Joss and Gold
Publication Year: 2001
Published by: The Feminist Press
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Book One: CROSSING
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Li An was rushing to get to her second class on time. A new tutor, she was timid with her students, arts freshies just arrived at the university in June. The big dark Ceylonese student, Gomez, had looked at her during the first meeting as if to say he didn't believe she understood Keats's "Ode on Melancholy" as well as he did. His superior stare...
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Relieved Li An was marrying well, Mrs. Han made no suggestions to delay the wedding. She came to Singapore for the ceremony without her children or her husband, who had long ago stopped acknowledging his stepdaughter's existence except as an unwelcome intruder from his wife's...
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Three months after the wedding, Ellen called and suggested they meet for lunch to discuss how they could help Gina and Paroo. Gina was still teaching history at the Chun Hsien High School and came up to Kuala Lumpur only during school holidays. Then she met Paroo, who would come down from Ipoh. Gina and Paroo had become a despairing couple. Over rounds...
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The next tutorial meeting WM better. She had picked a George Herbert poem. Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright, The bridall of the earth and skie, The dew shall weep thy fall tonight, For thou must die, ... This time every student approved of her choice. Something about death appealed to Sally, Gomez, Mina, the Chinese girls, and Wong. They were all enthusiastic about the sentiment of making something spiritual out of death, something...
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Chester looked glum the next time Li An saw him. She had been going to the lounge every afternoon, hoping to meet him there, but it was more than a week before she saw him coming in to buy cigarettes from Ratnam. "Whatever you have must be catching," he said. "The headmaster has switched me from woodworking to teaching...
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When she heard that Paroo, had requested and received a date for the civil wedding, Gina screamed so loudly that Li An ducked. "Bloody nosy idiots!" she screamed. "You all think life is so easy, just go get married, everything comes out right. My father will disown me if I marry a keling-kwei, a Tamil devil. He cannot even tell the difference between Tamil and...
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Taking one direct glance at Li An's slattemly Indian wrap skirt and T,shirt, the seam under the right armpit fraying, Auntie said to Henry, "When are you going to have your baby?" Li An, who had barely slid her slippers off by the accordion gates, stubbed her toes sharply against the raised floor. Did Auntie see something in her she had missed? She had been fitted for the diaphragm and used it every time. Henry...
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Ellen and Chester liked each other immediately. "So, this is the secret boyfriend," she said, poking him playfully in the ribs. "Why she's hiding you? So husband no see?" Chester laughed. "Husband see, husband don't mind. I'm just a harmless guy from the United States of America." He...
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It's not that I suspect you," Henry said, swallowing hard. "But Chester is a man. Perhaps I've been too busy. I should have done more things with you. You are so lively, I always knew you would need more attention than other women." Forster had told him that he should have a few days off and perhaps take Li An away for a holiday. "Ah, it's not to alarm...
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A new Henry waited for her each morning and drove her to the university. He picked her up promptly at noon for lunch, and even followed her in the evenings to visit Ellen. In Henry's watchful company, Ellen sat in front of the television glumly most of the time instead of joking around as she usually did with Li An. Professor Forster had shamed Henry into recognizing his...
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She was still asleep when Abdullah knocked and pushed the door open. Above the whirring of the standing fan and her own gummy drowsiness she heard him say, "Eh, Li An! You must go now. Get up quick! The curfew lift for only one hour so people can get home. Quick, lah!" Nervously, she sat up. The checked sarong was still...
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She could not be cheerful at the farewell party Samad and Abdullah gave for Chester. Henry had forgotten about Professor Forster's warnings when he heard Chester was leaving. Besides, Li An was constantly with Auntie, while Chester was spending his last few weeks in Malaysia traveling around the country and seeing as much of it as he could. He went up to Kedah to stay with Samad's family in their...
Book Two: CIRCLING
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Jason Kingston's voice had once been a bow touched to a string that drew out taut resonances and made his listeners mentally lean out. Now, like the gut flapping above his belt and falling ever lower toward the earth, his voice flapped at the back of his throat. The string had loosened, and Chester sometimes found himself in danger of dozing off after an hour of listening to Jason talk. Still, Chester was aware of how his old teacher continued...
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Chester taught in the social sciences department at Seven Graces College, an exclusive all-girls institution with gray stone and red brick buildings above almost twenty acres of lawn overlooking the Hudson River. He taught sociology and one course of anthropology, although his real interest was anthropology. At first, he had been surprised that his young female students showed almost no curiosity...
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It was almost noon and the Friday flow of women shopping on Central Avenue was heavy. Behind the wheel the air was pleasantly warm and summer musty. Large cardboard eggs and pasteups of pink and yellow rabbits filled the windows of the bakery and the pharmacy, while the New England Men's Store had mannequins sporting raffish boaters and pink...
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The house was dark as Meryl cut off the engine in the driveway, but she didn't think anything of it until she got up the stairs. Then, pow-the smell! She knew immediately that someone had thrown up; she couldn't miss the sour~sick smell of vomit trailing through the hallway. It smelled like someone also hadn't cleaned up. "Chester!" she called, but there was no answer. She went into the bedroom. He was sleeping all covered...
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Meryl was groggy getting up on Sunday. Usually she liked Sundays, when they looked like a pair of castaways, Chester in his flapping striped pajamas, a patient who'd just escaped from a maximum-security psychiatric hospital, and she in navy blue tattered robe and scruffy slippers, the bag lady who sat at the comer of Fifth and Fifty-seventh, the Bonwit Teller lady...
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Chester fished the Times our of the garbage container. There was a brown smear where the pages had been mashed into a banana peel; otherwise it was clean. He unwrinkled the tom page, cut out the Parks article, found a roll of transparent tape and gently fitted together the three torn edges. He left the article, tape shining like slimy tracks across its square, on the kitchen table and went out of the house. Except for not talking to him, Meryl had spent...
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Meryl had the lowest opinion of Jason-an overfed kid, she taunted Chester whenever his name came up. But Chester had steered by Jason's star ever since he'd returned home to Connecticut from Malaysia, confused and knocking at loose ends, then found his way to Columbia. There, Jason's course on ethnocentrism and Asian culture had...
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Chester did not remember the afternoon air as heavy and closed, with the density of warm wet wool. In his involuntary memories of Malaysia, he had recalled the rush of air in his hair, rustling pleasure, motorbike rides leaning into a wind, even through the thick traffic on Batu Road. The smells of cloves, jasmine, and human ordure. Glimpses of crimson and gold Benares silk cloths in the dusky fronts...
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School reunions were a Western practice. Li An had read about them in the International Herald Tribune and in thinly disguised autobiographical accounts in American women's magazines: the fretting over clothes and jewelry, eagerness to preen before ancient rivals now rotund and drab, the happy shocks as sight adjusted to missing hair, overflowing flesh, and...
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With a powerhouse like BioSynergy--or BioSyn, as it was better known-a weekly bulletin was not simply a newssheet, it was a hot document studied by investors, shareholders, and the Monetary Authority of Singapore for clues to the company's health and future. Ang Swee, the executive chief, had compared BioSyn-Sign--Li An had come up with the title three years ago, a creative...
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Paroo was late. The cloud.. had begun thickening about eleven. By noon the sun was nowhere in sight. Chester waited outside the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies library as Paroo had told him to, hoping that the trees stirring did not signal a downpour. Of course he was completely unprepared. No one traveled around the world with an umbrella, except...
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Nuisance!" Auntie Ellen said. She was talking to the key sticking in the door, but Suyin pretended she meant her. "Better you don't come and get me from school, I am such a nuisance." "Now, Suyin, don't be difficult." She knew Auntie Ellen and Mom had been talking about...
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It was like when he went scuba diving for the fir" time, off the quiet western reefs in Bali. One minute he was in a world of air, with a sky as blue as in calendar covers, absorbed by the slip-slap-slap of the waves against the boat hull; the next minute, he was in water, green-and-gray light shimmering through in blurred refraction, then becoming grayer and...
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Suyin was in a school play. She was playing Madam White Snake. "You don't know the story of Madam White Snake?" she had asked Ellen in genuine horror. "How can a school principal not know?" "I'll have to read up on it," Ellen grimaced. "Never studied Chinese, you know. In the old days we studied French." "And English literature," Li An added, looking up from a...
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Auntie Ellen was in a bad mood. Her face was cross, like in the cartoons when Nancy was angry with Sluggo, and she wore a big mouth like an upside-down watermelon slice. Except Auntie Ellen's mouth got narrower and thinner, more like a scythe. It meant, Watch out! I don't care who you...
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Chester had expected a little girl, but Suyin was already taller than her mother. Perhaps that wasn't surprising, since he had been one of the tallest boys in his high school. He had thought she would have been immediately recognizable, like his sister would have been had she survived...
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It was Li An's idea to have a family vacation. "Yuck! With Auntie Ellen and Grandma Yeh? I don't want to go!" Suyin used to be an obedient child. Li An had worried that she never talked to her about school or friends. "I don't have any!" Suyin had said when Li An asked her last year, although Li An knew it wasn't true. Her teacher had...
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If Suyin had stayed with Grandma like she wanted her to, Grandma might have been all right. "Get another chair and sit with me." Grandma had been arranging the green and yellow balls so the skeins would pull up together smoothly once the needles began jabbing sideways and in and out. Suyin usually liked sitting with Grandma, who was...
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No one knew how Ellen felt. She also didn't know what she was feeling. She had no answer when her mother, her tough hands tugging at a thorny mimosa, asked, "Aiyah, thirty-six years old already, so old-why you still want to live alone?" Her mother knew more than she would say. She no longer bought Ellen perfume, silk blouses, anything in the color...
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Chester hadn't imagined Li An as anything bu, the woman she had been in Kuala Lumpur. He had successfully avoided thinking about her even when he was in Bali, just a few hundred miles from Kuala Lumpur. The slender brown women around Denpasar had reminded him of her, but he had...
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Grandma Yeh had given Suyin her jade pendant; she called it a special amulet, a talisman. Suyin liked its pear shape. Grandma said it was a peach-the peach of longevity that grew in the Garden of Immortality and that Kuan Yin hid from the other gods to share with humans because she pitied them. Humans, Grandma said, were much to be pitied. The old...
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In the Iast two weeks, everything had been excruciatingly important, every detail potentially dangerous and to be overcome by her most focused attention. Li An could not spare the time for even a cursory consideration of Chester's request for another meeting with Suyin-Suyin who now refused to sleep without her mother present in the house. Suyin, Li An...
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Page Count: 292
Publication Year: 2001