it is time to go to my next enemy
After Maoyi’s third aunt dies, I walk over to their building to see if I can scavenge any of her belongings. There are already people rifling through the overlapping forms on the sidewalk. The half-moon gasping at our insolence. I had been looking for a 缸 to repot my dracaena. And the dead have no need for the instruments of the living.
The orchids left behind give off a smell of urine, which I strongly suspect to be human. None of their containers are 缸 sized. I can’t quite make out one orchid from the next, all shrivelled, heads-hung, a 3AM colouring. The streetlights burnt out some years ago and do nothing to obstruct the night. I imagine them in shades of red. A protagonist kind of red that goes straight through retina to brain.
It is time to go to my next enemy.
In the end I take a box of blank workbooks, thinking that second uncle can repurpose them. Second uncle is the most creative of my neighbours. Turning previous years’ calendars into wallets. Saving spat-out fishbone to fertilize houseplants. That kind of thing. My dracaena gorges on fishbone and slippery moonlight to grow itself into monstrous proportions. He taught me the trick of fishbone as currency.
“Fish head soup is best for growing children,” when I refused to eat it as a child.
“Fish are born human until despair overtakes them,” when I mourned their blanched, protruding eyes. Maoyi, her cheeks full, heard these same stories but had no difficulty slurping down second, third bowls.
I didn’t believe second uncle then. Now I know it’s true. Only grief can be so delicious.
I sit down on a bench facing the lake and eat an ice cream. The lineages in the lake are not for me. I have no intention of listening. A child in a group of school children waiting for the ferry eyes my ice cream.
In the eighth month of a season of grief, second uncle took solace in the return of the lake’s fly populations, who had vanished suddenly when he was a child. The previous five nights, second uncle had thrashed and wailed without sleep. That night he turned iridescent and heard from the flies the conditions of return.
The next night, second uncle wrote out instructions for fish head soup and gave them to me (鱼头汤) (the kill has to be fresh) (the ginger sliced) (葱花) (decisively) (some salt in the middle of things) (or the end).
I get on the last ferry leaving at 4:06AM. No life form has evolved yet to tolerate the daytime temperatures, even the flies. I plan to be in bed by night’s leaving.
The breeze on the lake a preview of the day’s heat. From the deck the sky a small pink. I can count how many flies. The workbooks are also not blank. Like the orchids left outside, the original text must have seared in the daytime heat, leaving behind the human user’s hand-scrawl notations, loops, circled terms (now termless), and underlines.
Was this Maoyi in gradeschool, her third aunt didn’t have children. Tenderly, I trace the slant and incisiveness of her lines. We were still learning English then, laughing at its horizontalness.
The workbooks must have been printed before heat-resistant inks were a thing. Older texts were known to evaporate if left outside in the sun. I try hard to not get ice cream on them. Second uncle can probably still use the faded, mostly blank to hold onto something.
My enemy steps from one 大水缸 to the next, looking for a phase of the moon in the water where no part of itself is missing. The courtyard full of 大水缸, not all uniform in size. There are several people sitting with their feet in the water. This will be the last time I stop here, I think. In the aftermath, I’ll see if there’s anything I can rehome.
At one of the larger 缸, I kick off my shoes, socks, and join the others sitting on the rim. The loops and carvings under my fingers are not unfamiliar. I slide my feet into the water and watch both disappear. This would be a good time for another ice cream. My enemy sits down too and looks properly in the water.
As expected, my enemy seems to falter. I’ve been plotting for nine years.
As predicted, thrashing, a high jump into the air. The 缸’s surface pristine again.
I don’t hesitate. 我把所有的缸都砸了, and the water, unable to hold, rushes back to the earth. 缸 breaks open, and everything comes through. I don’t leave a single 缸 intact, though it may be the right size for my dracaena.
Can a fish accept living in air. These were not the terms of its biological contract, but I need it to stay alive in the interim.
It is time to go to my next enemy.
Waiting for an auspicious night to eat it. When there’s something to celebrate, I’ll take a cleaver to its neck.
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