​​         Chinese Stories in English   

Summer Li's Summer
Shao Li

Page Two

      She watched him for a while before she said, “We’re actually doing pretty good, aren’t we? We each have our own lives, and when we get together it’s all intimacy. But,” and here she smiled mischievously, “I won’t make trouble for you. If there’s another woman who’s better for you, and you want to marry her, I won’t stop you.”
      Chen of course knew what she was thinking. She was afraid of divorce, not marriage. Her life was unstable in her early years, and she worried that she wouldn’t be able to guarantee a stable life for her children, so she was afraid to have any. But now the clock was running. What if she couldn't have a baby? Bottom line, though, she was afraid Chen would have a change of heart.
      “I don’t want to marry anyone but you,” Chen muttered with his face in the bowl of noodles.
      Summer decided to go back to Kaifeng to see her mother, but she didn’t tell Chen. She wanted to go alone.
      Summer had always had her opinions about clothing and makeup. People about to turn forty should seek to look refined and, more importantly, age appropriate. A woman of that age who dresses in a seventeen or eighteen-year-old girl’s clothing is always dreadful, no matter how young she looks. However, going back there to see that woman, the birthmother she hadn’t seen for about thirty years, Summer hesitated for quite some time. It wouldn’t be right to look too pretty or showy, but deliberately dressing too simply would be wrong, too. She finally decided to dress up a bit, but she wasn’t sure if that was her best bet. The last time she’d seen her mother she’d been dressed like a beggar, all ragged and dirty. Besides that, her mother must’ve heard about her grandmother's death, but she’d never asked whether Summer was alive or dead, let alone how she was getting along. As Summer considered all these things, her eyes grew hot with tears. She wanted the woman to see that, no matter how hard she’d had it, she’d grown up to be a successful person.
      The situation wasn’t as extreme as Summer had imagined. Her mother and that family’s daughter were living together. Her husband had died some years before, and she’d been living with her stepdaughter in the home he’d left. It was formerly housing for a work unit but had been converted to a private residence, and was a bit old but fairly large. Summer was rather relieved at this. Her mother had served this family half her life, she thought, so when the old guy died, it was only fitting that she be allowed to live in the home he left.
      The stepdaughter was unexpectedly polite. She worked for the government, and you could tell at a glance that she was a cultured person and proud of it. She was the one who’d answered the phone when Summer’d called to say she’d arrived, and she’d been waiting at home for her. Summer had never met her before but had heard she’d been to college and wore gold-rimmed glasses. Summer thought she was a slender, refined woman, neither pretty nor ugly. Her mid-length hair was tied loosely behind her. She wore a gray plaid cotton dress matched with flat white sandals, which Summer saw as a simple yet elegant look. On the other hand, she felt her own lavish attire was a bit too much and her heels were too high. She wondered if the daughter would think she was low class.
      She’d been full of confidence when she arrived but suddenly felt that the bottom had dropped out from under her. Surreptitiously, she held her breath for a moment and then took two deep breaths, but it didn’t calm her. She didn’t know how she was going to face this.
      Her mother looked like Summer remembered, older but not much changed. She was lying in bed. Her face was a little skewed from paralysis caused by the stroke, which made her look weird. Summer noticed her eyes were moving, though. She looked from one young woman to the other as though she were looking at strangers. Her expression was stubbornly numb.
      The stepdaughter left the room to get some water, or maybe she was intentionally giving Summer some time alone with her mother. Summer got even more nervous and felt the same as she had that time when she was a child and had been thrown out onto the street. She stood there rigidly and stared blankly at her mother. The woman remained almost expressionless, but Summer did see tears coming from the corners of her eyes. Summer didn’t step forward to wipe her mother’s eyes. She stopped looking at her.
      She had in fact bought a lot of things for her mother, but had left them in the living room and not brought them in. She said, as though she were reciting a memorized list, “I brought some
Panax Three-Seven Powder to improve your circulation. Have someone mix it with water for you to drink.” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her mother nod and move slightly, which she considered a response.
      Her mother lay there stiffly without making a sound.
      “The room’s rather messy,” Summer thought as she left, “but it doesn’t seem to bother her.”
      The stepdaughter was waiting for her in the living room and had something to say. “This must be why she called me in the first place.” Summer just listened quietly while she said her piece from beginning to end, like she would listen to a customer getting a beauty treatment. Summer’d found her confidence and she understood the weight of her gaze.
      “There’s nothing we can do. Our child’s in elementary school and I have to pick him up and drop him off every day. My husband is on a temporary assignment out of town and doesn’t get home often.” The stepdaughter listed her difficulties one by one.
      “My husband doesn’t have it easy, either. He’s worked himself to death for so many years, and only because he thought he’d have a chance for advancement. Now his organization’s ruled that a person can’t be promoted if they haven’t gone through a temporary assignment. I’m alone and really busy.” The stepdaughter had kept talking because she noted that Summer wasn’t raising any objections.
      “Why not hire a caregiver?” Summer now asked.
      “A caregiver?” The stepdaughter smiled bitterly. With a family like ours, how could we afford a caregiver? When my dad was alive –” She suddenly blushed and looked at Summer. “Jeez! Ma had to have her medicine every day. We’re a public official’s family, with just a tiny salary, not like you people who have your own business. Anyway, that’s the situation we’re in. I’ve tried to take care of her. What worries me most is that she’s often alone at home. I just wanted to tell you that we do all we can –” Her face reddened again. “That’s the situation we’re in. No one can guarantee that something bad won’t happen. We wanted to tell you, and want you to understand, if something does go wrong, we did all we could.
      “And we really don't want to make trouble for you, but it’s hard to know how you feel.” The stepdaughter deliberately added this comment, maybe because she’d seen Summer’s expression.
      Summer felt like a thief sitting here, dressed lavishly as she was. She was thoroughly uncomfortable. She was determined to leave and the stepdaughter didn’t invite her to stay for lunch, which relieved Summer of that burden. She thought the stepdaughter was a real person, but sitting down to eat together would be awkward for both of them. And she did feel that the stepdaughter was giving her all for her mother. She was a conscientious person.
      Summer did not return directly to Zhengzhou after she drove away from the house. She wanted to see her father again and had a case of old liquor in the trunk of her car that she’d bought for him. A customer had said that that kind of liquor wouldn’t harm one’s health. She’d also purchased some clothes for her stepmother. They were lesser brands but were pure cotton.
      They still lived in the old place. It hadn’t changed much over the decades, except for looking more run down. They lived on their pensions now, plus a little income from the storefronts. Her mother had also phoned her daughter and she came over with the accountant, bringing along several packages of things to eat. The two of them had been laid off and had opened a deli, which they had to struggle to keep open. The accountant looked greasy, a pudgy, middle-aged man who was already going bald. Summer thanked her lucky stars whenever saw him, glad that her sister had married him in her place. Otherwise she’d have had to spend her life with such an unclean fellow and would never have left Kaifeng.
      Her father and stepmother’s youngest daughter had attended the local university, got married and left town. She was now on her own and working in Beijing. Her stepmother said, “It’s lucky she didn’t have a kid, ‘cause I’d have to raise it for her, wouldn’t I? Jeez, I raised the three of you and that’s more than enough.” She looked directly at Summer when she said this.
      Her father buried himself in his glass of booze, the stuff Summer'd brought with her. Her stepmother couldn’t rightly put a limit on him and let him drink away. They had a plateful of pig's head meat but her father didn't touch it. Summer felt uncomfortable and put some meat on his plate. He just kept on drinking and didn't even look at it.
      Suddenly he laid his head on the table and started crying. Summer looked at him, and looked at her stepmother, and for a moment didn’t know what to do. Then he said, without looking at her and slurring his words, “I owe you!” He struggled to stand up but couldn’t. In a panic, they all urged each other to help him over to lay on the old sofa.
      “Every time he gets drunk these last few years, he always says that,” her stepmother said. “like he’s got a one-track mind. But it’s the kids who owe the parents. How could the parents owe the kids? No matter how bad you treat them, you still gave them life.”
      Summer thought it over and decided that made sense. Seeing her father that way didn’t upset her, though. No matter what, life was better these days than in the past. Also, for the last few years she’d bought the booze that her father drank. He only drank it and never told her she was a good daughter. To the contrary, it was her stepmother who often said, “We’ve built up some good karma. Raising you wasn’t a waste. Of our three daughters, you treat your parents the best!”
      Seeing that her father had calmed down, her stepmother hurried to change into the flowery, short-sleeve outfit that Summer’d bought. She clapped her hands and said, “Fits to a T! No matter how you figure it, Summer sure knows how to buy clothes!”
      Her sister smiled broadly. “Looking through the tags, she spent more than more than three hundred yuan. Anyone with money can buy fitting stuff!” Summer felt warmth flowing through her and she smiled, too, a smile straight from her heart. No matter how intolerable a family is, it’s still a family in the children’s eyes. Summer felt at peace and was content.
      When she got out of bed early the next morning, Summer had a tic in her eye. She usually met the day steady and calm, and this upset her a bit. It wasn’t eight o'clock yet, and the sun was already blazing hot as a bonfire. Most days she’d take a quick shower, apply some light makeup and put on clothes she’d laid out the night before; Summer was orderly and coherent in everything she did. At night before she went to sleep, she always prepared for what she’d be doing the next day – what to wear, matched with which pair of shoes….
      For some reason, though, today she was hesitant about everything she did. Her wrist shook when she did her eyebrows, and in a flash she’d drawn a line halfway down her face. She took a deep breath to calm herself down and wiped it off with a tissue. She redid her eyebrow but still wasn’t happy with the results. She really wanted to just wash her face and call in sick to work.
      She’d been too tired these last few days, tired in spirit. Many times, her positive go-go look was just a show for others to see, and she’d have to psych herself up and grit her teeth to keep going. Her grandmother'd said that people can’t have bad days or it would ruin their luck. She smiled at her image in the mirror at the thought of her grandmother. Then she tied her hair into a bun, applied a light foundation and put on pink lipstick. She didn’t redo her eyebrows and changed her clothes quickly. She had to make up time because of the delay in finishing her makeup.
      Whitey had arrived first and begun to direct several younger girls to tidy up the salon. Sometimes an inch is too long and other times a foot is too short, and everyone is useful in one way or another. Whitey's skillset was in management. When Summer got there, Whitey asked her to come over and check the computer before Summer'd even put down her purse. She said the inventory and accounts didn't balance and were off by several thousands of yuan.
      Without thinking about it, Summer replied casually, "There couldn't be a shortage in the inventory I handled." While she was speaking, she started off to the locker room to change into her work clothes.
      Whitey ran to the door and yelled inside. "Are you saying it was my mistake?"
      Summer came right back out. "Don't worry," she said, "we'll think it through. Something must have leaked out."
      "It's weird," Whitey said. "You were responsible for locking up yesterday. How could we be short several thousand in inventory?"
      The young girls stopped working. This conversation was too good to miss.
      Just then one of Summer's VIP customers phoned and asked Summer to get things ready for her. She was leaving on a business trip that afternoon and would come in this morning for a facial. As Summer left to prepare things, Whitey said, "It'd be great if we could pull it up on a vidcam for a look."
      Summer's face paled from anger and she was about to yell some things at her, but then she thought, "Forget it. My job is to use my time to get things ready for this customer."
      It was almost eleven o'clock by the time Summer finished with her customer. Whitey had sliced a watermelon and was sitting at the bar watching a Korean drama. When she saw Summer come out, she didn't say anything to her, just carried a plate of watermelon right over and handed it to her. Summer saw that the dark cloud had left Whitey's face, so she asked, "Did you find what it was?'
      "Ms. Wang contracted for a set of whiteners the day before yesterday. It was written it down in a notebook but didn't get entered on the books." Summer smiled and didn't say anything. She knew Whitey wouldn't apologize or even admit that she'd been in the wrong, but she wasn't interested in arguing about it. She just felt restless and couldn't eat the watermelon. She'd brewed chrysanthemum tea that morning, and now she picked a cup up in both hands and drank it slowly.
      Just then a woman with shoulder-length hair and wearing a thick layer of flashy makeup pushed through the door. She wasn't very old. She was extremely thin but felt like a fatty because all parts of her body were big. She was tall with a big head and a big face, and big hands and feet. Her big elbows and knees stuck out surprisingly. Whitey rushed over to greet her. She had few regular customers but had ways to rope in more.
      Whitey smooth-talked the woman but the woman just fixed her eyes on her and wasn't taking it in. Then she turned to look at Summer. Whitey said, "You don't want a beauty treatment?"
      "No," the woman said brusquely. "I've come to see Summer Li. Is that you?" Whitey'd been rebuffed but she couldn't let her anger show in front of a customer. She rolled her eyes and went to sit behind the bar and watch her TV show.
      Summer put down her cup immediately and stood up. "Are you looking for me?" she asked. The woman glanced at her, then plopped her butt down on the sofa, kicked off her high heels and crossed her legs.
      This spelled trouble, Summer knew, so she walked over to the woman without delay. The woman deliberately raised her voice and said, “I don't want any services from you. I just came in to tell you my name is Red Hero Ge, and I’m pregnant with Wise Firm Chen's child.”
      The woman’s announcement shocked Summer and she almost fainted. She was at a loss for words and could only stare at this horrible witch who’d come in out of the blue. Although Summer had been born and raised in the midst of nastiness, she still had a princess-like restraint. Not even one hateful word left her mouth, though her face paled and her lips trembled.
      Whitey rushed out from behind the bar waving a whisk broom at the woman like a weapon. She was shouting loudly but quickly realized that Wise Firm Chen was nothing. “His taste is really lousy. One look at your big cheekbones and any man would be afraid that half a year with you would kill him!”
      The woman had come over to lay down some nasty words and pretend to be fierce, but now she was humiliated by Whitey and suddenly got flustered. She waved her hand and said, "Don't screw around. I came to talk to Summer Li about this. What business is it of yours?"
      Whitey pulled her up by her shirt collar. This is my shop. Of course it has something to do with me. Get out!”
      The woman shook her hand. “We white-collar workers have always thought it’s important to be civil. We’re just talking about this reasonably, and you shouldn’t make trouble. I have a baby inside me.”
      “Pew! You’re just man-baiting trash,” Whitey answered, “and you have the gall to say you’re white-collar? Is the baby in your belly related to Summer Li?”
      The woman suddenly burst into tears. “It’s related to Wise Firm Chen!”
      Whitey pulled and pushed the woman right out of the shop. Then she turned back and picked up that huge pair of woman’s shoes and viciously threw them after her. “Go away!” she screamed. “If it’s Chen’s, why are you coming to see Summer Li? If I see you again, watch out or I’ll throw makeup in your face!” The woman’s ashen, tear-streaked face slowly disappeared into the crowd.
      Summer was still standing there dumbstruck. Whitey didn’t try to give her advice, just hugged her shoulders and watched her. Summer sat down where the woman had just been sitting and picked up pieces of watermelon with a toothpick until it was all gone. She smiled and said, “Thanks, Whitey. I really didn't know how to straighten her out.” In just that short time, Summer looked like she’d gotten a lot thinner, and her face was as pale as a cabbage leaf.
      Chen came over that evening. He seemed to have been crying. Summer looked at him and felt that the scene was inexplicably familiar, but it was just a scene she’d seen many times in her dreams. It was when the accountant had abandoned her, and she’d dreamed of it often. In the dream, the accountant had implored her to forgive him, and now Chen was making the dream a reality.
    He pleaded over and over, “I’m on my knees before you, Summer. You have to forgive me! You can forgive me!” Summer looked at him and closed her eyes. He continued to explain, “Everyone was drunk at an office party last month. I really don't know what I did, not even half of it. I’d be better off dead than shaming myself by doing such a thing.”
      Summer had already calmed down, but you couldn’t tell by looking at her. She was holding a glass of wine. Her hair was tied in a bun and she was wearing Asian Pajama Girl silk pajamas. Her skin was silky and white as milk. The alcohol had narrowed her eyes, giving her an unusual evil look, but with a fresh and uncommon charm.
      Chen felt like he was looking at a stranger and that her normally cheerful and open face was blank, without a trace of sorrow. This made him afraid. He knew her, and knew she must have suffered extreme pain. Suddenly he thought of her lot in life and the many wrongs she’d suffered. He burst into heartfelt tears and said, “I kneel before you, Summer!” and he really did kneel down.
      “Wise Firm Chen,” she said, “you’re a man, and for a man to kneel is as rare as gold. He kneels to Heaven above and to his parents on earth. What does it mean when you kneel before me? If you’re a real man, you’ll get up and drink some wine with me.” She poured him a glass while she spoke.
      The calmer she got, the more upset and scared Chen became. He made a frightened sound like a lone wolf howling in desperation. Summer pulled him up, stroked his head and said, “Don't cry. It’s just my lot in life to have bad things happen, and I don't blame you.”
      Chen hugged her powerfully and kissed her desperately. “Summer, I’ll die if you don't want me.”
      “Now you’re being a man. Drink up!” She handed him the glass.
      Chen took it and poured the wine down his throat. In a flash his face looked like a piece of red cloth. “That’s how it was that night.” Feeling tipsy, Summer was getting tangled up with Chen and felt unprecedented happiness. She thought it was fate. She and Chen had been together for five years and she hadn’t got pregnant, but that woman was with him just once and has a child. Isn’t that fate? They drank for a long time and were crazy for a long time. In Summer's view, this was her first and last time for such craziness in this life. For Chen, who never touched alcohol, it was no different than purgatory.
      Chen left the next morning and got a voice message from Summer on the way home. She spoke in a harsh tone of voice that Chen had never heard before. “Let's break up, Chen!”
      Summer changed the lock on her condo and shut off her phone for two days, but went to work in the salon as usual. The customers couldn't see anything different in her expression and didn't know what was going on. As always, Whitey ordered her around in her casual manner and didn’t comfort her. Everything else was the same, too. Life was moving on.
      Chen’s mother called the salon on the third day. She said he’d taken two bottles of sleeping pills and was in the hospital, where they were working to save his life.
      Summer stopped what she was doing and went to see him. She took a taxi because she didn’t think she could drive. Chen was sleeping and the doctor said he was out of danger. Summer held his hand, and scenes from the last five years slid through her mind one by one, like movie about endless love. She leaned over next to his ear and whispered, “You fool. Once you wake up, we’ll get married.” She knew Chen couldn't do without her, and that she couldn't do without him.
      The weather was rotten the next two days, a profound haze and never-ending drizzle, and hot and steamy enough for a sauna. People's tempers simmered constantly. Summer's mood had been changed by Chen's taking sleeping pills, though, and she felt more relaxed than ever before. She cleaned up her condo and fixed herself up as neat as a pin. She figured that when Chen woke up, she'd ask for his opinion and let him decide who's place to live in after they got married. Chen’s mother had brought him up alone and would want to live with him and her daughter-in-law when he got married. Her condo might be small, but she'd be an obedient daughter-in-law. One could say her love for Chen had gone through a test and, in the final analysis, he'd been willing to die for her. Once again, the world was making her feel warm.
      Her mother's stepdaughter called at dinnertime. Her mother had chocked on phlegm while no one was home and hadn't been able to breathe. Now she'd been admitted to the hospital emergency ward. The doctor had asked her relatives to sign the Critically Ill Notice acknowledging that they'd been advised of her impending death.
      Summer stayed with her mother in Kaifeng for eighteen days. The doctor said that wasn't a good idea and she should let the family members make the funeral arrangements. The stepdaughter bought burial clothing for her mother and Summer looked them over. They were all carefully tailored from good quality fabrics. When everything was ready, Summer was quite moved because they'd put their hearts into it. She was especially polite to the stepdaughter. While her mother was in a coma, Summer and the stepdaughter each held one of her hands, and they both called her "Mama".
      Calling her "Mama" felt so strange to Summer that her voice trembled and was hard on the ears. She'd always deferred to her stepmother, but in all those decades had never called her "Ma". It seemed that, in her mind, "Ma" was reserved for the one you recognized in the end. Yes, she'd always kept a place in her heart for her mother. She hadn't told Chen, but she'd missed her mother very much,
      She'd imagined a hundred ways they might meet. She believed that her mother loved her and had been forced by life to end their relationship. In the end, she'd definitely give Summer a reasonable explanation. Now that her mother was dying, an explanation was no longer needed. She held her mother's hand to let her know that mother and daughter had been reconciled at last. She shouted "Ma!" and "Mama!" over and over again, even though grievances reverberated in her heart. They'd finally reconciled before her mother died.
      But, unexpectedly, her mother survived. It seemed she was buoyed up by some reserve of strength, and by something she was unwilling to let go of. What could that be? Whatever, the energy boosted her and she had to survive. Summer spent those days at the hospital, taking turns with the stepdaughter. This personal experience was the only way Summer came to understand how difficult it is to take care of an old person, not to mention a sick one.
      Her mother had no feeling of a need to defecate or urinate. She'd go in the bed if she wasn't watched every minute. Once Summer saw the stepdaughter carefully take the dirty linen out from under her mother's body. The unpleasant smell almost knocked Summer out, but the stepdaughter didn't mind it at all. This made Summer feel ashamed and she hurried to help. At that moment she suddenly felt that she could forgive everything, no matter what huge grievances she'd suffered. After all, there were more good people in the world than otherwise.
      Her mother's condition finally stabilized and Summer returned to Zhengzhou. She slept for a day and a night without eating or drinking anything. She'd called Chen a few times over the last couple of weeks but his phone was turned off. Summer wasn't worried. She felt they'd have a lifetime together, so she didn't care about missing a few days.
      Summer dreamed about the wedding. She didn't care about selecting a honeymoon but was in favor of a traditional wedding ceremony. It wouldn't be elaborate but would have to follow the formula. First they'd bow to Heaven and then to the world, and then to their fathers and mothers. Then the husband and wife would kowtow to each other. She and Chen were both tasteful people and would make a radiant couple in their beautiful clothes. Her stepmother would wear nice clothes that Summer bought for her and would sit straight up, not a bit like a guest, with a dignified look on her face. Her father, on the other hand, would cringe anxiously and restlessly beside her stepmother, as if Summer were someone else's daughter. He'd seemed uncertain about this point for decades, and the more Summer treated him as a respectful daughter should, the more dubious he became.
      Summer would do the wedding this way so her stepmother could see it. She’d been living honesty for years, depending on her own labor. She hadn’t gone bad and hadn’t caused her father’s family to lose respect. She’d found Chen, who was also a decent young man, and she’d earned her living through skills she’d studied. She wasn’t a millionaire, but still she was a prominent figure in this family. She was going to do things the right way for them to see. She wanted to have a ceremony to start her own family that followed the rules and which no one would have reason to gossip about. That was very much on her mind.
      Summer hadn’t located Chen. He’d been discharged from the hospital, but his phone was still turned off and there was no trace of him around his residence or job. Her heart was about to jump out of her throat.
      When she went to look inside Chen’s condo, she called out a few times before opening the door. His mother was alone inside watching TV, a variety show on the Jiangsu Province Satellite TV network. She remembered that his mother had never watched variety shows, only serial dramas. She asked, "Where’s Wise Firm, Mom?” It was the first time she’d called her “Mom” in all the years she’d known her.
      The old lady poured Summer a glass of cool water. She waved her hand and, looking ashamed, said, “You really shouldn’t presume to call me that, child. You can't. It’d be better to call me ‘auntie’!”
      “Mom, Wise Firm, where is he?” Summer asked in surprise, continuing to call her “Mom”. A sense that something was about to happen exploded through her. It was like Chen’s mother was a rice straw, and if she just grabbed that straw, Chen would appear before her eyes. She wanted him to come back. She wanted to marry him!
      Her shouting flustered Chen’s mother and sweat flowed from her gray hair down her forehead. She didn’t dare look Summer in the eye. “He’s gone out,”: she said. “He doesn’t want you to come looking for him anymore.”
      Summer was thunderstruck. In a daze, she headed straight towards the back room of the condo. Chen’s mother yelled at her but wasn’t able to hold her back. Summer'd got a vixen’s strength from somewhere and pushed forward, regardless of anything, shoving the old lady out of her way. “I have to see him,” she yelled. “Wise Firm Chen, come out here!” Chen’s mother pulled her back with all her might, as though she had a precious baby hidden in the back room and was afraid that Summer would grab it and leave.
      Summer at last made it into the back room. She glance around inside, then sighed suddenly and squatted down on the floor. A large photo of Chen and Red Hero Ge had been hung on the wall. This was obviously their bridal chamber.
      Chen’s mother stood in front of her and extended her hand, trying to pull Summer up. She stopped when she saw how Summer looked. She herself was also soaked in sweat. Gasping, she said, “I beg you, Summer. My son truly feels sorry. You know, for all the good things I've done for you all these years, let him go! I’m old, and he’s in his late thirties. He should have a child. If I don’t have even one descendant, I won’t be able to die in peace!”
      She said this so sadly, and it was all reasonable. There was nothing Summer could say, but the tears cascaded down her cheeks. She didn't wipe them dry and let them pitter-patter down on the floor. It started as sobs and became cries of grief. The tears had been saved up for thirty years as if in a box, and now the valve had been opened and the box tipped over.
      Summer’s sobs moved Chen’s mother to cry with her. "You poor child,” she told her, “such a bitter fate for a maiden! I know you’re a good child. I hoped all these years that you’d give me a grandson and I could take care of him for you. We’re like mother and daughter, but it just wasn’t in the stars for us to be mother- and daughter-in-law.”
      Then she stopped crying abruptly and cajoled Summer. “You’re a good child, little Summer. Let Wise Firm go. I’m almost seventy. Let my dream of becoming a grandmother come true!”
      Summer was no longer crying. She just felt a coldness in her heart, coming over her in waves. When she left Chen's home, the bright sunshine on the street made her feel like she wasn’t in the world of humans anymore. She didn't know where she should go or where she could hide. She had a momentary thought that it would be great if a chasm opened up under her feet, so she could thrust herself in it. She drifted down the road, feeling ashamed of herself. It was like it had been at the very beginning, when she’d been thrown out onto the road. She couldn’t figure out how she’d gotten herself more than thirty years back into the past.
     Whitey was counting. It would soon be ten days since Summer shut herself in at home with her phone turned off. Whitey had tried knocking on the door several times but never heard any movement. She'd bought some fruits and vegetables and left them at the door a few times, but when she went back the next day they were still there by the door.
      It was really hot, hot as a barbeque, when Whitey knocked on the door again. There was still no movement. Whitey was scared and called the police. A cop came along with a locksmith but, when they knocked on the door, Summer unlocked it from inside. The police saw an adult woman standing in the room, a beautiful woman, not looking sallow or haggard in the slightest. She was wearing only a little makeup. She had on a light blue, slim-fit dress and a pair of white, high-heeled sandals. She didn't look emaciated but was slimmer than she had been.
      When Whitey called the police, she'd said that someone was about to commit suicide. How could such a marvelous person be a suicide? The cop looked Whitey, who was speechless and wanted to find a place to hide. She had to apologize to the cop. After the cop left, Whitey twisted Summer’s ear and cussed her out for being crazy. "What kind of drugs were you taking in there? Did they make you an immortal?"
      Summer still treated people warmly and gently when she went back to work, and spoke as softly as ever. Whitey often watched her partner with astonishment and wondered exactly what she was thinking. Maybe Summer hadn't changed, and it was Whitey herself who'd changed. She felt like she was going crazy.
      Summer had Whitey go with her to a housekeeping service to look into hiring an hourly worker. While she'd been shut away in her condo, her mother had become critically ill again. Summer said she'd thought it over and wanted to hire some help so she could bring her mother home to stay with her. The hourly worker could look after her during the day and Summer herself would take over at night.
      Whitey looked doubtful. "A sick person plus an hourly worker? Are you sure?"
      Summer smiled and said, "I'm sure!" After a bit, she took a long breath and said, "My mother gave birth to me, after all. As long as she's alive and breathing, I have one more relative in this world. I can call out, 'Mom, I'm home' when I get home from work every day, and there'll be someone there to hear it."
      As she spoke, Summer started to get a strange feeling inside her, like she was under a spell. She felt she was quietly sassing her mother: "You threw me away, Mom. Now I'm grown up and have a good life, and I had to find you. You're old and sick, and you'll never have the strength to throw me away again!"
      Summer missed her period that month, but it's normal for a woman to experience irregular menstruation when she's overly sad. As a beautician and health consultant, Summer understood that. Things would turn out okay if she'd wait for her life to get settled and cool down, and then maybe take some Chinese medicine. After a while, though, it was Whitey who noticed that Summer's belly was protruding like a fist. "Are you pregnant?" she asked as she pressed Summer's hard belly with her hand.
     Although Summer was startled, she wasn't worried about being pregnant. She felt there was no way she could be. "Must be a tumor in my belly, huh?" They finished up things in the shop and then went to the hospital together for a checkup. A woman gynecologist with a full head of white hair concluded, "The child's almost two months along, Young people are really out of it!"
      Whitey sat in the shop with Summer eating watermelon. Whitey cut the melon and Summer ate it. Whitey filled several plates and Summer ate them all. When Whitey stopped cutting, Summer stopped eating. Whitey stuck the knife in the watermelon rind, clapped her hands and said, “I’m done. How’re you going to do it, carry a mother who’s like a vegetable and carry a baby, too, all by yourself?”
      Summer shook her head. “I can’t. I’m so old, I’ll work my whole life and probably never be able to bear another child.”
      “This child won’t be easy,” Summer said. “First, it made me sad. Now it scares me, too. I thought a tumor was growing in my womb and there was no guarantee my life wasn’t over. Who knew it was a stupid little girl nesting in there?
      “How could you know it’s a girl?”
      “She’s a girl. I’m her mother and I ought to know.”
      Whitey sighed but didn't say anything. “You’re her aunt,” Summer continued, “and you don’t believe she’s lovable?”
      Whitey had borne a child, a son, actually. She thought a moment. “Being pregnant with a boy is overwhelming,” she giggled, “but it’s having somebody’s daughter that’s lovable. Wise Firm Chen, you bastard! You did something terrible!”
      Summer stopped her right away. “This child is mine alone and has nothing at all to do with Chen.”
      Summer brought her mother over to Zhengzhou. She talked to her for a while every night after work. She told her mother that she was going to have a child, and it was a daughter. She hoped her mother would give her blessing for the child’s peace. Mom couldn't answer her and looked as stiff and numb as ever.
      Unmarried and pregnant with a fatherless child, maybe Summer had ended up as a bad woman, just like her stepmother had said. So what! She was living her own life, and let everyone else worry about themselves!
      By the end of that summer, Summer’s attitude towards life had become more positive than ever before. She was ready to be a mother. When the child came, she’d love her well and would never leave her or throw her away. She’d even planned it all out. She’d raise her child to the age of eighteen, and if the child wanted to get to know her father then, she wouldn’t prevent it.
      As for Whitey, she didn't want to be an aunt – she wanted to be the young girl’s godmother. She said, “I’ll take care of this child. If she dares go looking for her shameless father, I’ll strangle her!”
      Summer gently caressed her stomach. Smiling, she said, “Great! You’re in charge! You’re in charge!”

2017年中国短篇小说精选 Best of Chinese Short Stories 2017, p. 195
长江文艺出版社,责任编辑:刘程程,周阳; Translated from 作家杂志 at
http://www.writermagazine.cn/readart.php?id=1775&page=0; ​also available at http://www.hhtsg.com/periodical/37833854468ff6be652499327bf687a8.html(requires registration)


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