The next is a brief story by Ye Chun, excerpted from Hao: Tales. Ye Chun (surname: Ye) is a bilingual Chinese language American author and literary translator. She has revealed two books of poetry, Journey Over Water and Lantern Puzzle, a novel in Chinese language, 海上的桃树 (Peach Tree within the Sea), and three volumes of translations. A recipient of an NEA Literature Fellowship, a Sustainable Arts Basis Award, and three Pushcart Prizes, she teaches at Windfall Faculty and lives in Windfall, Rhode Island.
There’s a fertility rock on the northern shore of Pagsum Lake, a couple of hundred kilometers east of Lhasa. Lanlan reads on-line that the rock is formed like a lady’s vulva, with all of the lips, creases, and clefts in the precise place, amplified a number of instances, easy to the contact like feminine pores and skin. Girls from far and close to journey there to hope for a kid.
Lanlan had a miscarriage attributable to “irregular” uterine lining—in response to the analysis of the specialist who wore one strand of hair wrapped round his bald crown. Groping his hair to make sure it was in place, he requested her if she’d had an abortion earlier than. She answered no, however he continued as if he didn’t hear her, “Some younger girls suppose they’ll abort their youngsters as freely as they need, however every thing has penalties.”
“I’ve by no means had an abortion earlier than,” Lanlan mentioned once more, her face flushing, which she knew could possibly be taken as an indication of deception. Her husband Li Qiang was her, his eyes already skeptical. The physician turned to him. “Both means,” he mentioned, “your spouse’s uterine lining is irregular. I’m afraid she may have one other miscarriage should you attempt once more.”
When she hit thirty, Lanlan all of a sudden needed a toddler. She needed it badly. And she or he approached her want methodically—calculating her ovulation, measuring her temperature, and, asking Li Qiang to do it for her, she phrased her request like a menace: I don’t suppose our marriage can go on with out a youngster. He seemed considerate, as if he was contemplating what this could imply for him, what he needed to lose or achieve from it. Perhaps he needed to be a father or mother too. Perhaps he dreamed of a son who wouldn’t be like him, the best way she dreamed of a daughter who would stay a distinct life from hers.
Lanlan was fifteen when it occurred—in a wild date grove on the hill by the railway that reduce by way of the center of her small hometown, Luzhen, which was identified for nothing however spicy dry tofu. The grove was mentioned to be haunted and Lanlan had gone there earlier than, with the identical neighborhood boy, when she was youthful. That they had waited till nightfall to see if the rumored ghost fireplace would rise above the rugged gravestones that had been scattered amongst bushes and weeds. That they had held fingers after they ran down the hill screaming on the first look of a attainable blue glimmer.
She had identified the boy since kindergarten, and that 12 months, after they each turned fifteen, he hit a progress spurt: his fingers, particularly, appeared to have doubled their dimension. She couldn’t assist however stare at them. When he mentioned he needed to point out her one thing within the grove, she thought he would present her the actual ghost fireplace, or extra most likely, he would confess to her that he preferred her. She wasn’t in love with him, however she felt lonely and needed one thing. As they climbed facet by facet up the hill, she questioned what it might be like to carry his alarmingly huge hand. He was quiet. She pressed him to inform her what he needed to point out her. He mentioned she would discover out quickly. He tried to smile, however his face seemed darkish. She was all of a sudden afraid. After they got here to a clearing the place the 2 different boys every sat on a tombstone, she thought they had been ghosts at first. The following second, the boy’s giant hand was on her mouth. After they pushed her down, the practice rumbled previous, and the bottom beneath her shook and shook.
She advised Li Qiang nothing about it. Concerning her previous romance, she advised him this: She had one boyfriend earlier than him, a boy she had first seen when driving her bicycle to highschool, who, about midway, would seem from the other way driving his bicycle to a different faculty. Then, at some point, he was ready for her in entrance of her faculty gate. But it surely didn’t work out: they bought into totally different schools and ultimately grew aside.
The evening after the physician’s go to, she prolonged that model, sharing with him a bit of fact minus every thing main as much as it. She advised him concerning the crusty-eyed physician whom she discovered by dialing a quantity scribbled on an electrical pole. The person wore a reassuring white lab coat and masks, however the room reminded her of a public rest room, with its faint stench and unpainted partitions and ceiling. Anyway, she advised Li Qiang, it harm a lot that she thought she would die there after which.
They had been mendacity in mattress. Li Qiang reached out and touched her hand. She moved nearer to him, however he put a knee in between them, regardless that he continued to stroke her hand. “It’s okay if we don’t have a toddler of our personal,” he mentioned. “We will undertake. Or we will simply stay the best way we had been.”
She might see what it might be prefer to stay the best way they had been: Li Qiang can be out along with his “buddy” Ah Lun 5 nights per week, claiming they had been enjoying badminton within the fitness center; she would debate with herself whether or not to trace them down and catch them in mattress someplace. And really feel cheated, silly. However then what?
On the pc display screen, the fertility rock appears to be like small, shadowy, contoured with two white khatas to focus on the stone vulva. In any other case, most individuals most likely wouldn’t have a look at it twice. But it surely does have these embarrassing pleats as soon as Lanlan enlarges the picture.
On her first day in Lhasa, after checking right into a fly-infested resort, Lanlan will get on a rickshaw to the Potala Palace, which was in her view for many a part of her minibus experience from the airport—first from afar like a painted rock formation on the mountaintop, then this magnificent palace pulling pilgrims in woolen chuba towards it. Now she rides previous them as they spin prayer wheels and mutter mantras. Some prostrate after every step ahead, their foreheads callused, lengthy braids dusty.
After the motive force lets her off in entrance of the steps main as much as the palace, a weight all of a sudden drops in her head and legs, which she figures a second later have to be the altitude illness. She sits down on the curb earlier than dizziness can journey her and rests her head on her knees. She laughs quietly to herself. Right here she is: in entrance of the best palace on the planet however hardly in a position to transfer. The solar pours out. Folks swirl. She feels calm by some means, like the attention of a storm.
She thinks of herself as a survivor. She has managed to get into a school and away from her city. She has dated, made advances, and every time as she climbed onto one other boy, she needed to really feel a salvation. She wouldn’t lie down, not enable them to experience her. But it surely didn’t take a lot, a glint within the eyes, a grunt within the throat, to make all of it come again once more.
Li Qiang is totally different. When often he does have intercourse together with her, at her request, he enters her from behind. Generally she rides him, in the dead of night. They by no means preserve the sunshine on. She by no means has to ask for that. He’s light, incapable of doing the sort of issues the three boys had finished to her. She feels secure with him, if not dishonest. Generally she wonders how he and Ah Lun do it. She is certain they’ve been doing it—possibly they’re of their mattress proper now. However he’s not going to offer her a divorce. She has requested, yelled, they usually’ve wept collectively. He wraps his arm round her after they have firm. Whereas at evening, in mattress, they proceed to lie on reverse ends like two query marks.
Perhaps she will proceed to stay like this if she has a toddler, a daughter, to be particular—whereas everybody else desires a son, she desires a daughter. She is not going to enable what occurred to her to occur to her daughter. She will probably be a superb mom, current, not like her personal mom, who had made it clear that she’d wished her to be a son the second she was born. And who had paid 1000’s of yuan in fines simply to ultimately have one. That was why Lanlan couldn’t inform her mom something. She was on her personal. Has all the time been.
Lanlan sits on the curb till the solar sinks and chilly rises from the bottom. She shivers, raises an arm to a rickshaw driver, and asks him to take her to the closest hospital. There, she is given a rubber bag pumped filled with oxygen. She lies down on a cot, holding the bag like a float, and inhales.
She wakes up the subsequent morning to the buzzing of flies, every green-headed and ferocious. It takes her a second to recollect the place she is and what she is doing right here. The fertility rock. But it surely appears slightly ridiculous now to take a four-hour bus experience simply to go see a rock. A rock is a rock, irrespective of how it’s formed. The facility of religion appears flimsy together with her lingering headache and the black flies spinning above her, chanting their tireless I would like, I would like.
As an alternative, she involves the Potala Palace once more, decided to climb up the steps this time. Getting into the gate, she sees a younger lama seated on a stool by the hall wall, scribbling one thing in a pocket book. In a saffron gown with one shoulder naked, he has the pronounced Tibetan brown complexion and angular nostril and chin. He’s very younger, maybe not but twenty. On his shaven head, new black hair appears to be pushing out this very second. He appears to be like up.
“What are you writing?” she asks.
“A love letter,” he says.
“To a nun?” she says and rapidly laughs.
He’s a resident lama who works part-time as a tour information. His identify is Dhargey, which, he tells her, means progress, growth, spreading. He offers her a tour across the murals and statues, amid 1000’s of flickering flames of yak-butter lamps that appear like 1000’s of miniature sunsets.
In one of many galleries, she sees a row of bronze statuettes with bare feminine figures mounted on the laps of bare male figures who sit cross-legged on lotus thrones. A few of the males have spokes of arms. Some put on crowns of skulls. Some twine their arms round their feminine companions’ gleaming torsos. The females’ faces are hidden or seen solely in profile, with tongues extending towards the males’ mouths.
“They’re yab-yum, symbolizing the union of compassion and perception,” says Dhargey in a matter-of-fact voice. “The male deity represents compassion; the feminine represents perception; their union, enlightenment.”
Lanlan tries to maintain her face impartial. However in her head, she sees two faceless our bodies of flesh, not bronze, looped round one another within the yab-yum place, fusing, igniting. She sees her rickety mattress within the fly-swarming resort room. A imaginative and prescient clearly unsuitable.
The yak-butter lamps leap and tremble, like heartbeats in flame, burning away dimness nevertheless small.
That evening, mendacity in her resort mattress, she imagines sitting on Dhargey’s lap, within the yab-yum place. She is going to really feel him harden, really feel the urge to maneuver, to tug. Do the female and male deities not really feel pleasure fused in that place? Do they not suppose of a kid, a bodily one, as an alternative of, or along with, metaphysical enlightenment?
However she’s going to simply have one other miscarriage, possibly once more at work, like final time, inside a restroom stall: the cramps, the grey sac the scale of a Ping-Pong ball bobbing amongst darkish blood and clots in the bathroom bowl. It was a aid not with the ability to see by way of the blood and mucus to what curled inside.
The fertility rock stands on a pile of erratically formed rocks. It’s concerning the dimension of an grownup head. She needs it had been bigger, extra grandiose, one thing one might lookup at like a monument. The scale of a door, maybe, that will enable an grownup to move by way of. Vacationers are taking photographs in entrance of it, joking, guffawing. Lanlan stands away from them. The one individual praying is a Tibetan lady who’s about Lanlan’s age, her palms closed, eyes closed, her brow lowered to her fingertips.
Lanlan waits till the vacationers trickle away. Then she closes her eyes and places her palms in entrance of her chest just like the Tibetan lady.
Whether it is attainable to backtrack. If she had not gone to the date grove with the boy with huge fingers, whom she needed to see time and again at college and within the neighborhood, as her physique raged inside. If she had mentioned hello to the boy on the bicycle a day earlier, had waited for him at his faculty gate, the best way she imagined he’d do for her.
But it surely might have been worse. They might have killed her, the three boys who at the moment are of their thirties like her, dwelling their lives in that very same outdated city, elevating youngsters as if nothing had occurred. Or the bogus physician who held the factor up in his gloved hand like holding a half-pound meat on the grocery. She had lined her face, believing he would toss it at her the subsequent second.
She opens her eyes and appears on the earth mom’s stone vulva—its lips and creases ossified, bearing no exit or entrance.
She dozes off on the bus experience again to Lhasa. She is contained in the rock, in a darkish purple pool of water, with the Tibetan lady. Each of them have shrunk to the scale of an toddler, however they appear simply the identical, with wrinkles beginning to line their faces, and eyes wavering however fiery. The lady says one thing to her in Tibetan, after which swims towards what seems to be an island within the middle of the water. Lanlan doesn’t perceive her however follows anyway. It’s truly a tree. She sees as she swims nearer, a floating banyan tree.
The lady holds on to a dangling root and appears up. Lanlan swims to her facet and does the identical. She sees youngsters of various ages and sizes swing amongst its branches, its aerial roots tied on the finish the place they sit and swing. They give the impression of being all proper of their perpetual swinging, like planets orbiting.
However then Lanlan sees these youngsters’s eyes. They don’t seem to be blinking. Their faces are equally clean. They make no sound. Even their legs will not be transferring. The aerial roots are swinging by themselves. And there’s no mild. The tree grows within the dimness, upon no matter life is left in these youngsters.
The Tibetan lady reaches out to somewhat lady close to her. It appears she is making an attempt to cease the kid from the swinging, to carry her and rock her again to life.
In the course of the subsequent few days, Lanlan wanders across the metropolis, this holy land the place vacationers like her are all searching for one thing. They’re like her, she thinks, gifting away change to vagrants on the streets, as they’d not do in their very own cities, the place they’ve turn into callous at their sight. They’re recovering a greater self, making an attempt to be nearer to the Buddha-nature.
There are a lot of vagrants. Many appear like they’ve traveled from far-off mountains and prairies, carrying thick chuba, carrying their few belongings in woolen bundles. Many are with babies, who’ve a peculiar means of gazing at you, their darkish eyes extreme, unblinking. They make Lanlan keep in mind her dream and the youngsters swinging within the tree. She appeared to have seen herself there too, her fifteen-year-old self swinging amongst these youngsters, although she had not remembered herself to look that younger at fifteen.
One morning, whereas consuming a steamed bun from a road vendor, Lanlan is startled to see a toddler standing proper by her, gazing up at her face with out a sound. She stops chewing. She appears to be like round and sees a lady watching them from a dozen meters away. Lanlan buys two extra buns and locations them within the youngster’s fingers. The kid runs to his mom, who smiles and nods at her. Lanlan smiles and nods again. She feels good for a second, after which she feels sorry, so sorry she desires to carry on to the mom and youngster and cry.
At evening, mendacity on her resort mattress, she imagines not going again to her low-altitude metropolis, which is sort of a dust-bowl, and she or he, a particle of mud blown forwards and backwards from dwelling to work, work to dwelling. As an alternative of going again to that threadbare life, she’s going to withdraw all her cash from her financial institution, give it away, after which she will probably be one in every of them, hunkered on the roadside in tatters, her empty palms held out within the solar, begging from those that have wronged or been wronged elsewhere on the planet.
“Right here, preserve this.” They may hand her a unclean, wrinkled one-yuan invoice. And she’s going to take it as if she is giving them a blessing.
The day earlier than her departure, Lanlan returns to the Potala Palace. She stands once more in entrance of the biggest Buddha statue within the central corridor. She has stood in entrance of many Buddha statues by now. They’re all over the place: the low-cast eyes, the total, spherical face. She has felt her coronary heart rattle however doesn’t know whether it is actual, or if it’s solely what she’s presupposed to really feel, standing beneath the immense, gentle eyes that appear to care about you and know what you may have been by way of and let you know it’s okay. You might be nonetheless liked. I really feel your ache, as a result of I noticed it. When it occurred, I noticed every thing.
Dhargey is giving a tour to a international lady, his English accented however comfy, like his Mandarin. The auburn-haired lady nods and touches his elbow: she appears to be like somewhat too keen as she leans her face to him. And Lanlan sees her personal self on this lady who has traveled even farther to get right here, to search for one thing or redeem one thing, and to see a short lived phantasm on this younger Tibetan boy who has no fault, no darkish historical past, who is meant to follow vacancy, detachment, and reject the flesh that she and the girl every carry with them.
Lanlan follows them, making an attempt to not be seen. They arrive to the yab-yum gallery. Dhargey is now reciting the symbolism of the bare intertwined shiny statuettes in the identical matter-of-fact voice. Lanlan can see that he too is making an attempt to maintain a impartial face, however his eyes and naked shoulder betray him. He should need, too. How can he not? He should need and wish to be needed. He’s ordinarily useless too, having fun with the lone vacationer’s shy fascination. He should marvel if these girls ever think about entering into that showcased place with him—if solely he would allow them to climb onto him, maintain them tight and be the embodiment of compassion, giving his stunning physique to them in order that they might acquire enlightenment and carry it again to the place they’re from. Be complete once more.
Lanlan is about to show away earlier than he sees her. He says one thing to the opposite vacationer and walks over.
“It’s you,” he says. Not a query, however an announcement, as if he has been anticipating her. It might have been what the boy on the bicycle mentioned to her had she waited for him in entrance of his faculty gate, or someplace on his means dwelling, driving into his view.
“Sure, I used to be searching for you. I wish to say goodbye earlier than I go away. Say thanks.”
“For exhibiting me round.”
“You’ve thanked me already.” He chuckles.
The opposite lady is ready for him to return again. Their eyes meet: he’s solely a boy, they appear to say to one another.
“Formally, take you to dinner. Goodbye dinner,” Lanlan says.
She waits for Dhargey outdoors the palace. The solar is slanting however nonetheless sturdy—the solar that loves the bruised, the childless and getting old no higher or worse. The moon can be within the sky, half-full, clear, cool, watching her like a distant mom who has lastly provided her consideration.
Dhargey exits the gate in a navy jacket, blue denims, and baseball cap. He smiles self-consciously, as if he isn’t positive what she’s going to consider him on this layman outfit. Whether or not he has misplaced some allure or efficiency with out his saffron gown and shaved head. Or possibly he’s merely unsure about going out with a vacationer lady over ten years older. It doesn’t matter what it’s, Lanlan finds his uncertainty touching, and his youthfulness. The world is malleable proper now, overflowing with the solar’s amber mild and the moon’s deep-well one.
They pause on their strategy to hearken to a blind musician strumming a dramyin by the roadside. His sightless eyes seeing what they can’t see. When he stops, his galloping notes make phantom leaps. Mild bounces on his quivering strings.
They arrive to a Tibetan restaurant painted with major colours and steeped within the salty, creamy scent of yak-butter tea. They order beer and meats, which, she finds out, Dhargey shouldn’t be forbidden to eat. He also can keep out late on occasion and slip again into the palace by way of a again door. He even dated a woman not way back—a Han lady who labored at a hair salon.
The sunshine outdoors the home windows has dimmed, whereas that contained in the restaurant gathers warmth and depth. Lanlan desires to the touch Dhargey’s brow, the sweat seeping out as he talks about his choice to be a lama. His father had hoped to be a lama earlier than assembly his mom. Since Dhargey was a toddler, his father had hoped his son would turn into a lama to meet what he himself had failed. He isn’t going to disappoint his father, Dhargey says.
Lanlan is aware of he’s telling the reality. He doesn’t have to lie, not like herself. She will be able to hear all of the lies she has advised others, and all of the lies she has been advised. She hopes that her husband, Li Qiang, and Ah Lun have been making love to one another, and that they are going to proceed to take action. It is not going to be straightforward. It received’t be straightforward for anybody. Together with Dhargey, who’s telling his story of dedication and self-sacrifice. An excellent, sort story. There may be kindness on the planet, and it’s floating proper round her like wispy air. If she shifts her physique the precise means, or turns her face in the precise angle, she might breathe it in and really feel her subsequent exhale to be easeful and free. She desires to the touch Dhargey the best way she has by no means touched one other individual earlier than.
Perhaps it is going to be in her squeaky resort mattress, the flies swarming above them like an obscene wreath. No, not there. It ought to be by the Lhasa River the place she has walked alone at nightfall. The moon will shed its watery mild. The wildness with its rolling mountains, glaciers, shrub lands, and gorges will press in, whereas town behind them loses its substance, leaving solely the fluttering of prayer flags. They may sit subsequent to one another on the damp grass. The air will probably be skinny and brisk. She is going to really feel chiseled and clear and can climb onto his lap, into the yab-yum place. If he hesitates, opening his mouth to cease her, she’s going to contact his lips and say, “Let me love you. Maintain me and let me love.”
Excerpted from Hao: Tales. Printed with permission from Catapult Press Press. Copyright (c) 2021 by Ye Chun.