Josh Stenberg

Josh Stenberg is an Asia-based writer whose work has appeared in various journals and anthologies. He has translated two volumes of Su Tong’s fiction and edited Irina’s Hat: New Short Stories from China

Posts by Josh Stenberg

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June Silkworms

A short story by Josh Stenberg

 

I wouldn’t call it exactly a conscious process, but you move to a new city and you think: who and when is it going to be, who will occasion the love affair, here? Who will pose the question?

If this is your attitude – and it is the only honest attitude – then the woman in question will materialise. You have to summon her out of the ether. Such persons, seemingly autonomous, are a result of your desiring them, of self-hypnosis. If you focus on this problem (and who ever really focuses on anything else?) at very least an obsession will develop. And why not? Obsessions pass the time just as well as actual lovemaking, which also has epidemiological drawbacks.

Cities are times and times are women. Women are cities and cities are times. I have lived in a number of cities, each of which has their official historical obsession, affair, question, concern. I grew up in Zhenjiang, a poorish Jiangnan city famed for its vinegar and the story where White Snake tries to drown the evil monk on the monastery hill. Yet I spent years at my classroom window, waiting for a succession of girls – whose very names fade before my groping mind – to wander beneath, to exhibit themselves to view. Life, catwalk, school, asylum. High school life was chaste, or self-indulgent; adolescent dreams were fed, almost innocently, by the one soft-porn film that a friend had brought back from a trip to Hong Kong. No snake appeared; not even a fox.

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The View

Flash fiction from Shanghai by Josh Stenberg

 

Jason called out of the blue. He was staying at a fancy hotel in Pudong; I should come over. The view was amazing, he said. Had I ever been? So, come.

I was startled and almost stumbled in the street. I agreed instinctively, out of confusion. Once I put down the phone, a prick of self-loathing. I wasn’t going anywhere special, so I bought a pair of new shoes in self-parody. Leather is also a kind of substance abuse.

Despite the shoes, the day was suddenly empty and smelled perilous. There was too much time before I was to go meet him and I knew that at home I would only mull and stew. So I just kept walking. The streets were cradled in that brief spring when the temperature is still comfortable but the threat of summer has already made the rounds. Things begin to sweat, especially things like us, who don’t belong, who prickle and rash. The climate is trying to excrete us.

This thought proved I hadn’t slept enough, so I repressed the desire for a cigarette and groped about in my mind for some duty or escape. I followed a sign, as if it held some kind of authority, like it might fulfil a perverse need to foil expectation. I turned into the Sun Yatsen residence.

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Those Crazy Shanghai Nights

Flash fiction by Josh Stenberg

 

Peng was at the door. The famous dumplings were in Shanghai, somewhere, and they weren’t going to eat themselves. The rest of the troops, already assembled, were milling and photographing each other with wall posters of tourist meccas far away, with clocks in the lobby.

I took it as a special favour when Mona Kwan wanted to have her picture taken with me. This was the girl I was trying to sleep with at the time – there was always one back then. Back then? I like to pretend now my life has become more complex. I remember I had an elaborate plan to hive her off from the group, look at that building or mmm, doesn’t that barbeque smell good. We would get lost by accident on purpose. It was nice that our Hong Kong cell phones were out of service here. We could disappear, properly, the way people used to. For once, the theoretical romance of travel might spill over into real life.

As a consequence of this obsession I have no recollection of the famous dumplings. I remember only that Mona would not play footsie with me at the table. Another girl squealed and eyed me incorrectly, and by noon the prospect of me-and-Mona seemed antique.

After lunch we went through the tourist brimstone of Nanjing Road and down to the Bund.

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The Devoured Man (part two)

A different kind of zoo – Josh Stenberg's story concludes

THIS STORY FIRST APPEARED IN HALITERATURE

 

 

Back at the museum building, Vitaly slunk off without saying a word, clearly embarrassed at how far from bovine the tigers had proven. The guide, herself frightened witless, told everyone to keep calm. She could not be blamed for the incident, and though the director cuffed her on the head out of sheer frustration when he emerged from his office, gazing uncomprehendingly at our terror like a fruit bat in sunlight, I do not think her job was ever in danger.

The director then delved into a strikingly quick and unperturbed general address of sorrowful farewell, urging us to return on a more propitious occasion—incidentally, they had successfully hosted many weddings.

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The Devoured Man (part one)

Don't feed the tigers – A short story by Josh Stenberg

THIS STORY FIRST APPEARED IN HALITERATURE


My editor signed off on the tiger story right away. “Yes, yes and yes again. Finally, you’re getting the hang of it. Endangered species, big scary-slash-noble cat, conservation, Chinese corruption—all of these are humdingers. Go for it. Way better than the poor-factory-conditions stuff you’re always trying to pull. Be sure to get a picture of a tiger roaring or something. Smiling tourists, taunting a cub or whatever. You know what works; you know what the public likes, ergo you know what I like. Things red in tooth and claw.”

I had proposed the topic after reading about the tiger park in a Chinese newspaper fluff piece, and now I searched the Internet to see what was current on the subject in the Anglo press.

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