Mini-Stories: Gravitas (Page 7)
1. A Two-Line Poem
2. Shoes that Left Home
3. Ding Kangbao
4. A Letter to My Future Husband
5. Who Were You Talking To?
1. A Two-Line Poem (两句诗)
Cheng Xiwu (程习武)
The gentleman had a surname, and he also had a first name, but people seemed to forget them. They just called him “Mister”. It might have been a conceit for them to call him that, and it wasn’t too accurate.
Mister was thin, and tall as well. When people saw him they thought of a camel being lead down the street, even though his back was only slightly stooped.
Herding camels was sort of a profession in that place. The herders were called “Ministers of Hemp Clothing”, and they could tell people’s future by reading various areas in their broad faces. They’d say that in such-and-such a year and such-and-such a month, the person would encounter a bloody catastrophe like an ill-fated love affair, or perhaps their ship would come in. After they stuffed the money in their pockets, not even God knew whether the customer would have a love affair go bad or whether their ship would come in.
Mister never thought much of those people. Holding a camel and having your fortune told didn’t seem to match. Who knows why they got bound up together.
Mister’s slender build and height stood him well in his career. Slender people have one thing in common. Whether they’re naturally thin or skinny from going hungry, none of them can eat very much. And that’s good, because if Mister'd had a better appetite, he wouldn't have been able to support himself.
Another good thing about Mister’s height was even more obvious in that place. It allowed him to set about his own job like a fish swimming through water, as smooth as a cook cutting up beef with a knife. His job was “poking façades” – which is what locals in Hebei call writing auspicious phrases on people’s walls in the hope of receiving a handout – a form of begging for an educated person. His only tools were a brush, balding; a half-bottle of ink, black; and a scraper, blunted. He spent his days with them.
Mister would go up to someone's home, take out his blunt scraper and smooth off a space on the wall by the doorway to remove any traces of weathering. He didn’t rush the scraping, not even a little. The scraper would go “whoosh, whoosh” and the dust would fly. If there was a breeze, the dust would blow off into the distance and the entire street would smell of earth.
Then Mister would write a poem in the area he’d smoothed off. Of course it was an ancient poem; or maybe some auspicious saying of the ancients. When he was done and had picked up his tools, the homeowner would stuff a coin or two in the cloth pouch that Mister carried slung from his shoulder. Sometimes an embarrassed homeowner would just give him some steamed bread or a half-scoop of rice. Mister would smile and accept it.
Because he was tall, Mister wrote the poems and sayings high above the ground. Kids couldn’t reach them, nor could the typical adult, so they couldn’t be rubbed off easily. Even after a year or two of weathering, they looked like they'd just been written. Only after the old writing became blurred would Mister once again scrape the spot smooth and write something new. He’d sigh deeply when he did so.
The poems lasted from three to five years on those walls. Mister cared deeply about the customs of his profession and, as long as the words could be seen clearly, he wouldn’t scrape them off to paint new ones. He couldn’t state this rule plainly because he was afraid he’d be embarrassed if he did.
He was a scholar to the core, though. He’d sat in a classroom for years and been a teacher to many children, small ones, half-grown ones and big ones. The kids would read their lessons aloud in squeaky, halting voices while they fidgeted around like tree leaves on a windy day. Later the number of kids got fewer, until eventually there were none, and Mister could no longer be a teacher.
Not many people were clear about when Mister had stopped being a teacher. Not many were clear about when he’d started out in in his career as a façade-poker, either. Truth is, what difference did it make? Mister felt in his heart that he was merely taking the poems and sayings his teachers had given him and conveying them on to others – he’d merely changed his method of passing them along. He’d never be able to take them with him, after all.
It was a fine spring day and the sun was one pole high; that is, it was about nine in the morning. Wheat was greening in the fields, and cows and sheep were chewing their cud at home while men stood on the street scratching their balls and spraying spit. A comfortable breeze blew through the street.
Someone said, “Here comes Mister. He hasn’t been around in a long time.”
Someone else said, “His back’s even more bowed. He looks more like a camel than ever.”
People looked at him casually and agreed, “Yeah, ain’t that the truth?” Then they each went off on their own toward the doorway of the house where Mister was headed, where they crowded around in a crooked circle. Someone said that Mister’s back wasn’t that bent when he was teaching. It was straight as anything. Everyone agreed that was true.
Mister came over and smiled at the crowd as he walked to the house’s doorway. They all looked and saw that the area Mister had previously smoothed off was still there, but the writing had been blurred by years of exposure to wind and rain. Mister took out his scraper to smooth out the bumps in the weathered area. He worked with a light touch, and the whooshing under his scraper sounded like the earth singing.
When the crowd saw Mister take out his brush and ink, they all told him to write a good one. "The poems and sayings of the ancients are all good," he replied with a laugh.
They told him to write something new. "There's been nothing new for hundreds of years, maybe even a thousand," he answered.
They told him to write something he hadn't written before. He smiled again. "Who's ever seen me write something twice?" Everyone pursed their lips and said, "Yeah, that's right."
After being dipped in ink, the brush moved across the wall. It moved slowly, starting and stopping. Mister wrote regular characters with strokes as sharp as knives. He seemed to be putting something extra into the words. In almost the time it takes to smoke a cigarette, two lines of a poem stood out black against the wall:
"A pond, a half-acre square, mirrors the sky,
"The light and clouds play to and fro together."*
Everyone cheered. They said the calligraphy was solid. They said the poetry was good, too, like a painting.
When they looked at Mister again, he was scrutinizing the two lines intently and his forehead was sweating slightly. Someone asked him if writing was such hard work. He smiled but didn't answer.
He dipped the brush in ink again and was about to write the last two lines when – suddenly, gongs began to clamor. The crowd flipped around and cleared out from around Mister. He turned to look and saw a man leading a group of monkeys.
Mister watched the backs of the crowd, and then looked at the two lines of poetry on the wall. He sighed and said, "Reading poetry and calligraphy can't compete with watching monkeys play!"
He looked up and saw that sun was slanting down a bit. He remembered the Book of Changes that he knew so well. He smiled and said to himself, "Maybe I should change my profession and become a camel herder.
*[The full poem, by Song Dynasty philosopher Zhu Xi, is available here in Chinese.]
2016 中国年度小小说第一页, Chinese Mini-Fiction 2016, Page 93
任晓燕，秦俑，赵建宇 选编 Compiled by Ren Xiaoyan, Qin Yong, Zhao Jianyu
Translated from 新浪简介 at http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_68602bf30102wg1e.html
2. Shoes that Left Home (一双离家出走的皮鞋)
Wang Peijing (王培静)
When her husband came back from his business trip to Hainan this time, her woman's intuition told her that something had gone wrong while he was away. Usually, whether his trips lasted a week or half a month, the two of them would spend some quiet time together his first night back. He always turned down all social engagements and dropped subtle hints in his conversation. Then they would shower and go to bed early.
This time he’d been gone for a month, but his first night back he broke custom and went to a dinner party. He said he couldn’t get out of it, that it would be after eleven when he got home and that he would go to sleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.
She was really hurt. Normally him going out to dinner would have been enough to make her angry, but she told herself that men need space and self-respect. So she took a shower, changed the bedding, tried on several pieces of sleepwear and finally selected a pair of blue pajamas. She lay down in bed to watch TV and wait for him to get home.
But he didn’t show the least bit of warmth when he came in. It was like she was just air or didn’t even exist at all. Watching him snore away beside her, she thought to herself, “All right, I’ll have him go get a physical tomorrow so he doesn’t infect me with some filthy disease. If he’s really got that kind of disease, that’ll completely settle it. I’ll divorce him.”
In her imagination she saw a shameful scene of him fooling around with another woman. It disgusted her more than she could take. The more she thought about it, the less able she was to get to sleep. She paced around their living room. Then she sat staring at his shoes, deep in thought. She worried about it for a long time before lying down on the sofa and drifting off into the land of dreams.
“Have I been good to you?” she asked.
Answer: “Yeah. In just a short time, you’ve made a new man out of me. It’s like you took me to a beauty parlor for a complete makeover, without regard to cost. I owe everything to you.”
“Then let me ask you something,” she said. “Can you tell me the truth?”
Answer: “Sure, no problem. I have to.”
“What did you do on this trip?” she asked. “Tell the whole truth.”
Answer: “This, this, how should I put it? Let me think. If I tell you, it might be the end of me.”
“Don’t worry,” she said, “it doesn’t matter. Tell me honestly, and tomorrow I’ll set you free.”
Answer: “Well, OK, then. Truth is, I thought about it on the way home, about how I’d tell you this. After I came in the door I didn’t get a chance to speak to you alone. You’ve been so good to me, and I have to live with my conscience. There’s some things I said and did that I won’t be able to tell you about. Oh, heck with it, you’re not keeping a book on me. I’ll go ahead and tell you the whole story....”
Her husband got up the next morning and saw his wife sleeping on the couch. He wanted to go over and tell her something, but when he got up beside her he stopped and went back.
He washed his face and brushed his teeth, and then went over to his wife again. He stood for a while before going to the doorway to put on his jacket. When he went to the place where they kept their shoes, he suddenly noticed that the shoes he’d left there the night before were missing. He looked all over the condo but couldn’t find that pair of shoes, so he picked another pair from the shoe rack. He was going to put them on and head out the door.
“So you’re going to just go,” she said with a sneer. “Don’t you want to say something to me?”
He went over and, bowing and scraping, answered, “I’m sorry, Babe, I did you wrong. I had too much to drink last night and was cold to you. I hurt you so you got mad and slept on the couch. I deserve to die. I’ll take you to dinner tonight and then I’ll make things up to you. Forgive your honey this time, okay?”
“Whose honey are you?” she asked angrily. “You were my honey, but not anymore. When I think of it I want to vomit! Hrumph! You can forget about making things up to me. I’d be afraid of getting myself dirty.”
He looked baffled. “What’re you saying, Babe? I don’t understand at all.”
"And you're still lying. Let me ask, when you went on this trip, didn't you say you were going alone? In fact you went with that sexpot secretary of yours. I know everything the two of you said and did. That wasn't any business trip, it was two people going on a honeymoon!"
She stared at him, waiting to see what he'd say.
He went back over the entire trip in his mind and felt that there hadn't been any slip-ups. He hadn't run into anyone he knew in any of the places he'd gone in Hainan. He was all smiles as he said, "Back then I was ready to go to Hainan alone, but when other bosses go on trips they always take their secretaries. I felt it would be more creditable for a man in my position if I took Young Huang along. I was afraid of what you'd think if I told you, though, so I didn't say anything. From now on I won't take her on any more trips, is that OK?"
"You're still standing here lying to me. In Sanya you stayed in room 488 at the Welcome Guests Hotel. That little sexpot asked you to buy her a condo and you told her you would. Isn't that right? In Qionghai the two of you stayed in room 6999 on the 88th floor of the Azure Sea Mansion, didn't you? And didn't you do a bare-ass naked dance for that shameless hussy to turn her on? I never want to see you again." She was so angry that she was trembling.
"I, I...." He thought to himself "This is weird. How can she know all those details? And so clearly!"
He dashed out the door. On the street, he thought about it over and over again, trying to figure it out. Who was the informer? He and Young Huang were the only two people involved. Young Huang couldn't possibly the one. Could he have talked in his sleep last night and spilled the beans?
He was thinking it through and was lost in thought when, wham! He was hit by a car.
2016中国年度小小说第一页, Chinese Mini-Fiction 2016, Page 203
Translated from here, see also here.
3. Ding Kangbao (丁康保)
Zhang Xiaolin (张晓林)
Ding Kangbao was a native of Yixing, Jiangsu Province. His birth and death years are not known. In 1919 he became the County Magistrate for Kaifeng County. His calligraphy was modeled after that of the Five Dynasties’ master Yang Ningshi.
It had been raining for several days the morning Ding walked into the government offices at the Kaifeng County Yamen. He served as the County Magistrate from that day forward.
If you look through the historical books and records, both the authorized and the unauthorized versions will tell you that the work of a County Magistrate is the most difficult of all government positions. In what way is it so difficult? After the famously honest official Bao Zheng had served as a County Magistrate in Tanchang County for a year and a half during the Northern Song Dynasty, he wrote an essay article entitled “On the Varied Affairs of a County Magistrate”. You can find a copy and read it for the details.
County Magistrate was the most difficult job during the various dynasties, and the Republic of China should be counted among them. The magistrate’s title was changed from “Leader” to “Chief” then. In the eastern part of Henan Province, the magistrate had been called the “Administrator of Affairs” for a time, and this title is used to this day in the Republic. For example, if you say, "He is the Administrator of Affairs of our county," this "Administrator of Affairs " has the meaning of “head of household”, and the head of household in a county is naturally the county’s leader. In a roundabout way.
Shortly after he took office, Ding Kangbao tasted the full flavor of this "difficulty".
His predecessor had been scared off by a "difficulty." The previous Administrator of Affairs, surnamed Li, was a poet who had published three collections of poetry. His poems were all about animals, and more than thirty of them were about mice. He said he’d been inspired by the Book of Songs. Zhao Dong, a warlord in Kaifeng, could not tolerate his mannerisms. He said the man was an airhead who’d already ridden his horse up to the madhouse wall.
One day Warlord Zhao called Magistrate Li to him and told him: "We’re going to war! Get 200,000 silver dollars together for military use!"
That afternoon Magistrate Li sat in the County Yamen and went over his accounts thoroughly twice. When he finished counting, there were beads of sweat as big as soybeans on his brow. Less than 100,000 people lived in Kaifeng County, which meant over two silver dollars more [in taxes] for each person.
Magistrate Li had continuous nightmares that night. In one he dreamed of piles of white bones in a field. At dawn he hung the county seals on a beam in the Yamen and fled from the county seat disguised as a peasant.
The warlord Zhao Dong didn’t hassle Ding Kangbao for the first few days after he first took office. In his time off from his official duties, Ding had a passion for practicing calligraphy. He was especially attracted to the Yang-Ning style from the Five Dynasties period, and he was able to copy the stylebook Jiu Hua Tie, or “Chive Blossoms”, from memory. I’ve seen a fan on which he copied [something from] “Chive Blossoms” for his fellow official Huang Jundong.
One evening the arrival of dusk made Ding Kangbao aware of a potential danger. He was eager to go to Kaifeng to see an old friend and was in a hurry to get going. When he got to the west gate of the county seat, two armed soldiers stopped him. They told him arrogantly that since the sun had set, no one was allowed to leave the city!
His brow was still furrowed when he got back to the yamen. He spent the entire night crafting a letter to mail to an old friend, the renowned calligrapher Zhang Baiying [bio in Chinese at https://wapbaike.baidu.com/item/张伯英/66970]. He asked his friend to write a couplet that must have the words "Dedicated to my brother Kangbao" written on it. In one corner of his letter he added the word "emergency" written very large using the yamen’s red ink. Soon, Zhang Baiying mailed a reply in his own handwriting. Ding Kangbao mounted it and hung it in a prominent position in the yamen’s reception area.
After some time, the warlord Zhao Dong and two mounted bodyguards paid a visit to Ding Kangbao. The warlord saw Zhang Baiying’s couplet as soon as he entered the yamen’s reception hall. The poem made the warlord’s iron-hard face turn as soft as water. He raised his hand to salute the magistrate, said “Ha, ha” and took his leave. The warlord knew that Zhang Baiying was one person he couldn't afford to offend!
A cat burglar made his appearance in Kaifeng not long after that. In a mere half a month, the homes of three of Zhao Dong’s nouveau riche relatives in the county were victimized. When he burglarized the home of the mother of Zhao’s third concubine, he stole three night-luminescent pearls. Before leaving, he poured urine from a chamber pot into the mouth of the woman’s husband. As a result, whenever the man saw anything “watery” thereafter, he would go crazy and shout, “Piss! Piss! Piss!”
Warlord Zhao commanded Magistrate Ding in writing to handle the matter personally. He was given ten days to break the case, capture the thief and hang his head from the city gate.
The thief was caught in an abandoned cave dwelling in the old course of the Yellow River. A very lean person, he looked no different from anyone else walking down the street. When he saw Ding Kangbao and his crowd of attendants from the yamen, he said indifferently, "Let me finish making this meal for my old mother!"
Magistrate Ding only then noticed the old woman lying on a makeshift bed in one corner of the cave. Her gray hair was stuck to her head like withered grass. She looked at the magistrate gently and calmly, with no trace of horror in her eyes. They were the eyes of an old ewe, and they shone with the luster of pale green jade from the Kunlun mountains. Looking at those eyes, Magistrate Ding felt that, deep inside, his heart had shattered like glass!
The old woman breathed a long, soft sigh and closed her eyes.
When he returned to Kaifeng, Ding Kangbao tore Zhang Baiying’s couplet off the yamen wall and burned it.
Ding Kangbao resigned his duties as Kaifeng’s Administrator of Affairs and built a thatched cottage on the north shore of the Bian River in the suburbs of the city. He cleared some wasteland, planted fields of millet, and started to live life as a peasant.
He also took in over twenty stray cats. Every day he went to the river to catch small fish to feed them. When the cats went into heat in the spring, they’d howl like babies late at night. They’d jump up and down and shake the night sky with their cries. Ding Kangbao would sit in the dim light of a lamp, his eyes slightly open, and listen to them, his demeanor peaceful.
Early one morning, Ding Kangbao went to the riverside and saw an old man in dark clothing hard at work collecting broken tiles on the shore. Then he stooped, raised his hand, and, pow, pow, pow, made strings of beautiful fishing floats.
Ding Kangbao said to the old man, "This is something a child would do! An old man should enjoy himself!"
The old man said faintly, "I’m going to smooth out the river this way!"
[This is another sterling example of what the Chinese apparently consider a well-written essay. Fannyi charitably assumes there is some significance to story about the old man in the last part of the essay, but has no clue what it might be.]
2016 中国年度小小说第一页, Chinese Mini-Fiction 2016, Page 66
任晓燕，秦俑，赵建宇 选编 Compiled by Ren Xiaoyan, Qin Yong, Zhao Jianyu
Translated from 南方农村报 阿泰 at this page
4. A Letter to My Future Husband (致未来丈夫的信)
Warm Little Troop (Nuan Xiaotuan, 暖小团)
How are you?
A fortune teller told me that I could meet my “Mr. Right”, as they say in English, during the last half of this year. That’s quick, in my estimation. Are you a “right-hand man” now? Super.
I never thought I’d be anxious to get married, and I’m not at that age where one absolutely must find a spouse. The prime of my life was before age thirty. I didn’t have to think about anything, and enjoying myself was the thing. But now that ability has gradually left me. The first half of 2012 was good – people around me were lining up in droves to get married and have children, and with such happy prospects, no one was content to wait for me. And now I’m sitting here like a dolt, waiting for you, because I don’t want to wrong myself.
I am more reluctant than ever to get on the social networking site, renren.com, or browse microblogs. I feel like, whenever they come on screen, it’s all about someone getting married or so-and-so’s baby being a full month old. In October last year, I gave out ten thousand yuan in wedding gifts and six thousand for full month gifts. This wasn’t only a fatal blow to my bank account – it was a major tremor for my fragile little heart as well.
In the original manuscript of my life, I believed I’d be considered a young person throughout. And I never expected what my best friend did. One month she was hugging me and telling me that men are all bastards; a month later, a mere flick of the finger of time, she announced that she’s getting married in a few months.
What can I say? One by one they’ve stashed the world’s best men away under their own quilts. Now I’m beset by fears that you’re just leftover merchandise that no one else wanted; that you’ll be mine only after you’ve made it through the discounts and the fire sales and the clearance sales.
Back when I was young, I didn’t worry or even think about getting married. I just thought about love, about being in a relationship where marriage was a far distant goal. You only had to have me in your heart, and feel that other girls weren’t good enough, and want to marry a girl of my character. I know better now and have got the right idea. You certainly aren’t like my college boyfriend, who failed the meet-the-parents test. Also, I have some money now, so you’re not like the boyfriend I had when I started work, who failed the test of my poverty.
Last year my spoiled body contracted a serious illness, which caused my parents and I to see things more clearly. Money, place of origin and family background aren’t important. Being a good person, honest and well-behaved, tops everything else. I also came to the realization that I’m tired of putzing around the night scene. I don’t want to go to bed and try it out with men who seem almost good enough. I don’t have the energy or physical strength for that, and my parents couldn’t stand me doing that over and over. I don’t know whether going back to the old ways of thinking at the age of twenty-seven is a good thing or a bad thing, but either way I think it’s kind of scary.
I guess I don’t necessarily love you yet, because I invested my greatest ardor in those previous heartrending loves. Now, with the addition of work and various other things, I really feel I don’t the energy to devote to treating someone well. Never fear, though. I understand my qualities best. I’m a stinker to everyone, but my heart’s in the right place. I might be a little tight with money, but I am willing to spend some bucks on my hubby. I have a lose tongue, is all, but I do have character.
I thought all along that I’d have a child when I was twenty-seven, but now I’m pretty darn sure it’s too late. I’ve always thought that inertia was one of the things I was best at. I have no motivation. With a baby, though, I’d have to take on some responsibilities. I’d be able to tell myself that I had to be practical every step of the way, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The fact is, we could get along without spending a lot, but we’ll want to live well.
I don’t know your current situation, what you do, where you do it, or what girls you hang around with. Or do you get along okay being alone? Anyway, as your future wife, I ask very little of you. I don’t ask that you make a lot of money – I’m not short of cash – but you have to take care of your health. That’s your greatest capital asset.
I hope you’re a good person and not a womanizer. I can’t stop being who I am for you. There’s a basic part of this job. You’ll need the ability to make it through life without feeling like you’re starving yourself.
I can put up with whatever you’ve become now because some girl has broken your heart. You can only tell a good woman from a bad one because of the experiences you’ve had before marriage. Anyone who hasn’t experienced some bitches wouldn’t be a real man. You only know who’ll really be good to you through experience.
Don’t be all twisted because of girls. It’s no big deal. I’ll cherish you.
Finally, I hope your father and mother are doing well. If my future parents-in-law are in good health, they’ll be a good backup for me, and the whole family will live comfortably. I hope you’ll be able to find me before long, and I hope I’ll meet you before long.
This year Valentine's Day is right next to the Lunar New Year’s. I actually like New Year’s more than Valentine's Day. I’ve always felt much more comfortable with an entire family celebrating together than with two people spending a day together in bed.
Go to bed early – you have to go to work tomorrow. I wish you a good night.
Oh, right, I hope you’re scientifically inclined, because I don’t know how to fix my computer.
Your future wife: Warm Little Troop
The Best of Chinese Humorous Writings, 2015, Guan Heyue, Anthologist, p. 251
Translated from version at http://www.weixinrensheng.com/v13ba5J4/
5. Who Were You Talking To? (你与谁聊天)
Bai Xuchu (白旭初)
Her old man was gone. Her daughter was gone, too.
There’s no way back from the Heavenly Kingdom, so the old man could never return. Her daughter worked in a Taiwan-funded company in the south and could get home, but only once a year.
Before her daughter went back south, she’d told her, “Use Daddy's cell phone. Call me if something happens, and I’ll call you often, too,” she added.
The mother didn’t have any relatives in the area, and besides that her legs and feet weren’t in good shape. That’s why, except for buying groceries in the market and cooking her own meals every day, she spent her time just sitting on the sofa and staring at the phone on the coffee table in a daze. She looked forward to talking with her daughter in the south, but the phone just sat there, not making a sound.
One day the mother made up her mind to pick up the cell phone and dial her daughter's number. All she got was another woman's recorded voice, “The number you have dialed is not in service.” She dialed the number over and over before throwing the phone down on the sofa in anger.
That evening the phone suddenly rang. She answered and heard her daughter’s anxious voice, “You called me five times, Mom. Is something wrong at home? Are you OK?”
“Everything’s OK at home, and I am, too,” the mother said. “I just wanted to talk to you. Why’d you have your phone turned off?”
“I work on an assembly line and can't stop even for a moment,” her daughter said. “And I get fined if I answer the phone during work hours.”
“This late, and you’re just getting off work?”
“Yeah, I work overtime every day.” Her daughter yawned and said, “I just want to sleep when I get home.”
“Find time to rest up when you get off work,” the mother said, tears clouding her eyes. “It doesn't matter if you don’t call me. Long distance phone calls are a waste!”
Her daughter thought, “Mom really has it tough. From now on I won’t forget to call her no matter how busy or tired I am.”
One day, while she was out doing her daily shopping on her day off, the daughter called her mother. She got a recorded message saying, “The line is busy.” She thought, “That’s good! Mom’s finally getting in touch and having dealings with other people.”
She called again after she finished her shopping, and once again got the “line is busy” message. She thought, “That sure is a long call. Who could she be talking to?”
The daughter couldn’t remember how many times she redialed before she finally got through. “Who were you talking to, Mom?” she asked. “Such a long call!”
“Someone I’m familiar with.”
“What were you talking about?”
The mother paused for a moment, then said, “Nothing. It was just small talk.”
They talked for over twenty minutes. After they hung up, the daughter was lost in thought for a time.
Another day, while the daughter was at work, the assembly line stopped abruptly. The workers took advantage of the repair time to step outside for a breath of fresh air. The daughter turned on her cell phone and called her mother. Strangely enough, the recorded message said, “The number you have dialed is busy.” The daughter redialed after a bit. However, she was unable to get through before the assembly line was repaired.
She called her mother again that evening. The call went through and, when she answered, her mother said, “Is something wrong? Don’t call when everything’s okay. It’s a waste of money!”
“Mom,” the daughter said, “you were on a conference call! Who were you talking to?”
“Again, it was someone I know,” the mother replied.
“What were you talking about?”
“Nothing. Just chatting about this and that!”
The daughter wondered, “Does Mom have a special friend?” Out loud she asked, “You were chatting with an old man, right?”
The mother giggled but didn’t say anything.
The daughter thought to herself, “Mom isn’t even sixty, yet. Her having an old companion is a good thing!”
The daughter asked for a few days off. She’d decided to go home to find out what was going on. As soon as she came in the door, her mother's cell phone rang.
Her mother raised her phone to her ear, “Hello! Who is this? Who do you want to speak to?... Oh, you want me to guess who you are? Oh, I can't guess…. You want me to listen to your voice closely so I can guess who you are?... Oh, you’re from Hubei Province, I can tell. And your last name is Dong, right?... How about it? I bet I guessed right. And I know you’re my old man’s dearest nephew.”
She continued, “My Lord! Your father’s in the hospital with cancer? You can borrow twenty thousand yuan, no problem…. Don't worry! Your uncle is in Shanghai on a business trip. When he gets back in a few days, he’ll send the money to the hospital…. Huh, you don't want him to send it? Okay, when he gets back, he’ll transfer it….”
The daughter couldn't listen to any more of this. She screamed, “Mom, he’s a –” But before she could shout the words “con man”, her mother had already pressed the end-of-call button.
“I know they’re hustlers,” the mother said. “Your dad got suckered back then, and he was so mad it killed him.”
“If you knew it was a scam, why did you talk to them?”
“They keep calling me, one after another. I treat them as social calls! As long as I don’t say anything definite to let them know that I’m on to their crafty little games, they call me every day.”
Her daughter’s eyes filled with tears right away.
2016 中国年度小小说第一页, Chinese Mini-Fiction 2016, Page 73
Translated from 热点网 at this page under the name 父亲过世母亲独自在家
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