Spicy Chicken Sandwich

Fresh blood – fiction by Max Berwald


All morning a cool, hard wind blew out of the north. At noon his phone vibrated against his arm and he sat up in bed and the wind stopped blowing. “Hello?”

“Mr. Zhang?”


“I’m calling from People’s General Health Services in Haidian.”

Chongan nodded, rubbing his eyes. “I already...” He was still high. He scanned the bed but Morgan was gone. No, she’d fallen asleep at Olu’s– he’d gone home without her? “I already picked up my results.”

“I was hoping we could meet for lunch.”

He looked at his wrist but there was no watch there. “Lunch?” 

“I’m, I’m not calling in my professional capacity, but for a personal reason. I’m the, I’m the nurse who took your blood in August.”

Took your blood? 

“I looked at some of your results and I wanted to talk them over.”

He scrambled out of bed, naked, and began rifling through the top drawer of his desk.

“Mr. Zhang?”

“One second. Everything was…” He found the document. It had a line on it, like an item on a receipt, marked “blood.” There were several numbers and the word “normal.”

“But I tested normal,” he said. “That’s what it says: normal. What’s the problem?”

“I’d rather discuss it in person.”

He took the subway to Haidian. When he came above ground it was hot. With the wind gone there was nothing to cut the sunshine, which made him itch. He thought about buying sunglasses because the walk was long, but didn’t. Half an hour later he arrived at the correct McDonald’s, dizzy and squinting.

He was early, so he sat by the window and watched the intersection. He had a weird feeling in the pit of his stomach, unlike any hangover he’d ever had. The night before he had drunk six Yanjings and smoked a joint. Morgan and Olu had both fallen asleep and he’d left with Lawrence… But Lawrence hadn’t had a bike? So he’d left him there, walking up Gulou Xidajie in the moonlight.

When she walked in, Chongan recognized her. “You drew my blood.” They got in line together. She was young and round, with a broad forehead and short bangs, dressed as if she’d come from the clinic.

“You don’t like needles?”

He shook his head, scanning the board. He didn’t know what he wanted. Then he saw a photo of a spicy chicken sandwich and the wanting welled up like cold water in his stomach.

“You were very tense.”

They were quiet until they had brought their trays back to the table. The smell of French fries was overpowering and he was grateful to have food. He unwrapped his spicy chicken sandwich and took a bite.

She looked at her food, and finally took a sip of her Sprite. “Have you noticed anything strange about today?”

He shook his head.

“Since I took your blood, then?” She kept saying it that way: took your blood. He thought, yes, but he shook his head.

“What are you thinking of?”

She looked outside and he followed her gaze:

The sunny intersection, students everywhere: short skirts, navy blazers. “No wind,” he said. “The wind stopped.” Hard, cool wind had been blowing out of the north for days. That was why the air was so clear, the sky so blue. But that wind was gone now. Had it been there when he biked home the night before? Yes. It had been windy.

“Not just that. But you have someone else’s blood. I sensed it while the needle was in your vein, but you were so nervous that I couldn’t be sure. Then later, I looked at the results with one of the other nurses. She didn’t notice anything, but I saw that you had the same blood.”

“The same blood,” he said.

She nodded.

“The same blood as who?”

“I don’t know.” She took another sip of Sprite.

“You don’t know,” he repeated.


He took a big bite of the spicy chicken sandwich, savoring the fried matter around the chicken. It tasted brown. As the spiciness kicked in, he pictured all of the blood flowing around in his veins. All at once he realized that she was right: his blood did belong to someone else. It wasn’t his at all. He’d never noticed before.

“Has it always been this way?”

“Hard to say.”

“But you’re the same way?”

She started to eat French fries then, not answering. Chongan looked out the window, trying to imagine where all the students were coming from.

“I used to be the same.” She tore open a ketchup packet. “Then one day you’re someone else, and you’re not sure where the fading happened. One day it’s the blood, but the next day it’s the rest of you. You’ll have the memories for a little while, but then those go too.”

“So you’re in between.”

She nodded.

“How long does it take?”

“I don’t know. You can’t study this kind of thing, because you don’t usually know what’s happened until it’s happened, and then if you try to establish any firm theories about what’s happened to you… well, you forget about it before you think to tell anyone. The same way you forget if you have a bad stomachache– as long as it goes away. You don’t know why you had the stomachache, but it’s gone. When was the last time your stomach really hurt?”

An hour later Chongan had retrieved his bike from home and was cycling down Jiaodaokou. He crossed Andingmen Neidajie and rode to the towers and past them and onto Gulou Xidajie until he reached the complex. The sunshine had become even brighter since leaving McDonald's, and colors had taken on an aggressive clarity that strained one’s retinas. He chained his bike to the railing and walked back to her door and knocked.

Olu answered the door in blue harem pants and a Nike t-shirt.

“Did you call?”

He shook his head. 

“What do you want?”

“Is Morgan here?”

“No. Why?”

“Doesn’t she live here?”

“No. Why?”

He stood quietly. Everything seemed to be resisting him. Of course no one would cooperate with him. Of course she didn’t live here. How could anything stay the same when the colors were too bright?

“You were fucked up last night?”

He shrugged.

“Let me roll and then we can eat.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“But you want to talk right?”

She rolled a joint on top of her closed laptop and smoked half of it. He choked down two hits and felt stoned. “Do you have any sunglasses?” She brought him fake Ray-Bans and they walked to a jiaozi place on Gulou Xidajie and ordered pork and chive and egg and mushroom. The sunglasses helped some. When the dumplings were in front of him he ate, turning each one carefully over in vinegar.

“I have to go away.” 

“Leaving Beijing?”

“Uh,” he said. His voice sounded too high.

“Morgan will be sorry to hear about that.”

“Where is she?” He closed his eyes.

“I think she’s with Jimmy. Text her.”

He nodded and ate more. Keeping his eyes shut between bites, he tried to remember what Jimmy looked like. “That’s fine.” Every cell in his body hummed with THC. He wanted to feel jealous but there was something between him and the feeling that was jealous. “That’s fine.”

“You should be careful with people.” He must have frowned. “It’s not so simple for everyone. You can’t fuck and run, then not call for weeks. Then come around talking about leaving–”


“You need to get a job.” She cocked an eyebrow. “Like a regular job.”

Weeks? He tried to think how long he had been sleeping, but it had felt like the natural amount of time. Then again he had never slept for weeks before. Maybe it felt completely normal. Maybe she’s right. He thought of the students. Maybe I’m supposed to be a student. Or work in one of those big offices.

At home he smoked some of his own sativa. It was weaker than Olu’s, but he smoked a lot of it. That brought the colors down further. Then he stripped naked and fell asleep.

When he woke up, a man was inside of him. He opened his eyes and saw his own face in the moonlight. It wasn’t comfortable to have a man inside of him, and the rocking– he couldn’t orient himself in time. He tried to find the end of the feeling, the feeling of his dick, but he couldn’t find it: there was only the foundation.

When the boy-who-looked-a-lot-like-Chongan had finished and thrown the condom in Olu’s wastebasket and fallen asleep, she kept her consciousness churning– propped herself against the vague memory of dirty blood. Younger now, in Olu’s bedroom, she ran fingers over her shoulders. Then she watched his body: spent and quiet.

Leaving the bedroom, she went out past Lawrence– asleep on the couch– into the moonlit night. The wind was blowing again from the north, and Gulou Xidajie was deserted. She remembered the round woman’s needle entering her arm. The wrong blood coming out. Remember this stomachache, she thought. Even though it will go away.

She sat on the curb, lit a Hongmei and hit redial– the number from that morning. Her lungs were the wrong size for her chest. While the other line was ringing she felt herself, sore. Her new body, slight.

A voice beyond exhaustion, out of dead sleep: “Hello?” The wind picked up and the phone crackled. She didn’t speak or exhale for several seconds, keeping the acrid Hongmei smoke bottled up in her new, darkening lungs. “Hello?” 

“So, who were you?”

“An American.”

Max Berwald is a Beijing-based writer from San Diego. He is interested in fiction and screenwriting. His work can be found on Aweh.tv, Loreli, Shotgun Honey, Be Young & Shut UpMondo Exploito and in et al. Magazine