Flash fiction by Anthony Tao


Ed: twinned with Red Bean Paste on Beijing Cream, for their Flash Fiction competition

Two women, both cleaners, step out of their respective office buildings in a business district in northwest Beijing.

“Where should we have lunch?”

“I don’t want to walk far. Let’s go somewhere close.”

“How close? There’s a diner up by Tarim Petroleum Hotel.”

“We’d have to take the pedestrian bridge over the highway. How is that close?”

“There’s a McDonald’s up front.”

 “Hey! Not a bad idea. I haven’t been to McDonald’s in ages. Let’s check out what’s new.”

“I went the other day. They had a chicken and beef rice wrap.”

“You went without me?”

“I was curious. Don’t be mad.”

“Forget it. Chicken and beef? Those multinationals sure know how to splurge on China.”

“No, not both. You choose one or the other.”

“Those multinationals have things to learn yet. You have to be flexible to do business in China. You have to understand what we want. And if we want both chicken and beef? Could they do it?”

“McDonald’s doesn’t need to. They pre-make everything and just heat it up. Why do you think they’re so fast? Like how we make buildings: one week and there’s a new skyscraper.”

“One week? Construction workers are ants, not gods.”

“No, you’re wrong. One week. I promise you, I heard it in the news.”

“Forget it, I don’t want to argue. All right, what do you want? Those wraps are still there.”

“You think those business executives get taught those things?”

“What things?”

“Dealing with special requests. Chicken and beef.”

“Don’t be silly, of course they do. You know how much it costs to get into business school?”

“Next customer please! Welcome, how may I help you?”

“I’ve heard good things about that wrap there, how is it?”

“It’s pretty good.”

“I’ll take one. Does it come with anything?”

“Add eleven yuan to make it a meal. Fries and Coke.”

Eleven yuan? Forget it. Hey, let me ask, that doesn’t come with mayonnaise, does it?”

“No mayonnaise, just a special sauce. Would you like the beef or the chicken?”


“And for you, miss?”

“I’ll take the fried chicken burger.”

“Sandwich or meal?”

“Let’s make it a meal.”

(“You’ll get fat.” “Says you.”)

“Fried chicken burger meal with Coke. Beef wrap. Anything else? That’ll be thirty-three yuan and a half.”

“I got it.”

“Nonsense. You got the last one.”

“Who’s counting? Go find a seat.”

“Can’t believe I’m letting you do this. Fine, forget it. I got the next one and don’t fight me on it.”

“You can buy me a Starbucks latte.”

“Starbucks latte! Then you’d owe me two lunches.”

“Go find a seat!”

“I’ll wait here.”

“Oh no!”

“What’s wrong?”

“They put mayonnaise in my burger.”

“Uh oh. Just take it back and have them switch it.”


“Yeah, they’ll do it. They have to.”

“You know what? I’ve never actually tasted mayonnaise before. All this time, not once. You?”

“To think of it… I don’t think so.”

“Maybe I should try this first.”

“Yes! Take a bite, then send it back.”

“Yeah, okay. I’ll just say I didn’t notice.”

“Of course you didn’t notice! How could you have? You were expecting a sandwich without mayonnaise! Well, how is it?”

“It’s… sort of like glutinous rice, but tart. No, not tart, but like if you mashed up abalone, then preserved it in quicklime and rice hulls. Gooey and slippery.”

“How would you know what abalone tastes like?”

“I’m guessing.”

“Preserved milk? Like yogurt?”

“Yes. Or maybe the yolk of ripe guava. You ever had?”

“Gooey and slippery, you say.”

“Nothing we have in China compares.”

“We’re too humble for it. Westerners have the milk of goats and gods, served in layers, while we’d eat the dirt of roots.”

“You’re living in ancient history. And I don’t think mayonnaise comes from milk. It’s called egg-yolk sauce.”

“It looks shot out of an animal. Give me a bite.”

“Then I won’t be able to return it.”

“Nonsense. Just one bite.”

"Fine. How is it, Monkey King?”

“It is like milk. Boiled and cooled. Congealed.”

“Let me try again. Corn starch and shrimp intestines.”

“Here, hand it over. Crushed pecans and earthworms, without sugar. The skin of duck maybe.”

“The head of crayfish. The grease of refrozen soup dumplings.”

“Urchins. Taro sago.”


“Hairy crab roe, if it were white.”

Mmm. I remember when I had my first phoenix claw. Can you imagine a foreigner picking one up? They’d think Chinese people were brain-eating zombies.”

“I remember nothing. And here we are, tasting the buttered sweat of the white man. What does that make us?”

“Okay, enough. I’m going to get this exchanged.”

At the counter, the McDonald’s employee looked at the three-quarters eaten sandwich, then at the customer, who was waiting expectantly.

“Switch this for another fried chicken burger, please. Absolutely do not put any mayonnaise in it."

Anthony Tao is editor of the blog Beijing Cream, and you can follow him on Twitter @anthonytao. Also check out his poem Broken Scotch, part of the Anthill-Cuju Writers and Rum night

Read Alec Ash's mirror image response to this story, "Red Bean Paste", here

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