restricted access Chapter 9
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1 1 4 So why wasn’t I born an ant? “I think you’d better find someone else to be your husband. I don’t see what the big deal is about husbands anyway, but if that’s what you want, you’ll have to find one somewhere else. That’s just not my scene.” Yang Fei never looked up from his painting. We’d been living together for ten years. We shared a two-room apartment with his mother, and everyone thought I was sleeping in her room. As far as my mother and Auntie were concerned, I was a member of his family already, and they were prepared to turn a blind eye to our arrangement on the assumption that we would eventually marry and have a child. None of us had any idea he would come up with this artistic temperament business. “Painting is my wife; you’re my lover,” was his last profound word on the subject. Oh yeah? I moved back in with Mommy and Auntie and told them to find me a man to marry. I was engaged within the week. “Yang Fei, I’m getting married.” I hoped that would shock him. He laughed. “Go ahead, and good luck to you.” I tried again. “Yang Fei, aren’t you afraid I might kill myself?” He laughed again. “People who talk suicide never do it. Really, I mean it; I wish you well.” Furiously I thought of all the possible ways I might kill 1 1 5 myself, but by the time I’d hit on the best way I’d also decided that it wasn’t worth the effort, so I went along to the registry office for the marriage license. And got married. The groom’s mother was an old friend of my mother’s, and they had a lot more in common with each other than I did with my husband. “Such a fine figure of a man!” said Auntie. “You’re a perfect couple!” I wore a red satin jacket to the wedding. Mommy and the groom’s parents started to sing the songs of their heyday in the civil war: Chiang Kai-shek, Chiang Kai-shek, If we catch him, give him heck. He’s so funny; let him run; he Leaves us all in milk and honey. They were all giggling away as they sang, as if they were at a party to commemorate their victory over the Nationalists. We’re two lovers hand in hand Off to battle goes my man, sang the groom’s mother, well off-key. Her husband, a former comrade of my father’s, offered one of his own: Hear the dog go woof! woof! woof! Hear the ducks go quack! quack! quack! Marching footsteps sound outside My Red Army man is back! Then it was Mommy’s turn: Across the fields behold fresh blooms of May O’er blood-stained earth where gallant soldiers lay. I wasn’t sure whether she was thinking of Daddy or her other darling, but it almost had us all in tears. 1 1 6 In this celebration of revolutionary history, it seemed more like they were the ones getting married. When my brother had a few drinks, he could get hysterical or depressed, murderous or suicidal. When he was sixteen he had joined the United Action Red Guard battalion for a couple of days, and when they fell out of favor he had spent a month behind bars and emerged with the beginnings of a hunched back. Down in the countryside, his teeth had gone black from the village tobacco, and he had been drunk so often his body reeked. After he came back to a factory job, he lost an eye in a foundry accident when molten metal spat into it. Now he intoned unsteadily, “Bright moon – hic – when – hic – will there – hic – be wine.” “Auntie, you sing for us,” I proposed. “Oh, no, gracious me, all the songs I know are way outof -date,” Auntie protested. “Come now, Elder Sister,” boomed the groom’s father. “The leadership has urged us to let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools contend. New and old are equally fine, as long as they benefit the Four Modernizations.” “Dad’s a pompous asshole,” murmured the groom. Auntie made her contribution: “When I was a girl there was a song the young wives would sing if their husbands weren’t playing fair: If you’re not home...


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Subject Headings

  • China -- History -- Cultural Revolution, 1966-1976 -- Fiction.
  • War stories. -- gsafd.
  • Historical fiction. -- gsafd.
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