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  • The Freewheeling Garden
  • Yi Zhou (bio)
    Translated by Chen Zeping (bio) and Karen Gernant (bio)

He was my teacher, yet once in a moment of ecstasy he had pressed his face against my breasts and said that I had enlightened him. At the time, the word enlightened sounded to me like the sheer rocky peaks of the Danxia landform nearby, which had been sculpted by eons of weathering and erosion. The cliffs were strangely shaped, colorful, and imposing.

Not long after I enrolled in the teachers' college, I began skipping classes. I often went to the nearby Gobi Desert, lying at the foot of the snow-capped mountains. My professor never accompanied me there, but it was he who told me that Gobi was originally a Mongolian word. He also showed me a small piece of human bone the size of a disposable cigarette lighter. It was hard to tell which part of the skeleton the piece had come from, but I had no doubt it was a real bone. It was pure white and cracked on either end, as if it had been broken off from a dried poplar branch. He showed me this as his main excuse for not going with me to the Gobi Desert: he said his father had died in the desert. He didn't pretend that the fragment of bone belonged to his father—he said he had just found it there.

Supposedly there was a place in the Gobi Desert where white bones were scattered everywhere on the stony ground.

I'd searched for the fabled corpse-dumping site, but never found it. Reluctant to admit failure, I broke off a small piece of a dried poplar branch and showed it to my professor. I said, "Look, I got a bone." He took out his treasured piece and compared it with what I showed him. He had to admit that they were very similar. Later, the two objects got mixed up. Either of them could well have been from the dead poplar branch or a skeleton, but we preferred to think that both were human bones. I used one of them to make a necklace.

Soon other girls at school were copying me. They were smart enough to recognize the high quality of the jewelry I made. The boys, like me, were knowit-alls. They believed that I was wearing a piece of genuine human bone and that the other girls were wearing fakes. When I was making out with the boys, I pulled their hands up to my neck and let them touch the treasured bone. In that way, I created for each of them a powerful psychological impression that made them think that making out with me was unique and even sacred. [End Page 126] Only a piece of human bone could give them this experience. It was so easy to manipulate them, because boys are always full of themselves.

Later, more boys hung around me. Their groping was all the same, bending their necks to reach my lips while exploring my body with their hands, each boy enthralled in his own fantasy. If we did this in the Gobi Desert, I always adjusted my position so I could look south toward the Qilian Mountains. The snowy peaks were glowing at noon; the snowy peaks were glowing at dusk. Noon or dusk, the peaks were always glowing. Looking at them, I thought I could see the hopefulness in life.

One boy who was more self-important than the others was a Yugur boy who tackled me to the ground in the Gobi Desert. He was bold and lionhearted like his ancestors—good at horseback riding and archery. He told me that his people used to call themselves Yaohur. All of this seemed to entitle him to be even more self-confident. Anyway, he could have fabricated everything as the result of my egging him on.

The place where I usually lay had been formed by great floods originating in the Qilian Mountains. In those deluges hundreds of millions of years ago, the rocks were swept down the mountains, the larger ones piling up in the passes. Rocks as big as a...


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pp. 126-142
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