W10-Liu+Heng-Dog+Shit+Food

W10-Liu+Heng-Dog+Shit+Food - The Columbia Anthology of...

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Unformatted text preview: The Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Literature Joseph S. M. Lau and ' Howard Goidbiatt EDITORS Columbia University Press N E W Y Cl' E K . Columhis University Press New Yuri: Chld‘lester, West Sussex Copyright C: 1995 Cuiumlsil iJniver-sit}:I Press All rights reserved Cnlumhie University Press wishes to express its sp- predstinn oi misrlnee given by the Pusth Fund in the publiestion of this anthology. Library of Congress Catalogingeinfublimtian Darts. The Columbia enthningy Inf modern Chinese liter:- rure r' Joseph S. M. Leu end Hmrd Gnldblstt, ed- Itnrs. p. trnr-{I‘viedern Arlen litennrre series IW A ISBN «tr-131450031 1. Chinese litersmrer-mt centurje—Tnnsiltlnns inlfl English. i. Lnu, Inseph 5. heir.r 1934- . II. Guidhlert. Hawsrd, 193.9- . III. Series. PL1653.E1C54 1994 BPS-I'BEWS—dm 94-35304 CIP Clreia-Ound editions of Celine-ans Universlr-jr Press books are printed on permanent anti durlhle end-free I psper. Printed In the Unlreni States of America :"e1n93y554es1 .Pmrflrfisesu LIU HENG (1954- ) Dogshit Food Translated by Deirdre Sabina Knight The events described in the following story probably took place during the Great Leap Forward [195 3], when the peasants, after being instructed in the virtues of self-reliance, were urged to engage in an all-out effort to increase production. The campaign turned out to be a disaster and was abandoned in 1959. Many years later, when the villagers tried to recall how Yang Tiankuan had left Flood Water 1lz’alley that morning, they didn't know how to begin. They could only remember one thing, though they had no idea if it had any particular significance. "He was carrying a hundred kilograms of millet." This insipid phrase had been repeated in the village for more than thirty years. It was insipid because the days ahead of Tang Tiankuan after that morning turned out to be anything but insipid. Yang Tiankuan waded lightly through the fog. He had a straw basket over his shoulder ; the sack inside was bulging with grain. As they were shrouded in the morning fog, the villagers suspected that his basket was empty. But the fact was that for the last few days he had been borrowing grain from various families, hemming and hawing about what he planned to do with it. Maybe that is why he was able to run so swiftly. + But the people only repeated, "He was carrying a hundred kilograms of millet.” The comment out deeply into the ego of this sex-starved bachelor. Yang Tiankuan carried the grain on his back like a donkey to the appointed place, his self—respect compromised. Panting, his eyes went white and he could no longer speak. He was in a daze when a man approached him and asked, "New grain?” I Yang Tiankuan nodded, wiping his sweaty face with a towel. The man had LIUHENG 41? a squat mule behind him. Without bothering to gauge the weight, he lifted the sack onto his shoulder and swung it over the mule’s saddle. "Okay, it’s a deal. You can rest up a bit now.“ Then the man laughed and led his mule away. Someone emerged from behind the mule, standing there watching Yang, who took a quick glance, but didn’t dare to look closer. He felt like dismembering the man who had just left, but didn’t have the strength. He heaved a long sigh, which was to become his habit, and for which he would occasionally be mocked later. What an ugly monsterl A hundred kilograms of millet in trade for a giant goiter? Was she worth it? He mulled it over and concluded that she probably was. After all, the woman was his now. He led her down the road, preoccu— pied with what he would do with her on the bang. Things happened faster than he expected; the woman had set his passions afire. "How did you get that goiter?” He started a conversation only after they had left the back streets of Clear Water Town. "I've had it since I was little.” “Your man sold you because he couldn't stand the sight of . . .” “I’ve been sold six times. If you decide to sell me, it’ll be seven. Are you going to? If you are, you might as well do it here and save the trouble of making the round trip. This town has a market. Do you want to sell me or not?” “No, no . . .” The woman talked so fast that Tiankuan had to compose himself before deciding. “I’m not selling you.” “That’s good, since you might be crushed to death carrying a hundred kilograms of millet back to the mountains." Laughing, the woman took off in front of him. The goiter above her shoulder swayed back and forth, but Tianltuan no longer paid any attention to it. His gaze was fixed on her buttocks, fat as a horse’s, and her yamlike feet scurrying along the mountain road. "Will the goiter- get in the way of having babies?” Tiankuan appeared a bit worried. "Get in the way of what? It isn’t growing on my crotch." The woman’s words had a coquettish air that roused Tiankuan’s ardor. "Whatever you want, I’ll make it, believe it or not.” "Okay, okay !” The woman went down the mound to piss. But after squatting down, she didn’t. get back up. She let Tiankuan carry her into the bushes where they finished their business amid moans and screams. By the time they entered the village, Tiankuan no longer felt ashamed of his wife’s goiter. On the contrary, he now cherished it like a precious part of his own body. All this happened not long after the Communists parceled out the land. Since Yang Tiankuan’s household had increased, his acreage no longer suf- 413 Fiction Since Igyfi ficed. So the village assigned him another two acres of carrot plots. The land was fertile, but far from the road. It hadn’t been planted in years, not since the Japanese guerrilla invasion when the farmers burned the crops to keep the lapanese from getting at them. Rather dull by nature, Tiankuan didn’t even complain when he'was given land no one else wanted. He just swallowed the injustice. But not his woman. She climbed on top of the pigsty to curse loudly, and even though her curses appeared to be directed at the pigs, the real message was lost on no one. The village cadres were so frightened by her, they dared not show their faces. "Hey, you pig! What were you in your previous existence? You must have sinned and bullied my man in your former life. Well, you sure are a beautiful sight nowl What are you snorting at? Watch me take a shit and feed it to you. You putrid guts . . .” The villagers knew that Tiankuan had married an extremely ugly woman with a goiter, but were surprised to learn that she was a foul—mouthed demon as well. No one dared to cross her. Even Tiankuan was afraid of her. The more she cried, the shinier her goiter became, expanding into a huge balloon. Tiankuan felt dwarfed in her presence, wondering if he was really a man, since she was so much more aggressive than he. He went to the stove and ladled out some water. Timidly he reasoned with her, “You must be tired. That should do it. Come down and have a drink." “Don’t you have any balls? You probably can’t even squeeze out a drop of urine or a single fart! I’ll get down if you take my place, climb up here and give those fucking bastards hell for me.” Tiankuan helped her into the house, burdened with worries. This sharp- tongued woman promised only hard days ahead. Still, she was his woman, able—bodied and vigorous, as good in bed as she was skilled in the field. Wasn’t that the kind of woman he had wanted? The woman proved to be not only capable but hardworking. She took a hoe and some food straight to Hulun mound to build a grass hut. She worked for five days and five nights straight without going home. During the day the couple would work bare—chested, turning over black soil. At night they’d couple in the grassy brush, their naked legs entangled. In three days Tian- kuan was worn out, but his wife showed no sign of exhaustion. After work she would let her husband rest in the hut to nourish his male essence, while she went home to fetch baskets of yam—shoots. Back at the mound she would cut them into equal pieces, mix them with grass ashes, and plant them in the spongy soil, carefully spacing them two hands apart. The woman was a skilled farmer. That fall Tiankuan and his woman harvested more yams than they could eat. Since his cousin Yang Tiande had a large family with four children and a very poor crop that year, Tiankuan wanted to help him. “Bullshit! In times of plenty you forget about hunger. You may not worry LIUHENG 419 about the future, but I’m scared of starving. If he wants to eat, let him grow his own food.” - To prevent him from giving away their yarns, she dug a cellar behind the hut and piled the yellow-skinned yams up as carefully as if they were eggs. Then she scaled up the cellar. Her deeds were as abusive as her foul tongue. Tiankuan was embarrassed to raise his head in front of his fellow villagers, but he knew in his heart that his wife treated him well. This knowledge assured him that they would survive all hardships. In due course they became parents. After their first child came, it seemed as if the woman had opened her gate: a crying, hungry baby would come into the world as soon as her legs were parted. Until the age of forty, there was hardly a moment when she wasn't nursing a little cub whose yellow mouth sucked at her small turnipulike breasts. Once the baby drank its fill it would chew on her goiter with its baby teeth, smearing her neck with saliva and mucus. There was always plenty of milk. On hot summer days, Tiankuan would squat under the northern eaves to eat while she sat by the kitchen door, a baby playing with her breasts. A little squeeze sent a white stream straight into Tiankuan's bowl. When, in frolicking moods, they turned to tease each other, a stream of milk from her breast would smack Tiankuan right in the eye. He took great pride in this special skill of hers. But the woman was not a bottomless udder, and the children would not be babies forever. The couple had to eat and the children had to be fed. They had to find enough food to fill eight mouths, big and small. When Tiankuan first became a father, he had plenty of fun with his children. But now that he was a father of six, he realized that he and his wife were digging a deep pit. Each child was a black hole. They saw the corn porridge in their pot begin to get thin when their third child was born. And it never got thicker after that. By the time the fourth child could hold a bowl and use chopsticks, the porridge started to look green. Meal after meal they had to add leaves to make enough. But the children all had good hearty names associated with food. Their eldest son was Buckwheat. Next came a whole line of daughters: Soybean, Little Pea, Red Bean, and Mung Bean. The baby was another boy. They called him Millet. Two boys with beans and pea in between made for a prosperous family. But once they all lay down, there was just a line of empty stomachs. Tiankuan and his wife could do nothing but sigh. The children had wellntrained tongues, long and skillful. After every meal Mother would examine their bowls, and whoever left crumbs would not get away without a scolding and a beating. “What are you, short-tongued? Lick it clean.” She’d beat the back of their heads until tears ran down their cheeks. Tongues hanging out over theirs chins, they’d squeeze their little faces into their bowls as hard as they could. This was the task the children learned earliest and most earnestly. If they came at the right moment, visitors could see all eight faces of Tiankuan’s household submerged behind their bowls. The chorus of licking and slurping against the rough surface of the pottery was enough to make a person jump with fright. After dark, when a person's figure could no longer be seen, Tiankuan would go out under the stars to visit his neighbors. He’d carry a little bag, shamefaced and frightened, as if he were holding out his own heart. When he came across people unwilling to lend him food, he wished he could shrivel up and squirm into his little worn bag. The inhabitants of Flood Water Valley were mostly good people. Few had refused to lend Tianlcuan food. Tiande was an exception. "If you want food, send your goiter hag here.” A harsh retort from his cousin forced Tiankuan to realise that the ill feelings generated by the yarn incident of so many years back still lingered. He could only leave. When he reported this to his wife she cursed, “Are you two really from the same grandfather? Fuck that bastardl” As if this weren’t enough, she stomped over to Tiande’s garden and picked a pumpkin she had earlier set her eyes on and boiled it with salt. By the time Tiande discovered the empty vine in his garden, and was cursing up and down, Tiankuan's children were already shitting pumpkin seeds. The household lived on like this. The woman’s surname was lCao. No one knew her given name. She told people it was apricot, but no one took her seriously. The barren lands in the Western Water region grew no apricot trees. Apricots were grown only in Flood Water Valley. Apricot was the name she picked after her marriage. But since no one found her deserving of such a name, they didn’t use it. She was referred to only by what grew on her neck: Goiter. Her Western Water accent was rapid-fire and prickly. When she spoke fast she sounded like a mating rooster, full of clack clack gait gal: cocklike hot air. People thought her mouth was fit only for cursing. And could she ever curse! When she was at it, obscene words would pour out in a stream. In one fell swoop, she seemed to have transformed herself into a man, even more daring and resourceful than most men in her ability to humiliate her opponents and all their female kin, dead or alive. In these parts men beat their wives as often as they eat. But the woman named Cao seemed to have castrated her man. She'd pull Tiankuan’s ears and swing him around the yard. This was a custom of the Western Water region. No one dared get near her, considering her a Western Water tigress. The year Red Bean was born the Production Brigade’s canteen went out of business, and famine struck the region. Even the sight of hark on trees made the people's eyes light up. And a handful of grass would literally make their mouths water. One day a platoon of soldiers doing maneuvers passed the hill near their house. Goiter, taking month-old Red Bean along, followed them and returned with a basketful of steamy dung from the cannon-carrying mules. When Tiankuan saw it baking in the sun, he thought it was ordinary shit and carried it over to the pigsty. When Goiter found out what had happened, she sprang out of her room and gave him two slaps across the face. “Are you blind? You couldn’t stand the sight of their shit, while I had to put up with their farts? Now see if you can shit something we can put in the pot and boill” _ The children watched their father reel from the slaps. He had to struggle to regain his balance. Neighbors craned their necks over the fence to watch, laugh, and sigh. If she wasn't a tigress, what was she? But then they saw her take a sieve and head toward the river. Now that the mule dung was mixed with the stench of the sty, she had to rinse it with extra care. After the grass roots and the dregs were washed away, some whole or broken corn kernels remained. These golden nuggets of grain looked like shining stars in a pot of boiled apricot leaves. While they were savoring these tiny grains, the family must have been feeling the digestive movements of the mules’ intestines. But they seemed to be content with what they got. As Tiankuan was stroking his cheek with his chopsticks, he had to admit that his woman was really something. What could his neighbors do but hold their tongues? IClue virtue redeemed many vices. No one could say that this woman was completely rotten. No graves had been dug that year in Tiankuan’s family plot, thanks partly to sheer luck and partly to this foulnmouthed and evil-hearted woman. Their days were certainly full of hardship, but no one seemed to have any sympathy for this woman. She could work alongside any man, although it depended on where she was working. If the task at hand were for her own family, she would turn the millstone herself, stamping around as forcefully as a blindfolded beast of burden. She could even swing her children as they held onto the secondary mill shafts: Tiankuan would have to stop to rest six times when carrying firewood from Windy Fire Valley,- she needed to rest only twice. And the bundle of firewood she carried was big enough to hide half a fence behind it. Rain or shine, she made fifteen trips a day, at dawn and at dusk, to fetch water. Five trips were for her own family's water vat, the rest for families whose fathers or sons were either martyrs or currently in the military. She didn’t do it out of kindness; she wanted to add four extra work points toward her daily credits. But once she found herself in the field she was a different person. When it was time to work, her muscles and energy began to sag, turning her into a pile of lazy flesh. In the time fellowwworkers could hoe two rows of corn- stalks, she would stitch half a shoe sole, hiding in the shade of the stalks. Her hoe never touched the soil. When they went far off to collect hemp for rope, men would carry eighty bundles, and women would carry fifty. But she, like 422 Fiction Since 1996 a dainty damsel, would carry under one arm a single bundle no thicker than the handle of a pickax. "Are you telling me your goiter grows down to your ass? Can’t you carry anything on your back?” The team leader gave her a piece of his mind. “I can’t put anything on my back because your dick is stuck between my legs.” “I see your basket has something in it.” "If my basket were empty, wouldn’t my children, your six little ancestors, starve? Oh, of course, they are Tiankuan’s children. You wouldn’t dare pick on your own.” She laughed with such abandon that the team leader was at a loss for words, and only raised his eyebrows. I-Ier basket was half filled with freshly watered hemp shoots, green and fragrant, all ready to be thrown into a pot and cooked. When at noon her fellow-workers took a break, she used the time to comb the hilltop looking for hemp shoots. This kind of wild vegetation was rare in the hills near the village. What could the team leader say? He could neither chastise nor condone her. He could only leave her alone. But that wasn’t the only trick she pulled. She also sewed special pockets in her clothes. When she got home from work, she would fumble around and always manage to pull out something: baby cube of corn, a few ears of grain, pears or plums. It became her daily habit, and she collected quite a handsome harvest. No one could catch her, however, because they couldn’t figure out where the pockets were. Some suspected that she hid the stuff in her crotch. But it was hard to prove, for even though she was an ugly old hag, that part of her body was no place to conduct a search. Or it may have been that no one was really interested in catching her. Tiankuan might not know the details behind these stolen harvests, but he knew that from the beginning his wife’s problem was her filthy mouth. After their children were born and they were always hungry, her bad habits extended from her mouth to her-hands. He couldn’t stop her, because he was not her match, verbally or physically. Besides, her abilities had proven to be valuable in raising a herd of hungry children. Her claws went wild and spread in all directions. The neighbors had built a trellis along the courtyard wall to grow bottle gourds. A sheath of tender juicy leaves sprang up, and several white flowers reached over the wall. Mung Bean and Millet stretched their little hands up to pick the flowers. "Don’t break them. Let them grow.” lGoiter had her own plan. Once the flowers withered, from the stalks hung some fist-sized gourds, swollen up like big balloons. The woman next door was no slouch either. Waiting until Goiter was at work, she took the opportunity to sneak over and used a basket made from chaste—tree twigs to scoop up the gourds. This would prevent the vine from drooping. Besides, it would let Goiter know who was the owner of LIUHENG 42.3 these gourds. Goiter behaved as if nothing had happened. When the neighbor peeped through the fence to see her reaction, she did her best not to reveal a trace of her intentions. When the gourds were grown, Goiter estimated that, mixed with two eggplants, they would provide enough food for a whole day. Quick as the north wind, she reaped a hefty harvest. The gourds were duly cooked. Goiter was excoriated. Her neighbor’s children took the lead, straddling the fence to shout, "You fucking mother of a thief 1" After the urchins had their say, Goiter charged forth majestically. She didn’t curse anyone. She just berated the gourds, calling them names in such a roundabout way that they became metaphors for bewitching women who climb over fences to seduce the in- nocent. "My darling gourd meat, you were born to be fucked over. You should remember this tomorrow. If you are going to look so sexy, stay in your own yard. Let your own kind have fun with you.” Angry shouts from the neighbor were thus silenced. She was so humiliated that the only strength she could muster was used to pull up the plants. She tore the trellis to pieces. Those who had been bested by Goiter often won- dered if the slut from the Western Water region were a human being. Even Tiankuan thought his wife was probably possessed. That year’s crop was sparse once again. And little Millet was already seven. Goiter’s days of being possessed seemed endless. Tiankuan turned fifty, though he couldn’t figure out how he’d managed to live this long, not what kind of guts filled his belly. He was as lively as a tree stump. Lying on his brick hang, he couldn’t help recalling that day in his youth when he carried the hundred kilograms of grain on his back. I'Ie’d sniffle with sadness. Grief swelled in his chest, and he sighed repeat- edl . lI'l‘ailhat are you sighing about? The first day you saw me you started sighing. Now we’ve spent half our lives together. Have I ever mistreated yfluilnff "Never, never.” Husband and wife covered themselves with a ragged cotton quilt. There wasn’t any activity other than an occasional exchange of words. In the past Tiankuan would respond to the slightest hint of flirtation by rolling on top of his woman until they were both bathed in sweat. But he wouldn’t be able to do it anymore. Tiankuan didn’t even want to look at his wife’s behind. Besides, the children slept with them, and Buckwheat and Soybean were old enough to know what their parents’ panting meant. The last time they did it was in the garden, behind the cucumber trellis, under the moonlight. They were rocking back and forth in the heat of passion when suddenly she asked, “What are we going to eat tomorrow?” Taken aback, Tiankuan asked himself, "What are we going to eat?” then 424 Fiction Since 1936 pulled up his pants in despair and squatted down. At that moment the connection between what they had been doing and what they were going to eat finally dawned on him. Following this train of thought, he was able to capture some hazy images of a time prior to the incident with the hundred kilograms of grain. His faceless ancestors faintly came into view, copulating and eating, with one nagging at the other, "What are we going to eat to- morrow?” "What are we going to eat tomorrow?” he asked Goiter. Her rough skin shone white and smooth in the moonlight, but he’d lost interest. " Wheat bran.” “Where did you find it?” "In the saddle shed. Little Pea has a quick eye. She has gotten clever.” "There are some rat holes in the field behind the warehouse. I bet you could find some real provisions there.” Tiankuan concentrated on the arrangement of the rat holes. From that time on he was devoid of any sexual desire, and rubbing flesh with his woman had become a thing of the past. Goiter also came to terms with reality. She no longer reached out for him when they were lying-on the hang. What to eat? He thought hard every day about the sarne old question that had occupied his ancestors for generations. His wife began to look gaunt. If she was once a tigress, she was now a sick one, weighed down with anxiety and sadness. Her goiter grew wrinkled, no longer a shiny pink air balloon. lt no longer puffed up when she cursed people. Tiankuan thought to himself idly: Haven't I worried enough? He looked at the six children with their hungry faces. They had all developed a habit of licking their runny noses with their tongues. His heart blazed up in anger. He felt like beating the brains out of something. The year Mung Bean dropped out of school and Millet began, life in Flood Water Valley wasn't too bad. New babies were born into the world one after another, and the average land per person went from nine tenths of an acre down to seven. Nonetheless, the food rations were still adequate. Each household got a book of food coupons for twenty kilograms of grain per person. If not enough, they could go to the grain co-op and buy more. As the summer grain was still growing green in the fields, people were already shuffling back and forth carrying empty sacks or sacks full of grain along the mountain roads. One morning after Goiter had carried eight buckets of water, leaving seven buckets to be fetched that evening, she fed the chickens, the pigs, and her family and left with the food coupons under her arm. Those who saw her leave the village thought that she looked quite benign. Only later did they realize that a kind look on an evil person was no good omen. People crowded around the counter outside the grain co-op. But despite their jostling, they didn't look hungry. Goiter grasped her empty sack, only LIUHENG 425 to discover that her coupons and money were missing. A hot-tempered woman all her life, she let out a long screech. She fell on the ground, spitting foam. .All the people buying and selling grain surrounded her to watch the funny goiter rolling up and down on her breasts. They craned their necks like chickens and their eyes bulged out like crows’. A man from the grain store, unable to get through the crowd, began ceremoniously quoting from Chair- man Mao's little red book, reminding them that though they came from all corners of the earth, they were gathered here for a common purpose. What he really meant was that he wanted to get through the crowd to help. At that I time, quoting from Mao’s sayings was both fashionable and effective. The people quickly parted to make way for him. He took a good look at the woman before fetching a teakettle from behind the counter. After gargling some water to clear his throat, he spat it into her face. He repeated this several tiines. Iier mouth ceased to twitch, though her eyes remained glassy. "Which village are you from?” “Lost.” “What’s your name?” “Lost.” "What did you lose?” "Lost,lost. . .lost. . .” Goiter was hysterical. Those surrounding her grew even more interested. Her rescuer doubled his efforts to show off. He grabbed her head and, with all his strength, rubbed his finger on the acupuncture point of her upper lip, summoning her: "No, you won’t lose it. Come back! 1Wake upl” Struggling madly and screaming “Motherfuckerl” Goiter crept up and fought her way out of the crowd. She cried until she was limp. Tough as nails her whole life, it surprised even her that she had shed so many tears. She retraced her steps twice, leaving no stone unturned along the tensmile mountain road. She even went into the bushes and stripped, turning over every patch and pocket of her clothing in hopes of finding her lost coupons and money. She didn't get home until the moon had appeared in the sky. Under a lantern Tiankuan was smoking a long bamboo pipe. On the table next to the hang a bowl of rice porridge had been left out for her. She stared at the bowl of rice porridge as if in a trance. “Mother, eat some porridge.” Millet leapt over and pulled at her. “I’m not eating. I won’t eat anymore . . 3" She sounded like a little cat. Tiankuan knew at once that something bad must have happened. As he questioned her, the fire in his heart surged. His palms trembled so violently he didn’t know what to do with them. His wife’s. sudden weakness made his courage swell. It’s really something when a puny dick suddenly acquires balls. “You thief I” He yelled and smashed the bowl of porridge on the floor. “You scum ! " 426 Fiction Since 1976 In all his life he had never felt such gratification. “So you lost the grain, eh? We'll have to use you for food. I’ll have to eat you I” As he spoke, he lost control of his hand. He lunged at her and slapped her face madly, striking her head and her goiter to his heart's content. The villagers squatted outside in the darkness to listen, understanding that Tian- kuan had finally regained his manhood by overturning the tyranny of his wife. Half her life she’d paraded her skill at scrounging neighbors’ food. Now she’d mysteriously lost her own grain. Such was the retribution visited upon the woman from the Western Water region. The villagers seemed to share the sentiment that Tiankuan should beat her to death. As he was beating her, a wail froze his hand in midair. “Heaven, let whoever stole my grain coupons return them to my family. My grain. . .” Her wailing was like the refrain of a song. She sang it over and over again. The moonlight made her goiter shine like a white ball, lighting up the darkness. Tiankuan blew his nose, lit a lantern, and carried it outside. In the middle of the night some villagers, unable to sleep, overheard Goiter fetching water from the spring, her pale feet slapping on the stone platform. They also heard the sound of the garlic smasher, very crisp, as though some nutshells were being broken. Then came silence. I While Tiankuan was crawling around the mountain roads waving his lantern back and forth in search of the coupons, his wife swallowed bitter apricot kernels and lay on a mat. There were quite a few stars in the sky, blinking and looking down upon them with icy stares. When his lantern died down, Tiankuan returned home. He could hear pitiful crying from two miles away. The sobs came from his nest of children. He was met in the noisy courtyard by his little girls. " Father, come look at Mother quirk!" He was frightened. Nearly collapsing, he slowly made his way to the edge of the kuug. The old hag’s ugly face was all twisted. She was still breathing, but the sound of her gasping chilled his bones. He took the bowl Millet was holding. Inside the crude china he felt some shards of broken apricot kernel. Only then did he remember how she'd not eaten anything all day. She no longer wanted to worry about eating, so she’d gone and eaten this. Since one would never go hungry again after eating this, he wanted to follow suit. At dawn a wooden stretcher left the village. Some young men in the neighborhood helped carry it; Goiter slept high on top, her waxen face shining bright. Buckwheat led the way, and Tiankuan followed, accompanied by his cousin Tiande. In the morning fog the procession slowly moved dothill. As he trudged along, Tiankuan had the illusion that he’d returned to that morning nearly twenty years ago, except that the weight of the hundred kilograms of grain he imagined he was carrying was about to crush him into a thin cake of bones. LIUHENG 43? Buckwheat called to him, "Father, Mother’s talking!" They steadily lowered the stretcher, and Tiankuan put his ear up close to her. He gently pushed aside the goiter to get nearer to her mouth. “Dogshit. . ." After a moment of silence, she spit out another word. "Food. . .” Tiankuan nodded his head in agreement, mournfully, and stroked his wife’s hair for the last time. As the stretcher was about to float out of the valley, Buckwheat replaced Tiande’s son so he could relieve himself. The boy went behind a big rock to piss. Then he let out a terrible scream as though his dick had been bitten by a snake. Tiankuan ran over and spotted a small bandana bound up with a rubber band. It was lying under a rock, covered by a few blades of grass and looking like a piece of gray mortar. A couple of feet away were two sections of not-quite-fresh green human shit. Tiankuan could guess why It was green, but felt utterly confused, looking around aimlessly like a fool. His complexion was ashen. If hurnan shit could petrify, it would expose the folly of future archaeolo» gists. They would sink into the labyrinth of history. tangled up in enigmas related to questions of time and race. Tiande’s son didn't realize that his aunt had drawn her last breath. Anx- ious to impress her with his find, he showed her the recovered bandana. "Auntie, look, Heaven has returned your coupons." The woman’s eyes stayed open, her large lips were parted. The goiter shone yellow, as if she were taken aback by being suddenly forced to confront her misery. “Auntie, look. Look!" “Shut your trap l” Tiankuan roared at his nephew, and Buckwheat began to cry. Tiande gave his son a kick. When he had made sure that Tiankuan’s wife was no longer breathing, he ran over and gave his son another kick. Tiankuan began to cry. He took the bandana from his nephew and pulled a hemp sack out from under his wife’s body. There was no longer any need to go to the clinic, but food had to be purchased. So while the rest of the procession carried his wife back, he went to the co-op. For the time being the couple was parted, one already stiff and the other still moving. Tiankuan returned with a sack of grain, just enough to cook a meal for the villagers attending the funeral. His children also forced their way into the crowd to grab some food, devouring it voraciously. Their mother’s death served them after all. "But what will we eat tomorrow?” Tiankuan was now left alone to ponder the bitter question the couple had always faced together. Only now did he fully understand how difficult it is to be a woman. At night he’d roll his naked body over restlessly. The empty 423 Fiction Since 1976 spot beneath the quilt made his heart ache. Then he’d remember the crisp sound of her vulgar language. “Dogshit. . .food.” His virtuous wife was gone. With the departure of the tigress from Flood Water Valley, life grew quieter and lonelier. Without the rhythms of her cursing like a mating rooster, the days passed uneventfully. Freed of their mother's abuse, life for the children turned out to be happier. Times had certainly changed. Each child’s belly grew to twice its previous size, but for the most part they were kept fed. Yang Tianltoan is now over sixty years old, still as gentle and benign as ever. He speaks with the soft voice of a woman. Never in his life has he shown off his manly power. Perhaps he tried once, but that once cost his wife’s life. On his way to work in the fields leased to the peasants, he often makes a detour to visit the graveyard, carefully weeding out the wild grass on the mound. He is hill of remorse. The children feel no debt to their mother. They seem to have forgotten her completely. Looking back dispassionately, one might be convinced that she was simply an incomprehensible person. When Millet was a senior in high school, he once flipped through a medical book in which he discovered that a goiter is some kind of enlargement of the thyroid gland. Only at that moment did his mother, with her hanging ball of flesh, appear in his mind. Although it was but a flash, he felt a touch of nostalgia, which is an indication of pious feelings. Now that Buckwheat, Soybean, and Little Pea have children of their own, they never let them play with bitter apricot kernels. Obviously, they still remember something of their mother. The older generation, however, loves to tell the story of Goiter. They invariably begin: "He was carrying a hundred kilograms of grain.” The stress ' is always on the word grain, emphasizing that it wasn’t dirt or stone or firewood, but "grain," which is food, what people have craved and fought over for generations. Apricot Cao had come for it and had died over it. She was deeply in love with it. "Dogshit. . . food.” How could this phrase be called cursing? It was plainly affectionate. Was she cursing? Who was she cursing? This you would have to ask Tianlcuan, who is taking a stroll around her grave. Perhaps the old man knows the secret. 1936 ...
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This note was uploaded on 02/06/2012 for the course ASIAN 261 taught by Professor Kaldis during the Winter '11 term at University of Michigan.

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W10-Liu+Heng-Dog+Shit+Food - The Columbia Anthology of...

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