​​         Chinese Stories in English   

Sandalwood Incense Holder
Nan Xiang

[Translator’s note: The author is one of those benighted souls, common among the ranks of Chinese authors, who writes with one hand on the keyboard and the other on a thesaurus. To phrase it bluntly but with all due candor, a Hemmingway he most assuredly is not. We have as per usual appended hereto a hyperlink to the original Chinese text, which you can follow in the event you should feel inclined to attempt a wade-through of his turgidly ponderous prose. You will unquestionably be impressed with his erudition, but most likely by little else. Fannyi was able to endure to the bitter end only by dint of a slight tinge of masochism in his constitution.]
      It was already late. One by one, lights were cloaking the bustling city. Lychee Luo left Three Strokes weaving like an old drunkard. She imagined her gait must look terrible and her face must be as white as a sheet of paper. She walked through a rather narrow promenade lined with alternating thin-leaved banyan and cotton trees and arrived at the auxiliary road for the Seaside Expressway.
      It required some effort for her to even raise her hand for a taxi. She got into an electric blue one. The driver asked where she was going three times, and practically had to turn around and read her lips before he could understand what the dispirited woman was saying. Slumped in the back seat in the manner it’s trendy to call the "Beijing slouch", she either ignored or maybe didn’t even hear the driver tell her to fasten her seat belt.
      As soon as she closed her eyes, her mind was filled with the pictures she’d seen on the TV in Three Strokes. Such pictures would agitate and inspire curiosity in perhaps any adult man or woman. But her, unique and selected observer of the human condition that she was, she’d felt only one thing: disgust!
      Three Strokes was in a location that people in that city would talk about with knowing smiles. The building was one among a cluster of multi-storied structures widely recognized as gorgeous, but which had done an about-face and were declining gradually day by day. The area was not without personality, however. It was known to almost everyone because it was a place where legal cases were handled. The group of people who’d worked there for eons dressed frugally and wore serious expressions, looking like anyone else walking along the street. However, the judgment and inquisitiveness behind their obscurity, when publicized in the news, often stirred up ripple upon ripple throughout the city, like a stone thrown into water.
      Lychee had unexpectedly become part of one of those ripples. To be precise, her husband Woody Xiao was about to become part of a small circle in a ripple which would make people gather round in curiosity. In all fairness, the company he was in was smaller than small. It was so small that Lychee had been embarrassed for him when people had started calling him “Little Xiao”, even though “Little” is a common term of address for a young man.
      Two years previously they’d heard that that a firefighting equipment company affiliated with the Transportation Bureau wanted to merge their similar projects. Best case scenario, Woody, as an accountant, could have become financial supervisor of the larger company. But the deal dragged on and on until, when it was at the point of becoming unstoppable, Woody just had to run into a problem.
      Lychee was quite cool-headed in comparison to the tumultuous clamor of heated discussions in the civil arena, where every executive type has to have a bite of the apple. Taking her companion Woody as an example, they were not necessarily on the same page in anything. She didn’t believe that an accountant who was self-disciplined to the point of rigidity could let the good be sullied by the bad or stick his toe into the cesspool. She’d complained to her co-workers early on and told them, not without an air of haughtiness, that he never allowed even a single family member to ride in his company car. This was back two or three years before the regulations prohibiting the private use of public vehicles were issued.
      They’d continuously maintained a residence in Splendor Village for over a decade – low-cost, low-profit housing allocated by the government. In a city that glorifies daily or monthly change, a decade is suggestive of leveling the trenches and filling in the ravines to make a permanent home. The original residents, all civil servants and staff, had moved on to this or that Waterside Pavilion or Resort Town, while Manager Xiao and his family still squatted in this "Village" which didn’t necessarily have any "Splendor". Fortunately she had no sense that she was missing out. This was related to her position as a common-sense wife.
      Of course, as a language and literature teacher at Wealth and Strength School at the entrance to the “Village”, and with the real life résumé of a forty year old, Lychee had seen both poverty and prosperity. When facing people flushed with their own success, she naturally didn’t need to speak of Woody, and those hobbled by their own failures gave her a feeling of schadenfreude. Things were good as long as Woody and their thirteen-year-old daughter were healthy and happy. An enormous banner at a construction site on the school campus said, in red characters on a white background, “Work safely and go home happily”. It was a wish given to her every day by a picture of a construction worker wearing a yellow safety helmet, so why wouldn’t it be a portrayal of her daily mood?
      The afternoon Woody was "sent on a business trip", she was in her office correcting the midterm virtual exam papers for the third (3rd) section of the third-year junior high class. He called her twice, one call right after the other. She didn’t usually like to answer the phone at work, and was especially unwilling to talk on and on at the mere mention of family matters, like some of her colleagues did. Even if she spoke in a whisper, it was still disturbing to people watching or listening to things in a quiet room surrounded by nothing else but the sound of pages being turned.
      She answered only after the phone rang for the second call, just ten seconds after the first, which showed urgency at the other end of the line. He told her there was something that needed doing and he’d be gone on a business trip for a few days, so he wouldn’t be able to go home that evening. He asked her to have their daughter, Honey, when she got home, not stay up late doing homework. Her myopia was worsening fast and she needed to get to sleep before 10:30. Lychee figured it was nothing out of the ordinary and, being at the office, didn't take time to ask for details. When there was a brief silence on the other end of the line, she hung up quietly.
      She gradually became restless after the phone call. The restlessness saturated her slowly but with a powerful osmosis, like a droplet of water on a sheet of rough paper. The overall reason was the too frequent news that various officials, some known to her and some not, had run into problems recently, but also because it was not her husband’s normal behavior to delay telling her about a business trip until the day of departure. When an ebony paperweight belonging to Professor Zeng, who sat cater-corner from her, fell to the floor, she heard the clang as if it were the loud slamming of an iron door.
      She obviously couldn't sit still anymore. The test papers in front of her eyes, with which she couldn’t have been any more familiar, seemed at that moment to have mutinied and turned into strange runes. It was inexplicable. She lowered her head, then lowered it again, very much hoping to hear her mobile phone vibrate again and see the screen light up again. It would be analogous to a reminder from him, or maybe something forgotten ... something that would blossom into the comforting and lustrous warmth that a family needs.
      But no, there was only a silence like death before her.
      She picked up her cell phone quietly and, leaving her seat, walked straight out down the corridor to where it ended in a Tee. The snow-white, ice-cold walls of the two corridors coming in at right angles blocked off her field of view ruthlessly. She return-dialed Woody's number and got a recorded message: “The phone you have called is not turned on”. All of a sudden, she started to tremble.
      In the southern part of the country, the oblique rays of the setting sun in late autumn still have enough heat to be scorching. A tallow tree outside the window was refusing to turn its leaves red to let people know that the season had changed. She waited woodenly until quitting time. All the way home, all she could think was that he must not be on a business trip. If he were on a business trip, he’d have no need to turn off his cell phone unless he was on an airplane. It would take at least two hours to go straight from his company to the airport, exchange his ticket for a boarding pass and get on the plane. So why would he have turned his phone off right away? Thinking it through step by step, he’d obviously lied.
      Under what circumstances would a man with hearth and home need to tell such a lie? Perhaps he was on his way to a paramour’s, or perhaps it was.… The latter conjecture would leave one unable to breathe, so by comparison the former speculation would have one falling out of her chair from side-splitting laughter. To make a rather inappropriate analogy, the latter was a bit like hearing that a loved one had been involved in a car accident and survival was still in doubt, while the former was at most like having a loved one hospitalized due to bronchitis or flu.
      Or, for that matter, what if both the former and the latter were imposed on one woman? What would that be like?
      Right at that moment, Lychee felt just that sort of double whammy falling on her head. Wealth and Strength School had only a few Chinese teachers who liked to write, and Lychee was counted as one of them. Everyone says that people who love to write are rich in imaginative power, but how could a woman like Lychee be rich in imagination, even if fantastical, and still withstand the iron-hard harshness of reality.
      Woody was "sent on a business trip" for several days and his phone remained in turned-off status. Lychee’s mornings and evenings were turned upside down and she became so dispirited that she couldn’t even keep it hidden from Honey. Of course she only told her daughter that “Daddy’s on a business trip,” but the girl, who was normally sunny and cheerful, saw through her mother’s transparent deceit in the blink of an eye and became gloomy and uncommunicative. Father-daughter or mother-daughter relationships are quite close-knit in the normal course, and for better or worse, that means they must be reciprocal. There can no shred of secretiveness, and they hardly tolerate any bit of obfuscation.
      It defies common sense that a father would leave on a business trip for so many days while neither “seeking instructions” from his daughter beforehand nor “filing a report” with her after departing! What’s more, the one serving as mother didn’t explain or even mention things like “Where is he traveling?” and “When will he be back?” Besides which, the night the father left on his business trip, the mother’s green peppers with julienne potatoes, normally her signature dish, were salty enough to cause a person to die of thirst; and she served it with a bottle of brown vinegar instead of soy sauce!
      Even after a few days, Lychee hadn’t the courage to question his colleagues about it. Still less did she have the courage to ask the relevant department of the company where he worked.
      She was in a daze and was thoroughly exhausted from morning to night. Even the class leader at school asked her if she needed to see a doctor. During this time, if she received notice that some specific situation existed or some denouement had been settled upon, even if it was something of the utmost importance, and despite its imminent arrival, even the worst of news might seem like it was hanging in the air while her brain dashed crazily from one heart palpitation to another dozens or hundreds of times.
      In contrast, she’d become instantly unperturbed when she’d received a call that morning from an unknown number, asking her to go to Three Strokes room 304 at 9:30.
      The first thing she did was ask, “Do I need to tell my daughter whether I’ll be coming home today?”
      The other party's reply was very placid, even to the point of amicability. “That won’t be necessary. You will of course be going home today, although you will have to ask your employer for leave.”
      She became even more at ease. It was no problem asking the school for leave. The class leader had already encouraged her to see a doctor, so this time all she’d have to do was say she had a doctor’s appointment. As collaborated by her later experience, the only thing she hadn’t expected at first was that she wouldn’t be able to see him this time. This showed that she hadn’t sufficiently allowed for the vagaries of real life, making her mental preparations to no avail: how not to lose control of herself in front of the case worker the moment she saw him.
      She sat in room 304 being interrogated all morning. As explained in the New China Dictionary, “interrogation” is a “severe cross-examination”. Put that way, “interrogation” appears obviously harsh as applied to her, a law-biding, public-serving citizen and a hard-working “People’s teacher” of upright character. Accepting that term is unavoidably argumentative, but once your husband is suspected of committing a crime, you need to cooperate in any investigation right then. The Chinese vocabulary should create a new word between “interrogation” and “inquiry” to get closer to the situation she was now facing. What new word should be created?
      Many years previously, Three Strokes had not been utilized for external matters. It had a special designation, frequently referred to and tacitly understood by civil servants in this city, as a place dedicated to internal cases. Of course, the room Lychee was in was not furnished like a guest house. It had a rather rigid three-person sofa with a glass side-table opposite an extra-long desk. A black video camera was installed on one side of the door frame above the desk. Two interrogators sat upright behind the desk, one tending to fat and the other noticeably lean. She sat on the sofa and there was a TV set installed on the wall behind her. She momentarily wondered to herself whether the place had indeed been set up as a guest room in a hotel and the TV was a leftover.
      The questioning that morning was simple and rather relaxed. Once her name, occupation, residency and other elements of her household registration were out of the way, the questions quickly became more substantive: “Two years ago, Woody Xiao formed a liaison with a unit in this company during the bidding process for the production of equipment. At the time, he was also the person in charge. According to reports, Woody Xiao received hundreds of thousands in bribes because of that. Do you or do you not know of this matter?”
      Lychee had already had an idea why she’d been called to Three Strokes before she got there. She couldn’t help feeling nervous but wasn’t as apprehensive as she had been at first. She’d come to cooperate with the investigation. From beginning to end they used language like "request" and "necessity". Of course there’s a subtle distinction depending on whether those two words are used lightly or with force, but she’d certainly not been called to Three Strokes because of anything she herself had done, because in her own life she’d never had anything to do with this building. Today, the general reason for finally having a connection with this building that was such stranger to her, even though she’d heard about it on more than one occasion, had to have something to do with her husband.
      The term “husband” is more respectful than “hubby” but also more distant. Relationships between people in this world are roughly divided into three types – one is blood relationships, and another is relationships outside blood lines. Lying between these two are unions of two people not related by blood who join to produce a kind of blood relationship. Those people have a relationship that is something different, one that is both distinct and fuzzy, both tough and fragile. That relationship is called: husband and wife.
      She shook her head decisively in answer to the inquisitor’s question. She had no knowledge of the matter. Not only didn’t she know anything about it, she even thought it was impossible. Hundreds of thousands for a small family like theirs would not be a minor matter, and if it were true, she couldn't help but know; because of the intimate relationship they’d developed over nearly two decades of marriage, he’d have no need to hide anything from her. He’d allowed himself few comforts or pleasures over those many years, not even sullying himself with cash or savings accounts. They sent a thousand yuan a month to his parents in his hometown of Six Peace in Anhui province, to demonstrate his filial piety, but that was all something she did....
      She babbled on for twenty minutes, about half the time of a normal class session, speaking neither too urgently nor too unhurriedly. She gave an overall evaluation of Woody's conduct in his private and public lives, mostly bits and pieces of a life without desires or needs. That kind of presentation was exactly like unfurling a landscape scroll slowly, one with large splashes of ink and dripping with dense mists in which finely brushed outlines were necessarily visible. If Lychee thought that she’d made an argument that publicly confessed the real truth, and which would remove any misgivings the case-handlers might have and make them understand, she was sadly mistaken.
      The two people on the opposite side of the desk wore indifferent expressions while listening to a woman singing her husband's praises; one of them was quietly looking at his cell phone, which he held under his seat, while the other was looking around the room absent-mindedly. That scene, it didn’t prevent her from speaking but rather was the greatest encouragement. Lychee put her all into the unconstrained speech, just like a drowning person who happens to grab onto a piece of flotsam. If Woody had been standing beside her at the time and had heard such sincere praise like he’d never heard before from his wife, there’s little doubt his eyelashes would have held been moist with teardrops.
      When at last it was the interrogators turn to speak, they asked, “Are you so sure of him?”
      “Even if he doesn't spend money at home, when he goes other places, what if someone asked him whether he wanted some spending money…?”
      She was taken aback “Other places? What other places? Someone? Who? Can you be more specific?”
      She wasn’t playing dumb. She really didn’t know and hoped they’d give her some hints. The slightly fat one sniffed a bit; the noticeably thin one displayed an enigmatic smile.
      There followed some questions which seemed to be off point, questions about Woody’s daily hobbies and lifestyle habits, what grade their daughter was in and did she usually spend more time with papa or mama.... It all came down to family gossip and whether their youthful affection for one another had lasted, just incoherent and frivolous talk. When it was almost time for lunch, they phoned for someone to go get her some food. She said that wouldn’t be necessary, and if there was nothing else, she’d head on home. She still had a class that afternoon.
      They did not agree and even told her, "Since you’re here, go ahead and settle in." Alter lunch, there’d be more to talk about in the afternoon.
      At noon, as she was preparing to eat, a nerve on the TV somehow got touched and it unexpectedly came on by itself. It was unintelligible at first, thick, heavy gasps for breath coming from somewhere. She soon noticed that the sound wasn’t like wheezes in a hospital or wind in a corridor, but was obviously gasps from between the sheets, ever so unlike any TV program she’d normally watch. As the black withdrew from the screen, what could be seen coming into view through the haze was a man and a woman entwined naked in a hotel room....
      She felt her blood rising sharply and a choking sensation pinched her throat tightly. Because the scene wasn’t well lit, the man and the woman couldn’t be seen clearly. She has no idea who the woman was – certainly one she’d not seen before. As for the man's sounds, although she couldn’t hear clearly, she couldn’t be more familiar with their patterns and movements. Moreover, when two people are together day and night for a decade or two, every cough in their throats carries messages that can’t be misjudged.
      That’s why these images were another heavy blow for her. The feeling of them traversing her heart surpassed her usual boundless imagination. In recent years, given the carnival-like airings in newspapers and magazines of prominent but unconventional romantic affairs between pair after pair of performing artists, such things have become unsurprising segments or idle chit-chat in readers’ eyes. The plethora of impediments and dejection only slap one in the face when one day they become solid and real and plop down on one’s own head.
      At first she stiffened up, became rigid, but then she became depressed and resentful.... After the program ended, the TV screen turned into a bright blue sky, a beautiful lotus pond, and a verdant mountain forest.
      The two interrogators returned in the afternoon. They saw that the food on the table had barely been touched and naturally offered words of concern which did not reveal their true feelings. The afternoon’s perfunctory interrogation went well, and when it was over, they let her go home with no implication that anything else might happen. She paid not a whit of attention to the reminders and advice the interrogators gave her as she walked out of Three Strokes.
      Walking along the street, she saw all the people with their lips wriggling, including those who were talking to someone loudly on their phones. In her eyes, they each had only the movements and no language.
      She was surprised her daughter hadn't got home yet. She looked at her phone and only then noticed that she had some WeChat messages, including one from Honey’s aunt saying that she’d invited Honey to their house for a lamb dumpling dinner. Honey’s aunt, Woody’s sister, probably knew that Woody had committed an offense and thus had invited her niece over to give her a break from the depressing situation at home.
      She plopped her posterior down in front of the computer desk in the bedroom, as well as her shoulder bag, taking a load off her feet. She started to feel that her clumsy body had a place to settle down. Even with the window open, it was as stuffy as ever.
      She took a sandalwood incense holder down from the bookcase. She’d bought it three years before when a handicrafts arts building went up across the street from them in their residential community and they’d taken a stroll through it. The price was a very reasonable figure: 260 yuan, plus another 60 yuan to buy a tube of incense sticks as thick as her thumb, labeled as "National Treasure Sandalwood Incense". When she took off the lid, she found fifty or sixty sticks of incense as thin as angel hair pasta. A carved snail sat on the sandalwood holder, with two tentacles of equal length protruding from its head and two small sesame seeds on the tentacles for its eyes. As it happened, they’d each fallen in love with it independently.
      She’d never forget their conversation on the way home, carrying the sandalwood holder and the tube of tiny incense sticks:
      “I don’t know,” she’d asked, “is this holder really sandalwood? And are the incense sticks really sandalwood incense?”
      “Tiny little things,” he’d replied. “All that matters is whether you like them.” Suddenly he added, “I’ve thought of the first line for a couplet: ‘Sandalwood incense in a sandalwood holder’. Do you have the matching line?”
      She thought about it and shook her head. “It’s too difficult.”
      “You say it’s difficult,” he answered, “but it’s not.” He whispered something in her left ear.
      She reflected on it vacantly for a moment before suddenly blushing. She noticed he was smirking.
      She wasn’t accustomed to making pillow-talk jokes while walking on the street. She said she liked the wooden snail, but she’d be afraid of it if it was real. She’d been afraid of soft-bodied critters since she was a child, from snakes, to baby chickens and ducks, to snails.
      He said he liked a snail’s life, slow, unhurried and simple. She could tell that he didn’t hate luxury and wealth, and he wouldn’t let himself fall behind the times; however, he was disdainful and contemptuous of all the avariciousness and plundering making headway around him because those things didn’t comport with his nature and essence.
      How on earth could a person who liked a simple life risk his own and his family’s well-being by taking bribes!
      She had a sudden thought: What they’d said was "according to reports". A report is something that’s not really conclusive. It may be true, or it may be false. If it had already been authenticated, there was no way they would have told her to go home and cooperate with the investigation.... As soon as she had that thought, she felt a whoosh in her heart like a window being opened.
      A dark cloud abruptly came over her again: Who was the woman who’d been in the hotel room with her husband? Was that picture real? Was it filmed by the "reporter” or was it photoshopped? What if her husband had an affair with a woman but hadn’t taken any bribes? Wouldn’t she forgive him eventually? Comparing the two, bribery versus cheating, if it were one or the other, would she rather it be the former or the latter...? Of course, it would be best to have both shown to be empty allegations, for the ultimate verdict to be as follows: After investigation, Woody Xiao has neither accepted bribes, nor is there any record of his getting a hotel room with a woman not his wife....
      If life were as simple and unsophisticated as the life of the snail on the sandalwood incense holder, how good it would be.
      The thin stick of incense inserted in the sandalwood holder had long since burnt out, and the hostess had fallen into a deep sleep amidst the free-flowing scent of incense. Suddenly the sound of the door lock turning made her eyes light up right away. A person’s silhouette flashed into the room.
      She cried out, “Who’s there?”
      “Who else would it be at this time of night?” A low baritone with a touch of magnetism. Who else but Woody?
      She stood up with her back against the chair and asked in surprise, “Woody.... Why didn't you call and tell me you were coming home?”
      “Wasn't it better to give you a surprise?”
      “Oh, man,” she exclaimed as she rushed over to him, “I, I don’t like surprises!” He could hear the exclamation point in her voice, along with the happiness after being too alarmed. “I just want you to go to work and come home on time, on a regular basis. If you go on a business trip, give me a call up front and later on, too.”
      He held both her shoulders in his hands, tightly, and could feel the palpitations like trembling waves in her heart.
      “Where’s Honey?” he asked gently. “Is she asleep or doing homework?”
      Sometimes their daughter got too tired, and her parents always thought it best for her to sleep for a while and then get up for dinner, and only do her homework later. Watching their daughter sleep soundly, eat dinner and do homework was the most relaxing, softest and most comforting part of the family's day. It was just like when they’d visited one area in a safari park during some week and seen lion cubs rolling around, squabbling, climbing and slip-sliding beside a lioness. They’d stayed there with their eyes glued on the lions for a long time.
      “She’s not here,” Lychee said. “She’s having dumplings at her aunt's house.”
      He hugged her tightly. Nibbling on her ear, he said, “This is a dumpling, a dumpling shell. And here’s another one.... I’ve been out running around these last few days. I’m so tired.”
      She rubbed his back with both hands, spiraling around. The snowflake-colored, Western-style leisure suit he was wearing had been purchased on a trip to the Rainbow Market on May First. They’d handed it to the clerk after they paid for it and told her clearly to have it ironed, but were disappointed the job was done sloppily, so when they got home she’d set up their garment steamer tent. Then she’d ironed it again, top to bottom and front to back. She smelled again the familiar scent of steam, mixed this time with the faint, barely discernable aroma of sandalwood. Ever since they’d bought the sandalwood incense burner, she always liked to burn a stick of incense when she did things at home, including ironing his clothes. The aroma and lingering feeling brought back memories to her.
      “As long as you’re back, it’s OK. Just as long as you’re home. Don't say anything more.” Her heart was overcome with gratitude. She asked him what he wanted to eat for dinner and helped him take off his suit. The two had an agreement that whenever they’d been away from home, no matter whether it was near or far, and no matter whether they were wearing old or new clothes, the first thing they did when they got home was change shoes, change clothes and wash their hands. They both subscribed to the idea that good hygiene would reduce illness. They paid attention to hygiene especially for the sake of their daughter, who was not yet grown, even to the extent that they avoided eating in restaurants whenever they could.
      Just as she shook out his clothing and hung it in the living room closet, a ray of light fell on the right shoulder of his snowflake-colored suit, and she saw something unusual! She took a closer look. It was a spot of rouge as big as a thumbnail, not too bright but stark as needle grass. She felt herself collapsing.
      The feelings that had lain concealed and dormant in her heart were awakened in an instant. Only then did she begin to fully grasp her husband's multitudinous moans of appreciation. She was soon swept away by the indignation that welled up in her.
      She shook out the suit with both hands. “What is this?” she asked sharply. “What filth have you brought back with you?!!”
      Her husband hurried over and, holding her shoulder with one hand and covering her mouth with the other, begged her, “Don’t shout.... Let me see what it.... Oh, this could be... I brushed against something. You know sometimes I have to go in a factory to look around. Factories are squalid. There’s a good chance I rubbed against some paint.”
      “You’re so particular about everything. Would you go into a factory wearing a suit? And then rub up against some paint? You must’ve rubbed against some other filthy thing....” Her voice had become less intense, but not the anger that filled her bosom. “Filthy thing, filthy thing....” The pictures she’d seen on TV that noon, spurted in front of her eyes with a whoosh, in a spasm of light, stinging her eyes. She rolled the suit up into a ball and threw it at him with all her might.
      He grabbed her hand. She snorted and he could smell her breath. “Just now you said everything was OK as long as I was home, and don't say anything else. You know something? I came home today to get some things. I’ve still got some business to take care of out there…. It might be a long, long time before we can see each other again....”
      Startled and fearful, she stepped forward to grab him firmly. Her voice slid from her mouth like a tadpole.
 “Huh?!! What you’re saying can’t be true. It’s not. It is not true! I don't want you to go, not ever again!!”
      “I want to ask myself if this is true.... It doesn’t seem like it should be true....”
      The sandalwood incense had burned out, turning into a line of gray ash; It was completely dark outside the window, and the darkness had become a bas-relief hanging on the wall.
      A young girl pushed on the door, which was unlatched. The room was silent. She looked toward the indistinct black shadow bent down before the window, protruding outside, looking down. “Mommy!” she shrieked.
      The endless aroma of sandalwood, dense and distinct, engulfed the girl like the morning mist.

2017年中国短篇小说精选 Best of Chinese Short Stories 2017, p. 298
长江文艺出版社,责任编辑:刘程程,周阳; Translated from 中国作家网 at

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