1. Lending Money (借钱)
Liu Guofang (刘国芳)
The woman borrowed ten thousand yuan from him. She was a friend – not a close friend, but not distant, either. When they were in contact, they probably saw each other every two or three days. When they weren’t in contact, they might go six months without seeing each other.
One day the woman called him on the phone. "Zhang Three,” she asked, “can you lend me ten thousand yuan?”
He didn’t generally lend out money, but he didn’t tell her that. He just asked, "What do you want it for?"
"I’m waiting for some money and have an emergency."
He didn’t make a sound.
The woman of course knew that he didn’t want to loan her the money. "I’ll definitely pay you back,” she said. “I have fifty thousand yuan in a passbook account that’ll mature in a few days. It’s not worth it to withdraw it right now, so I want to borrow ten thousand from you for the time being. I’ll get it back to you within ten days."
"If you want,” she offered, “I’ll let you hold on to the passbook."
He could hardly refuse when she said that. Still, he said, "I don't usually loan money."
"I know, I know. If it wasn’t urgent, I wouldn't ask. You can rest assured I’ll pay you back in a few days."
There was nothing he could say.
The woman came over before long and he took her to his bank to withdraw the money. When he handed it to her, she repeated that it was just for a few days. She'd said that he could hold her bankbook as collateral, but after she took the money, she didn't say a word about it. And he was too embarrassed to ask. It was only ten thousand yuan, and if he made the woman give him collateral, he’d look small-minded.
After a few days, the woman hadn’t brought him the money. After a few more days, she still hadn’t paid him back, and after a few more days she still hadn’t returned his money. And not only hadn’t she paid him, she hadn’t phoned him, either. One day he’d had enough, so he called her. Before he’d said a word, the woman told him, “I know why you're calling. Just a few more days.”
"That’s what you said last time. It’s been more than a month."
"Just give me a few more days. Please."
He didn't know what to say.
A few days passed in a flash and the woman still hadn’t brought him the money. Another flash and a couple of months had passed, and she still hadn’t paid. Once more he couldn’t hold off any longer and called her on the phone. Once again she spoke first. “I’m afraid I haven’t had the means to pay you your money recently.”
The woman said: "I had the money in my bankbook, but my husband tricked me and took it. He lost it all gambling."
"What about the money you borrowed from me?"
"I’ll pay you back. I’ll find a way."
Even though she’d said she’d find a way, several more months passed in the bat of an eye. She didn’t even show her face, let alone bring him the money. He had to call her again. “It’s been seven or eight months since you borrowed that money,” he said. “Bottom line, when are you going to pay me back?"
"I want to, but who likes to be dogged to pay a debt all the time."
"I haven’t been dogging you."
"Isn't that what you’re doing now?"
He didn't want to dwell on the issue. He asked, "When do you plan to pay me back?"
"You want money I don’t have. You’ll have to take my life."
"I just want the money. I don’t want your life."
"In that case, let me put it this way. You want money I don’t have, so you’ll have to take me."
"What would I want you for?"
"If you don't want me, there’s a lot of men who do but can’t get me."
"What do you mean?"
"What do you think I mean?"
She hung up as soon as she’d said that.
In fact, he’d understood clearly. If he wanted money she didn’t have, he could take her. Isn’t it obvious that she’d get good with him, and use her body to pay off her debt? But he warned himself that he mustn’t get good with this woman. All right, that ten thousand yuan was gone, even if he got good with her.
Several months later, the woman still hadn’t called him back, and hadn’t paid him his money, either. He had to call her again. "It’s been more than a year since you borrowed that money," he said.
"I'll tell you the same thing. If you want money I don’t have...."
"Then I can have you, right?"
"So, shall we get together?"
They got together right away, and he saw no need to be subtle with the woman. He said bluntly: “You borrowed ten thousand yuan from me. You can't expect to write the whole thing off just because we get good together one time.”
"You’re saying, several times."
"How about ten times. That’s a thousand yuan a time."
"Okay, whatever. I owe you money so I have no choice but to be trampled on."
"If you don't want to be trampled on, pay me my money."
"Don't talk nonsense."
"I only have time on Sundays,” he said. “We’ll meet every Sunday."
"That’s OK. I’ll call you on Sundays."
Without saying anything more, he took the woman in his arms.
The next week passed quickly. It was Sunday again and he was waiting for the woman's call, but it was late at night and he still hadn’t heard from her. He had to call her. When the call went through, he heard her say, "Why are you calling me so late?"
“Today’s Sunday and we were supposed to get together."
"What’d’ya mean, ‘get together’?"
"We agreed to meet once a week."
"You wish. I borrow ten thousand yuan and you ask me to be with you ten times, a thousand yuan a time. Do you think I’m a prostitute?"
He was surprised to hear her say that, so surprised he didn’t know how to respond.
“Click!” She hung up the phone.
He held on to the phone for a long time. Finally, he wrote her a text message: "You are a whore, and a bitch."
But then he thought it over, and didn’t send the message.
They never had any further contact.
2016 China Annual Flash Fiction – Selections from Authornet, page 3, 2016中国年度微型小说 – 作家网选片;
Translated from 小说导航 http://www.waok.net/0/458/31236.html, turn off VPN to read
2. On Stage, Off Stage (台上台下)
Liu Lang (刘浪)
It was a citywide speech contest. The theme was civility and integrity, because the city was participating in the nationwide Build Civil* Cities movement. The relevant departments of the municipal government were holding this extravaganza to advertise and promote the “civil cities start with me” concept.
The final round of the speech contest was taking place this day. My professional sensitivity as a media reporter made me pay attention to her. In her thirties, she looked dignified and beautiful in her long dress, with a dainty elegance. Her speaking style was impressive. She’d scored the most points in her group in the lower rounds and was a favorite for the championship.
Sure enough, and not beyond my expectations, it was evident that she had many thoughts regarding this city’s civility and integrity. These thoughts came together to form an incisive and brilliant speech. Her topic was "Beware of These Common Bad Behaviors." She said that civility and integrity must start with me, from the smallest things in life, bit by bit. The theory behind her speech was geared to practical situations, and it was strongly well-ordered and logical. It was coupled with witty language, examples from life and an outstanding physical performance. In short, she was named the champion of this contest to a warm round of applause.
The deputy mayor who attended the event came on stage to personally present her with a certificate of merit and a monetary award. Several members of the media rushed forward to interview her. She was photogenic and completely at ease, and she spoke with assurance during the interview.
After the interview, I looked in my camera and discovered that her charm and spirit didn't come through in the shots I'd taken, so I decided to take another shot for use in our draft dispatch. Most of the people had already left when I got back to the hall. Only a few workers were cleaning the place up. Where had our champion gone? After asking the security guard at the entrance, I chased outside after her.
Outside the hall, I noticed the champion's beautiful figure in a corner of the parking lot. At that moment, she was getting into the driver's seat of a small car and holding the envelope with the award she'd just received. I saw her gently tear the envelope open and count the thick stack of banknotes. She smiled, placed the banknotes in her small, chic purse and threw the envelope out the window.
A tattered envelope, wafting over the neat lawn and over the flowers in full bloom, made a few spins in the wind, seeming to trace a big question mark, and fell on the clean limestone paving....
*[The CCP/Chinese government translates the term 文明 as “civilized”. They didn’t consult with Fannyi.]
Translated from 浪不起来 Surf's Not Up, story 36.
No longer available online.
3. Old Yu and Mr. Zhang (老于和张老师)
An Shiliu (安石榴)
Old Yu is a bicycle repairman.
He’s a little guy, skinny, and a thrifty type. His eyebrows are so thin that they’ve basically given way to his eye ridges. His facial features are tiny to the point they’re obscured by his dark complexion and scarcely distinguishable. His neighbors don't even try to remember what he looks like. His oil-striped work clothes are how they recognize him.
He’s quite easy-going. Pumping air in a tire costs fifty fen, but he doesn’t take money from the neighbors.
Old Yu lives on the third floor. A widower named Zhang, a retired senior physics teacher, lives downstairs. You could say he’s a good old boy of a teacher with a lot of energy, different from other people. Mr. Zhang doesn’t like to talk, but he likes to go for long outings on his bicycle.
Old Yu has a daughter, a handsome woman who works as a minor nurse in a private hospital. She found herself a cook for a boyfriend. When they got married, Mr. Zhang chipped in for a wedding gift but didn’t attend the ceremony.
Mr. Zhang contributed to the gift, but didn’t go to the reception. He didn’t leave his apartment. He stayed at home.
It’s traditional to give candies and cigarettes to guests at a wedding reception, so that evening, Old Yu wrapped some up and came knocking on Mr. Zhang's door. Inside, Zhang’s TV was on, with sound, but he wasn’t looking or listening to it. He was lying on the couch reading a book about riding. He knew it was Old Yu knocking at the door, but he didn’t plan on opening it for him.
Old Yu knew that Mr. Zhang was home. He may have used that fact to convince himself to keep on knocking. He knocked lightly, though, so it sounded polite, but haltingly hesitant as well. It didn’t bother Mr. Zhang at all.
The two of them knew each other well, but there was something missing between them. As for exactly what was lacking, Old Yu didn't think about it, and might not have been able to figure it out, anyway. If he were to guess, he’d lean towards the material side of things. That’s naturally a reliably standard way to proceed, but it might not be correct in all cases. And if the same question were put to Mr. Zhang? He’d have a completely alternative response: Don’t answer the door.
The knocking lasted a long time, but it finally went away. Then, a very short time later, just enough time for a man to hotbox a cigarette, the sound came again, this time from the balcony.
Mr. Zhang rose from the sofa and walked toward the balcony. To get there, he had to go through a small guest room that had been made into a study, and then through the kitchen. Bookcases that reached to the ceiling lined all the walls of the guest room. The room was gloomy, but the books seemed to dimly reflect the contrast between light and dark in some indescribable way, magically extending the spaces above and below them and condensing at the top to give one the impression of a cathedral dome. The kitchen, on the other hand, was brightly lit.
Mr. Zhang passed through the study, passed through the kitchen, and, when he stood out on the balcony, his eyes lit up. A wrought iron guardrail was installed on his second-story balcony, and there was pinkish skirting mixed with perlite under the steel window casing. Old Yu was leaning over the window like Spider-Man, with both hands grabbing the guardrail and his feet on the skirting. Right then, as Mr. Zhang turned his head toward him, his eyes were still shining and shining beautifully.
It was a slightly breezy day in May and the steel-encased window was opened inwards. Underneath the open window was a bamboo lounge chair. A leather-bound book and a silver lighter lay on the chair.
Old Yu loosened his right hand from the guardrail and pulled a small red bag from the breast pocket of his short-sleeved plaid shirt. He handed it to Mr. Zhang and asked,
"Why didn't you go, Mr. Zhang?"
Mr. Zhang said, "Yeah, I didn't go."
Mr. Zhang opened the bag and took out the cigarettes. He tore open the pack, and shook out two cigarettes, one for Old Yu and one for himself. He picked the lighter up from the chair and, bending slightly, carefully reached out toward Old Yu's mouth. He lit Old Yu's cigarette first, then his own.
They were face to face as they each took a deep drag on their cigarettes. They both tilted their heads slightly to blow out the smoke. The two clouds of smoke initially rolled quite clearly in opposite directions, but they slowly spread out and finally merged.
That's how they got started talking. Unexpectedly, they talked quite a bit.
http://www.sbkk88.com/xiaoxiaoshuo/2016/1111/452216.html, story 3
4. Bird Shit (鸟屎)
Jiang Yuxuan (姜煜暄)
Amazingly, when Director Huang came out of his house, a load of bird shit fell directly on his forehead. It fell impartially, never wavering to the left or right. The Director couldn't help but frown at the odious smell. "Nasty buggers," he whispered as he wiped it off with a paper towel.
He'd been constantly restless and flustered recently. He couldn't shake the feeling that something was going to happen. He often woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, nervous and jumpy from some nightmare.
The bird shit left shadowy images of ghosts in his mind. When he got to the office, his foot suddenly slipped and he ended up sprawled on his back on the floor. He took a glance and saw a puddle of water in the doorway where he hadn't expected it. Thanks to his quick hands, he'd been able to grasp the wall. Otherwise he might've broken a leg or an arm.
Water had flowed into the room along the edge of the door. Director Huang felt that was weird. Who'd been so careless as to splash water on the door? He held on to his glasses with one hand and bent down for a closer look. He noted that the water had a yellowish tint. He sniffed it and it smelled rancid. He decided it smelled of soggy tea leaves but changed his mind right away. If it was tea, some leaves and stems would be left in it.
Director Huang was a careful person who liked to think through the whys of things. This time, though, he concentrated for a long while but couldn't figure out the alpha and omega of what had happened. Rather depressed, he fell into his executive chair. He was in no mood to review the pile of documents his secretary had brought in.
The bird shit incident pressed down like a dark cloud on his head. He was having a hard time breathing. It's a bad omen when bird shit falls on you, and an even worse omen when it falls on your forehead. Director Huang was tied up in knots. He couldn't think of eating or drinking anything and his eyebrows were screwed into a lump. He was dispirited, downcast and distracted.
There was a puddle of water in the doorway again on another day. The strange thing was, this had been going on for several days, like someone was following a script. It made Director Huang’s head spin and his heart curse. "Someone must've eaten a leopard's gall bladder to get the courage to play practical jokes on me," he thought.
Leaning back in his chair with his eyes closed, he went through the people in the building in his mind one by one, like he was watching a movie. Who? He was so tired his brain was puffed up like steamed bread, swelled up, but he didn't have a clue. In the past, he would never have let this disgusting animal get to him, never would've worried nonstop about such a minor matter. Things were different now, though. Everyone knew the situation was tense and there were investigators everywhere. If you did something wrong and offended someone, they'd expose you on the internet and you'd have to take the consequences. That'd be all for you.
That was it! Someone must've uploaded something on the internet! Director Huang went out to the front gate and handed the gate guard, Old Liu, a cigarette. He pretended like he was just chatting. "Did anyone go in the building last night after work?"
Old Liu exhaled a puff of smoke. "Who wouldn't want to go home and take care of the old lady," he said without thinking. "Just me, this lonely old man, hangs around to take care of the gate." Director Huang was confused but stifled it. Sensitive to the finest detail, he tried to guess the old man's meaning from his body language.
Director Huang hadn't figured out the bird shit thing yet, and the puddles were still keeping him up at night from distraction. He picked up the attendance record and went through the names one by one, pondering over them until his whole body ached and he was on the point of dropping from exhaustion. He felt pain when he urinated and streaks of blood were mixed in his urine.
He went to a private clinic and the doctor prescribed some Chinese medicines. He said it was a minor illness and there was no major obstruction. The Director should take the medicine for seven days and by then he would be see results. But he would have to use the urine of a boy under twelve as an additive to enhance the efficacy of the medicine.
Director Huang furled his eyebrows so tightly that deep lines appeared on his forehead. The money was a trifle, but where was he going to get a boy's urine? You can't just go up to a kid on the street and say "Take a leak for me, little friend." He racked his brains but couldn't come up with a magic trick for getting some.
One day at quitting time, Director Huang didn't feel like going home, so he stayed in his office listlessly paging through a pictorial magazine. All of a sudden he heard a childish voice outside the door, "Ma, I want to pee!"
Director Huang quivered with excitement. He stood up at once and opened his door. The boy's trousers were down around his butt and he was spraying towards the door. The Director was delighted. He'd been looking all over, and now what he wanted was right here at his door. Young Li, his documents secretary, smiled at him in embarrassment and patted her little boy's head. "Sorry, Director, my son doesn't know any better!"
Director Huang was beaming from ear to ear. He pinched the boy's chubby little face and said, "What a cute little fatty. Come, piss here!" He smoothly took a glass from the coffee table and stuck it under the boy's crotch. The boy happily filled the glass in short order.
When he finished, he scurried back a few steps, opened his little mouth and cried, "I'm scared, Ma. How come he looks like Skeletor?" Ms. Li panicked and said nothing. She fled hurriedly, dragging the little boy behind her.
Director Huang felt like a million bucks. The puzzle he'd worried over for so long had finally been solved. It turned out that Young Li's son had been doing him a favor! He was his old self again. First thing after work, he put a glass by the doorway. The next day, like clockwork, he had a full cup.
After drinking a soup of the boy's urine mixed with the medicine, Director Huang felt much better. He didn't hurt and didn't have blood in his urine. His spirit was lifted a hundredfold. However, like before, there was still a puddle of yellow water at his door every morning. He didn't get it. "Is some guy really setting himself against me, deliberately playing games?" These puddles of water weighed on his heart like rocks. They became a disease of the heart that he couldn't get rid of.
One day the city wanted some materials from him. It was urgent, and Director Huang was late leaving the office. Suddenly there was a whooshing sound of water from outside the door. He thought it was Young Li’s boy, but after listening a moment, he felt something was wrong. He opened the door and the scene took him by surprise. For a split second he just stared blankly.
A large black dog, half as tall as a man, had a hind leg forked in the air and was pissing into the glass, "whoosh, whoosh". The sallow yellow urine foamed into the room. The dog was a weird one, too. It saw Director Huang but surprisingly acted like no one was there. It continued to do its thing without haste.
Fire burned from the bottom of Director Huang's feet to the top of his head. "You mean it wasn't the boy's urine I've been drinking these last several days? It was this dog's piss?" The mere thought of it overwhelmed his stomach. He felt nauseous and vomited. The filth in his stomach gushed out like an oil well blowout.
Director Huang was shocked. "Who's calling my nickname?" He ran straightaway downstairs. Old Liu, the gate guard, was standing in the middle of the courtyard, clueless. He was calling his dog. "Here, doggie, doggie!"
Director Huang was so angry his face turned deathly white. His nose was bent out of shape and his urethra started to hurt. His leg shot out as he tried to kick the dog, but amazingly, a load of bird shit fell directly on his forehead, impartially, never wavering to the left or right. He was hysterical and was just opening his mouth to cuss the man out when a blinding light flashed in his eyes.
The next thing he remembered, two policemen carrying handcuffs were walking toward him.
小说月刊，2017年第二期, story 9
Available from 91读网 at www.91du.net/filedownload/139527
5. A Minor Bank Clerk (小职员)
An Shiliu (安石榴)
A bank clerk who’d spent his days counting other people’s money at a window lived on the seventh floor. He’d lived his life quietly there for more than twenty years. Then his wife's mother passed away and left them a private residence in a subsidized housing unit. First they sold the old lady's house, and then their own place. They added the combined proceeds to their savings from the last twenty years and bought a home with a river view in a “refined community”.
He was fully confident and at ease about moving, like a character actor who completely transforms his personality from his previous role. He unleashed a new self that he’d been keeping locked away in his heart. Thus, when his old neighbors saw him for the last time, he wasn't on the ground. He was sitting astride a branch in an old willow tree that had been growing in their courtyard for more than two decades, and holding a shiny hacksaw in his hands.
A bank clerk sitting astride a branch in a decades-old willow tree, holding a shiny hacksaw. It happened to be a very early spring in northeastern China, with a chill in the air, and the willow was still dormant. Its trunk and branches were black as the devil’s heart. The bank clerk was dressed entirely in black and, sitting astride the main branch, he looked like a surreal crow.
He wanted to trim the tree. He wanted to trim it like the big willows in the park by the river, to make its canopy as elegant as a huge umbrella over an emperor’s carriage. From then on this willow would be distinguishable from the other willows in the community, and more beautiful.
He was doing it because he had a secret in his heart. On the eve of his departure, he wanted to take his muted, humble, twenty-year existence in this old community, along with his former personality, and engrave it in the memories of his neighbors. And he’d make this memory be close to eternal, lasting as long as the tree existed, as long as its beauty existed. So he set to work.
“Wha’cha doin’?” Some of his former neighbors, being vigilant, stopped to ask.
“Pruning the tree,” the bank clerk replied. "Haven’t you guys noticed how weird it’s growing? A real mess. It looks like a tiger brandishing its claws. I'm going to trim it like the willow trees in Riverside Park!”
“Wow, that's great!” the neighbors said and walked away.
The surreal crow was sweating profusely from nervous excitement. When he was finished trimming the tree, he dropped clumsily to the ground and left the community where he’d lived for more than twenty years. He looked back over his shoulder one last time as he turned the corner around the wall to go out. He seemed to see a huge, elegant green canopy with four or five people under it enjoying the cool shade, or just coming and going. They’d always remember him and talk about him, just maybe not every time. And he could see that the tree and the people were full of life and vitality.
The real spring began, and then summer arrived and the bank clerk got his wish. He'd succeeded in staying in the memory of his neighbors, and quite strong in their memories. The only thing was, each time they passed by this dead tree, the neighbors cursed him. They never missed once.
http://www.sbkk88.com/xiaoxiaoshuo/2016/1111/452216.html, story 1
6. An Opportune Marriage (借婚)
Xiang Yuting (相裕亭)
Salt District went west about two miles, to where the ponds thinned out and the woods got thicker. Houses spread out densely between the ponds and the woods. Among them was a large courtyard home with a whitewashed wall and a black tile roof. The home owner, a Mr. Yan, was in the salt business.
The Yan family had two sons: The eldest, Broad Yan, enjoyed business and was good at buying and selling in the salt works; the second son, Literary Yan, had loved painting and calligraphy since childhood. He’d taken Hibiscus Qian, the daughter of Salt District’s Landlord Qian, as his wife.
When Hibiscus married into the Yan family, Grandpa Yan discovered that she was preoccupied with poetry and literature. She was cultured and refined, and intelligent as well, and was good material for managing the family finances. Intentionally or not, he taught her some of the ways of salt merchants.
Nobody could have expected the misfortunes that would befall her one year. Cholera swept through Salt District in the spring, breaking out first in Old Salt and then moving from east to west. Hibiscus’s husband, Literary Yan, and their six-year-old son went to their reward immediately thereafter. Hibiscus was left behind, her face stained with tears, alone with no one to rely on.
Broad Yan and his wife, seeing Hibiscus widowed at such a young age, burned incense at the temple. They expected that they would not be able to keep her with them. They wanted to marry her off to another family as soon as possible, to hog all the family assets for themselves.
Hibiscus, still in pain from the loss of her husband and son, had to face the cold eyes of her brother-in-law and his wife. She was incomparably miserable. She often wept silently during the long, lonely nights.
One afternoon Hibiscus came alone to see Old Lady Zhao, the matchmaker, at her home beside Salt River.
The matchmaker was overjoyed to see the Yan family’s young widow at her door. After she’d invited her to have a seat and had seen to the tea, she watched while Hibiscus took two silver coins from her long, flowing sleeve. She thought, “Eighty to ninety percent chance this little lady has someone in mind. She wants a matchmaker to speak for her, to paint a good picture.” She pulled Hibiscus’s slender, white hand to her and said: "My dear young sister, you should take this step while you’re still young."
But Old Lady Zhao was completely surprised by what Hibiscus had to say. The young woman did not want a remarriage for herself, but wanted the matchmaker to negotiate for a daughter-in-law!
“This little lady is talking crazy!” Matchmaker Zhao thought when she heard that. “Her husband’s dead and she has no son.” But the little lady was serious. She clarified that she did indeed want a daughter-in-law, and further, a young and pretty one. After an agreement was reached, they thanked each other profusely.
Matchmaker Zhao looked at the silver coins the little lady had put on the table and thought of the good days at the Yan family’s home, with its high gate and large courtyard. She told herself that the little lady was undoubtedly trying to find a companion for herself. Jokingly, she said, “If it’s OK with you, you can take our family’s Little Red with you as a foster daughter.” She thought if she had Little Red recognize Hibiscus as her foster mother, it would be easier to marry her off to an appropriate match in a high-class family later on.
Hibiscus smiled and said, "What I want is a daughter-in-law, not an unmarried maiden as a foster daughter."
Tugging on Hibiscus’s jade bracelet, Old Lady Zhao said, "A maiden or a daughter-in-law, it’s all the same logic, isn’t it? Either one can call you ‘Mom’.”
“There’s a big difference,” Hibiscus said, gently shaking her head. “The woman a foster daughter calls ‘mother’ is the mother from her own family. When a daughter-in-law says ‘mother’, it's her mother-in-law, you know!"
"OK! OK! Whatever you want."
“Good,” Hibiscus said. "Since you’ve agreed to give me Little Red for my daughter-in-law, we should put it in writing. In that case, I'll take it with me today. If you want me to come back tomorrow, it would just be a waste of my time, you know.”
Old Lady Zhao did what Hibiscus wanted to the letter, still thinking it was a lark. She asked the village elders and two teachers from the private school to write up the agreement. Then she checked the zodiac and selected a propitious day to have Little Red taken away in a presentable manner.
At the time, Little Red had just turned sixteen, just the right age for a love affair. She looked radiant even without makeup. In addition, Hibiscus trained her carefully. She measured her to have clothing tailored, and taught her to apply mascara and face powder. The girl soon blossomed into a young woman as fresh and delicate as a lotus flower. At night, Hibiscus had her memorize the "Daughter’s Classic" and the "Hundred Surnames Classic", and she held the girl by the hand as she taught her to read and write. Weather permitting, she also took her on walks around the salt works.
In the rear compound, Broad Yan and his family wondered where Hibiscus had found such a gorgeous woman to stay up late with her. Privately they whispered, “That Hibiscus is indecent!
But their little princeling, Happy Son Yan, passed by his aunt's gate in the front courtyard every day on his way to and from school or when he was taking their caged bird out for some fresh air. He always took a couple of glances inside. And he'd have to take a few extra passes by the gate as he came and went, especially when he saw Little Red chasing butterflies or catching dragonflies in the yard.
One day, it's uncertain exactly when, the young man and woman caught each other's eye. In the back courtyard, when Broad Yan and his wife noticed that Happy Son hadn't come home for lunch or for dinner, or sometimes when they wanted to go to bed at night, at such times they'd have to go to the front courtyard and call him.
Little Red was in a family way before long. For all intents and purposes, she'd become someone else's daughter-in-law.
When this came to light, Big Brother and Sister in the back courtyard had had it. They came looking in the front courtyard and raised holy hell. This proved, they claimed, that Hibiscus had had evil intentions and had deliberately brought this enchantress into their home to seduce Happy Son and lead him astray.
Hibiscus at first suffered in silence, but then, when Big Brother and Sister got really fierce, she scowled and brought Little Red and her big belly out to stand there. She still didn't raise her voice. She just explained that she'd brought Little Red home as her own daughter-in-law. The girl was officially married as shown in the matchmaker's contract, all fair and square. Her intent was that she and her daughter-in-law would have each other to rely on, but in the end, Little Red had been taken by their Happy Son by force!
Hibiscus threatened to take them to the high court in the prefectural capital to have the rights and wrongs ironed out.
When Broad Yan and his wife saw how angry Hibiscus was, and heard her threat to involve the courts, it raised an alarm in their hearts. Under Qing Dynasty law, when a man and a woman had an illicit affair, the one at fault would be punished. If the woman had been forced, the man would be imprisoned. Could anything be worse than that? Big Brother and Sister looked all over to find someone to mediate on their behalf.
Hibiscus at first refused to answer them – that is, she wanted to wait until they got to court to talk about who was right and who was wrong. Later the young lover kept coming to the door, and Hibiscus reluctantly gave in, but with two conditions: First she asked that, when Little Red's and Happy Son's child had matured to the point of eating solid food, Big Brother and Sister would allow Hibiscus to adopt Happy Son as her own son; and second, that the family property left by their ancestors be divided in two. Then, when Happy Son was adopted, he would bring Big Brother and Sister's half with him. The reason was that Big Brother's family would then have two children, and Happy Son was entitled to his parent's half of the family property.
Broad Yan and his wife knew full well that this was all a trap that Hibiscus had set for them. But everything Hibiscus said was reasonable, so all they could do was grin and bear it.
2016 China Annual Flash Fiction – Selections from Authornet, page 32
2016中国年度微型小说 – 作家网选片; Translated from 就爱故事网, at
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Merry-Go-Round Stories (Page 8)
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Chinese Stories in English