1. The Beginning of Summer (立夏)
Chen Yu (陈毓)
Betel Nut Li had pulled the wooden ladder into the barn for the night. Next morning, though, Springtime Lee* dropped from the roof without the ladder. Some say she jumped, but others say she fell.
She’d taken two steps on the three-meter-high roof, jumped, and landed feet first on the haystack next to the barn. She’d gone straight from the haystack to the ground. When she landed, she struck an exaggerated pose to make an image that provoked Betel, her only audience. She half-squatted, crossed her legs, then stood up again and glanced at Betel with a hint of a smile at the corners of her mouth. This was in direct contrast to Betel, whose eyes were half-open in surprise. Springtime left without saying anything, swinging her hips.
In fact there’d been no way around it for Betel. He’d just walked up to the barn, thinking he’d somehow investigate any sounds of movement from the roof, when he encountered Springtime. She opened the door and came down to the ground in the manner described above.
Springtime searched all around when she got to the field, occasionally muttering something. If you had godlike ears, you could’ve heard that she was saying, “No rabbits or partridges. What kind of field is this?”
“She didn’t fall,” Betel Nut shouted in his own defense, but everyone believed that Springtime's abnormality had a good deal to do with him. Suppose they hadn't gotten into a fistfight, and suppose they hadn't gone on about splitting up their household as soon as he came home, and suppose she hadn't moved to live by herself in the barn.
“Would she be like that if you hadn’t been at loggerheads with her?”
But then, how else could she be? Nobody could write out an effective prescription for this husband and wife. All the couple could do was rely on their own devices.
Springtime's view of the world turned upside down after she discovered that there were no rabbits or partridges in the field. She roamed the hills and streams over a large area. She saw a pile of rubbish half-covering a huge rock and felt it shouldn’t be; she heard the feeble sound of flowing water in a stream and said the stream was sick; she shook her head at a dandelion protruding pompously from the soul of a rotten shoe.
She made endless gestures of disgust as she stood in front of the garbage pile with an iron spade in her hand. She used it to dig through the garbage with all her strength. The garbage she turned over drifted away down the stream. She watched the amorphous mass leaving and told it to go, and go far away.
It became Springtime’s custom to wander every day through the fields that dissatisfied her so. The wheat was green, and the peapods hung like little bells on their vines, but they couldn’t distract her from her journey. Walking every day made her figure beautiful, with slender legs and a rising waistline. Even Betel, who hated her for making him a cuckold, couldn’t ignore her increasing beauty.
He felt perplexed but thought that his responsibility as a husband would be to take her to the city to see a doctor. He put back the ladder he’d taken away and secured it. He wrapped the steps with strips torn from an old T-shirt. He wasn't sure if his wife's "two-step jump" that morning had anything to do with her "abnormality", but his empathy as a husband had been aroused. In the dark of night, he’d thought about his feelings for her and was convinced that neither of them loved the other. He watched the barn through the widest window on the second-floor of their house and couldn't figure out life.
He’d take her to the city and see what the doctor had to say.
But Springtime broke free of his hand like a wild horse. She appeared in the field right on schedule, like the sun in early summer.
The area she patrolled expanded. She went wherever the path led her, even on trails trampled out by people growing herbal medicines. One trail disappeared gradually into the woods, now seeming to appear, now seeming to disappear. Some might see a walk through the woods as a lyrical stroll, but Springtime, this volunteer Inspector of the Wilds, found unsightly things right away.
She saw plastic bottles hanging between trees, suspended by wires from the middles of trees and running from tree to tree through the bottles. The bottles were bound together to form a plastic barrier as a defense against wild boars. When a breeze entered the forest, those empty bottles, from which bacteria, pesticides and other agricultural chemicals had previously poured forth, would emit a sharp whistle which effectively discomfited the boars that had come to root for mushrooms. This innovation relied on locally available materials, obviously. Therefore, in the hilly forests where poria mushrooms and other materials valued in Chinese medicine were cultivated, economic development of the woods resulted in plastic bottles of myriads sizes and colors being piled up in the mountain vales.
Springtime had seen them before, so they were no more surprising than tracts of leaves. But Springtime was ill now, wasn’t she, and not the same Springtime as before.
She gathered the empty bottles but, when she let go of them, they spread out whistling again, restoring their state of anarchy. She fought this battle a hundred times and was defeated a hundred times. She saw so many empty plastic bottles beside one plot of mushrooms that she didn't know where to start. She piled them up in layers like a stack of firewood, but when a gust of wind came along, they all whistled as one and rolled off down the valley like whitewater rapids. She plopped down on the ground and said weakly, “You’re sick.”
One afternoon when Betel returned home, he saw Springtime carrying a length of iron wire strung through empty plastic bottles and tangled around Dipper, a grower of medicinal herbs who was as weak and flabby as the fabled Liu Shan. Dipper was a bit embarrassed when he saw Betel. He explained that he wasn’t intentionally trying to make life difficult for Madam Springtime, but as everyone knew, it was something which couldn’t be helped. The plastic bottles that others had thrown away, he couldn’t just stack them in his own yard, so where could he put them? He’d obviously be fined if he put them in the river; and if he returned them to the vendors, it’d cost him more in labor fees than he could get from recycling them. Re-purposing them by wiring them together to scare wild boars could be considered recycling. He only worried that a flash flood of the mountain streams might wash his store of plastic bottles down into the valley. God hadn’t visited him with that calamity, but now Springtime had.
Springtime abruptly let Dipper go. Looking at Betel, she smiled and said, “You’re sick.”
“If I'm sick, I'm sick.” Betel used the hand that had been swallowed by a machine to pull Springtime. “I can’t leave here to get work anymore, can I? I was gone for five years but now I’m back. I’m not separated from you anymore. You say I smell like plastic, but tonight I’m moving in with you, in that barn that smells like a pine tree.”
The sky may get dark, but it will get light again. The light will continue to return as long as the days continue, and Springtime still went wandering in in the fields, occasionally sending out her endless comments from here and there.
One day as she was walking along, she smelled the truly wonderful aroma of pine trees. A feeling that she was completely without worries burst over her. The pine scent she smelled was coming the rosin of cypress trees she’d planted during the years Betel was working down south in Dongguan City. The little trees had grown big and tall. Recently the business of raising saplings wasn’t as good as it had been, but fortunately these saplings had already grown big. In contrast to younger trees, they didn’t need human care and could grow naturally.
As she took in the aroma, she unconsciously turned her head and looked around. A smog-like mist rose in her eyes. But, regrettably, this smog dispersed quickly and did not gather enough strength to bring her back to her original self.
And so she withdrew from that sporadic mist and walked slowly home. When she passed by Betel to climb up the ladder leading to the roof, the words “You’re sick” came from her mouth.
*[The woman’s name, 立春, could be read as “Beginning of Spring”. Fannyi assumes that the story’s title, 立夏, “Beginning of Summer”, is intended to have some sort of significance.]
Text at page 141; Translated from 海燕 at
2. Playing Chess (下棋)
Stepper (Yu Qingping) (砌步 [余清平])
It'd been a bit cold the last couple of days, and at that moment, Old Qian's mood had followed the weather down to the freezing point. It seems he’d won the River City Municipal Chinese Chess Championship, but when he saw other people filling their coffers by going south to earn money, he’d quit his ho-hum job in his work unit and headed south, too. He dallied around on the streets of River City, though, so broke that all he had in his pockets were his fingers and a Chinese chess set.
Old Qian got angry when he noticed the chess set and, with a flick of his hand, he threw it onto the green belt on the side of the road. It wasn’t long before someone chased after him and handed the chess set back with a friendly reminder, “You can be fined for littering, sir.”
That lit a fire in the pit of Old Qian’s stomach. When he saw that the guy had a broad smile on his face, though, he had to take the chess set back and put it in his trousers pocket, although not without resentment.” Thank you,” he said insincerely.
It was an exquisitely made, ox-horned portable chess set, but the packaging was unrefined to the point of crudity. The pieces were jammed haphazardly into a white plastic bag, looking not much different from how its owner felt just then. Old Qian seemed disgusted, but the other fellow looked very happy – he was indeed a kindly person.
When Old Qian noticed the flame burning in the fellow's eyes, he knew the guy was a keen chess player. That was exactly what he needed and his mood livened up. A meal ticket for lunch had just fallen into his hands. Just as Old Qian was trying to decide how to go about winning himself eight or ten yuan for a box lunch, the fellow made the first move. Like a fish striking the hook, he asked, “Will you favor me with a few games? I’ll buy you lunch.”
Old Qian was as happy as if he’d been about to take a nap and someone had offered him a pillow.
The man introduced himself as Gold Inlay Qian, and when Old Qian also introduced himself, Gold Inlay said happily, “We must’ve had a common ancestor five hundred years ago.”
“Just so,” Old Qian said with a smile. “Fate has brought us together.” The two began to call each other “brother”.
“It seems my brother is looking for a job,” Gold Inlay said. “I can handle that for you.”
“How did you know that?”
“I could tell at a glance.”
“I thank my brother for his concern,” Old Qian said gratefully.
It seems that two months previously, Old Qian had gotten into it with his boss over the chessboard. That was when, in a fit of anger, he’d quit his job. He still hadn’t been able to find a suitable position, so he’d thought of setting up a chess table on the street to take on challengers and make money to cover his daily living expenses. Setting up a table just anywhere on the street wasn’t allowed, though, so he had no way to get this business going and his life kept heading downhill.
The two men went into a nearby guesthouse, ordered some food and had some drinks while they chatted about chess. They discussed former grandmasters like Glorious China Hu, Great China Liu and Silver River Xu, as well as “post-1990” greats like the new champion Tong Tree Zheng. They spoke of them with such familiarly it was like they were discussing their families most treasured possessions. It was like the old poem, "Drinking with compadres, and reciting poetry to the gathering." They drank and talked, and talked and drank, until their conversation gave off an air of alcohol. Old Qian recalled his boss's overbearing, arrogant attitude, and said, indignantly, “My good brother, I’m going to tell you something that isn’t nice to hear. The people in River City can’t hold their liquor, and their chess etiquette is even worse. Like Old Manager, my former boss, a rotten chess player who never admits it when he’s been beaten.”
Old Qian didn’t have a shut-off valve on his mouth when he was drinking and would say anything that popped into his mind.
Gold Inlay had also had too much to drink. He wasn’t speaking nimbly and had forgot to bring his mouth-filter along. Old Qian’s words upset him a little and he said, “Like the old saying, ‘Think about Buddha’s face when you’re facing a monk.’ I’m from River City myself. What you said is just sweeping up a whole city-full of people with one swipe of your rake, isn’t it?”
And then he continued unhappily, “Brother, your chess skills may be superb, but who’s seen you play? You wouldn’t be blowing smoke, would you?”
“Whoever says I’m blowing smoke is blowing smoke. I’ve won several municipal championships.”
“My brother blows smoke really well, so well that it sounds real. If you’ve won chess championships, they were for sure municipal championships. I’ve won the national championship. I defeated Venerable Lui and Silver River Xu.”
On the strength of a few drinks these two guys, who had just been calling each other brother, were now spouting off like water gushing through a breech in a dyke. And so Old Qian got excited. He took that exquisite chess set out of his pants pocket and set it up "pat-pat-pat” on the table for a showdown. Who was going to back down? Not Gold Inlay.
As the saying goes, weapons of war can become gifts of peace, and metal axes and horses’ armor can be beaten into plowshares. The two men had become intoxicated with the mutual slaughter when Gold Inlay laughed proudly and said, “Ha ha, my horse will kill your general in his corner. You, my brother — have — lost!”
“Lame horses can't jump.” Old Qian took a look and resigned.
Gold Inlay sneered and said condescendingly, “Your thinking is in a bit of a rut, brother. You know, the way things are these days, lots of times a horse can jump even with a lame foot!”
Old Qian was taken aback. Suddenly he remembered how his former boss had beaten him with a move of his fucking horse. That was also a time when a lame horse had jumped. And now, the two of them playing and talking, exactly the same thing had happened.
“You just snookered me with that clever move, didn’t you, brother?”
“You forgot, brother,” Gold Inlay said with a laugh. “Desperate times require desperate measures.”
“Desperate times require desperate measures…?” Old Qian stared blankly.
“I’ll come clean with you, brother. The boss at your former company is my cousin. Here’s your company ID badge and your letter of resignation. My cousin hung on to them all this time. Our chance meeting here today, actually, it was my cousin who wanted me to come and ask you to return.”
Gold Inlay smiled as he reached behind his back and brought out a black satchel. He unzipped it, took a badge and a piece of paper from inside and handed them to Old Qian. “My cousin also said that the Quality Inspection Department is the most important department in the company. He’s been looking for the right person to put in charge. You’re diligent, don’t beat around the bush and don’t cave under pressure, so he’s decided to transfer you there to manage the department....
And that’s how Old Qian became Manager Qian.
[The last sentence is from the online version and is not in the book – Fannyi]
Text at p. 144; Translated from 新浪博客 at
3. Lanterns on the Fifteenth (正月十五挂灯笼)
Autumn Red [Song Rui] (秋子红 [宋睿])
The sky had just turned dusky when Full Baby and her dad left the village.
In his hands, Dad held a wooden tray filled with incense sticks which had been removed from their joss-money wrappers, as well as three small white loaves of granny bread that Mom had steamed; Full Baby was carrying a fire-red, egg-shaped lantern that symbolized prosperity. Dad had bought the lantern in town and brought it home a few days before. Inside it was a lumpy round radish head that Mom had just blackened and peeled that day. She’d also hollowed out a hole in the radish head, filled it with oil, and then stuck in a matchstick wrapped in white cotton to serve as a wick.
The lantern was glowing bright red. Dad had lit the wick before they left home, and now it really looked like a round, red fire-egg. Full Baby carried it in front of her on a thin bamboo stick.
A yellowish moon was creeping up from the ridge behind the village’s East End.
The snow on the grain fields had melted long before, leaving patches of mesmerizing darkness, but the dirt path beside the fields was so white it seemed to glow. The wind was blowing very cold, making their noses and ears burn painfully.
Full Baby walked behind her father along the dirt path in the village’s South End. As she walked, she asked him, "Where is my grandpa's grave? "
"It’s at the top of South Butte."
Full Baby tilted her head. "It’s not in the East End cemetery?"
The village cemetery was in East End, one grave after another, one dirt bump after another. Cypress, mulberry and toon trees grew at each gravesite.
Dad stopped and, after a moment’s pause, said, "Your grandpa was a landlord. "
Full Baby’s heart jumped with a "thud" so loud she could hear it, and her face turned red right away. She knew landlords were not good people. In a movie shown in a wheat field in the village, she’d seen that landlords not only lorded it over the poor, they even defiled poor families’ virgin daughters in the flower of their youth. Full Baby wasn’t sure – had Grandpa been like that?
She walked for some distance with her eyes to the ground before finally asking, "Grandpa must’ve been a good person, huh?"
"Poosh!" Dad laughed ——
"Was your grandpa a good man? He watched where he walked so as not to kill any ants. His heart was softer than a woman. He said professional beggars get theirs from laziness, but the wealthy earn theirs. He got up before dawn to collect manure for fertilizer from around the village and around the fields: dog shit left overnight, hard as rocks; and cow and horse patties from their first crap of the morning, still steaming hot and sweet smelling. And he was all giggles while he picked up the piles of dog shit and the soggy cow dung. He fed his long-term hired hands pancakes and poached eggs while he himself nibbled on dried out bread like a mouse, tch-tch-tch. He said, ‘Eat your fill and eat well, men, and do a good job cleaning up the crops in the field for me!’ In less than five years, he became the biggest moneybags on this butte.
"Later we were liberated. The land your grandpa had earned by the sweat of his brow got confiscated, and they led his ox and horse away. He said, ‘Land is a billboard for jealousy, money is a rope around your neck, and a big house is a demon that the King of Hell will use to squeeze the life out of you.’ Then he sobbed.
"Later on, when they assigned everyone a social status, they called your grandpa a landlord. Someone pushed him up onto a dirt pile that served as a stage for a Brigade meeting. Several people wearing red armbands shouted at him, ‘Old landlord! Come clean with us and explain, how did you abuse and oppress the exploited and suffering working people!’ Your grandpa held his head up and said nothing, his back straight as if he was carrying a thick steel plate in it. The people wearing red armbands kicked him a number of times from behind, until he staggered and went down to his knees on the dirt stage.
"It was dark when your grandpa got home. He said, ‘A man deserves respect. I kneel to Heaven and to my parents, but how could I kneel down before so many people?!’ Your grandma whimpered boo-hoo-hoo like a baby. Come dawn, your grandpa took the belt off his trousers and hung himself by the neck from a beam until he was dead.
"After he died, the Brigade wouldn’t let him be buried in East End Cemetery. He was buried on the top of South Butte without even a proper grave...."
The fire-red, egg-shaped lantern in Full Baby’s hand swayed in the wind. She couldn't see Dad's eyes, but she knew they must be filled with tears.
They finally arrived at the top of South Butte.
Dad pointed to a patch of grain and said, "That’s where your grandpa is, Full Baby."
She looked into the blackness where he was pointing and saw a plot of buckwheat. There was nothing else on the flattened earth around it.
She walked toward it, following Dad.
Dad walked along, then stopped and traced out a cross on the ground. He took the lantern from Full Baby’s hands and stuck it in the cross. "Kneel down to burn the joss paper for your grandpa, Full Baby."
They both knelt down. Dad took the incense sticks from the wooden trey, lit them and stuck them in the ground. Then he lit the joss money. When bright red flames flared up from the paper money, he took the granny bread from the trey, tore off a few pieces and threw them into the fire.
Flakes of ash from the paper he’d just lit swirled around and rose into the air.
"Kowtow to your grandpa, Full Baby."
They both kowtowed three times.
Dad stood up, brushed the dirt from his knees and said, "Let’s go home."
She turned around.
Right away, as soon as she turned around, Full Baby saw several lanterns lighting up the fields below the butte. They were glowing bright red, only one or two in some places but ten or more crowded densely together in others, bustling with as much excitement as a marketplace or temple fair. The moon, round and bright, had already risen in the eastern sky. Few stars were out, just a couple here and there, and you wouldn't see them at all if you didn't try to count them carefully. It looked like most of the stars had all fallen from the sky that evening and become a smattering of red lanterns in the fields.
Full Baby stood on the top of the butte looking toward the village. The whole village had turned into a black inkblot in the darkness of the night. She could barely hear the popping sounds of firecrackers floating from the village.
She and Dad started down from the butte.
As they walked along, Full Baby abruptly asked, "Where’s grandpa now?"
Dad said, "He’s in Heaven – in Heaven picking up manure. He’s in Heaven following the crowds to watch a show at a temple fair. He’s in Heaven cutting the wheat and hoeing the corn, and having a better life up there than he ever did down here."
Dad stopped walking and said:
"Your grandpa is in a drop of blood in your body and in a piece of your bones. A drop of the blood in your body is your grandpa's, and a piece of the bones in your body is his, too. We hung out a lantern for him in the darkness tonight so he can find his way home to see Full Baby."
The daylight was long gone when they got home. The moon had risen to the middle of the sky and shone brightly on their courtyard. No trace remained of the sounds of firecrackers in the village. All was lonely and quiet.
Dad said, "Hurry off to bed, Full Baby."
"Hurry off to bed, Full baby,” Mom echoed. “You have to get up and go to school tomorrow morning."
But Full Baby couldn't fall asleep no matter what.
She didn't tell Dad or Mom, but in fact she was waiting for something tonight – she had to wait and see if Grandpa would walk home from the top of South Butte carrying that fire-red, egg-shaped lantern.
*[The Lantern Festival falls on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. See here – Fannyi]
Text at p. 146; Translated from 秋子红的文字 at
4. A Runaway Pig (一头落荒而逃的猪)
Yuan Shangqiu (原上秋)
A gust of the north wind on the twenty-eighth ushered in the start of the Spring Festival. Standing in the wind, Old Zhang could taste the New Year’s festivities. It was time to slaughter the pig.
It was part of the plan. He walked out the door with a knife in his hand and headed straight for the south Big Slope pigsty. He and the pig saw each other at the same time. The animal was more excited than Old Zhang had imagined. It put its two front paws up on the fence and stretched its head way out, with a look on its face that was clearly a smile. He’d been raising it for more than a year, and it had never before displayed such an expression. On a normal day, it would get enthusiastic only about steaming hot food.
An old saying flashed in his mind: “A final display of lucidity prior to death”. He’d seen such a spectacle with his own eyes when his grandfather died. The man hadn't taken a drop of water for weeks, but suddenly sat up and ate and drank a feast; then, when he’d finished the banquet, he moved along on his way. Old Zhang felt that imagining a pig in the same context as his ancestor was an inappropriate train of thought. He looked around. As always, Every Goat Village looked washed out and not yet awake in the morning mist. Not even a shadow of a person was around. He coughed twice, as if to drive away the awkward feeling in his heart.
This was not good. The inevitable was bothering Old Zhang.
Really not good. People don’t cry when they’re the most sorrowful; they smile. Did this pig know it was coming to its end? If it did, its smile was evidently an expression of wrath and disillusionment with the mortal world. Could a pig have such thoughts? “He was so good to me most days. Was it all just so he could put me under the knife?” Yes, it could have those thoughts. Its head wasn’t like some people said, just a tasty dish to be enjoyed with drinks. The clearest sign of intelligence is – being smart enough to appear stupid. A pig’s carefree, unconcerned attitude could really get to a person. Perhaps pigs, alone among all the creatures on the earth, had developed intelligence to this extreme; in stark contrast to humans, who just like to play at being clever.
Old Zhang paced back and forth babbling nonsense about the pig, but once the sun was up, he decided to hesitate no longer. He’d never killed a pig before; his hands were accustomed only to the hoe and the sickle. No matter, he'd seen pigs slaughtered.
“Sorry, old fellow.”
The moment Old Zhang put the point of the blade to the pig’s throat, he realized he’d made a mistake. It wasn’t just killing a pig; it was clearly a fight to the death, so he modified his tactics. He put the knife aside and fetched a rope.
Old Zhang had the arm strength to subdue the pig easily. The pig seemed to have long known that this day would come, but now that the day was actually here, it seemed to think it was too early and was rather reluctant. It more or less knew about the fate of some of its ancestors, and that their resistance had only been futile, so it just kicked its legs a few times as a formality and then gave up.
That’s when Old Zhang picked up the knife he’d lain on the ground.
The pig's actions on the chopping board were entirely uncharacteristic. It didn't whine or fuss, and still less did it engage in a deathbed struggle for freedom. Its calm demeanor was more like someone dozing on a mattress while waiting to spend time with a lover. In Old Zhang's ears, he could just barely hear the pig singing softly, a voice as gentle as a breeze and as cold as the season. Old Zhang was a strong man, but the sound made him shiver for the first time that winter.
Every Goat Village was being rejuvenated in the warm sunshine, and people began to move about as the sound of firecrackers faded away. Many of them gathered around the site where Old Zhang was slaughtering the pig. They liked to watch bloody scenes during the holidays.
Old Zhang stuck his gleaming sharp knife into the pig's throat, and the bubbling liquid gushed and sprayed forth. Just at that moment, a muffled sound of thunder came from overhead. The bright, mildly humid weather disappeared all at once, and dark clouds covered the sun. Thunder in the winter is a rare event. Many people looked up and were surprised to see huge snowflakes falling like scattered flower petals from the sky. They covered everything in no time at all.
That was the pig’s opening. It had been stabbed, but it seemed to have received divine assistance and broke free of the rope in an instant. It turned over and swooped off the chopping block like a sparrow hawk, kicked up its legs and shot out the gate. It flew off towards the wild, spreading a trail of red all the way.
By the time the people realized what had happened, the flying pig had already run out of their sight. They chased after it, following the red trail. The shouts of a group of children to their rear enticed other villagers to join in the chase. The chaotic people turned the snowy white fields into a disordered mess.
The villagers who stayed out of the crowd asked each other about it. Had Old Zhang grabbed onto that injured, runaway pig firmly, or hadn’t he? Surprisingly, no one had exact information about what had happened.
Because of that pig, Every Goat Village had already had a full of taste of the New Year’s festivities.
Text on p. 152; Translated from 原创首发 at
http://www.zbfengruikeji.com/d-21557539.html, under the name 老张杀猪
5. The Whites of Her Eyes (眼白)
Wei Ruhui (韦如辉)
The reason the young hunks scrutinized Little Rubia Fu rather inappropriately was that they liked her. Except for a few of them who liked her for her beauty, most liked her because of the whites of her eyes.
What was the best analogy for the whites of Little Rubia’s eyes? The young hunks all made comparisons, but among their metaphors and analogies, they felt that Glider Wang said it best in Chinese class: “pure and translucent, azure as the sky after rain.” No wonder the little punk was able to win first prize in the city-wide composition contest. His analogy was vivid and his description accurate.
Little Rubia liked to gaze at the heavens, and seemingly more so when the sky cleared after a rain. She’d stare intently at the sky, and for a moment the sky would return her gaze without interruption. Her eyes would blend into the heavens as they stared at each other, and the heavens would blend into her eyes.
That must have been how the whites of her eyes were refined.
How many of the young hunks' dreams did the whites of Little Rubia’s eyes get into? Probably only the shadow knows. Anyway, I had countless dreams about them, so many that later, when I married Dreamy Liu, it had something to do with the whites of Little Rubia’s eyes. The whites of Dreamy’s eyes were relatively pure at the outset, even if they were nowhere near Little Rubia’s, and that’s why I chose her from all the other fish in the sea. But under the ruthless grind of daily life, the whites of her eyes gradually came to show most often when she rolled her eyes at me. That was something I hadn’t thought of.
As I remember it, it was during a break between classes. Little Rubia was standing alone in a grove of poplars, looking at the sky through the sparse, gently swaying leaves. The sky was quite blue, and a soft southeast wind was pulling a few white clouds slowly across the sky. I took in the scene as I happened to pass by and my heart began to beat so hard, it seemed like a bunch of unruly children were jumping on a trampoline in my chest.
Suddenly Little Rubia asked, “What does that look like?” At that moment I was looking at the whites of her eyes and my heart was beating faster than ever. When she said “that”, what did she mean? In a panic, I adjusted my line of sight to follow her gaze and a saw a sparrow flitting across my field of vision. “A sparrow,” I said hurriedly. She turned her head to look at me, showing only a little surprise, then turned and walked away.
I couldn't see the whites of her eyes at that moment. She’d hid them behind the rims of her eyes and had also lowered her head, so that her eyes were covered by her beautiful dark hair.
After all these years, I often struggle with that scene. What does it seem like she was saying? What was it like? Like what? Was it the blue sky? The white clouds? The leaves on the trees? Or something else? Obviously not the sparrow. The sparrow was just a traveler moving rapidly before her eyes, just as panicky as I was. It’s also possible she was just talking to herself, and my suddenly saying “a sparrow” startled and very much disappointed her.
It’s quite probable that this latter possibility is correct. I kept dreaming of the whites of her eyes, over and over, but she never again gave me a chance to meet with her alone.
Time flies, and in the blink of an eye, twenty years had passed. I’d walked away from the campus and out of the mountains, and had left the black soil that had given birth to me behind.
I’d been married to Dreamy for ten years, and every year I’d tried almost every trick in the book to get her to go back to my hometown to take a look around. She just rolled her eyes at me every time. Of course, the fact that she’s a born-and-bred Shanghai girl, together with the stories told by her parents (who were sent “down to the countryside” as educated youth during the Cultural Revolution), were enough for her to understand the distressed conditions in my hometown.
Then, when I’d almost reached the end of my bag of tricks with Dreamy, I was finally able to return to the place that had so long tugged on my heartstrings.
A few of us old classmates got together. We drank ourselves silly and shot the breeze about all kinds of silly things.
Our conversation followed the bouncing ball, and it eventually bounced on Little Rubia Fu.
Glider Wang was sporting a plus-sized beer belly and extra-long “longevity eyebrows”. He stared at me with bloodshot eyes. “You punk, even now you still have ideas about her?”
I quickly waved my hand and blurted out, “Where’d that come from? Having ideas doesn’t mean doing anything about it. I’m old now, old.”
Glider lit a cigarette and sighed three times while the smoke rose around his large, shiny noggin.
Little Rubia had married the son of a bank president after graduation and gone to work in the bank.
How many young hunks had been filled with jealousy and envy! But envious or not, they always felt it was appropriate. Being Little Rubia, she had to take that step sooner or later. Who’d say she was anyone other than herself? She had to end up there.
“Did you know the bank president's son?” Glider was still talking and was about to beguile us with the ending.
I looked at Glider and shook my head, like a loyal dog looking at someone dangling a slab of white meat oozing grease.
“It wasn’t just you who didn’t know him. None of us did at first. What kind of nobody was he?
“The guy dropped out of grade school without graduating. Most of the time he’s like a regular person, but when his illness strikes, he rolls his eyes and flops around on the ground like a pig in mud.
“If you think about it, Little Rubia's work is for show. Her marriage is a real pain.”
Out of curiosity, I asked Glider, “Hasn’t she considered divorce?” Thinking of my own intolerance, I figured Little Rubia would naturally be intolerant as well.
He waved his hand and answered, “Come off it.
“The guy’s sick, but his father’s still alive. That old bastard is really a turd, but his body’s strong as a steel slab.”
My first day back in Greater Shanghai, I made it a point to go to the bank on some errand.
I deliberately asked, “Is Little Rubia Fu in?”
The person I asked was a young girl. She rather improperly rolled her eyes at me, then rolled them toward a small white building in front. I was surprised to see that, at the same time the young girl was rolling her eyes, almost all of the busy tellers also rolled their eyes at me, then rolled them toward the small white building.
My blood ran cold.
The small white building in front of me was reflected snowy white on the whites of my eyes. After a quick glance, I quickened my pace and hurried toward the high-speed rail station.
Text at p. 154; Translated from 亳州晚报 at
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