fiction

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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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On the Platform

A short story from Shanghai – by Michael Russam

 

He still caught himself getting lost, from time to time, in thoughts about the city that had been his home for a year now. About the way that Shanghai was so prettily decorated with its past and present and future but also, the more he thought about it, so muddied and polluted. Today wasn’t one of those days, though.

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Bird Talk

A story of old Hong Kong – by Rosalyn Shih

 

Gor Tsai’s first words were the grumblings of a policeman’s walkie talkie.

Peggy’s husband brought him home in a bell-shaped bamboo cage he balanced on his knees for the minibus ride from Yuen Po Market, only three stops away. The bird’s name meant “little brother”, because the Cantonese name for his kind was baat gor or “brother eight”.

Setting his bounty on the dining room table, the husband solemnly shushed his parents and his wife, waiting for the bird to speak.

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Mouse Trap

Rats in a maze – fiction by Nick Compton

 

Bachelorhood didn’t suit Jake. He had an empty fridge and a cupboard full of mice. He’d hear them at night. Not just a few, but bloody hordes of the little bastards. Loud as a herd of elephants. Lying awake in bed, thinking of her, he’d listen to them run riot throughout his little hutong place. It was worse when they’d get into the drawer filled with plastic bags he used for the trash. The scratch and swish as they rifled through them had an air of desperation that panicked him much more than their secret scampering. When he told his landlady, a fast-talking barrel of lava from Sichuan Province, she laughed and waved him off. “It’s an old Beijing neighborhood,” she said in an explosion of accented Mandarin sand-blasted by years of chain-smoking full-tar cigarettes and screaming at her husband. “Buy a glue trap.”

One night he’d forgotten about a cookie in a little paper pouch he’d tucked into the side pocket of his backpack. As he closed his eyes, he heard what sounded like an excited kid tearing into a brightly wrapped present on Christmas morning. He popped out of bed and grabbed a slipper, sneaking to the top of the stairs that separated his lofted bedroom from the vermin below. It was too dark to see clearly, but he aimed for the bag and fired.

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White Socks, Short Nails

A tale of two Ayis – fiction by Magdalena Navarro

 

Auntie Han took two steps back and looked at me as if straightening a crooked painting.

"Are you wearing the new socks?"

She stepped forward to flatten my hair to the sides of my head.

"Yes." Plain white, no patterns. I had changed into them at the train station that morning.

"Hmm. Show me your hands."

I obeyed, my eyes fixed on her mouth. Two of her front teeth were missing, but that did not make her look endearing. She was getting them fixed now that she had saved a bit of money. Besides, her mother-in-law's funeral had given her an excuse to go back home for a while. I was her replacement.

“Good." She dropped my hands. "Keep your nails clean and short. That's how they like it.”

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