held the greasy paper parcel with gingery care, several inches out from his trousers. His wife did not let up. "Do you know what dry cleaning costs these days? Or what it costs to Lu Zongzhen, accountant for Huamao Bank, was sitting in the corner. When he saw that smoked fish, he remembered the steamed spinach buns that his wife had asked him to buy at a noodle stand near the bank. Women are always like that! Buns that are bought in the hardest-to-find, most twisty-wisty of little alleys have to be the cheapest and the best. She tortoiseshell glasses and a leather briefcase, and then, tucked under his arm, these steaming hot buns wrapped in newspaper–how ridiculous! Still, if the city was sealed long enough to affect his dinner hour, the buns would do, in a pinch. He glanced at his watch; it was only four-thirty. The power of suggestion? Already he felt hungry. He loosened one corner of the paper wrapping and peeked inside. Snowy white mounds, giving off soft little whiffs of sesame oil. A piece of newspaper had stuck to a bun, and gravely he peeled it away; the ink had transferred to the bun, and the writing was in reverse, as in a mirror. He pored over the words till he could make them out: "Obituaries . . . Positions Wanted . . . Stock Market Developments. . Now Playing . . ."–all normal, useful expressions, though funny, somehow, seen on a bun. Eating, it seems, is serious business; it turns everything else, by way of contrast, into a joke. Lu Zongzhen thought the words looked funny, but he didn't laugh: he was a very straightforward fellow. He went from bun-print to newsprint, but after perusing half a page of old news, he had to stop: if he turned the page, all the buns would fall out. While Lu read his newspaper, the others did likewise. People who had newspapers read newspapers; those who didn't have newspapers read receipts, or rules and regulations, or business cards. People who were stuck without a single scrap of printed matter read shop signs along the street. They simply had to fill this terrifying emptiness–otherwise, their Not a problem, however, for the old man across from Lu Zongzhen, clacking two polished walnuts around and around in his hand: a rhythmic little gesture can fill in for thought. The old man had a clean-shaven pate, a ruddy yellow complexion, and an oily sheen on his face. When his brows were furrowed, his whole head looked like a walnut. And his brains were like walnut meat–sweet, slightly moist, and in the end, very bland. 2/10
To the old man's right sat Wu Cuiyuan, who looked very much a young Christian wife, even if she was unmarried. She wore a white linen cheongsam with narrow blue piping all around– the navy blue, next to the white, looked like the dark border around an obituary–and she carried a little blue-and-white-checked parasol. Her hairstyle was utterly banal, afraid of attracting attention. Actually, she had little reason to be afraid. She wasn't bad-looking, but hers was an uncertain, unfocused, timid kind of beauty, always trying not to offend. Her whole face was bland, limp, undefined: even her own mother couldn't say for certain college, Cuiyuan had become an English instructor at her alma mater. Now, with the city
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- Fall '11
- Lu Zongzhen, umbrella Cuiyuan