Chinese Stories in English
4. I Salute You, Son
5. Two Daughters-in-Law
Long River (page 06)
Stories printed in Best Chinese Mini-Stories 2017
Text at page cited after story; translated from the webpages cited below.
1. Cow Horn Tip (角牛尖)
Huang Rongcai (黄荣才)
Cow Horn Tip is on the edge of Cow Head Ridge. The road forks as it approaches the peak, and that’s the place the locals call Cow Horn Tip. Three Knife the Bandit had his camp on the ridge, and the road passed in front of it at Cow Horn Tip. Left Six’s shop was on the right fork of the road.
Left Six’s shop was a line of three adobe huts. The one on the left was a kitchen, the one in the middle a store, and the one on the right was Left Six’s sleeping quarters. The shop sold food and beverages. Although people had to pass by this Cow Horn Tip when coming and going from the nearby village stockade, no one could say clearly why Left Six had opened his business right under the bandit's nose.
He was a lean man, Left Six was, and people said that if you killed him, you couldn’t carve off but a few ounces of flesh. Of course, nobody went to kill him and carve him up. He was skilled to the max in Kungfu and couldn’t otherwise have kept his store open. Few had ever seen him put his skills to use, though – what they often saw was him sitting in his spot by the window with peanuts or some other snack nearby, drinking bowl after bowl of booze. The booze was a rice wine made by the local villagers and aged for several years. It was rather viscous, milky in color, and smooth and mellow in the mouth, but with a powerful aftereffect.
Left Six wasn’t like other businessmen. He served extremely simple dishes in his kitchen. He had a garden behind the shop where he grew a few seasonal vegetables, and he also caught animals on the mountain. Customers could purchase whatever was available when they came in. The most commonly available meats were stewed beef, braised pig ears, pig intestines and the like. Not a good selection to choose from. You ate what was there, but if you didn’t want it, he wouldn’t force it on you – you could pick up your feet and walk away.
As for his way of doing business, he had a strange temperament. He only took it on himself to wait on the first three rounds of customers each day. He’d get to work for them, preparing and serving whatever these customers ordered, subject to availability. He’d ignore customers starting with the fourth round, though. By then he was already sitting at the window, pouring booze for himself. He usually irrigated himself into a stupor and fell asleep, leaning to one side.
After that, since there was no one to greet customers, they had to help themselves. If they wanted something to eat, they prepared the dishes and did the work of cooking them. After they finished eating, they’d throw some money into a blue and white porcelain vase on the counter, and what they paid depended on the circumstances. Left Six wouldn’t tell them how much, even if he was awake, and still less would get up to collect the money. If a customer asked, he’d just point to the vase without saying a word, as though it would be a waste of energy to utter a sentence.
Sometimes when customers came in, Left Six got out his own bowl and chopsticks and sat down to drink with them. Even then he still had very little to say, however. He just brought his bowl over and gestured a greeting. After the booze was all drunk, he’d add some of his own. He didn't care about such things.
Once a customer noticed that Left Six was off in Never-Never Land, so he got up to leave without paying. As he was walking out of the door, Left Six shwooshed a couple of times, and two sharp-pointed throwing stars appeared beside the customer’s foot. It was an ice-cold reminder. The customer pulled his foot back and, with a slight shake of Left Six’s hand, the stars flew back to him, seemingly on their own. It turned out that they were tethered by a very thin chain. Left Six pointed to the blue and white porcelain vase without giving the customer another look. The frightened customer put some money in the vase and fled in a panic.
There was another one who continued blindly striding out the door. With a shake of Left Six's hand, two bamboo darts flew past the guy’s ears. Left Six had made the darts himself. They were each about an inch long, one blunt and one sharp. The customer understood this was a serious warning because previously, other customers had continued walking away. Left Six didn’t even curse them, but before they’d gone a few more steps, they either had a new hole in one ear or a fingertip turned up missing. Left Six returned to his chair while the customers wailed like ghosts or wolves, picked up his bowl of booze and took a long, slow sip. People on Cow Horn Ridge did lose a few fingers under Left Six’s knife.
Left Six knew that Three Knife the Bandit would leave his compound sometime. When he opened his business under the bandit’s nose, he knew the guy would eventually come over.
One day Left Six took a turn around the forest and returned with two pheasants in hand. He plucked the feathers, chopped them into pieces, threw in some mushrooms and other things and stewed them in a pot. He’d just taken the lid off the pot when Three Knife walked in, and the aroma perfumed the air. There were other customers in the kitchen and, when they saw Three Knife, they backed up against the wall and edged toward the door. Left Six didn’t even turn his head. "You’re here? Have a seat!" he said as casually as if he and the bandit had been good friends for many years.
Three Knife saw that two sets of tableware had been placed on the table, one set on each side, along with several plates of washed radishes. There was a vat of booze on the floor. Its mud seal had just been broken and the fragrance of alcohol billowed up. He said nothing and sat down.
Left Six ladled out some soup from the pot with his own spoon, took a sip and said, admiringly, "It’s fresh, but it could do with some radish." He put the spoon down and picked up a radish, then took a dagger from his waist. The dagger flew and, just like that, the radish was cut into very thin slices which fell into the soup pot with nary a splash.
Three Knife took out a small knife of his own, picked up a radish and, in the same manner, cut it into very thin slices. Neither spoke as they sliced the radishes into the soup one after another and, when they were done, they put away their knives almost simultaneously. They picked up their chopsticks and plucked radish slices directly from the pot.
Then they held up their bowls filled with booze. Nodding to one other, they each downed half a bowl in one gulp. After they’d finished that first bowl, Left Six poured them a refill. Three Knife poured the next one. It seemed they’d sat down together for the sole purpose of drinking. They spoke briefly between each bowl, but Three Knife’s henchmen, who were keeping watch outside the door, couldn't hear clearly. Each time they finished speaking, they drank another bowl.
After eighteen bowls, Left Six was laying crookedly beside the table. Three Knife stood up, rather unstable. Left Six muttered something, seemingly asking Three Knife to close the door. Three Knife stepped outside, closed the door behind him, and told his henchmen in an alcoholic fog that, henceforth, anyone messing with Left Three would suffer the consequences.
Three Knife was still thinking about Left Six when he returned to his camp. He didn't know that Left Six had lain himself flat on his bed in the adobe hut on the right and muttered, "Really holds his booze."
Text at page 110; translated from 凤凰新闻 at http://wemedia.ifeng.com/47048646/wemedia.shtml
2. Second Sprite (二仙)
Changsong Bridge (昌松桥)
There’s a God of Wine, a Bacchus, in the Public Sanitation Department. He’s nicknamed Second Sprite. His ancestors could all drink like fish, but if his father drank even a mouthful, his face would turn red as a cooked shrimp and his body would swell up, making him quite itchy and uncomfortable. When Sprite was one hundred days old, his family followed custom* and placed an assortment of everyday articles before him to see which he would grab, as a way of predicting his future inclinations. His Grandpa got an idea on the spur of the moment and used a chopstick to put a drop of booze on the boy's tongue. Sprite smacked his lips, licked it up and grinned sweetly from ear to ear.
On a bright sunny day when Sprite was four years old, the boy suddenly disappeared. The family called out for him all over the place, but no one responded. They were crying lustily and got their neighbors to search the entire village. Grandpa rushed home from the fields and found Sprite passed out drunk beside the family’s booze vat with a wine cup in his hand. Afterwards, Sprite told them he’d taken a ladleful from Grandpa's booze vat and drunk it down in a few gulps.
After he reached his majority, Sprite had a mysterious way of drinking. He’d pinch the glass between his thumb and index finger and hold it aloft, and tip his head back as he swirled the booze around slowly. Then, his eyes slightly narrowed, he’d down the entire glass with a slurp. People said he was just swilling it down, but he said, “Crap! I’m obviously just appreciating the stuff!”
While Sprite could hold his liquor, he often got drunk, so his wife lost her temper more than just a few times.
Their family was a split household, that is, one family member had peasant status and was a city resident. They lived in the suburbs just outside the city. His wife worked both inside and outside the home, laboring in the fields as well as taking care of two sons. It was a difficult life, and the hardships Sprite saw her endure were engraved in his heart.
He worked for the Sanitation Department's Waste Removal Team. He got off late, and often got together with his bros to hoist a few after work.
One day several of the buddies stayed out late drinking. Sprite staggered home in the pitch dark with a serious case of hiccoughs. When he got home he slipped and fell to floor. He felt a piercing pain in his right buttocks when he twisted to get up, and when he touched his pants they were wet and sticky, so he figured a piece of glass had stuck him in the butt. Without making a sound loud enough to reveal his presence, he found a band-aid in the drawer, pulled down his pants, stood in front of the mirror and quickly put it on. Then he crawled into bed and started sawing logs.
The next morning, his wife lifted the covers and saw blood all over the bed. She thought her period had started and she’d made the mess, but when she happened to touch her crotch, she felt that wasn’t right. She struggled to turn Sprite over and found that his beige shorts had become crusted with purple. “Damn, what happened?”
Sprite said, “I fell down last night and something punched a hole in my butt. I remember I looked at the mirror and put on a band-aid.”
His wife glanced at the mirror and then read him the riot act. “Damn idiot, there’s a band-aid stuck on the mirror. Last time you got drunk you threw up all over the bed, and this time the bed’s covered with blood. We can’t go on like this!”
His wife often made a stink, but Sprite kept doing his own thing.
He got so drunk the next evening that he didn’t even know how he’d found his way home. As he was heating some water to wash up, he stumbled several times and fell under the stove. He lay there snoring to high heaven. As it happened, the old sow they kept was about to give birth and, since it was so cold, his wife had brought her in to sleep under the stove. Sprite was feverish with drink, and the sow wanted to stay warm, so it fell asleep cuddled up next to him. When Sprite turned over in the middle of the night, he happened to hug the sow and murmured, “Is my wife going fashionista, buying herself a leather wallet and jacket?” Another touch and he happened to feel the sow’s nipples. “And a double-breasted jacket at that.”
When his wife heard someone talking in the kitchen, she rolled out of bed and flew in there like a hawk. She was surprised to see a man sleeping with the old sow in the firewood under the stove!
Sprite was a Good Samaritan, though, even if he was rather stupid.
As he was returning home from work one day, he picked up an abandoned baby on the street. The little girl had cried herself hoarse in the cold wind. Sprite sped home holding the frigid child in his arms.
His wife said, “Good Lord, we have two sons, one in high school and another in junior high. How can we support a third child?”
“She was abandoned by her parents and almost froze to death,” Sprite replied. “Such evil! I thought she was pretty, so I went ahead and picked her up.”
“But how can we afford to raise her?”
“We can do it, if we tighten our belts.”
Sprite named the girl Serendipity. He was constantly holding the child in his arms, grinning ear to ear. When anyone asked him, “Why did you take in that tender little thing?” he’d reply, “She’s a wine tower for my golden years.”
Serendipity was quite talented and was especially good in school. Her grades were tops in her class in junior and senior high school. What’s more, she tested into Beijing Art School in this year's college entrance exam.
Sprite’s wife said,” This young girl knows what’s what.”
Sprite said, “I found us a blessing.”
His wife told him that Serendipity had phoned to say she needed four thousand yuan to go on a trip to sketch the natural world. “She’s borrowed enough to leave in the morning to sketch in Yunnan Province.”
“As the saying goes,” Sprite answered, “be parsimonious when raising sons but magnanimous raising daughters. Borrow the rest and give it to her.”
“Borrow, borrow,” his wife said. “Can't you just quit drinking?”
“I’ll quit drinking Old Shaoyang, the good stuff. I’ll drink the cheap stuff made from sorghum smut. It only costs five yuan a pound**.”
From then on, Sprite frequently brought home kegs of sorghum smut wine.
One day someone saw Sprite bent over by the gutter in front of his house. Water was dripping from the gutter into his mouth and he was chanting, “Drink! – Drink!—”
Serendipity came home for the National Day holiday, and Sprite had his wife make some extra dishes. The Village Chief happened to come over, too. Sprite invited him to have a drink and got up to open a bottle of Old Shaoyang. He said, “I’ll just have my usual sorghum smut wine – it’s stronger.
“That so?” the Village Chief said as he reached out for the smut wine and gulped down a mouthful. He immediately cried out “Ack” and vomited, and called out for water!
Sprite’s wife froze. Serendipity’s jaw dropped, then she rushed over and said, “Dad”. She hugged her father tightly, her tears flowing.
*[In some parts of China, this is done on the child’s first birthday – Fannyi]
**[Chinese sometimes measure alcohol by the pound (斤) – Fannyi]
Text at page 112; translated from 新浪博客 at
3. Frost Descends (霜降)
Li Zhongyuan (李忠元)
Frost Descends, the period on the traditional Lunar calendar from the twenty-third of the tenth month through the sixth of the eleventh month, was fast approaching and the weather had suddenly turned cold. Old man Dawn Chariot Che, after many hassles, had finally moved into a brand new, large tiled house. He breathed a long sigh of relief, but there was still something he felt enormously uneasy about. He kept thinking that his happiness was at least a little bit illusory.
His son, Raw Che, really was an entrepreneur. After getting everything arranged, he’d opened a toll gate in a window of one house, complete with a sign, and waited for the big bucks to come rolling in. In a publicity campaign to attract customers, he’d intentionally spread news around that they’d converted their adobe-and-straw shacks into large tiled houses, even taking it on himself to hang advertising posters on trees alongside the road. When everything was ready, he sat himself down at the toll window. But after spending three tedious months at the window, he hadn’t seen even a shadow of a customer.
Raw thought that was weird. They’d built very nice tiled houses and he didn’t know where the customers could’ve gone, all those “short soldiers with long pikes”, namely, press photographers. Why weren’t they coming around? Could his father have just made up a scam?
The story will have to begin at the beginning.
The project of renovating the adobe shacks had begun at the first blush of spring that year. With government financing, the villagers had needed to come up with only half of the costs of tearing down their old houses and constructing interconnected brick housing. The neatly uniform buildings were finished quickly after some anxiety-producing rigmarole. They were a magnificent sight, but one adobe shack remained at the west end of the village, an eyesore that stood out starkly.
Dawn Chariot Che was the owner of that shack. He and his wife were all that was left of his family. They were empty nesters, an elderly couple who couldn’t do heavy work and had no financial resources other than a minimal welfare allowance. Their children had left one by one years before, splitting the family assets to live on their own, but now they were quite happy to move into the new, interconnected housing.
The village chief had visited Old Man Che about his adobe hut many times. He’d also visited his children. He wanted them to pay to rebuild the place, because otherwise it would affect the appearance of the village and wouldn’t look good when the upper ranks came to inspect.
When the children heard they might have to pay for the renovation for their old folks, they shook their heads as fast as spinner drums. That’s how Old Man Che and his wife became the only impoverished family in Wafting Village, Spud Flower County. They were the only ones, rich or poor, who still had their adobe shack, the last one left in the whole village.
Old Man Che looked at the big tile houses, especially those of his children, each one more elegant than the last, and then looked at his dilapidated cottage. No matter how he repaired or fixed it up, it was still shabby beyond renovation. He couldn’t even look at it. At times like that, sighing repeatedly was the only way he could express himself to people.
Old Man Che remembered that time twenty years previously when his children were still in school. The two-room earthen hut he had at the time was too small for the family of seven, and more than that, it needed to be rebuilt urgently, so he’d raised the funds to build the four-room cottage where he currently lived. It was only an adobe shack, but the four rooms went up quickly and it became the talk of the village, making all his stingy neighbors jealous.
At the time, Old Man Che cheerfully told everyone near and far, “I built the place for my retirement. Raising the roof was like capping off my retirement pension!” When he said that, he’d turn his gaze toward his eldest son, who was still a young boy, his eyes full of expectation. But the children had all left home, one after another, leaving only him and his old lady to live out their lives in loneliness.
Now in his sixth decade, he still hadn’t been able to complete his grand plan for a hedge against old age. The old house of which he’d been so proud back then had been rendered decrepit from weathering. Faced with a residence that was riddled with problems, Old Man Che was deeply worried. He feared that a heavy rain would someday collapse the house, and who knew what would happen to him and his wife.
In the blink of an eye, it was autumn again. Old Man Che was standing in his courtyard sighing over the need to do something when two “short soldiers with long pikes” in their hands unexpectedly came along. The clicking of their cameras started as soon as they entered his courtyard.
The old man immediately got nervous when he saw them. “Is this dilapidated old house blocking your view? So what if it is. Or are you just taking pictures to mock us? That’s harassment that hits close to home.”
Although the old man was upset, the photographers remained calm and collected. They each fished out a red banknote – one hundred yuan notes – and stuffed them in his hand. The old man had had a hard life, and he looked at these bills as though they were what he’d been longing for day and night. They were just going to take pictures of his house, not take it away, so the old man crammed the money into his fanny pack and stood there in the yard, gazing off into the distance. He took out a long-stemmed pipe and puffed on it until the two photographers finished taking photos and left. Then he went happily inside to share the good news with his wife.
There was something Old Man Che felt was even more unusual. For several days after those two photographers had gone, people with cameras slung over their shoulders kept coming to his door to visit. They had various models and styles of cameras on display, but they all wanted to take pictures of his old house. And what made him all the happier, of course, was that he always got a red banknote or two as compensation.
With this source of money, the old man's pockets were soon bulging. His life became ever more comfortable.
When the children learned that their parent’s dilapidated old house had turned into a cash cow, they all came to have a look at the oddity. The eldest son, Raw Che, had always had a strong sense of the potential of things, and when he saw what was going on with his own eyes, he made a decision on the spot. He invested in the construction of a new house to better meet the needs of the great numbers of photography enthusiasts – and to maximize his own benefits.
When he saw that Raw was building a house for his parents, Old Man Che wondered what drug his son was on. He was in no position to complain, though. All he could do was accept it with a smile.
Once Raw had decided on his plan, he went all out. He tore down the adobe shack in no time and built a brand new, large tiled house as fast as a prairie fire whips through the grass. The new place was rather grand, even imposing, and stood out among the many houses in the village like a crane in a flock of chickens.
When it was done, Raw took it on himself to arrange his parents’ move into the place. Old Man Che’s mind was much more at ease when he was finally in the large, tile house, but he still worried that it was all an impossible dream.
It’s no wonder Old Man Che was worried that something really had gone wrong. By the time the new house was completed, those “short soldiers with long pikes” had disappeared without a trace.
Raw didn’t know what had happened until he asked around. Those photographers were civil servants in the People’s Government of another township. They’d needed recent pictures of old homes to submit to the County Civil Affairs Bureau in order to scam subsidies from the National Adobe Cottage Renovation Fund. However, there were no adobe cottages left to photograph in the nearby villages of Ten Mile and Eighth Town, since the renovation had already been completed there. Using old photos would be easy to spot, so they searched everywhere before finally discovering Old Man Che’s place, the very last adobe shack, and rushed over to take pictures like they’d found buried treasure. But good things never last. When these self-interested civil servants came in their cars to take more pictures, they saw Raw’s roadside posters and learned that the adobe shack had been replaced. They wrung their hands and stamped their feet in frustration but didn’t stick around.
Once he understood the sequence of events, Raw Che plopped down on the ground in regret. His butt hurt like he’d been stuck by a needle....
Text at page 126; translated from 刊参考网 at http://www.fx361.com/page/2017/1017/2371760.shtml
4. I Salute You, Son (儿子，我敬你)
Cui Li (崔立)
It was the final day of the Gaokao, the nation-wide college entrance examination. The son was in a lousy mood when he got home. He had a rather disheartened look on his face.
The father sat by a table covered with steaming dishes. It was the first time the son had ever seen such a spread in their table. What’s more, the father was just sitting there contentedly, as if he’d been waiting the son to get home.
“Dad,” the son shouted.
“I’ve got no appetite,” he continued. “I’m going to my room to rest for a while.”
He turned to leave.
The father stopped him. “Sit down, son. Let's talk.”
The son wanted to say no, but saw from the look on his face that the father wouldn’t take no for an answer. He sighed deeply and sat down face to face with him, as the father directed.
As if he were performing a magic act, the father first produced a bottle of booze and then two cups. When he was about to pour, the son shouted, “I don't drink, Dad.”
“Have a tad,” the father smiled and said. “I had my first drink like this, with both my grandpas.” The son nodded and had to accede.
A half cup was poured for each. The father took it on himself to raise his cup to toast the son. The son hurried to raise his cup with both hands. After their cups touched, the father put his head back and downed all the booze in his cup. The son took a small sip and seemed to choke. He couldn’t keep from coughing several times. When he saw that the father had drained his cup, he lifted his cup to finish it. The father stopped him. “Don't worry about it. Eat some food and take your time drinking.”
The son took a bite, and then another. The father sat there watching him closely. The father didn't pour any more booze for himself. The son raised his glass and took another sip. This one would count as his first drink. His face turned slightly ruddy.
“Dad,” the son cried out again.
The father smiled slightly. “Eat some more.”
The son’s cup was empty after his sixth sip. His entire face had turned red. His lips quivering, he said, “Dad, I, I honestly tried as hard as I could....
The father had stood up. He patted the son's shoulder gently and said, in a voice full of warmth, “Don't put too much pressure on yourself, son. The test is done, and it doesn’t matter anymore.”
The father helped the son lay down to sleep.
The son fell asleep before long and even started to snore lightly. The frustration on the boy's face had blown away like a gust of wind and he’d drifted into a peaceful slumber.
The son seemed about to cry when he got home.
The father was watching TV. A pair of youths were in the broadcast, a boy and a girl, each speaking to the other with the torrid expressions used by people in love. The son stopped before him and said succinctly, “I blew it, Dad.”
Without waiting for the father to say anything, the son went back in his room and closed the door heavily.
It was already dark before the son came out again. The light in the living room was on, bright as daylight, and shown in the son's eyes. Several dishes and the bottle of booze had already been set out on the table. The father sat on a chair with his back to the son. He didn’t know how long the father had been sitting there waiting, but he must have heard the son come out. “Sit down, son,” he said.
He sat down opposite the father.
As soon as he was seated, the father poured some booze. Two cups, each half full. The father raised his cup and said, “I salute you, son.”
“Dad,” the son cried, his voice choking. The father put his head back and drained his cup. The son raised his cup and took a big sip, and then another.
The son put down his cup.
“Dad,” he said, “I love her. I really love her very, very much. I really don’t understand why she wanted to break up with me, why she wanted to leave me....
“My heart aches, Dad,” he continued. “Whenever I close my eyes now, all I can think about is her....”
As he spoke, his nose started to run and tears flowed from his eyes.
But he kept eating and drinking while he spoke.
He finished the booze in his cup.
The son had been able hold his liquor, but now, miraculously, he was already drunk after just half a cup. He lay his head on the table and fell asleep.
The father shook his head. He stood up to help the son into his room to sleep.
“My son is really deep.”
The son sat down opposite his father.
There was booze on the table, and some food which the father had cooked.
The son was about to pour some booze for his father when his father stopped him. “Let me do it,” the father said. The son stopped his hand in mid-air and, after a moment, pulled it back.
The father filled two cups halfway. He took one of the cups, tilted his head back and drained it. The son also picked up a cup, tilted his head back and drained it.
Father didn't pour any more booze.
The son was about to pour some but was again stopped by the father. The father said, “Booze, that’s enough for now. Later I’ll give you what you want.”
The son was startled. He wondered how the father could agree to his request just like that when he hadn’t even asked it yet.
The son's boss had his eye on a pipe that the father had treasured for many years. That pipe, it was the father's favorite. As far as the father was concerned, he could do without anything in this life except that pipe. And then the son's boss just had to take a fancy to it. And he also had to give the son a hint about it. And the son just had to want a promotion. And so the son
thought he’d implore the father to give it up. He’d never expected this would be the result.
The son looked at the father. The father's face was calm, like a pool of water without any ripples.
The son sat opposite the father.
There was booze on the table, and some food that had been cooked by the son.
The son made to pour some booze for the father. This time, the father didn’t stop him. He watched calmly while the son poured. He watched the son take two cups and pour each one half full. It was the father’s usual custom to have half a cup when drinking. Further, it was the precept of his life – one must leave some leeway in everything, and push nothing to the limit.
The son raised his cup, tilted his head back and drained it.
“Drink up, Dad,” he said, looking at the father.
The son looked at the father and again said, “Dad, drink up.”
The father didn't take the drink.
The father smiled and looked at the son, just as he had all those years before, the first time he’d had a drink with the son. But this was the first time the son had asked him to drink.
The gentle breeze was blowing. He could see the father's smiling face on the tombstone.
In the son's eyes, it seemed that half the sky was suffused with the red clouds of sunset.
Text at page 134; translated from 个人图书馆，
at this page under the name 父亲敬的酒
5. Two Daughters-in-Law (大媳妇, 二媳妇)
Fu Haoyong (符浩勇)
Granny Wang often thought about her two daughters-in-law who lived on an agricultural enterprise zone in a town near the County seat. When the slack farming season came around, she decided to go to the city and pay a visit to their families.
She went to see the wife of her eldest son first.
Her eldest son, Root Zhang, was a purchasing agent for a small rattan weaving factory run by the City Agricultural Bureau. He went out on buying trips all year round, leaving his wife alone at home. She was an accountant at the factory, an articulate woman who was a leader both on and off the job.
Before Granny Wang had even walked through the door, she went out to greet her with a look as warm as a spring day on her face. "I’m always dreaming about you, Mom,” she said. “I wish you could’ve come sooner. You’ll stay a few days longer this time, even if I have to tie you up and not let you leave.”
She sounded like she was a daughter born of Granny Wang’s own womb. By the time she’d finished speaking, she’d led her mother-in-law inside and seated her on a comfortable sofa. Then she turned and got a can of coconut juice from the cold storage compartment of the refrigerator and handed it to her. Granny Wang was so flattered by this treatment that she shivered with happiness.
Early the next morning, the daughter-in-law gave Granny Wang a house key and, as she was walking out the door, told her, "When you’re here, Mom, I can go to work without worrying about not having time to wash the veggies I buy. I’ll help you wash them if I have time. There’s meat in the refrigerator. If I get home late, you can cook dinner for yourself. I’m really sorry to ask such a favor of an elderly person."
Granny Wang thought to herself, upon hearing her daughter-in-law’s respectful language, “She’s speaking as though I were a guest, not family. One should give visiting family members some housework to do.” So she took on housework all day, cleaning the courtyard, making rice and cooking.
The dishes she prepared didn’t taste very good, but her daughter-in-law wasn’t disappointed in the least. She’d worked overtime at the factory as usual and didn’t get home until quite late. She’d planned to throw her clothes into the washing machine the next day but, when she woke up in the morning, she saw that her mother-in-law had already washed them by hand.... The old lady was stooped over her cane from tiredness, but she was still able to understand the difficulties in her daughter-in-law’s life.
As the days passed, however, Granny Wang began to get annoyed. She expected to do three days’ work spread out over the course over a week, but her daughter-in-law was looking for ten days’ work. When she’d been there the better part of a month and her son Root had not yet returned from his business trip, she began to think seriously about her other daughter-in-law. She said she’d be leaving to go visit her. Her daughter-in-law wanted her to stay and, honey dripping from her lips, told her “Mom, if it’s not comfortable for you at your youngest son’s home, come back here on the double. I’ll be waiting for you even if it’s just a dream."
Granny Wang smiled wryly. This woman really was busy and needed her help, but she still went to her other daughter-in-law's house.
Her second son, Obedient Zhang, was a salesman in the town’s small brick factory. He also travelled year around. His wife worked at the factory, too, smoothing and finishing bricks. As soon as she saw her mother-in-law at the door, she stopped her needlework and smiled simple-mindedly. "Good to see you, Mom. Obedient isn’t here. Come on in and relax. You see I’m busy. Pour yourself something to drink." At that, she went back to her needlework.
She only invited her mother-in-law to have something to eat with her after she finished what she was doing. Then, as they ate, she made a point of using her own chopsticks to put pieces of meat in Granny Wang’s bowl to demonstrate her politeness. Every day, as she was headed out the door, she said directly and without elaboration, "Relax here at home, Mom. I'm going to work."
The younger son’s wife was busier than the other daughter-in-law. She ran off to the factory during the day and, at the noon break, she sometimes went grocery shopping before coming home. She got off work late and then busied herself with this or that chore around the house. Sometimes she was still hard at some needlework project late at night, her needle and thread flying under a lamp. Granny Wang really didn't know when the young woman went to bed at night, and when Granny got up in the mornings, she’d already headed out to work. She did leave a prepared breakfast for her mother-in-law, though. In fact the young woman did all the cooking, even though Granny Wang was home all day. Sometimes Granny helped clean up the kitchen, but that seemed to make her daughter-in-law uneasy, which in turn gave Granny a feeling that she’d done something wrong.
Granny Wang had also spent more than half a month there and her younger son hadn’t returned from his business trip, so she mentioned going home to the country. Her daughter-in-law didn’t want her to leave. "You’ll have nothing to do in the countryside, Mom. Stay here a few more days."
“The other daughter in law kept me busy when I was at her place,” Granny Wang thought to herself, “but all I heard were properly respectful words. At this place, though, I’m going crazy just sitting around. But still….” She responded to her daughter-in-law by saying, “I’ll go home to the countryside for now, but I’ll come back after a while.” Her daughter-in-law saw that Granny’s mind was made up, so she didn’t insist that she stay.
The young woman escorted Granny to the bus station. She didn’t say much on the way.
Just before Granny got on the bus, her daughter-in-law gave her a small package. “Mom,” she said, “I made this felt cap in a hurry. It’ll be getting cold in a few days and you should wear it. I haven’t been able to get away and show you the proper respect while you were here."
After she boarded the bus and sat down, Granny Wang took the cap out of the package and looked at it. “Ah, this tightly woven needlework is really something to see.” So her daughter-in-law had been knitting a felt cap for her at night. She felt a burst of warmth and stuck her head out the window to say something to the young woman, but for a moment she didn't know what to say.
She got back off the bus to say thanks and her daughter-in-law suddenly thought of something. "Mom, I stuck three hundred yuan inside the felt cap so you’d have it to use for whatever on the way home…."
Granny Wang turned over the cap and looked and saw several brand new banknotes. She felt a lump in her throat and tears came to her eyes....
As the bus moved off, Granny Wang gazed out the window one more time. She saw her daughter-in-law standing on the tarmac, waving to her....
2017年中国微型小说精选 Best Chinese Mini-Stories 2017, p. 137
长江文艺出版社，责任编辑：孙晓雪; Translated from 海南日报 at
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