Academic journal article TriQuarterly

A Man-to-Be

Academic journal article TriQuarterly

A Man-to-Be

Article excerpt

At the Spring Festival Hao Nan was very happy, because a week before he had been engaged to Soo Yan, one of the pretty girls in Flag-Pole Village. She was tall and literate. By custom, the dowry would cost the Haos a fortune: eight silk quilts, four pairs of embroidered pillows, ten suits of outer clothes, five meters of woolen cloth, six pairs of leather shoes, four dozen nylon socks, a wristwatch, two thermos bottles, a sewing machine, a bicycle, a pair of hardwood chests. Yet Nan's parents were pleased by the engagement, for the Soos were a rich family in the village and Yan was the only daughter. The wedding was scheduled to take place on the Moon Day the next fall. Though the Haos didn't have much money left after the engagement feast, they were not worried. Since they had two marriageable daughters, they would be able to marry off at least one of them to get the cash for Nan's wedding.

It was the third day of the Spring Festival. Nan and four other young men were on duty at the office of the village militia. Because the educated youths from Dalian had returned home to spend the holiday season with their families in the city, the young villagers had to cover all the shifts. It was a good way of making ten work points - a full day's pay, so nobody complained. Besides, it was an easy job. For eight hours they didn't have to do anything except stay in the office and make one round through the village.

Outside, a few snowflakes were swirling like duck down around the red lanterns hung at every gate. The smell of gunpowder and incense lingered in the air. Firecrackers exploded now and then, mingled with the music of a Beijing opera sent out by a loudspeaker. Inside the militia's office, the five men were a little bored, though they had plenty of corn liquor, roasted sunflower seeds, and candies with which to while away the time. They had been playing the poker game called Beat the Queen. Liu Daiheng and Mu Bing wanted to stop to play chess by themselves, but the others wouldn't let them. There was no fun if only three. men drew the cards, and they wanted to crown two kings and beat two queens every time.

Slowly the door opened. To their surprise, Sang Zhu's bald head emerged, and then in came his small body and bowlegs. "Hello, k-k-Uncle Sang," Nan said with a clumsy smile, which revealed his canine teeth.

Without answering, Sang glared at Nan, who had almost blurted out his nickname Cuckold Sang. People called him that because his young wife, Shuling, often had affairs. It was said that she was a fox spirit and always ready to seduce a man. People thought that Sang, already in his fifties and almost twice his wife's age, must have been Useless in bed. At least he didn't have sperm, or else Shuling would have given him a baby.

Sang was holding his felt hat. He looked tipsy, his baggy eyes bloodshot. "Uncle Sang," Wang Ming said, "take a seat." Without a word, Sang sat down and put his elbows on the table.

They needed a sixth person to play the game One Hundred Points. "Want to join us?" Nan asked.

"No poker, boys," Sang said. "Give me something to drink."

Yang Wei poured him a mug of corn liquor. "Here you are," he said, winking at the others.

"Good, this is what I need." Sang raised the mug to his lips and almost emptied it in one gulp. "I came here for serious business tonight."

"What is it?" Daiheng asked.

"I invite you boys over to fuck my wife," Sang said deliberately.

All the young men were taken aback, and the room suddenly turned quiet except for the sputtering of the coal stove. They looked at one another, not knowing how to respond.

"You're kidding, Uncle Sang," Daiheng said, after a short while.

"I mean it. She's hot all the time. I want you to give it to her enough tonight." Anger inflamed Sang's eyes.

Silence again fell in the room.

"Afraid to come, huh?" Sang asked, his sparse brows puckered up. …

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