Yan Ge: Dad’s Not Dead

IN DAD’S CELL phone, Granny was listed as ‘Mum’. There was the odd occasion when number rang at an inappropriate moment.

Sometimes it would be during a meeting at the factory when Dad was busy telling off the laughing chattering salesgirls. Other times, it would be when he was out drinking with friends from out of town the five of them would have got through three bottles of Maotai by then, and the air in the restaurant side-room would be thick with smoke. Other times, it was worse still: Dad would be in bed, either with Mum or else some young woman of his acquaintance. In short, just when Dad was really getting into the swing of things, A Pretty Sprig of Jasmine would sing out. Dad would start to go soft. When his cell phone proved incontrovertibly that it was “Mum”, all the fight went out of  him and, floating gently to earth like a hens feather, hed pick up the phone, clear his throat surreptiously, walk out into the passageway and respond: “Yes, Mum”.

At the other end of the phone, Granny would tug away at the line and at Dads heart stringstoo. “Hello, Shengqiang! Yes, Mum, whats up? Hed stand, propping himself against the wall, just five feet from the opposite wall, just four or five streets from Granny: “Mum, I know about that,” hed go on. “Dont youworry. I’ll deal with it.

Then hed hang up and go back into the room. But in just a few minutes, the whole scenario had changed. If he was with the salesgirls, theyd be gossiping away amongst themselves, if it was aget-together with his friends, theyd be sending text messages or lighting up cigarettes, or if he was in bed with a woman, shed be bent over scraping a callus off her heel. Dad would give a cough, shut the door behind him and theyd get back down to where theyd left off.

The only exception to this rule was if the woman on the bed happened to be Mum. In that

case, he couldn’t avoid a few questions about Granny first. Whats up now with your Mum?” Mum would ask.

Dad would come across the room, take off his slippers, climb across the bed and dive under the covers. “Oh, just forget it!”

And theydget back down to where theyd left off.

Dad put on a maroon striped shirt overhis trousersand went outinto the passageway. He called Zhu Cheng. “Where are you?...Right…come and get me then.


He put the phone away and started down the stairs. He had only got half-way down tothe next floor when he stopped, wavering over something. Then he let forth a poetic stream of obscenities. A bunch of damned fools, the lot of you!” he went on. Your old mans gonna do you all in one of these days!” e carried on swearing from the fifth floor all the way down to the ground floor. Once on terra firma, he lit up a cigarette and smoked it until, far in the distance, he saw his driver, Zhu Cheng, driving up in the shiny black Audi. He threw down the cigarette, ground out the sparks under his foot then opened the car door and jumped in. “Qing Feng Yuan,” he said.

Zhu Cheng turned the steering wheel and the car bowled along West Street towards the outskirts of town. As they crossed the intersection, Dad looked out of the window. The two streets were hideously jammed up with people no one was paying attention to traffic regulations any more, not since the Tianmei Department Store opened up here. One young couple, their arms draped around each others waists, made a reckless dash across the road in front of the car; a young mother had her hands so full of shopping bags she wasn’t holding her kids hand and he charged out and nearly pasted himself onto the cars side-mirror. Zhu Cheng slammed on the brakes, justavoiding hitting them, then stuck his head out of the car window and shouted lengthy picturesque references to their ancestors.

“Calm down, Zhu Cheng,” said Dad from the back seat.

“Mr. Xue, these people need a telling-off. They just think I wouldn’t dare hit them! Zhu

Cheng steered the car carefully through the crowds.

“Nothings the same any more,” Dad said. “People with shoes are scared of people without, and car-drivers are scared of pedestrians.

Absolutely!The Chinese are so ignorant!” Zhu Cheng agreed.

They exchanged a few more remarks and passed the intersection with Shen Xian Bridge. Just three years ago, a new park had been built there and the original smelly ditch filled in and covered over. Dad could see a bunch of old people gathered in the park, some chatting, some just sitting. Granny wouldn’t be there though. He pulled out his cell phone and checked the time.

At the entrance to Qing Feng Yuan, Dad said: “Don’t bother to drive in, Zhu Cheng, just leave me here and you cango. I wont need the car this evening, I’ll walk home.

“I’ll wait for you, you can’t go home on foot,” said Zhu Cheng, good driver that he was.

“Its no distance. I can walk. And don’t take the car back to the factory, come straight to the house and pick me up at eight o’clock tomorrow morning, Dad instructed him. Then he opened the car door and got out.


GRANDDAD HAD DIED two years previously and last spring their housekeeper announced her son wanted her back in the village to look after the grandchild, whereupon she upped sticks and left. Granny said shed never find anyone else to suit and wasn’t going to try, so now she was living alone in the familys old flat, with its three bedrooms and two reception rooms, and without even an hourly-paid helper. She just wanted the peace and quiet, she said.

Dad had noticed that Granny had lost weight since last year, and was getting shorter inchby inch. He walked up the three floors, took out his key and opened the door. As like as not, he wouldn’t be able to see Granny; the flat was piled high with books, magazines and newspapers,

it looked asif no one had livedthere for months. “Mum!he shouted.Then again, “Mum! He



sounded worried at the sudden silence.

“Coming, coming! Granny called back, emerging from somewhere at the back. “Shengqiang

its you!”

Yes, its me,” said Dad, going out to the veranda to retrieve the ashtray which Granny had put beside the potted eupatorium plant. He took it back into the sitting-room and put it down on the coffee table, lit a cigarette and sat down on the sofa.

“Smoking again!” Granny exclaimed from her rattan chair, shaking her head. “Oh, please, don’t go on at me!”

Well if I dont, whos going to?” Granny shot back at him. All right, all right,” Dad said with a puff on his cigarette. “Theres something I want to talk to you about,” said Granny.

Dad scrutinized his mother as she talked. Her hair had been completely white for a while now but she still wore it neatly permed and the waves undulated over her head. She wore a pale-green silk padded jacket over a knee-length grey silk skirt with a white pattern. Her calves were bare below the skirt and above her flesh-coloured socks, the skin pallid and drooping as if half-a-dozen weights were pulling it down.

Dad let his thoughts drift back to the exact moment he realized that Granny was old.

It was about 1996, or maybe 1995, about March or April and Granny suddenly got it into her head that she wanted Dad to drive her to Chong Ning County see the pear blossom in Pear Blossom Gully. When they got there, the gully was crammed full of people. Granny sat in the car frowning at them. Zhu Cheng had just started as their driver and hadnt quite got the hang of things. He satwoodenly in the drivers seat and Dad had to help Granny out of the car. He took her left hand, and put his other hand on her shoulder to guide her out.

That was the moment he knew it: Granny was old. Through her clothes, Dad could feel the skin on her shoulders hanging in slack folds which actually quivered in time with her footsteps. He froze, appalled. Then Granny said: “Get out of my way, Shengqiang. If you stand in my way, how can I walk?”

Dad took a step back and watched as she made her way to Pear Blossom Gully. “Mum, he


Granny stopped and looked back. She looked just as normal, no different from a few minutes before, but Dad had to steel himself to look her in the face.

“Come on!” she said.

It was 1996, or maybe 1995. As they sat in the car on their way back to Pingle Town, Granny said: Youd best not divorce Anqin, it won’t be good for you. She did wrong, but now shes got down on her knees and groveled to you, just let it go.The pair of you should stop bickering and just get on with life.

Dad only grunted in reply. He was preoccupied with his right arm which was aching.

Are you listening to me, Shengqiang? demanded Granny after waiting in vain for his


Yes, right, Dad said again, putting out his cigarette, lifting his eyes from her calves and


“Off yougo then. I’m going to read for a bit and then go to bed.



Yes,you get an early night, Mum,” said Dad stolidly.

Outside Grannys flat, Dad paused a few moments, then went up to the fifth floor. There was no more staircase above the fifth floor, just a blank, two-panelled door facing him. Dad took out his cell phone and made a call. It rang once then someone answered.

“Open up,” said Dad.

In a second, the door had opened. A pretty young woman stood in the doorway. Zhong Xinyu

must have just done her hair, and it hung in a gleaming black curtain around her dainty face.

Dads face finally cracked a smile. He went in, shutting the door behind him.



IN DAD’S CELL phone, Zhong Xinyu had gone under a variety of guises, all masculine. A few months ago, she had been listed as Zhong Zhong, then for a couple of weeks, it changed to Zhong Jun; recently Dad had decided to keep life simple, and he listed her as just Zhong.

Once, Dad had been at home eating dinner with his phone beside him on the table and it rang.

Dad didn’t pick it up straightaway and Mum leaned over and took a look. “Its old man Zhong, she


“Oh, said Dad. “Hey, Zhong, he said into the phone. “I’m at home having dinner. A game

of mahjong, eh?”

Therewas a gasp of surprise from Zhong Xinyu at the other end.

When I’ve finished eating,” he went on with a smile, “I’ve got to do the washing up too.

He put the phone down and Mum said: “Its been a long time since Zhong asked you out for a game of cards, isn’t it?”

Yes, said Dad, selecting a mouthful of pepper and aubergine with his chopsticks then raking some rice into his mouth. “When I’vewashed up, I’ll go round and see him.

You go as soon as you’ve finished dinner,” said Mum, looking sidelong at him. “Just the word

mahjong drives you crazy I know. I’ll wash the dishes.

And Dad went off happily, congratulating himself on having cleverly listed the girl as “Zhong”.

It had been an inspired choice.

A little later that evening, Zhong Xinyu asked him: “So I’ve become ‘old man Zhong now, have I?”

“Uh–huh, said Dad, who was engrossed in caressing her breasts. They were not big breasts,

but, under his caress, they were cool and weighed in his hand like antique jade. “Then call me by that name!” Zhong Xinyu ordered him with a giggle. “Hey, Zhong!” he said.

“Oh, what a good little boy!” she responded with delight, sticking her bottom in the air then

grinding herself against him.

To be perfectly honest, it was this foolishness that Dad really liked about Zhong Xinyu; when they were making love, he liked to yell: “Stupid cow!” at her. Zhong Xinyu never got angry at being called names, in fact she liked to act up to it.

She and Dad had been an item for nearly two years now and, it has to be said, Granddad could take some of the credit for that.

It all happened just three months before Granddad died… Granddad was 84, coming up 85, and Granny had had her 78th birthday. It was a fortnight after New Year when Dads cell phone

rang sometime before eight one morning.


The shrill ring startled him and Mum awake.

Half–asleep, Dad reached out and saw Grannys name on the screen. He stifled his irritation and shouted into the phone: “Yes, Mum.

Granny was weeping down the line. Dad rolled back and sat upright. Whats the matter, Mum?” he asked.

“I want to divorce your Dad! I want to divorce your Dad!” she wailed.

Mum and Dad got dressed and rushed over to Grannys. Mum took her car. Areyou sure you weren’t mistaken, Mum really wants a divorce?” she asked as she drove.

But therewas no mistake. They got to Qing Feng Yuan, and Mum went to park the car while Dad took the stairs two at a time and let himself into the flat. Granny was in the sitting–room, her tear-streaked face hidden in her hands.

“Mum, Mum, don’t cry,” said Dad going over to Granny. “Just tell me whats happened.Ask your Dad!” said Granny, with a jab of her right hand in the direction of the balcony. Granddad was sitting out there in a rattan chair, wearing a leather overcoat over his vest and

long–johns to ward off the cold, puffing away at a cigarette and dropping cigarette ash all over his

coat collar.

“Dad, what have you done?” Dad asked going out onto the balcony.

Granddad shook his head but said nothing.

Your Dadsgot a woman on the side!” Grannysvoice came from the sitting–room.

Dad didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. He exchanged complicit glances with his father and

said: Youre quite a one, Dad! Still up to it at your age!”

Granddad gave a dry laugh. Mum came stomping up the stairs to the flat. Granny set up a wail

as if someonewas trampling her underfoot.

“Mum!” Mum cried, hesitating in the doorway and looking through to Dad on the balcony.

Dad made a nonchalant gesture and Mum went and crouched down by Granny and put a

comforting hand on her shoulder. Softly she said: “Mum, don’t cry. Tell me all about it.

“I can’t go on like this,” said Granny. “I told him, I’ve had enough of being his nanny. Let him go off with whoever he wants, I just want peace and quiet.

Their house–keeper had gone back home for the New Year a few days before. So now Mum got busy heating up the previous days chicken soup, and preparing noodles and pickled vegetables, so that at least they could have something to eat for breakfast.

“Shengqiang, after breakfast I’m phoning your sister and getting her over here. I’m going to divorce your Dad today. I’ve been a decent woman all my life. I’m not going to force him into anything, if he wants to go off and live it up, he can go, but hes not going to force me to go along with it.

Granddad buried his face in his bowl and said nothing. Dad was about to say something but

Mum tugged quietly at his sleeve.

Granny never did phone Auntie and Dad thought that it had all blown over.

Three months later, Granddads blood pressure shot up and he was admitted to PingleHospital. Right up until the day he died, Granny refused to step outside the door of their flat. Everyone had a go at persuading her Mum, Dad, Auntie, the housekeeper but she wouldn’t go and see Granddad.


“No!” she said. “Get that cow to go and see him instead.

After much thought, Dad felt he should tackle Granddad. He sat down at his bed-side and

asked him: “Is there anything youd like me to take care of ? I can do it for you.

Granddad looked at Dad, took a last in-breath, shook his head and, gripping Dads hand, passed away.

It was the end of the road for a hero and sadness welled up in Dad. He held back the tears, but he couldn’t help being angry. Damn it. He thought of the life Granddad had led. Hed been a decent man but Granny had refused to forgive him. Less than two months later, Dad got together with Zhong Xinyu, who worked in Longteng Telecoms City selling cell phones, and installed her upstairs from Grannys flat. Damned stupid cows. Your old mans gonna do you all in one of these days!” Dad used to say.

Thats right. Thats the kind of weird thing Dad used to say when he was having sex.



IN ALL HONESTY, Dad wasn’t a bad man. Just two months after his 17th birthday, Granny got him a job in a bean-paste factory. Chen Xiuliang, the charge-hand, was also not a bad man, just a bit lazy and fond of his tobacco. Every day when Dad left the flat in Qing Feng Yuan to walk to work, he had to stop off and buy him a packet of Tianxiaxiu cigarettes. Chen Xiuliang would accept them with a beaming smile and put Dad to work. If he hadn’t taken the cigarettes, no doubt he would have called him rude names like “snot–nose kid” – and still put him to work.

According to Mum, that first year at the bean factory, Dads job was to guard the fermenting yard: it was the end of May, nearly June, the air was full of flies and sparrows and the ground crawled with Jiuxiang bugs and mole crickets. It was the time of year when all the flowers were in flower and trees in leaf, but it was also when all the townsfolk had to get busy fermenting the bean paste in the sunshine. Granny pointed with her slender white hand and Dad was taken off by Chen Xiuliang and left to kick his heels all day in the fermenting yard.

Outsiders never saw the impressive way in which beans were fermented in Pingle Town, while Dad had seen enough to make him sick of it. Earthenware vats, three or four feet tall and with a girth as big as two arm spans, were set up in the yard. The vats held a bubbling mixture: broad beans, put there in April and left to go mouldy, and crushed red chili peppers and seasonings like star anise, bay leaves, and great handfuls of  salt, which were added later. As the days went by in the hot sunshine, the chili peppers steamed and fermented, releasing their oil and a smell which was at first fragrant, then sour. Sometimes the sun was so strong that the brick–red paste in the vats boiled up and started to bubble. Then Dad had to take a stout length of wood as tall as he was and, vat by vat, stir the contents. It was vital to stir the beans and Chen Xiuliang spent a lot of  time instructing Dad and clipping him around the ears to get the message across. “Slowly, slowly, he would shout, standing to one side, cigarette between his lips, making pressing down motions with his hands. So Dad slowed down, manipulating the stirring pole as if it was a spoon, but still Chen Xiuliang was not satisfied. “Now quicker!” he would shout. “Get some speed up!”

As the pole went around, the chili oil mixed with the steam and wafted into Dads face. It was so pungent it seemed to reach right down his guts and turn them bright red. Finally Dad had had enough and, flinging the pole at the vat, said to Chen Xiuliang: You want it slow or quick?! Stop

messing with me!”



Your Dad thought hed get a beating for that!” said Mum.

But he didn’t. Instead, Chen Xiuliang pensively finished his cigarette, threw the butt to theground and ground it under his heel thern, his face all smiles, went and picked up the pole and demonstrated to Dad how to do it.

“Xue Shengqiang, youwatch carefully.Hold the pole tightbut relax your wrist,and move thepole from side to side. And remember something else, I’m only going to tell you once: you stir thebeans the way you fuck a woman, you get me? The vats the womans cunt, and if you make her happy,then youre stirring properly. Dad hadn’t fucked any woman yet, in fact he still hadn’t figured out what a woman looked like when she was bare–arsed, and Chens words made him glue his eyes on him.

He watched Chen Xiuliang rhythmically stir the beans as if this was a witches brew: slow, slow, quicker, a flick of both wrists, slowing down again, until the stirring pole made the beans give off liquid moans and the flaming red chili oil leached out, releasing a glorious smell. And Dad, as he stood staring in the fermentation yard, got an erection.

Needless to say, in the fullness of time, Dad became a pretty good stirrer. He reckoned he was pretty good at fucking women too.

I haven’t said just how Dad was a good man. It wasn’t nearly as glorious as the way he learnt to stir the beans, and Mum didn’t tell me about it either, but in Pingle Town everything leaked out sooner or later.

Dad never spoke about it, never even thought about it, but he cannot have forgotten how that summer he nearly drove himself mad thinking about women.

It was all the fault of that fucking Chen Xiuliang. Dad lay drenched in sweat on his bamboo sleeping mat, wanking off and cursing the man. In between whiles, he also found time to think about some of the girls in town that he found the prettiest, thinking about what they were like bare– arsed, etc etc.

But Dad kept his wits about him. He meticulously analyzed the situation in which he found himself and faced the fact that he was very unlikely to get a girl to fool around with, at least without the other townsfolk or Granny finding out. So after hed spent a week wanking he decided to go off to Yao Wu Yi Tiao Street, and pay a reasonable price for a bare–arsed woman.

Yao Wu Yi Tiao Street doesn’t exist any more, or rather it appears no longer to be there. But if you know the password, you can find the way in. The bums and petty criminals of Pingle society all knew exactly where it was, in other words, all the townsfolk were only pretending not to know. In actual fact, if you headed out of town on West Street, as you got near to Factory 372, there wasan inconspicuous little road, with osmanthus bushes dotted along it and ropes strung from the branches on which towels and wet clothes were sometimes hung out. This was the famous Yao Wu Yi Tiao Street. When Dad was small, you could get a woman there for 15 yuan. Sometime in the year

2000, or maybe 2002, Dad went once more. The woman put out her hand: “150 yuan. And thatwas

when Dad felt that the good times really were gone for good.

In 2000, or 2002, coughing up 150 yuan was nothing to Dad. But a dozen or so years before, things had been very different. He spent a long time racking his brains and figuring out how he wasgoing to earn those 15 yuan.

Every day, Dad ate breakfast at home, then went to work at the bean–paste factory, where he

would eat his lunch and dinner. Apart from the money he bought Chen Xiuliangs cigarettes with,



he had no other pocket money. So Dad just had to use Chen Xiuliangs cigarette money as the basis for his calculations. The Tianxiaxiu brand cost 2 yuan a packet, but a packet of Baifurong brand was only 1 yuan. He could save 1 yuan a day that way, and in 15 days hed have enough to go to Yao Wu Yi Tiao Street. There was another, even bolder, plan: Tianxiaxiu brand cost 2 yuan a packet, but a packet of Jiaxiu brand was only 40 cents. That way, he could save 1 yuan 60 a day and could make it to YaoWu Yi Tiao Street in 10 days’ time.

Dad did the sums for both possibilities on a scrap of paper three times and pondered them every minute for five days as he stood in front of the tobacconists eyeing the cigarette packets on display, his head full of those women. Finally, he steeled himself and said to the shop–owner: A packet of Jiaxiu.

Chen Xiuliang didn’t say anything however, just took the packet, squinted at it and grunted. After all, a smoke was a smoke. When it got really hot, hed sit bare–chested under a big eucalyptus, half a Jiaxiu hanging from his lips. The sun was dazzling and Dad had no idea where he was looking.He might as well stop looking at Chen Xiuliang; head bowed, he went off to give his beans a stir.

The sound of the bubbling beans nearly fucking finished Dad off back then, so that even now when Dad walks past the fermenting yard, he can’t help sneaking glances at those bean–paste vats, perfectly aligned in the yard, which had once overflowed with his first love.

To cut a long story short, Dad stuck it out and for ten days bought Chen Xiuliang Jiaxiu cigarettes. Finally he scraped together 16 yuan and that very day marched proudly off to Yao Wu Yi Tiao Street, head held high, to lose his virginity. His memories of that day are a bit hazy. Hes not sure whether it was because the woman was so proficient at her job or because he was just naturally brilliant, but he just feels that the womans cries were really quite extraordinary. When hed finished, he gave her every cent he had.

You’ve given me one yuan too much, kid,” she said kindly. “Thats for you,” Dad said, playing down his generosity.

So in the end, the earnest maxims that Granny had drummed into him from boyhood had had an effect; they had turned Dad into a young philanthropist.


THIS EVENING, Dad was eating at the Piaoxiang Restaurant with Gao Tao and Zhong Shizhong (“old man Zhong”) and somehow the conversation turned to Baby Girl, Dads first woman in YaoWu Yi Tiao Street. Gao Tao took a last puff on his cigarette and stubbed it out on the “popes nose of the duck left in the dish. He shook his finger at Dad and said in a slurred voice: You remember Baby Girl, Zhong? That was Xue Shengqiangs first love!”

“‘First love’, be buggered!” Dad spat out angrily. There was no way he was going to admit that

Baby Girl had been the one to take his virginity.

Well, anyway, as I remember, you were forever running off to Yao Wu Yi Tiao Street as ayoung lad. You even stole a rabbit from the Huangs and sold it so you could sleep with Baby Girl, do you remember that time?”

Somehow Dad and his friends had got to an age when, with a drop of wine in them, theyd start reminiscing about the good old days.

You bet I do!” Zhong Shizhong took the floor. “He made his mother so angry, he came over

to my house and stayed two nights, the little squirt!


You two old farts! That was a lifetime ago! Cant you think of anything else to talk about?” Dad grabbed a half-empty pack of cigarettes from the table and threw it at Zhongs head; Zhonggaily caught the pack, shook a cigarette out of it and lit it. The waitress whod been attending them in the side–room suppressed a faintly–embarrassed smile.

Anyway, Zhong took a couple of puffs and pulled himself together, “how is the old lady,your mother?”

“Shes very lively!” said Dad. “She had me over the day before yesterday to talk about her 80th

birthday celebrations.

A–ya!” Gao Tao exclaimed, clapping him on the shoulder. “Its a big deal, an 80th  birthday!Youd better do a good job of organizing it!”

“Of course I will!Dad pickedup a chunk of duckwith his chopsticks and crunched it up, bone and all. The old lady says she wants the whole family to be there, my big sister, my big brother, everyone. Then there are relatives who live in the Pingle Town, and friends, its going to be a big occasion, and me, I’m the one who has to sort it all out, while my revered siblings, who normally we don’t see hide nor hair of, just float along when it suits them!” he complained.

A–ya!” Gao Tao said again. “ But Shengqiang, youre so capable, besides you live close to the old lady. Youre the right person to take it on.

“Capable! That somehow made Dad furious. “Sodding capable! Its not as if I had any choice in the matter. The country forced me to do it, society forced me to do it…” He lifted his cup and the three of them clinked and swallowed their Maotai. “Mum forced me to do it!”

This wasn’tjust swearing, it was actually true. When Dad was honestwith himself, the fact that he hadn’t ended up fucking his brains out with the girls of Yao Wu Yi Tiao Street, that he was doing well for himself now, that he was a man of some importance in Pingle Town, was all down to Granny pushing him along.

“Good people come fromgoldrods,asGranny always said.“Spare the rod and spoil the child. Dad remembered Granny saying this every time she picked up the feather duster to beat his bottom with. He remembered perfectly well, though of course he wasn’tgoing to admit it, that right up until he was in his early 20s and was going out with Mum, when Granny caught him playingmahjong she was quite capable of having his trousers off him and having him spread-eagled over the table in his long–johns for a beating.

Granny had always insisted on the proprieties, and had been thorough in everything she did. All Dads life, she had been a refined figure at Dads side, landing blow upon blow on his long–john–clad buttocks, her voice neither a shout nor a whisper, but repeating quietly: “Look, Shengqiang, you must obey me. The whole Xue family depends onyou. Dont blame me for beatingyou. Spare the rod and spoil the child.

“Nonsense!” Dad had spent his whole life muttering angrily to himself: “How come you never beat my older brother or sister then?”

For over 20 years, Dad had never dared say this out loud but he was pretty clear in his own mind that ever since hed emerged after 9 months in Grannys womb, hed been the family whipping boy.

“Open another for us, Miss!Dad bellowed,pointing at a still–unopened bottle of Maotai liquor. What was money anyway? Just so much paper! And once it was gone, it was gone. The Xue

family money meant he could lead a carefree life.


DAD HAD DAI ZHIMING listed in his cell phone. It was annoying because he had no wish to see his elder brothers name, but his address book listed names alphabetically so it appeared at the front and when he opened it up to look up a name, “Dai Zhiming” always seemed to catch his eye. Sometimes he just saw it, and ignored it, other times it filled him with an obscure fury. Once he nearly deleted the surname, so that he could fucking move it from D for Dai to Z for Zhiming.What the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve over. But then he didn’t. Leaving only his brothers given name in his address book seemed to make them close friends. No, hed rather put up with the annoyance of seeing that creeps name a few more times.

Dad was more respectful about Auntie. He very properly saved her name under “Elder sister”. Every time he called Auntie, he also very properly went somewhere quiet, like the passageway or the balcony, looked up Aunties number and keyed it in. Auntie would answer it after a few rings with a light: “Hello, Shengqiang.

For as longas Dadcouldremember, Auntie hadalwaysspokenmandarin rather than the dialect of Pingle Town, and for that reason alone, Dad made an effort to speak nicely to Auntie. Her voice came over the phone line sounding just like she sounded on TV “Has anything happened at home, Shengqiang?”

And Dad suppressed all the snide things he wanted to say and pronounced, in the way he might have reported to the Production Team head: “Nothings happened. Its just that Mums 80th birthdays coming up next month and shed like everyone to come over and celebrate it with her.

“Oh, yes of course! Auntie sounded a bit surprised. I almost forgot! Of  course I must come.You set the date and I’ll be there.

“Right, Dad assented. It was Auntie he was talking to. If it had been someone else, he would have made rude comments to himself like: “So, Dai Zhiming, you want me to fix the date, book the restaurant, and you just come back to eat and drink once I’ve got everything ready for you!”

“Is everybody well?”Auntie asked. “How is Anqin? And hows Xingxing been lately?” “Everyones fine, Dad put warmth into his answer.

Thatsgood, then,” said Auntie.

Aunties question effectively stopped up the words on the tip of Dads tongue. No one else knew, probablynot evenGranny, but Dad knewvery well, thatif it wasn’t forAuntie, heand Mumwouldn’t be together any more it was Auntie who had dissuaded him from getting a divorce, not Granny.

That was the first time ever that she had given Dad a call of her own volition: “Shengqiang, are you really set on divorcing Anqin?”

Dad said nothing. The day before, he had made repeated promises to Granny, but he couldn’t swallow his anger all the same.

Auntie understood perfectly well what his silence meant. She sighed, and went on: “Shengqiang, I know once this kind of thing happens and you want a divorce, its difficult for anyone to dissuade you, but I introduced you to each other and I want to say a couple of things. Will you listen to whatyour sister says and take it in?”

Yes I will, said Dad earnestly and sat down on the sofa, his eyes fixed on the front door at

the end of the entrance hall.

For good or ill, Anqin and I were colleagues for two years and I know shes a good woman, otherwise I wouldn’t have introduced you. And now that I’ve seen you together I really hate to see



you split up. So today I’m going to beg you on her behalf, will you listen to me?” “Go on,” Dad said, his eyes still fixed on the front door.

“I’m not saying that Anqins right or Anqins wrong. I’m just saying that if you divorce her, what will you do? What will Xingxing do? Every familys got to have a home-maker. At your ageand with your abilities, it’ll be easy for you to find someone else for yourself, but where will you find another Mum for Xingxing? If you find someone your own age, then she’ll come with a past, andthat’ll mean a stack of problems. If you get someonemuch younger thanyou, it’ll bequite improper. I’m your sister, I know you, and I know youre good at running the factory and youre a popular man with lots of  young girlfriends but theyre just for fun, you cant take any of them home. Think about it, Shengqiang, can you find one to take back home?” Her manner of speaking reminded Dad of seeing his sister on TV. She might as well have been reciting her lines from the autocue.

Dad stared at the flat door, unable to answer his sisters question. What it boiled down to was:

this “Can you find someone to take back home?”

He hadn’t had the answer to that question back when he was going to marry Mum, and he didn’t have it now, so he had just taken the easy way and married Mum, and in no time at all a dozen or so years had passed.

All right, Sis,” he said finally.

They talked a bit more and, just as Dad finished the call, Mum put the key in the lock and pushed the front door open. She was carrying some vegetables in one hand and, hesitantly, her head bowed and avoiding looking at Dad, she went into the kitchen.

Anqin,” Dad called her back.

“Huh?” said Mum, trembling all over as if terrified out of her wits. She turned to look at Dad. Dad was aware that, even after all these years, she was still an attractive middle–aged woman who had kept her looks, with her pale, oval face adorned with a delicate nose and her bright eyes.

What are we having for dinner?” asked Dad, retrieving the TV control from behind the sofa to turn on the TV, just as if this was any old evening.

It was to be many years after that evening before Mum finally rallied, began to stand straight and take possession of her position in the family again, like poacher turned gamekeeper, and relax a bit. Finally, home was home, bright and clean, the family was the family, and all was peace and harmony. Dad knew that this was thanks to Aunties words all those years ago, and he almost didn’t say the words that came to his lips.

“Mum wants my brother–in–law and Liu Xingchen to come too. Dad had said it now. There

was no taking it back.

“Is that what she said?”

Yes, the old lady wants us all there, with no one missing,” Dad said. “She says shes going to be 80 and she wants a really lively party.

“I understand. So you fix the date as soon as possible. And she briefed him: A weekend is best. Xingchen and Xiao Zhao have busy jobs, and Diandians at kindergarten.

“Fine, I’ll let you know in the next day or two, said Dad. Then he went on hurriedly: “Sis, if this is going to make life difficult for you, I can have a word with Mum.

Forget it, said Auntie, cutting him short. “Don’t worry about it, Shengqiang. A family is a

family, no matter what.



Hedgrown up with his sister for nearly 20 years before she married and left home, and Dadwas well aware that Auntie was a tough cookie. So he said nothing more and was about to hang up when Auntie suddenly mentioned their brother. And Zhiming? Have you called him?”

“I know I need to phone him,” said Dad. “Sis, you dont need to worry about anything.

He said goodbye, then opened his Contacts list again. Dai Zhiming was on the first page. Dad stared at it for a few seconds. He was on the point of clicking on the number when he changed his mind.

Nows not the right time, he thought to himself. I’ll call tomorrow.

He scrolled through the Contacts until he came to Zhong Shizhongs number. Once he got him on the line, he said: “Hey, lad, what about going out to eat?” Youre eating right now? Thenchuck your chopsticks down and get out of the house! Nonsense! It’ll be delicious! Its on me, I’ll get Zhu Cheng to go and get us three bottles of Maotai, lets celebrate tonight!” He knew his friend; a drinker like him would never be able to resist the invitation. Zhong did agree, but suggested calling Gao Tao too.

All right, all right!” Dad knew quite well what Zhong was up to; Gao Tao was counting on his advertising company getting the contract from the chili bean paste factory next year, and was constantly on the phone and sending gifts. This had been going on for two weeks. Zhong Shizhongwas fond of Gao Tao and was keen to give him a helping hand by getting Dad and Gao together.

The three of us haven’t seen each other for ages, lets have a good night out!” said Dad down the phone, though what he was really thinking was: Gao Taos’ business is chicken feed. Hes got a nerve to call it an advertising company and want to business with me!

“I’ll come back drunk as a skunk! Drunk as a skunk!”” said Dad, as he walked out of  the front door of the flat.


THAT EVENING, as Dad, Gao and Zhong were on the third bottle of Maotai, and Dad sat at the table, breathing heavily and thinking that their waitress was becoming more and more fairy–like, his phone suddenly rang.

It was nearly 11 o’clock at night. “Is that your old lady wanting you home? asked Zhong

Shizhong, startled.

“Her?!” Dad grunted, but he picked up the phone anyway.

He could see the name “Zhong” clearly on the screen. Dad sneaked a look at Zhong Shizhong and went out into the corridor, then took the call. “Its the middle of the night, he slurred. “Has someone died?”

He was startled at his own words. Perhaps something had happened to Granny? He leanedagainst the wall as Zhong Xinyu talked into his ear, but this terrifying thought reduced him to silence. Once Granny died, the family would fall apart at the seams. How would he ever manage to pick up the pieces? He was filled with gut-wrenching fear.

Then he calmed himself. It was all right. From what Zhong Xinyu was saying, nothing major had happened. Shed just got some foolish fancy into her head and was tearfully begging him to go over.

“I’m out drinking, how can I? Dad attempted to placate his “silly cow but recently shed

been seized by strange thoughts and was getting a bit uppity.

“I don’t care! You’ve got to come now!” came her voice down the phone.



Really, I can’t. I’ll come tomorrow and we’ll be together, OK?” Dad carried on talking gently into the phone. Zhong Xinyu really was too young, he thought to himself. Saying all this stuff like “must” and “don’t care”? Whod been getting her into bad habits?

“No! I wantyou here now!” Zhong Xinyu surprised him by sounding distinctly unfriendly.

Dad leant against the wall and scrutinized a piece of the wallpaper that was curling up at one corner on the wall opposite. This was a scene he was extraordinarily familiar with; it was just like every time Granny phoned him up.

At this thought, Dad suddenly felt an overwhelming surge of anger. A young girl like Zhong Xinyu making a scene and harassing him like this! And to think that when he first saw her, she was a maroon-uniformed slip of a girl in Longteng Telecoms City, bowing demurely and saying Yes, Sir, No, Sir to the customers.

Dad was about to spit out both the anger and the phlegm stuck in his throat when he heard Zhong Xinyu say: “If you dont come now I’m going downstairs to your Mums flat and I’m going to knock on her door. Just you see if I dont! I’m going to get her out of bed and tell her everything about you and me. We’ll see what she says then!”

It was just like having the hand-brake slammed on when he was about to have sex. Dad suddenly shrivelled. He was getting older, it wasn’t surprising he sometimes felt emasculated.

He went back into the side-room to face the inevitable ribbing from Gao and Zhong. The fire alarms gone off at home. Hes got to go and douse the flames!”

Dad put his arm around the waitresss waist and said: “Take me to pay the bill!” The girl make a token effort to push his arm away: “Mr Gaos already paid it, Sir!”

Even though hed expected this, Dad gave a polite exclamation of surprise. While he was at it, he gave the waitresss waist a pinch or two and discovered she was wearing tights, above which a roll of fat protruded. He kneaded it between his fingers, and felt an expected surge of tenderness.

Since he was in the mood, Dad decided to make it a long night and rushed off to Qing Feng Yuan. There, in Zhong Xinyus bed, he indulged in amorous activities one more time. It was the only way. Otherwise, in the middle of the night he would feel a surge of anger and wonder how hewas ever going to extricate himself.

Dad was keenly aware that he was not having a good time because he was so drunk. ButZhong Xinyu gave sibilant cries of joy until Dad hushed her: Keep your voice down. Its the middle of the night. From underneath, Zhong Xinyu looked up at him: Whats up? Who are afraid you will hear?”

Dad gave her a couple of savage thrusts. He felt extremely aggrieved. It was hard just beinghuman, let alone being a man. It was ever thus. There were the work-horses of this life, always needed to do the hard graft. So he, Xue Xingqing was fated always to be the butt of criticism,working himself to the bone to give his old mother a comfortable life and keep his mistress. And then there were the sages – always solitary and never putting themselves out for anyone.

Tomorrow morning… Dad thought to himself as he made love to his lover Zhong Xinyu for the last time. Tomorrow morning I’ll get things sorted out, I’ll give Dai Zhiming a call, and settle down to arranging Mums 80th  birthday party. No more messing around…




Translated by Nicky Harman


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