important reason for keeping them around than the latter, isn't it? I think the day will surely come when everything in the world will be mechanized. Won’t that be a problem even for donkeys and horses? But who’ll give up mechanization because of a worry that donkeys and horses will have nothing to do?
A huge wave swept over the starboard deck and slammed head-on into the bridge, completely inundating it. Captain Seawave Xiao trembled with trepidation as he stared fixedly at the sea to starboard. Another huge wave swooped in even more violently. “Bring it on!” he sneered. Then the warship listed sharply to port. The Captain braced himself and resolutely ordered the helmsman, who was tied to the iron pilot’s chair, "Right full rudder!"
They hadn’t at all expected that the seas would be so bad. Typhoon "Lisa" had been predicted to have gale-force winds as it swept down from the Sea of Japan, and all military ships had sailed away from their posts into a windproof anchorage at a mobile defense station. When the winds unexpectedly surged to storm-force, their superiors had ordered the five destroyers and eight frigates anchored at the station to withdraw quickly and anchor in a bay. However, Captain Xiao’s vessel, named the Xichang after a county in Sichuan province, was unable to leave. To the contrary, it kept spinning around back and forth in the anti-typhoon mooring buoy system.
The Xichang was a new type of destroyer, and Seawave Xiao had been captain for three years. He knew that the typical typhoon wouldn’t be a big deal for him or the Xichang, but when he issued the order to get underway, he immediately felt that something was wrong: the sibling ships had undone their cables and weighed anchor smoothly, but the Xichang could not get loose of its cable to leave the windproof buoy system. "Lisa" was coming in from the north. The mobile defense station had to face into it, and the warships would be OK since they could likewise sail northward to meet the typhoon. The Xichang’s problem was that this larger-than-normal typhoon was sweeping in at a 90-degree angle from the ship’s heading.
Huge waves pounded the deck again and again, and the sailors had no way to get through to untie the cable. Seawave immediately reflected: His warship was in the jaws of a wily typhoon of the South China Sea type. In the Pacific Ocean, these typhoons come up without warning and then are gone without a trace. They’re not predictable by weather forecasts and cannot be prepared against. Seawave had encountered such storms in the past and taken their measure. Although he’d never lost to them, he didn't feel confident.
The warship was rolling violently from side to side. The deck brushed against the steel mooring buoys several times and some of the officers and men began to panic. An experienced sailor put a safety belt around his waist, thinking he could rush off the bridge between waves and try to untie the cable. But when he was halfway out the hatch, Seawave dragged him back and shouted: "You want to feed the fish?!"
What could he do?! Seawave stuck his head out of the bridge cabin and watched the deck on the side with the cable yaw up and down with the waves. The thousand-ton buoy’s drag on the ship’s cable was unusually strong. As the ship rolled with the wind and the waves, the cable would sink into the water momentarily, then snap out of the water and stretch straight across the sea, spraying large drops of water and mist whenever it was stretched tight. Sinking, pulling, sinking, pulling, each of these changes tugged at Seawave’s guts.
Suddenly an even bigger wave yanked the cable taut. Seawave gritted his teeth and threw one of the axes he was carrying. As it flew out of his hand, his heart sank and he told himself, "Too late!”. The axe blade accurately struck the rope, but the ship's hull had listed to the left with the waves and the rope had begun to sag. The axe blade impacted the cable with far less force than it should have and slipped off.
"I’ve only got one axe left with me!" Seawave said to himself. The hand holding the axe was trembling a bit. He’d have to calculate the time difference accurately, but the more important thing was whether he could hit the cable again! If he failed this time, the Xichang would keep on colliding with the steel buoy. An even larger wave would come along in no more than half an hour, and….
The typhoon wouldn’t allow him to hesitate. "You can do it,” he told himself with some effort. “You can! Calm yourself down!" As soon as the cable sprang out of the water, the axe flew towards it, and when the cable was stretched the tautest, it was cut in two!
The Xichang moved away from the moorage as swiftly as a wild horse that had thrown off its reins.
A ball of blue fire rolled across the sea in the distance. Before long he heard a muffled sound. It was a mine! Drifting mines were endemic denizens in that part of the Pacific. They were scattered around the sea’s surface and common anti-mine devices were useless against them. Many people on South China Sea islands had suffered losses from them, but Seawave didn’t fear them despite the Xichang’s lack of advanced equipment.
Seeing that drifting mine, though, Seawave concluded that that day's China-Sea-type typhoon was more ferocious than any of those told of in legends. It was the most ferocious that he’d ever encountered. Before long, as if to confirm his judgment, the wind became more violent and changed direction to rub back and forth against the ship's hull. He could hear the ship’s keel creaking. The Xichang weighed thousands of tons, but in those huge waves, it pitched forward and back and rolled from side to side like a dinghy. It listed more than sixty degrees twice, and seemed that it was about to roll over and sink to the bottom, but it righted itself stubbornly and raised its bow.
All but the necessary personnel had now evacuated the bridge. The telegrapher had to lie on the deck to send a message, and Seawave had to hug a post to try to keep from slipping. It was no good. He had to come up with countermeasures right away to save his ship! He didn’t know what to do and began to panic, but calmed himself down quickly. His father, who’d also captained warships, had once told him that you can’t be careless in smooth seas and can’t panic when the seas are rough! Before his eyes, the China-Sea-type typhoon had entangled the Xichang like a poisonous dragon. They were surrounded by hurricane waves on all sides and could not escape.
He stared at the sea’s surface for a long time.
Suddenly, he reached up and rubbed his eyes with his left hand, then rubbed them again. His heart was pounding.
He hurriedly asked the helmsman, "Do you see that eddy to starboard?"
The helmsman nodded right away.
"Make for it!"
The helmsman looked back at him in surprise. "Towards the whirlpool?"
"Yes. That’s an order!"
The ship immediately turned thirty degrees to starboard, accelerated sharply without delay and sped into the surface of the whirlpool.
It seemed that the hull began to stabilize.
Seawave let out a long whistle in relief. Once again his judgment had proven correct.
The Xichang had reached the typhoon’s center. The wind was weakest there and, as he’d believed, the whirlpool was on the surface and was caused by the wind, not by a convergence of sea currents. It seemed that all his studies in normal times really hadn’t been in vain!
The various sailors on the bridge – the ones who controlled the rudder and the ship’s speed, as well as the navigator, the telegrapher and others – had all recovered their senses and looked at their captain with admiration. Seawave was reluctant to accept such admiration: their safe position was temporary and they were still in great danger. What was his next step? The executive officer had previously been sent to the engine room, a very important posting. The bridge is the brains of a warship, but the turbines are its heart.
Several of the newer sailors had become seasick and vomited when the typhoon first hit, throwing up their guts. One of them had gotten dizzy and almost fallen into the sea. The ship’s political commissar, who also served as the ship’s doctor, had a way of steadying them by taking care of their minds and bodies together, and up to now none of them had interfered with operations. Seasickness in a typhoon isn’t a trivial matter. On several occasions in the 1970s, new sailors had jumped into the sea because they couldn't stand the seasickness.
The typhoon’s eye was moving generally westward but in a crooked line, with the specific direction changing constantly. Seawave had to rely on his experience to keep the warship moving along with it. The hull was no longer rolling and yawing, but giant waves still surrounded them close by and seemed to be glaring at them like tigers watching their prey.
When would the wind die down? That was what he most needed to know now. The typhoon was unpredictable and his superiors had no way to tell him. What should he do?
Suddenly his heart dropped and, at almost the same time, he heard the report: "Captain, the ship has entered international waters!"
Seawave normally felt an emptiness in his heart whenever he left the boundaries of the Motherland, but this time he immediately felt a heaviness — he’d been under so much tension that he hadn’t realized he’d already been sailing in the typhoon’s eye for eight hours. Usually, if you couldn't break out of a China Sea typhoon, you could stall for time and, after the storm had raged for a while, it would gradually become weaker and disperse, like a mob. The way things looked, this storm definitely wasn’t one of the good ones, but he was determined to have his ship keep following it. Who knew what country they might drift to? Might it not cause a series of unnecessary international incidents? Also, might they not encounter a reef along the way? Seawave was really starting to worry!
When his ship was new in service, a superior officer told him and the ship's political commissar, “This is a great asset, and it’s your responsibility to keep it in good repair. Remember, once the ship leaves the dock, you can't look to others for help no matter what difficulties you encounter. You’ll have to rely on whatever skills you yourselves have mastered! That’s right, trust yourselves, and if you can't do that, get out of the way!”
But getting out of the way, would that be okay?
Seawave made some quick calculations in his head. It would be difficult and risky! The typhoon was rotating, and to break out, they’d have to head into the wind while at the same time tending toward the outer edge. The storm’s rotation was irregular, and to get through to the periphery, he as captain would have to make instantaneous judgments about the ship’s speed and course. The slightest error might see the ship overturned if the typhoon and its waves hit them broadside and lifted them out of the water. He glanced affectionately at the ship’s operators around him. He knew every one of them like the palm of his hand, but at this juncture of life and death, would they have confidence in him as their captain?
He issued the order to make for the periphery. None of the sailors made a sound, but they all looked back at him. He answered them with his eyes. According to regulations, it’s reasonable to change course upon encountering sudden changes in the seas. Superiors may also radio instructions to handle specific situations. However, the sailors’ eyes told Seawave that they had confidence in their captain and agreed with his decision: Breakout!
The warship turned around rapidly and rushed toward the giant waves. Its massive hull became so much more flexible under the control of Seawave and his sailors! Its bow always bit solidly into the typhoon’s wind no matter how much the wind direction changed or how the huge waves hit. The winds came around to the starboard side of the hull several times, trying to bite into the ship and overturn it, but without success. Sometimes the bow and the starboard deck dove into a giant wave like a spoon, and each time they smashed the wave's teeth. Every time they were about to break out from the encircling typhoon, the maw of an even larger wave opened wide before them and it seemed that the Xichang would be swallowed. Seawave knew that calm seas were behind the maw. Ultimately he made up his mind to command the ship to rush straight into the seemingly ferocious jaws....
Suddenly the hull shook and the calm they’d waited so long for was restored. Seawave closed his eyes and something cool ran down his cheeks. He turned around and saw a "huge dragon" rolling away into the distance on the sea behind him. Turning his head to look forward, he saw a thousand rays of rosy light from the sunset, and a golden pathway through calm seas unfolding before them.
"We’re heading towards the Motherland, on the way home." He murmured, but the sailors heard him and replied, loud and clear, "On the way home, to the Motherland!" Seawave suddenly realized that he’d given them an order. It was the quietest order he’d ever given since becoming a sailor.
2017年中国短篇小说精选 Best of Chinese Short Stories 2017, p. 328
长江文艺出版社，责任编辑：刘程程，周阳; Translated from 新浪博客 at
http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_550cf6070102x540.html (after essay)
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