Chinese Stories in English
3. The Tenant's Love
4. Mind-Reading Glasses
5. Memories of a Bay
Raindrops (Page 01)
Stories printed in Li River Annual Chinese Mini-Stories 2018
《漓江年选•2018年中国年度微型小说》作家网 选编 冰峰 陈亚美 主编
Text at page noted after story; translated from the webpages cited below.
1. Dancing with Lances by the Lou River (娄江畔的矛子舞)
Ling Dingnian (凌鼎年)
It’s always darkest before the dawn on mother earth. Ancient Temples Town on the banks of the Lou River seemed to be dead asleep. No roosters crowed; no dogs barked.
The poisonous sun hadn’t relented for even one minute in over ten straight days. It was in barbecue mode, with daily highs above 40 degrees Celsius, tormenting the townspeople so much they felt their bodies were aflame. But late last night, a heavy rain had poured down for fully two hours. It swept the summer heat away, and even oldsters who’d had no sleep throughout the heat wave were able to get some rest. The old saying, "A thousand pieces of gold won’t buy you a good night’s sleep" is just too true.
The big bell on the old elm tree at the east end of town rang out abruptly and with extreme urgency — "Dong, dong, dong!" You could tell that the person ringing the bell was using all his strength. A major threat to the townspeople must be happening, some emergency fraught with danger.
Everyone who heard the bell, whether young or fully grown, man or woman, even old men and old ladies, got dressed as fast as they could. They picked up implements – iron tools if they had them or the bamboo poles they used for drying clothes if they didn’t – and flew out of their houses to rush to the riverbank.
A dog barked at a shadow and a hundred dogs joined in. The normally tranquil town was suddenly raucous. "It’s the Japs! The dwarf pirates* are coming! The dwarf pirates are coming!!" – It was Empathy Simpleton’s bellowing voice. He’d been orphaned at age four when dwarf pirates killed his parents, and had had to roam through Ancient Temples Town begging for a living. He’d never talked much since then, perhaps because of the pain of his parents’ tragic deaths, and didn't even know his own name. The townspeople had taken pity on him and kept him alive. His food and clothing all came from the charity of others, but he was quite strong and scared people with his courage. When hungry he even dared to eat rats, toads and banded red snakes. Somewhere along the line, the townspeople had started calling him the "Empathy Simpleton".
If Empathy ate his fill, his entire family was fed. And as for not having a so-called “home”, he could sleep in the local god’s temple one day and the Mountain Emperor’s Temple the next. He muddled through, and hard living was still living.
He’d started out the previous night sleeping on a branch of the old elm tree. When the wind came and it started raining in the middle of the night, he went into the Fierce General’s Shrine to wait it out. The wind and rain grew so strong that the temple flooded and the floor got wet. Fortunately he was sleeping on the sacrificial altar so that wasn’t a problem, but then the roof started leaking and water dripped on his face. He woke up with a full bladder and jumped off the altar to relieve himself under the old elm tree.
The first glimmer of dawn was lightening the sky by then, but visibility was still quite poor. Although this Empathy Simpleton had never learned to read and couldn’t recognize any characters, his eyesight and hearing were both beyond the ordinary person’s. He seemed to hear unusual sounds coming from the river, so after he urinated, he climbed up to the top of the old elm tree like a monkey. With his sharp eyes, he noticed that two large boats had pulled up on the bank of the Lou River. Then he saw the flag – wasn't it the same exact flag flown by the dwarf pirate boat that killed his parents last time? Yes, the dwarf pirates had come!
Empathy shook himself wide awake. For a moment the thought of his enemy dwarf pirates coming to town had him gnashing his teeth, and his eyes burst into flames. He jumped out of the tree, pulled up the rope of the big bronze bell that hung there and struck it desperately.
The dwarf pirates’ leader and captain of the boat, Ichiro Morishita, was originally a fisherman from Hokkaido. The government wanted him for brawling and negligent homicide, so he couldn’t go back to Japan. He therefore gathered a dozen or so Japanese desperadoes, plus some recruits from Zhejiang and some buffoons from the coast of Fujian, and formed the Sun Society. They’d been plundering the coastal areas of Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Shandong and Fujian Provinces for years, but due to its relative wealth, the Lou River area had become the focus of Morishita's desire to get rich.
Morishita's men knew they’d been discovered once they heard the bell. Some advocated giving up because the townspeople might be prepared. Morishita said coldly, “An old Chinese saying has it that thieves don’t come empty-handed. We’re pirates, so there’s even less reason to think we’re empty-handed. To the fore! Attack!”
The Japanese pirates who had dirks took them in hand; those with longswords brandished them; and those with cudgels grasped them. Shouting and yelling, they rushed toward Ancient Temples Town. Morishita, relying on his superior martial arts skills, led the rush with an executioner’s sword.
Empathy rushed back to the Fierce General’s Shrine and grabbed a stalk of bamboo nearly two meters long. It was a local product known as “iron bamboo” for its strength. The tip had been chopped off at an oblique angle with a knife and sharpened, ready-made to be used as a lance. Empathy had a simple mind and strong limbs, and now that he was about to meet his enemy, he was extremely hot for battle. He rushed to the lead of the townspeople and attacked the dwarf pirates. He flourished that iron-hard bamboo and met them swinging. He was powerful and each sweep of the bamboo covered a large area. The dwarf pirates were all around him, but the good old boy wasn’t even half scared. He feared nothing as he jumped left and stabbed right. His bamboo lance proved useful even against blades and cudgels, striking true wherever he aimed it.
Morishita was also a practiced athlete. He took his executioner’s sword and slashed at Empathy’s iron bamboo. Empathy didn’t back down even a little, but fiercely forged ahead to face his foe. Morishita hacked at the bamboo once more and hit it squarely in the middle, spitting it in two. He’d struck at an angle, so the remaining one-meter-long piece of bamboo, while short, was still pointed. Empathy roared and stuck the tip of the bamboo into Morishita’s gut. Then the extremely powerful Empathy actually picked Morishita up on the end of the bamboo. "Father, mother, your son’s gotten revenge for your deaths,” he yelled wildly as he lifted Morishita's body into the air. “You’ve been avenged!".
Unexpectedly, one of Morishita's subordinates desperately took a real lance and threw it at Empathy. Empathy was so extremely excited that he didn't realize the danger. The sharp lance stuck in the left side of his chest and his blood flowed. He didn't feel any pain, though, nor did he fall.
By then the townspeople had already fallen on the dwarf pirates and were shouting battle cries as they stabbed the enemy with iron picks, harpoons and sharpened bamboo lances. The dwarf pirates had real swords and spears, but the villagers’ two-meter-long bamboo lances allowed them to stay out of reach. The dwarf pirates couldn’t bring their weapons to bear; they could parry the townspeople’s jabs but couldn’t fight back. They were also dispirited, perhaps because their leader had been killed. Under the townspeople’s fierce counterattack, they gradually retreated in defeat and finally fled in embarrassment.
The townspeople carried the blood-soaked Empathy back to the Fierce General’s Shrine and laid him on the altar. They said emotionally, “Empathy is more amazing than the Fierce General who chased away the locusts. He’s the General of Ancient Temples Town who chased away the dwarfs!” They buried him on the east side of the old elm tree in a grave facing the river.
They had some difficulty with the wording of the tombstone. Should it be "Empathy Simpleton's Tomb"? No, that wouldn’t do – too disrespectful. A talented old fellow who held the official rank of Xiucai recommended "Iron Empathy's Tomb" to commemorate his defeat of the dwarf pirates with iron bamboo. The townspeople shouted “Good” in unison.
After that, every household in Ancient Temples Town would put out a few sharpened bamboos, just in case. They often practiced with them, and practiced indefatigably. A few years later, the constant practices evolved into a celebration, Dancing with Lances, that has been held for four to five hundred years.
Today, the Dancing with Lances festival, being characteristic of the locality, has been named an Intangible Cultural Heritage by the provincial government.
*[“Dwarf” as a pejorative term for Japanese people isn’t used as often today as it was formerly, perhaps because the Chinese realize there’s money to be made doing business with the Japanese.– Fannyi]
Text at p. 1; Translated from PressReader at:
2. I Used to Live Here (我以前住在这里)
Liu Guofang (刘国芳)
I was at home reading in my library one night when, all of a sudden, I heard crying outside the window. To be precise, it was a spasmodic sobbing. I opened the window and sure enough, it was a girl there sobbing. "Who are you?" I asked.
"I’m… Red Li,” she replied.
"What's the matter?"
"I used to live here, but now it's all changed."
"Yes,” I said, “it was a village before, but it was torn down."
She said, "It’s completely demolished, but I still remember that my house used to be here, and my windows opened to the north."
"Why are you crying?"
"It hurts that it’s all gone."
She wiped her eyes as she spoke, then continued, "This is your study, I guess, but it’s like my old room, just about the same size as the one I lived in. But this room of yours seems rather empty. It’s not like mine, where the walls were covered with pictures."
“Little girls’ rooms are of course done up more fancily,” I said.
"Not really. I like Chen Rui. I listen to her songs and sing them, too, so I stuck her portraits up all over my room."
She started singing softly*:
“I’m a self-sufficient girl looking out a window, melancholy.
“In this land of clay and dust I’m in, who understands my ennui?
“The affairs of this world I know will last but a trice,
“Yet it’s so awfully hard for me to make a choice.”
I thought she sang well, so I listened quietly and didn't make a sound.
She sang for a while and then stopped. “I miss the good old days,” she told me. “I had my little room fixed up nice and warm. I went there as soon as I got home from school and did homework. I listened to songs, and sang, too, but the happy time was too short. I didn't pass the high school entrance exam, so I went to the city and got a job when I graduated from junior high."
I said, "That’s how old I was when I went away to work."
"In fact, neither of us wanted to leave home, did we?" she replied.
“Nothing wrong with staying home,” I said, "but agricultural products just don’t sell for enough. A pound of grain only gets you one yuan. A strong laborer can plant ten acres, an acre yields 800 pounds, so ten acres is eight thousand yuan. Deducting costs leaves only four thousand yuan for our annual income, less than one month’s income of people in the city. How could we get by if we didn’t go to the city to be migrant workers."
“That’s why my mother had me go away and get a job when I graduated from junior high,” she answered. “I started working in a shoe factory and sent most of the money I earned back home. But then my father had an accident working as a migrant worker on a construction site – fell and broke his leg. My parents got some compensation, but that money basically went for the hospital, and my father couldn’t work for wages anymore. My brother was in high school at the time and my family kept asking me for money. I wasn’t making enough at the shoe factory to support them, so I found something else to do."
"It was hard for you,” I said, “a young girl who had to support her family."
She nodded. All of a sudden she said, "The light in your room’s too bright. Turn it down a little."
I turned and hobbled over to the door to turn off the light. She noticed my limp and asked, "What's wrong with your leg?"
"Had a little accident at a construction site. I fell and broke my leg."
“Working in the city isn’t easy," she said.
"In fact,” she continued, “I really didn't want to stay away from home. I preferred to linger in my cozy little room at home. That’s why I’d lock myself in my room for days on end whenever I came home, and never go anywhere."
With that said, she started to sing again:
“I’m a self-sufficient girl looking out a window, melancholy.
“In this land of clay and dust I’m in, who understands my ennui?”
"Except you’re not looking out a window by yourself right now."
"So all I can do is stand here."
"Want to come in and sit for a while?
"Naw, I’ve bothered you enough today. Thanks anyway!"
That said, she turned and left, disappearing into the dark night.
But she didn’t disappear from my heart. I remembered her. The next day I saw Old Li, who lived across the way from me. He’d also been moved from the old village when his home was torn down. He told me he liked it here, so he bought one of the new places they built after demolishing the old ones. Which is to say, he didn’t leave his old stomping grounds. I thought of Red Li as soon as I saw him, so I asked, "Was there a Red Li in your village before?"
"Yeah," he said.
"I saw her last night,” I told him. “She said she used to live here and had come back for a look."
His eyes grew wide when he heard that. "You saw Red Li? You’re confused."
"You’re basically telling me you saw a ghost! Red Li died before they razed the old houses. How could you have seen her?"
I was dumbfounded. "Red Li died?"
"Yep. After her father had an accident on a construction job, she started working as an escort in the city to make money to send her brother to school. Later, someone from our village was visiting a hooker and saw her. He spread the word about her all around when he got back home. So then the villagers would spit at her whenever they saw her. Her parents thought she’d lost face for them and disowned her. She had a boyfriend, too, who broke it off with her. She took it hard and killed herself by jumping in the river."
I was so shocked I couldn't speak for a quite some time.
I thought about her again a long time later. I understood at the time that she was a ghost, not a human, but surprisingly I wasn’t afraid at all. I even wished I could see her again, but she didn’t reappear.
I went back to my own hometown one day sometime after that. Truth is, my hometown, or that is, our village, was also being demolished, and I went back to deal up front with some matters about the demolition and the residents’ relocation. I noticed the place had definitely changed when I got there, but I still wanted to walk around and check things out in my hometown, which is to say, my old stomping grounds. Someone recognized me while I was walking around and asked, "Aren’t you Prosperous North Liu? What’re you doing here?"
"I came back to have a look,” I replied. “I didn't expect our village to be completely changed."
“Nothing’s like it was,” he agreed.
The guy kept looking at me while we talked. Then he asked, "I heard you had an accident and lost a leg while you were working in the city. How can you still walk?"
"I did fall and break a leg. They had to amputate. This here’s a prosthesis."
After I told him that, I turned and hobbled a couple of steps. When he saw how severe my limp was, the guy sighed and said: "You were such a picture of health, and now you’ve come to this. Working in the city really isn’t easy."
I didn't reply, just continued walking forward. After I’d walked a while more, back and forth around the place, a child noticed me and asked, "Why are you walking back and forth?"
"I used to live here," I told him.
*[This is the first stanza of Chen Rui’s 相思的债 “Burden of Lovesickness”. See here for an alternate translation – Fannyi]
Text at p. 4, Translated from 刘国芳的博客 at:
3. The Tenant's Love (房客的爱情)
Chen Dehong (陈德鸿)
The two of them took the same street to and from work every day.
He could see her almost every day. She rode a beautiful bicycle unhurriedly down the road, smiling and nodding or saying hello when she met someone she was familiar with. He, on the other hand, walked on the side of the road in clothes that were both dirty and old.
He knew she couldn’t see him, or basically wouldn’t see him. She was a primary school teacher while he was a farmer working a temp job in the city.
Her image always appeared floating before his eyes as he lay on the bed in his rented room. Her every frown and every smile reminded him of a female classmate whom he’d gotten along well with, who was now married to someone in a faraway place.
Thinking about her, his eyes would become moist and many strange ideas would come to mind: Someday she’d be waylaid by a crook who wanted to molest her, so he’d run up and free her and beat the crook until he ran away; Or she’d be hit by a car one day and he’d carry her to the hospital on his back; Or she’d get careless riding her bike and fall down accidentally, and he’d run over to help.... Thus he’d be able to make contact with her, and tell her things, and even get a closer look at her.
He never looked her square in the face. He’d wanted to give her an unscrupulous leer many times, but he kept his face low to the ground whenever he ran into her. On many occasions he tortured himself in his mind, imagining himself cursing her and then cursing himself for having such thoughts. He felt that he had no shame and dared not think about her anymore.
He still saw her often and observed her and watched her. Sometimes when he saw her coming from a distance, he’d stop and pretend to be looking for something. When she got close he’d raise his head and glance at her a couple of times. He’d want to look more, but by then she’d already be riding her bike off into the distance.
One day when he got off work, he was surprised to see her walking home. The idea of following her popped into his mind.
She walked along the street, then turned into an alley and entered a courtyard before walking much farther. The wooden gate closed tightly behind her.
He paced back and forth in front of the gate for a while. Just as he was about to leave, a "Rooms for Rent" sign posted by the gate caught his eye.
He looked it over carefully. His heartbeat started to quicken. He knocked on the gate with almost no further hesitation.
It was her father who opened the door. "May I ask who you’re looking for?"
"No, I'm not looking for anyone." Then he muttered, "Do you have a room for rent?"
"Yes, we do. Are you looking to rent?"
He uttered a "yeah" and nodded.
"Well, take a look at it, then." Her father led him into an empty room. It was very clean but had the damp, musty smell of long vacancy.
"How’s it look? OK?"
"Yes, yes, very good." He said, repeating his words.
After they negotiated the price, her father asked, "How many of you will live here?"
"Just me, no one else," he said.
Her father was obviously somewhat surprised: "Just you, in such a big room?"
He laughed. "I’ll move in tomorrow. OK?"
His old landlord didn't know why he wanted to move out. "The three-month’s rent you paid in advance can't be refunded,” he said rather coldly.
"You don't need to return it. As soon as I leave, rent the room to whoever you like."
"Okay, okay." The landlord smiled. "Come back and see us if you get a chance!"
The next day, he carried his set of luggage on a pole across his shoulders and moved to the rental room in her family’s house. He bought his pots, pans and utensils over in subsequent trips.
He was quite poor but made every effort to save money. He lived simply, coming straight home from work and staying in his room. He had no TV or radio, but sometimes he leafed through tattered old books as it got dark outside. He rarely went out, but he did go into the family’s quarters every day to fetch water. Whenever she was at home, he’d let the water run very slowly.
Once when he was going for water he saw her coming home. Just as he put his bucket down and turned on the tap, he suddenly remembered he had noodles on the stove – they must be boiling over, he thought, so he hurried back to clean up. Before he finished cleaning up, he heard her shout, "Your bucket’s full!" He turned to look and saw that she was standing in front of his room holding the bucket, smiling at him. The setting sun stretched her shadow very, very long.
He took the bucket in embarrassment, his face turning red.
Those crisp and melodious words, "Your bucket’s full!" seemed to be the first sentence she’d ever said to him. It made him happy for many days, but what he continually regretted was, why had he forgotten to say "thank you" at the time?
Later, if he knew she was home when he went to get water, he’d put the bucket down, turn on the tap and leave. And she’d always shout, "Your bucket’s full!". Sometimes he’d deliberately dally in his room until she called out, "Your bucket’s full!" a second time.
The days flowed like a stream, slowly moving forward.
She fell in love and got engaged. After they’d settled on a date for the ceremony, she told her fiancé she wanted a gold necklace and things became awkward between them for a few days. In the end, the guy didn't buy it for her.
She received a mysterious gift before the wedding. A little girl handed it to her and said, "A young man asked me to bring it to you." She opened the exquisite box and found a silver necklace inside. To her surprise, her name was engraved on a small, heart-shaped pendant near the clasp.
She thought of all the people she knew and couldn’t figure out who’d sent it. Although silver was much cheaper than gold, this gift was more precious to her than a gold necklace.
She couldn't believe that the necklace’s style was exactly what she’d wanted. Could there really be someone who knew her better than she knew herself? She didn't wear it, but often opened the box to look at it and think about it. Because of the mystery, she felt a joy and happiness that was difficult to put into words.
He moved out the day after she got married.
She divorced and returned home many years later. She was unable to bear children, and even though she dated many men, none were suitable and she ended up remaining single. After her parents died, she lived alone in that big house.
He came to her house to rent a room again. He was much older but still had nothing to his name.
Many more years passed. One day when he and she were both old, he told her the above story. When he finished speaking, he sighed and said, "At the time I really wanted to buy you a gold necklace!"
As she listened quietly, two tears streamed slowly down from the corners of her eyes.
Text on p. 8, Translated from 壹读 at:
4. Mind-Reading Glasses (读心镜)
Xiong Huirong (熊荟蓉)
One snowy evening, a dark-skinned gypsy woman wearing gold wire rimmed glasses knocked on my door. "I'm cold and hungry. Can I have a cup of coffee with you and stay the night?"
I glanced at the dense lines on her flabby neck. "Sorry! I don't any have coffee beans in my house and there’s no extra bed!"
She curled her lips. "You've just finished grinding some coffee beans, and there’s a wooden bed in the woodhouse. You're just worried your wife’ll get the wrong idea. You needn’t worry. She’s working overtime tonight and won’t be home."
What, was she clairvoyant? I was surprised when a ding-dong announced a text message from Alice. “Honey, I’m working overtime tonight....”
I shrugged. "Even if my wife’s working overtime, I can't have you spending the night here...."
Her smile looked rather sly: "If I were a pretty girl in my twenties, you wouldn’t hesitate to let me stay."
Hey, did she know everything I thought? Could she read minds?
"I can’t read minds!" She took off her glasses and wave them in front of me. "I have this magical treasure!"
I invited her inside right away.
She bent down and tightened the bottoms of her flowery plus fours. My heart tightened up as well. I’d heard that Gypsies tie the bottoms of their trouser legs so as to hold stolen wallets.
"I haven’t got a penny to my name, but I don't steal other people’s money!"
I’d just had that thought and she knew it immediately. Were those glasses really so magical?
I brewed a cup of coffee and handed it to her: "Since you’re so poor, you might as well sell your precious treasure to me! How about a thousand English pounds?"
She drank half the cup and both her cheeks flushed. She took off the glasses and her eyes filled with a sadness that was hard to fathom. "This is a pair of magic glasses. I gave up everything I had for them. If I wasn’t at the end of my rope, I wouldn’t sell them even if you gave me a mountain of gold....
“Two thousand!" She stuck two fingers up.
That was exactly how much I had on hand. I hesitated.
"If you don't want to buy them, so be it! I don't really want to sell!" She got up abruptly and yawned. "I'm going to bed!"
"Wait a sec! I'll buy them!" I was afraid the treasure would fly away in the blink of an eye.
"I can sell them to you, but you have to swear you won’t put them on until tomorrow." Her tone of voice was resolute.
I handed her the money with one hand as I took the glasses with the other. Then she headed off to the woodhouse.
I examined the glasses under a lamp. The style was no different than ordinary sunglasses, except they were flexible as silk threads and light as air. Over-lapping heart-shaped patterns were engraved on the golden wire arms. A key passed through all the hearts like a ribbon.
I really wanted to put the glasses on and to see the gypsy woman, but I dared not break my oath. I made it through to dawn with some difficulty, by which time there was no trace of her in the woodhouse. The bedding folded in the corner of the room was still where it had been, as if no one had slept there at all.
I put on the glasses, and after a slight dizzy spell had passed, I saw my wife returning home. Her face was pale and her voice was weak. "I'm so tired, I really want to get some more sleep!" But at the same time I heard her inner voice saying, "I really didn't want to come back to this wreck of a house!"
I grabbed her by the collar. "You slut! Come on, who were you fooling around with last night?"
No guilt showed on her face. "You’ve got some nerve! I was at my job working overtime!"
"Ha! You can't fool me anymore!" I pushed her to the floor, turned my back on her and went out the door.
It didn’t take much effort to find her general manager, a guy with a temperament rather like a poet. His eyes showed he hadn’t yet recognized me when I heard his inner voice. "Alice is so beautiful. I love her madly, and she loves me, too...."
I slapped him several times, one hand after the other, and swaggered off.
I went to the boarding school to find my daughter. "I'm going to divorce your mother, Ruth. You’ll live with me, okay?"
"I don't want you two to divorce!" she cried, but I heard her inner voice. "I can't do without my mommy!"
I laughed grimly. Then I went home and twisted Alice’s arm to go through the divorce procedures. I let her have our real property and our daughter as well.
I hurried down to my own job, where I heard a lot of inner voices rejoicing in my misfortune. "Going AWOL? Think you’ll still be able to win the attendance award? Your hopes for a promotion will also go up in smoke, won’t they?"
Fortunately the magic glasses helped me read the writing on the wall! I knocked over my desk, dropped off my resignation letter and left.
I started wandering around. Everyone I saw was a bad guy. I couldn't see the beauty of the flowers, and I couldn’t feel the warmth of the sun.
Snowflakes have started falling again. I’m curled up in a hole under a bridge, breathing my last. I seem to see the Gypsy woman’s weirdly smiling face in the inky clouds that cover the sky. If anyone offered me a quilt right now, I’d be willing to trade for it.
No, these glasses shouldn't survive in the world at all! I squeeze them desperately, and rub them, but they’re flexible as a silk thread and as light as air. I spray the last mouthful of my blood on the key engraved on the golden wire arms, and hear a sizzle as the glasses instantly melt into a teardrop....
Text at p. 12; Translated from 大嘴狗 at:
5. Memories of a Bay Horse (关于一匹枣红马的记忆)
Yu Bo (于博)
The husked sorghum in the bowl had been ground too much and had some chaff mixed in it. Virtue gave it a good hard look. His breathing was a little course, too, and his palms were a little hot. He rubbed his coat’s lapel vigorously, swallowed and took a look around. It was dark everywhere, except the kerosene lantern in the manger still glowed a little. All was quiet – no barking dogs – only the clicking sound of horses having a late-night snack of grass. Virtue finally gritted his teeth and dumped the bowl of sorghum into his coat pocket....
The sorghum was a late-night snack for the bay. She was pregnant but was getting thinner, so the production team leader had asked her keepers to add a bowl of sorghum to her feed every night as a health supplement. Virtue was the keeper for his team, so the job naturally fell on him.
His wife was pregnant, too, and suffered from a touch of edema because she mostly had only boiled potatoes to eat, and not enough of those. She’d been vomiting recently. Virtue was afraid she’d throw up the baby if she wasn’t careful, so he’d been bringing the bay’s late-night snack home for several days, to let his wife have some fragrant sorghum gruel.
In fact he’d expropriated several bowls of the horse’s sorghum. He didn’t know if that was why, but his wife’s edema had gradually disappeared and she’d stopped vomiting since she’d been eating the sorghum porridge at night, so he was quite happy. He did feel a bit sick at heart when he looked at the bay, though.
The bay was about to give birth, and Virtue's wife's belly was being painfully squeezed as well. A group of people had gathered in the production team’s compound and another group surrounded Virtue’s house. His wife’s entire face was sweaty and she cursed Virtue’s lack of virtue, making the midwife purse her lips.
His wife tossed and turned for a while but the child was born smoothly. It wailed with an exceptionally loud voice.
The bay didn’t have that much pain when she dropped the foal. The birth took a long time, though, and the bay died unexpectedly. The team leader cried out in distress and said it was because of a lack of nutrients. He bemoaned the fact that they hadn’t given her enough sorghum.
Virtue had run to the production team office and was trying to catch his breath when he happened to hear the team leader say that. His heart jumped and his face turned the color of the bay’s hair. He bowed his head and looked at the bay’s dead body, and his palms began to sweat. He didn't understand why such a big horse didn’t have the piss ‘n’ vinegar that his wife did. While he was thinking it over, his heart jumped again....
The team leader said fate was determining the lives of two horses, not just one. The mare was dead, and would the foal be able to stay alive? Strange to say, from that day on, all the families in the team worked shifts to feed the little pony rice soup. Miraculously, it did survive.
The team leader sighed and ordered someone to skin the bay. It took almost half a day to strip the horse’s body and cut it into a number of pieces equal to the number of households in the team. The meat was then distributed to the various families.
Virtue lurched home with more than a pound of the meat. His wife was happy and said it was a shame about the bay, but at any rate they’d have a meal of horse meat dumplings. She took a knife and went to chop up the meat. Virtue, who was leaning on the door frame, hooted and snatched the meat from the cutting board and ran out the door.
Startled, his wife chased after him, but Virtue flew like the wind and left the village behind. He buried the meat in a small grave under an old elm tree by East Mountain Cove. A raven perched on a branch in the tree watched him closely but didn’t move. Perhaps it could smell the meat.
His wife had caught up with him at some point and stood behind him, wiping the tears from her eyes. She didn't understand why her husband was doing this. His eyes were a little red and he turned around and said fiercely, “You want to eat the meat? You already have. You ate a horse, the bay horse!”
She looked at him, a little scared. In two years of marriage, she hadn't seen the mild-mannered Virtue act so intimidating. She opened her mouth twice to ask where such language was coming from but held her peace.
Virtue sat next to the horse’s grave for a long time before walking home after the sun went down. The smell of horse meat had spread throughout the village. His wife sniffed the air and her eyes were a little moist….
The foal grew up to be a bay.
And Virtue became well-known in the production team as an expert cart-driver.
One year he led the team’s three horse-carts into the mountains to do their regular job, namely, transport wood from Little Prosperous Mountain back to the village. All wood used by anyone in the village, team member or not, was obtained in this way at that time. As it turned out, the bay got frightened for some reason on the way down the mountain and broke into a wild run. Virtue took charge and, following his directions, Assistant Driver Second Liu jumped out of the cart in a hurry. Virtue pulled the bay’s reins desperately while Second Liu shouted at him to let go right away or he’d be rolled under the cart or smashed into a tree and surely end up flatter than a pancake. Virtue didn’t listen to his scratchy screams. He pulled the bay to one side with all his might and said that if he let go, it was the bay that would be flatter than a pancake.
As a result, Virtue was indeed squeezed up against a coarse pine tree and did end up flatter than a pancake. When the cart got caught on the tree, the bay lifted its head and whinnied loudly. It raised its front hooves into the air and then came back down. Its fur was soaked with sweat and it breathed heavily a new times. Like a child who’s done something wrong, it lowered its head and stood there motionless.
A new grave appeared next to the old bay’s grave. Virtue’s wife knelt by it and burned joss paper. Her eyes were open wide and tears swirled around the rims but never fell. People were surprised, not because she wasn’t shedding tears, but because there was a bowl of freshly ground sorghum at the grave….
Virtue's son grew up. He went to elementary school and junior high, and then went to senior high in the county seat. Eventually he was admitted to the Provincial Normal University, where he studied painting.
He painted a picture during his senior year. The teacher was astonished and said it was quite well done. He recommended that the boy enter it in the provincial art competition and said he’d win a prize for sure. When time came to send the work in, however, the teacher couldn’t find the boy.
By that time, Virtue's son had already taken a train back to Second Left Village, where he’d been born and raised.
Under the elm tree, beside Virtue's grave and the bay’s grave next to it, Virtue’s son banged his head on the ground three times, the traditional kowtow to one’s ancestors. Then he slowly stood up and unwrapped a painting. It was a bay horse galloping. The horse’s head was held high, its mane was flying and its four hoofs were sailing through the air.
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