Shuang

Fiction by Kevin McGeary

ShuangFrom: Chen Lishuang

Date: 11 April 2011 at 11:56:35 PM

To: Hu Lixin

Dear Lixin,

Though you will never see her, I want you to know that your first child has been born. She has big eyes and pale skin, like you.

I continued to believe that we could be a family long after it was rational. These are the lies that ruin us. Though I won’t bother naming her, the least this kid deserves is a biography.

If only we could print off text messages, I would have rammed a copy down your wife’s throat that night at your wedding party.

But that you are the kind of person who abandons a pregnant fiancée shows that you did me a favor by not marrying me. I need to preserve my mothering ability for a time when I am equipped to give it.

Knowing that my full name is Lishuang, it is funny that you have never asked why I go solely by the name of “Shuang,” which was given because it can mean “twin.” My sister died in infancy and, knowing it could just as easily have been me, it pains me almost physically to hear it suggested that anybody is better than anybody else.

My father is not a man who needs much of an excuse to hit a woman, so letting him know about my pregnancy was never an option. Your text message made me feel a loneliness that is only possible in a city of this size. Allow me to remind you of the exact phrasing: “Sorry, the wedding is definitely cancelled. My parents say that your eyes are too small and your skin is too dark and that they have found someone more suitable.”

The reality of marrying you was always likely to disappoint considering the vividness of the dream. As an only child, you don’t seem to know much about people, especially the opposite sex.

Daydreaming being the most effective way of maintaining my obligation of smiling on the job, for months, after one busy citizen after another trained their eyes in front of them and refused to take a leaflet, I would fantasize about going home at night and again trying on my wedding dress and tiptoeing around my apartment, bare feet on rough cement.

At the same time, I pictured you, unobtrusively handsome in your tuxedo and wearing that smile, crooked, as if apologizing for your good fortune, the image would cause me to grin so broadly that strangers sometimes smiled back.

The night I raided your wedding, you asked me why I didn’t get the abortion. I can’t claim to regret what I did, but the memory of the hurt look on your face remains printed on my conscience.

I appreciated the 1,500 you gave me. However, as the son of a doctor you may have blinded yourself to how low the medical profession can go. We just missed the Spring Festival discounts, so I had to settle for the Huaxi Clinic in Nanshan.

I lay, bare buttocks on white sheets, in the unheated operating room while the surgeon stared into the space between my legs. He can’t have been rooting around for more than a few seconds when he shook his head.

“You have a cervical cyst. That complicates things,” he told me, before adding that this could take several hours.

I told him we had a deal for 1250. I had heard about these swindles, and who was more vulnerable to them than a solitary 24-year-old?

I screamed at him, called him a motherfucker. I threatened to get his license revoked, though without you I was never going to win. As I got dressed with unladylike haste, my t-shirt brushed against the blue string on my wrist and I remembered the story behind it. When I started my job at Hongda Health Clubs, the boss unraveled the whole string across the center of the training room. He explained to us gathered recruits: “If you choose not to cross this string, you are free to leave and I will think no less of you. However, if you cross, we expect you to complete the three months working the pavements and at the end, you might get your feet under the table and be able to call yourself a sales person.”

In the months after we parted, I needed something to do in the evenings without suffering an addict’s relapse and wearing the wedding dress again. Match Point Internet Bar was full of shirtless boys with their feet on the desk playing World of Warcraft and shouting “shit” and “fuck” at each other, but it was the only place where I could get to a keyboard I could use to write to you at length, explaining how we had already crossed the string together, and I wasn’t giving up.

I have recently been nostalgic for the days before I was even in the dating pool. The four years spent working in factories taught me a lot. The first major purchase I made after migrating here was a mobile phone. Every time I lost my phone I would lose a set of friends, but it didn’t matter because I could easily make new ones. My parents were born in Yueyang and will die there. Your parents are here in Shenzhen, able and determined to guide you toward good decisions. I matter less than you, so therefore am the master of my own fate.

The money you gave me for the abortion burned a hole under my pillow–the first of it disappeared at a photo session that showed me at my airbrushed best: holding a fan demurely while wearing a figure-hugging red dress, against a sky-blue background wearing that smile that you once said could be seductive when it was genuine.

Every night at Match Point I would post a new photo to keep me close to the top of your QQ-zone feed. Though I would try to watch a movie or play a game, I seldom got through more than ten minutes without checking QQ for activity.

When the issue was furthest from my mind, I checked QQ with dream-like regularity. There I saw a picture–you with a no-prettier-than-me girl holding a gold ring up to the camera.

“Fuck your mother’s cunt!” the boy opposite me shouted. He must have spotted the stern look on my face and hunched forward in embarrassment.

“Be careful,” I told him. “There are civility laws being enacted.”

His name was Little Ge. He worked here during the day and seemed to spend all of his salary playing computer games at night. His jarring timidity reminded me of you, but he wasn’t handsome, so did not appeal to me.

Anyway, as for this girl with the gold ring, I instantly hated her. But then I hate every girl you look twice at. That night I held my nose and messaged your cousin Deli. I have always been somewhat nauseated by that witless grin, but he may have his uses. He may have shown you this:

Chat with Deli

11 November 2010

Who is she?

???

Who is Lixin marrying?

A Jiangsu girl, works in foreign trade. A real beauty.

When is the wedding?

It’s written on the invitations.

They’ve already been sent out???!!!

I have to go.

Just tell me when and where the wedding is.

Your opportunity’s gone. Deal with it.

Not yet.

Listen, there are plenty of good men out there.

There are marriage corners.

Marriage corners?

Outside the headquarters of these big companies,

Lenovo, Tencent, Huawei, people stick up profiles: photos, height, weight, income, requirements. That’s the place to sell yourself.

You don’t even know what love is. That’s

just a meat market.

I didn’t stick the profile up myself. My parents

did. Kindest thing anyone’s ever done for me.

I signed out and stormed into the bathroom. Hunched over the squatter, I was struck with an inspiring vision. Later looking back at the photo of you and your bride (under an inch of makeup, she looked like she had seen a Korean plastic surgeon who threw in a lobotomy for free), I checked the comments section to see what information was revealed.

“August 18th at Mingxiang Seafood Restaurant,” Deli wrote in response to one commenter, followed by an emoticon that reminded me of his stupid grin.

I leaned across the desk to Little Ge and asked him if he would be here on Saturday morning.

Little Ge looked at his friends, unused to approaching girls, let alone being approached. “Can be,” he said.

“Can you do me a favor?”

On the Saturday, I wanted Little Ge to bring me to some store room and help me get into my wedding dress for the “fancy dress party” I was attending. It turned out the only room available was the unisex Staff Only toilet. I did not dream of having a near stranger take apparent relish in running his hand up my back while zipping up my dress, but hell, he is probably in need of some happy memories.

At this point, my bump was indistinguishable from a beer belly, but on the bus to Huaqiangbei, a bewildered middle-school student gave up her seat for me. These civility laws seem to be really helping our city take the countryside out of the people. Bobbing along on the bus, for the first time in weeks, I had a pleasant daydream, briefly causing me to laugh out loud.

On the television screen, a square-jawed tenor wearing People’s Liberation Army uniform sang a marching ballad about the heroes who defended our country.

I still remember the night I met you at Noodle King. We were not supposed to fraternize too much with customers, still I couldn’t help but tell you how pitiful you looked drinking on your own. You inched over on your seat and left a sweat-stained space for me. We had backstreet barbecue that night.

The first time you took me to a hotel room, you were in no state of sobriety to pleasure me the old-fashioned way, but a combination of finger and tongue took you over the line in a way I had no idea was possible. All this was flashing through my mind when I sprinted toward the red carpet at your wedding reception, feeling more beautiful than ever before or since.

It pains me to type this exchange, but as the ghostwriter of our daughter’s biography, I have no choice. Maybe you don’t remember it as clearly as me as there are two loves of your life:

“Are you trying to coerce us into buying you a house?” your bride growled as her maroon nail almost reached my eye.

“I am not sharing my man,” I yelled back, trying to break free of the waiter’s clutch.

“How do I know whose kid it is?” she yelled back. I was inching closer, desperate to feel cheekbone on my knuckles, but the stench of her perfume formed something of a force field.

Stepping between us, your bowtie defiantly in place, you turned to me: “Why didn’t you get the abortion when I gave you the chance?” Your expression momentarily softened me and I was finally wrestled to the red carpet from where I yelled at Deli to turn his camera off and wipe that shit-eating grin off his face.

How much did the wedding cost? Money that could have been spent on the mother of your child, or donated to a local orphanage.

The following Monday, when Little Ge stopped behind my computer while sweeping the floor, he asked whether I had had a good time at the fancy dress party. I did not even grumble an affirmative. He stood still for a few seconds breathing over my shoulder before the sound of sweeping resumed.

Over the next two months, climbing the stairs to my apartment became more arduous, I lost the ability to clip my own toenails or lie flat on my back. On the job, I took more toilet breaks than permitted. The ceiling of my apartment had a circular stain that grew in size every time my upstairs neighbors flushed the toilet. Afraid of the climb, exhausted by being scolded for laziness, and in need of society, all-nighters at Match Point became a habit. The blue string around my wrist had acquired weeks’ worth of slime that I dared not try to wash in case the whole thing snapped.

On my leather seat, I was in the middle of some of the deepest sleep I had had in years when I was woken by a pop and felt something gush down my jeans. I sprang up and waddled in the direction of the bathroom.

My initial squeal for help was lost among the cries of “fuck your mother’s cunt,” but as it got more frantic, a receptionist with an electric blue afro tapped on the door.

“Save me!” I screamed. The girl knelt over me, mouth open and something on the edge of her tongue. 110 was dialed and people took turns to come and gawp.

Little Ge pushed his way to the front, using his smoker’s breath to offer improvised guidance in rhythm and pushing. The coldness of the tiles pierced the back of my head, a pain which kept me reluctantly conscious. After I don’t know how many hours, the ground vibrated as boots trooped up the outside stairs, Little Ge was pushed aside by a paramedic and a range of equipment was unloaded on the grimy tiles. A middle-aged woman in uniform lifted the back of my head before eventually another wailing voice emerged. I threw back my arms on the blood-soaked floor before our screaming child was spirited into the air. Stretchered down the stairs and calmed by a dose of Demoral, I was given the chance to hold the impossibly soft thing that had been growing inside me. Though feeling high, I tried not to look into its eyes.

I have heard of newborns being flushed down toilets, drowned in rivers and thrown into garbage incinerators, but these things are caused by hard lives, not hard hearts. I will become a mother again, and my body will always remind me that I have been a mother before.

Farewell,

Lishuang

This email, which was uncovered during the Great Data Dump of 2051 has been preserved for being Historically and Culturally Significant. Our researchers found that the 25-year-old Shuang left her child in an incubator which protruded from the southern wall at the Meilin Orphanage. These baby hatches were a result of the civility laws which Shenzhen introduced in the early twenty-first century and the instances of infanticide which persisted at the time.

Her next email was to Little Ge. Attached was a profile she had designed for one of the city’s marriage corners, with her picture, height, age, and education level. But before she had the chance to use it, they entered a relationship. Little Ge lost his virginity to her, then later discovered his inner playboy and disappeared.

After surviving one suicide attempt and several useless men, Shuang died in a hotel fire at age 37, unwilling to leave her room naked or without her lucky bracelet.

Her ex-fiance, who was unremarkable in every way but for his inability to make up his mind, spent his later life regretting his decision, frequently firing off angry WeChat messages at his ageing wife.

 

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About Kevin McGeary

Kevin McGeary is a Mandarin translator, musician, and MBA candidate. His Chinese-language songwriting has been the subject of features in China Daily and on Guangdong Television. He is working on a collection set in the Chinese metropolis of Shenzhen.

Kevin McGeary

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