At Fiddleheads Natural Supermarket May 6
Qi’s Red Guard Fantasies and Other Stories Includes
Compelling Tale Of A Hairdresser
Brutalized And Extorted By Cops
By ANDY THIBAULT
We are not alone. Cop extortion is a universal experience. More organized than the NYPD during the Serpico era were the “public security” officers who evolved from mainland China’s Cultural Revolution.
Fresh off the success of his acclaimed debut novel, When The Purple Mountain Burns, Shouhua Qi delivers the compelling tale of a hairdresser from the masses brutalized and extorted by the people’s cops in his new collection of short stories, Red Guard Fantasies and Other Stories, Long River Press, ISBN 978-1-59265-068-2.
Qi, a native of Nanjing and professor of English at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, will be among eight poets and writers appearing Sunday, May 6, at Fiddleheads Natural Supermarket in Litchfield. Qi’s other upcoming appearances include a signings at WestConn on May 9 and at Book Expo America June 1-3 at the Jacob Javits Center in New York.
55 Village Green Drive
Red Guard Fantasies and Other Stories is dedicated to Qi’s father, who was a middle school principal during the Cultural Revolution. Like many other so-called elites, Qi’s father suffered intense physical degradation. He was forced to kneel on broken glass with a wooden chalkboard hung around his neck while being denounced by angry mobs. The volume has 14 stories about Chinese society transforming after the Cultural Revolution, including the signature Red Guard Fantasies.
The story of Fangmei’s broken dream, The Evidence, was inspired by two real-life stories reported in the Chinese media.
Cheapskate public security officers return to Fangmei’s shop, a small brick and concrete space with a hand-painted wooden sign. These are not paying customers. Long, wet hairs stick out of one’s nose, and he has bad breath.
“We’re not here for haircuts,” the other officer says.
Nose Hair follows up, “You’re under arrest.”
“What did I do?” Fangmei asks.
“You’ll find out. Now come with us,” Nose Hair responds.
This exchange, and Fangmei’s subsequent ordeal in captivity, struck me as part of a parallel universe inhabited by Easy Rawlins, the working man private eye hero in the series by Walter Mosley. Rawlins, a black man living in the Los Angeles of the 50’s and 60’s, occasionally is detained and beaten by cops who can get away with it. Like Fangmei, he’s just trying to survive.
The Man in China and The Man in L.A. have a certain kinship.
As she is driven to jail in a police van, Famgmei catches a glimpse of a huge scarlet banner on top of a tall building under construction “grandly proclaiming something about transforming [her town] into a first rate twenty-first-century city.” One might see similar signs on the way to jail in Hartford or New Haven.
Among the signs in the Chinese interrogation room: “Leniency to Those Who Confess and Cooperate” and “Harshness to Those Who Choose to Resist.”
Fangmei is not what we might call a wild, modern woman. Her big thrills include watching romantic schlock TV shows and sometimes walking around her apartment and thrusting her hips, trying to imitate footage of a model. Still, the Chinese cops find her little shop a convenient target for surveillance and, ultimately, a source of revenue.
Qi – or “Chi” as some American friends call him – is working on a second novel about American POWs during the Korean conflict who decide to live in China. He has taught at WestConn for nearly seven years. His wife, Xiaohong, works at the University of Connecticut Medical Center and his son, Frank, a Cornell graduate, plans to attend law school.
He continues to be sought out for signings of When The Purple Mountain Burns, a fictional account of the massacre of 300,000 civilians during the Japanese invasion of his hometown, Nanjing, in the winter of 1937-38. Nanjing is surrounded by mountains and the best known is the Purple Mountain. When the Purple Mountain burns, a saying goes, the city falls.
“Like no other work before, Shouhua Qi’s unique voice profoundly captures the essence of his hometown during wartime China and the struggles faced by generations of Chinese as they attempt to exorcise the demons of popular memory,” the University of California at Los Angeles Asia Institute said in announcing a reading by Qi at a local bookstore.
Many Chinese tried to escape by jumping into the Yangtze River, which filled with corpses and turned red with blood as Japanese gunboats rammed the bodies. The Purple Mountain, meanwhile, was ablaze with bombs.
“During those days and nights [writing the Purple Mountain] I was living in a different world, and reliving the tragedy with the characters I was creating,” Qi told The Danbury News Times, “often … having tears in my eyes as I typed away.”
Joining Qi May 6 at Fiddleheads Natural Supermarket are:
* Martin Schiller, Bread, Butter And Sugar: A Boy's Journey Through The Holocaust And Postwar Europe, Hamilton Books.
* Barbara Parsons, Couldn't Keep It To Myself, Testimonies from Our Imprisoned Sisters, HarperCollins, edited by Wally Lamb; forthcoming: I'll Fly Away; Further Testimonies from Our Imprisoned Sisters, HarperCollins, edited by Wally Lamb.
* Sharon Charde, Bad Girl at the Altar Rail, Flume Press; Four Trees Down From Ponte Sisto, Dallas Poets Community Press; editor, I Am Not A Juvenile Delinquent, anthology by the creative writing students of Touchstone, a residential treatment facility for female adolescent offenders in Litchfield, Ct.
Forthcoming, Branch In His Hand, Backwaters Press.
* Oscar De Los Santos, Hard Boiled Egg (Fine Tooth Press, 2004) and Infinite Wonderlands (Fine Tooth Press, 2006).
* Jessica Treat, A Robber in the House (Coffee House Press) and Not a Chance, stories and novella (FC2, 2000).
* Louis Colavecchio, forthcoming, You Thought It Was More: The Real Providence Brought To Life.
* Franz Douskey, Rowing Across The Dark, University of Georgia Press. Forthcoming, The Unknown Sinatra.
The readings follow a reception at 10:30 a.m. by the Litchfield High Jazz Combo.
The Fabulous Rainy Faye
For background on the poets and writers,
Search Fiddleheads and / or the writers @ www.cooljustice.blogspot.com
When the two uniformed Public Security officers walked in, Fangmei was more annoyed than scared. Cheapskates. The last time they came, after being fussed over for an hour, they didn’t pay a cent.
“Just a sec,” she said to the officers, brushing more shaving cream on the sideburns of a client reclining deliciously in the chair. “I’ll be done with this gentleman in no time.”
It was the shorter of the two officers, who had six or seven long hairs curling up at the tip of his chin and didn’t want her to shave them, who had fumbled with his leather wallet before leaving. “Didn’t bring any money with me today. Pay you next time. Okay?”
The taller one didn’t even bother. She remembered being nettled by the bold gleam from his protruding pupils wandering knowingly on her face when she bent closer to trim those long, thick, wettish hairs sticking out of his garlic-shaped nose. He had very bad breath, too.
Being a hairdresser hadn’t exactly been Fangmei’s girlish dream. She wasn’t the prettiest among her classmates, yet a luster of dreaminess—of an indefinable longing, toned by a faint, almost sad pensiveness—would surface from the depth of her almond-shaped eyes when she was not on guard. Conscious of being noticed, the dreamy expression would vanish with one blink of her long eyelashes. However, she didn’t do well enough to impress any college or university admission officials; none of her classmates in the rural school did anyway.
“What will you do?” Pa had said over supper (cornmeal cakes and smoked pork mixed with green onion) on the night of her graduation. “Help me raise pigs?”
“Going to be a hairdresser at Shanhe Town,” she announced, nonchalantly.
“Crazy girl.” What he really wanted to say was that he felt uneasy about letting his only daughter mess with people’s hair—especially men’s hair—for a living, but he didn’t want her to be stuck on the small ten-mu farm forever, either.
He didn’t say another word. He knew his daughter and there was no use trying to change her mind. Shanhe Town was only a few hours’ ride away—by tractor. At least it would be better than going by train night and day to faraway places and working as a live-in maid in some rich person’s home, like a few of her friends were planning to do. He had heard the rumors.
“No, we’re not here for haircuts,” the short officer finally said, flatly, sticking out his sparsely-haired chin.
“Huh? Not here for haircuts?” Fangmei gave a quick glance at the officers, her left thumb resting on the edge of the sideburns of her client; her right hand holding the sharp, long-bladed razor moving rhythmically, leaving a clean track like a snow shovel.
“Miss, you’re under arrest,” the tall officer growled hoarsely. Fangmei could smell the odor of cheap cigarettes and strong liquor come out of his mouth and flood into the room.
“Arrest? Me?” Fangmei was stunned, wide-eyed. Her right hand was frozen in midair, her mouth agape, the blood rushing to her cheeks. “What did I do?” She turned to face the officers.
“You’ll find out. Now come with us,” the tall officer urged once more.
“I—” Fangmei stammered; she felt the razor slip out of her hand and land with a clink on the floor.
“Don’t waste our time with any nonsense,” growled the tall officer, both to Fangmei and to the middle-aged patron, who had already sat up from the chair, looking worried, half of his face still covered in a thick layer of shaving cream. The officer stepped closer and put handcuffs around Fangmei’s trembling wrists. They ratcheted shut with a click.
“Oww!” Fangmei let out a cry. Something warm was welling up in her eyes. No tears. No tears, no matter what. She remembered crying herself to sleep on a wintry night many years ago when she realized that Ma had left and would never come home. She’d never allowed herself to shed another tear since then, not even when being chased by naughty kids calling her names.
The middle-aged man wriggled his way out of the chair and hurried out the door. An elderly man and a matronly woman, who had been sitting on a bench near the door, waiting for their turn, also got up quietly and shuffled out.
When the police vehicle, a white Toyota minivan with rusty spots near the door handle, started to move, she turned to glance at the “Fangmei Hairdresser’s” sign she had made with a piece of wooden board painted white.
All the trouble she had gone through to get started: apprenticing for months without being paid a cent; Pa selling half a dozen of the almost-fattened pigs for her to rent this small bare brick and cement space; buying clippers, combs, razors, a blow-dryer; the creamy white and sky-blue paint dripping all over her hair, face, and clothes while she fixed up and decorated the place…it all just ended like this? She could still see that timid girl standing under “Fangmei Hairdresser’s,” greeting prospective customers: “Want a haircut?”
“If you haven’t done anything shameful,” she murmured over and over in the back of the van, “you shouldn’t be scared of ghosts knocking on your door at midnight.” Somehow, though, she was scared.
The short officer was driving. The tall officer was squeezed in next to her in the back seat. He breathed heavily. Fangmei turned her face toward the window. She cringed when she felt his right leg touching—rubbing, in fact—hers, as the van bumped ahead along the rutted street. The muscles in his leg were tensed and eager. His legs must be hairy, too. She was disgusted by the thought and was annoyed with herself for having thought it. She moved herself closer to the side of the van, huddled protectively against the window, and turning her entire body away from him to look outside. The tall officer’s garlic-shaped nose grunted and she could feel his burning stare against the nape of her neck. There was no place to hide.
The mid-autumn sky of Shanhe Town was enveloped in a drowsy, grayish mist. It was early afternoon. Along the narrow lanes was an old bicycle repair shop, the racks on its walls being draped with used tires, tubes, wheels, and handlebars; next to that was a seamstress’ with newly-made khaki pants and floral-patterned women’s clothes hanging in a dusty window; a recycling store, its door half-blocked by bundles of yellowed newspapers and neatly-flattened cardboard boxes; a low, sorry-looking two-story residence, its almost-bare wooden door and window frames betraying the benefit of fresh red paint in its more prosperous days.
As the van neared the town square, the street became wider, smoother, and the traffic heavier. There were sputtering, buzzing motorcycles, rumbling trucks, slow, groaning tractors, and a couple of screechy long-distance buses covered in dust. A shiny, beige Volkswagen sedan and a blue Chevrolet van were caught in the same current and drifted along uneasily. The air suddenly grew thick and dirty.
How many bottles of shampoo would it take to wash it all clean?
Now on display in the store windows were colorful dresses, TVs of every size, CDs, and videos. There were shops selling ceramic tile, wallpaper, and other building materials. Throaty, unintelligible cooing of pop stars; the frenzied howling of a Liu Huang, as if stranded in the wilderness of the Gobi desert, and impassioned revolutionary hymns from a long, bygone era, were blasted out to the street from inside the music stores, fading in and out as the police van honked its way ahead.
Before the van turned into a side street, she caught a glimpse of a huge scarlet banner on top of a tall, half-finished building; the huge characters in the banner grandly proclaiming something about transforming Shanhe Town into a first-rate twenty-first-century city.
One day, she had told herself the last time she had happened to pass the town square, she would set up a real beauty salon here. She would have large, full-length mirrors, black-and-white tile floor, and use nothing but the best, imported shampoo, conditioner, styling refresher, shaping gel, and foaming pomade. In the spotless glass display window which faced the busy street, she would display framed pictures of the most glamorous hairstyles she could design. She would hire a few good girls like herself, and train them well.
What would that matter now? She sighed.
Her life had been suspended.
She was a criminal sitting handcuffed in a police van. But what crime had she committed?
She turned her eyes away from the window to huddled lower in the seat. She didn’t want any passers-by to see her face.
The van jerked to a stop. Fangmei looked outside. It had parked inside a small, walled compound. After the short officer slid open the door, Fangmei eased herself out of the van.
On her right was a small vineyard; clusters of small, emerald-colored, sour-looking grapes were peeping out of dark-green leaves and creeping vines supported by a rusty metal frame. On her left was a bicycle shed with grass-green corrugated fiberglass top covered with patches of dirty moss and a few brown leaves. Next to the shed were parked a brand new chartreuse Beijing Jeep and another white Toyota van, both sparkling clean.
She was led inside the building, through a short hallway with offices on both sides, and into the “Interrogation Room” at the end.
There was an old brown writing desk at the deep end of the room, three chairs behind the desk, and another chair—its paint having chipped off—placed right in the middle of the room. She took a few steps into the room. They led her to the chair where she stood for a moment behind it.
“Chief, we’ve got the criminal,” she heard the short officer reporting somewhere in the hallway.
She heard footsteps coming to the Interrogation Room. They were not hurried, but slow and methodical.
The chief walked into the room and sat down behind the desk in the middle of the three chairs.
He was stout, middle-aged, ruddy, somewhat lumpy, the flesh around the square jaw hanging a bit lazily. He had a full head of hair, though the top had begun to thin; it was combed all the way back, neat, puffed up, a benefit of generous use of mousse and hairspray. The sharply-creased grass-green wool uniform gave him an authoritative, almost distinguished air.
The chief picked up a burgundy folder from the desk, tapped at it a few times, and looked up to fix his gaze on Fangmei. The tall and short officers had already positioned themselves, one on each side of the desk.
He paused, as if to give Fangmei enough time to appreciate the weight of the slogans posted on the walls, written in thick, dark ink, and bold, masculine brushstrokes:
Cracking Down on Crimes
Protecting Social Stability
Leniency to Those Who Confess and Cooperate
Harshness to Those Who Choose to Resist
“Un-cuff the criminal,” the chief said, in a measured tone. His voice was thin, somewhat shrill, like when you wiped a mirror with window cleaner a bit too hard.
The tall officer marched over from behind the desk, fumbled with his keys, and unlocked the handcuffs.
“Now, take a seat,” the chief nodded to the chair in the center of the room.
Maybe he would understand. He seemed different from the other two.
“I---” Fangmei wanted to explain that it was all a mistake, but was choked by something warm rushing up from her chest, all the way to her eyelids. No. She swallowed it down.
“Your name?” the chief asked.
“Wu Fangmei.” She saw the short officer taking notes.
“Wu Village, Anyan County.”
“Now, Miss Wu,” the chief said, taking out a cigarette box, fishing one out. He was about to light it when the short officer’s hand rushed up and flicked on his lighter.
“You know why we’ve arrested you today?” It was more of a statement than a question.
“You don’t know?” The chief sounded both incredulous and disappointed. He took a long drag on the cigarette and spat out a string of bluish rings into the air. “You look like an intelligent young woman and should know our policies.”
“Yes, I do, but--” Fangmei mumbled.
“Then confess and cooperate.”
“I. . .I don’t know what. . .what to confess. Honestly.”
“Now, let me remind you of something. What do you do for a living?”
“Hairdresser?” The same measured tone, but the way the chief repeated the word, as if that was not the expected answer, as if something not quite right was associated with it, made Fangmei’s heart skip a beat.
“Come on, Miss Wu. You know that I know what’s going on in Shanhe Town. You and I know what kind of services are available behind the closed doors of hairdresser shops, beauty salons, and massage parlors.” He paused, taking another drag on the cigarette. “Look, although our policies are to encourage enterprising people to get rich first, well, that doesn’t mean that you can…” He paused.
“It doesn’t mean you can sneak your way into folks’ wallets by dropping your pants!” the tall officer finished the sentence, matter-of-factly.
The chief waved for him to be quiet.
“Think. Think hard,” the chief said patiently. “Everything depends on your attitude.”
Behind closed doors? After cleaning up, she would watch a bit of TV, her favorite pastime, over supper. Love Connections, Holding Hands, For Whom Does Your Heart Beat? Those were her favorites. Watching fashionably dressed young men and women pouring out their hearts and picking out dates in front of millions of TV viewers. She would smile, sigh, and shake her head incredulously at the contestants. People in big cities really knew how to have fun. Her eyes would be riveted on the hair styles of people in those shows, critiquing this and admiring that. Occasionally, CCTV ran footage of fashion shows held in Hong Kong, Paris, and even Guangzhou.
Once, spurred on by a sudden urge while watching tall, slinky supermodels swinging their hips down the runway and showing lots of cleavage, she jumped out of the chair, walked back and forth quite a few times in the shop, thrusting her hips this way and that way, awkwardly. She felt the blood rushing to her face and her heart pounding audibly while doing so.
“Bad girl,” she pointed an imaginary finger at her own little nose and hurried back to the chair, her face still hot to the earlobes.
Another favorite pastime was to play with her long, shiny, waist-length hair. She’d fix it up, down, half up and half down, let it cascade down her chest or fall rippling behind her back. One style she liked the most was the pleat: holding the hair of the upper part of her head, winding it, counterclockwise, then folding it many times towards the right side, and fixing it at the rear of her head with hair pins, in a nice roll; then gathering the hair of the lower part of her head, winding it in the opposite direction of the upper part. She’d be amazed by how elegant the girl in the mirror looked.
When it got really late, she’d sit in bed, leafing through the dog-eared pages of old fashion magazines bought at roadside stands, until she fell asleep.
“Now, have you thought it through?” the chief coughed. The thin, scratchy voice aroused her from the reverie.
“Yes, but I couldn’t find anything. . .anything criminal that I’ve done.”
“Why did you close your door last Tuesday, during business hours? At around two in the afternoon?” the chief said, measuredly.
“Last Tuesday? Around two? Oh! I went to the Electricity Bureau to pay the bill.”
“No. . . But, you can check with the Electricity Bureau.”
“You don’t think we know what’s going on?”
“Two weeks ago,” the tall officer cut in, “I saw a man entering the shop. Then, I saw you closing the door.”
“What? I never close the door during business hours. Oh. . . now I remember! . . It has to be the day of the sandstorm. Remember the sandstorm? Brown dust as thick as fog? I had to close the door that day when the storm hit.”
Another short pause.
“One Saturday evening last month,” the chief said, deliberately, as if reading from the folder, “at around 8:30pm, a man entered the shop. He didn’t leave until six o’clock the next morning.”
“That…that was my Pa! He came to see how I was doing.”
“Okay, Miss Wu, you seem to have a ready answer for everything.” The chief’s tone was still measured. “Your attitude is really, really bad.”
“I’ll help her find the right attitude,” the tall officer said. He walked right up to Fangmei, grabbed the collar of her thin white blouse with his knurled hand, and slapped her in quick succession on both cheeks, right and left. “You little bitch! Think you’d pull the wool over our eyes?”
Blinded, she felt an icy numbness in her cheeks, as if they’d suddenly been sliced right off her face.
The chief sat back in his chair and sighed. The short officer gazed at her, motionless.
“See, you’ve got to cooperate,” the chief said, helplessly, “otherwise, I cannot protect you.”
“Tell. . .tell. . .me. . .how. . .to. . . ,” Fangmei struggled to hold back the tears.
“Tell us who are your… ‘patrons’,” the chief drew out the word deliberately. He picked up the burgundy folder, tapped at it once, his gaze all the time fixed on Fangmei’s face. “They’ve all confessed, you know? I just want to give you a chance. It all depends on your attitude.”
The detention room was about ten feet square and bare, with gray brick walks and a cold cement floor. There was a narrow, barred window with an opaque cover high up on the wall almost against the ceiling. It let in a feeble cast of light from somewhere outside. The air was still and damp and smelled of urine. She huddled down in a corner, gingerly. The wet, sticky cement floor sent chills up her spine and caused her temples to throb.
No amount of shampoo would wash this place clean.
She sat, staring blankly, for hours, until the faint light from the barred window had long faded to black.
It was all like a bad dream. How did it all start? From the time Ma left? She had never figured out why. Pa never wanted to talk about it. She had overheard folks gossiping about Ma running away with an itinerant carpenter. For love? Or for a chance to get out of stark poverty? Nobody knew. She knew vaguely that running away with a man was bad. She had nursed that shame in her heart and vowed she’d never do anything shameful.
Had she done anything shameful as a hairdresser? Anything criminal? No. She felt she had a clear record and a clearer conscience. She had made sure she paid her rent and all the bills on time. Even when the town tax-collecting officials threw outrageous bills at her, she didn't complain. She knew it was all part of doing business. Yes, most of her customers were men. She vaguely knew the reasons why, but the way she conducted herself with them should not have given anyone the wrong idea.
Men had made passes at her:
“Aren’t you afraid at night? Need someone to keep you company?”
Some—she could see their reflections in the mirror on the wall--would let their eyes roam hungrily on her face, her chest, just as the tall officer had, when she was in the middle of clipping or trimming their hair.
She’d be nettled, but pretend not to hear or notice.
One late afternoon, the owner of a small karaoke hall down the street, a fiftyish, balding man, gripped her hand when paying for the haircut and tried to pull her toward him. She was so frightened.
“Get out!” she screamed, after breaking free from his hand. He rushed out.
He never came back.
There was one time, though, only one time, when she may have let her guard down. She blushed profusely.
It was before closing time one early August evening. Lulu, a regular, came for a haircut. He was in his late twenties, not very tall, but well-built, and had an open expression on his face. He was a chef at a small Sichuan restaurant a few streets from Fangmei Hairdresser’s. Sitting in the chair, while Fangmei worked on his hair, he’d carry on small talk with her. More exactly, he talked and Fangmei responded with affirmative “uh-huhs.” Fangmei got to know how he disliked the miserly restaurant owner and how he didn’t want to waste money on drinks and cigarettes so that he’d save up enough money and one day have a restaurant of his own. She didn’t know exactly how she should feel about the young man. There was certain empathy there, though. They were both working people, searching for an independent future.
It was that evening, after the haircut, that Lulu asked Fangmei to give him a massage.
“The long hours in the hot kitchen are killing my back,” he said.
“No, I. . .I don’t know how,” Fangmei was taken aback.
“I’ll show you,” he made Fangmei sit down on a stool. “Sit up, relax your muscles, and breathe easily,” Lulu instructed, expertly. There was a nervous excitement in his voice. She wasn’t sure this was the right thing to do, but. . . .
When his strong hands rested on her shoulders, she shuddered. His hands began to move, slowly. She didn’t know what to feel. She was tense, uncertain. Gentle strokes down her spine. . . muscles being grabbed and lifted lightly. . .his thumbs and fingertips working in deep circles. . . gentle chopping, beating, and tapping. . . more strokes down the spine. . . muscles being grabbed and lifted lightly. . . she wanted to let go, let go of all the soreness that had been deposited deep in the joints and deep in the muscles. . . she wanted to cry. . . she almost let out a moan. . . .
“Stop!” she stood up, abruptly, as if awakening from a dream. “Please go.”
Lulu stood there, his hands frozen in air where Fangmei’s back had been, as if struck by lightning. A big “Why?” was written all over his face.
“Please just go,” she said firmly.
She didn’t watch any TV that night. She just sat in the chair, blank, for a long time.
She lost another of her regulars. Someone she almost liked.
Fangmei sighed again, staring at the brick wall in the detention room, until her eyelids became heavy. The walls around her dissolved into misty daylight. Somehow she was back in the shop. It was another busy day. When she was about to close, Lulu came again.
“What did I do wrong?” he asked. There was such tenderness in his voice, and such a pained look in his eyes. “You still owe me a massage.”
“Just once,” she gave in, reluctantly.
When she put her soft, nimble hands on Lulu’s broad shoulders, she could feel the warm strength underneath. His muscles trembled at the touch, too. Recalling the sensations she had experienced, imagining the strokes and other moves that had produced them, she improvised the best she could. The way his body responded, she knew she was close. Gradually she got the hang of it and moved up and down his back more skillfully.
Suddenly, Lulu bolted up, turned around, embraced her in his arms, and started to kiss her. There was fire in his eyes. She bent her head backward to avoid the kiss, but he was strong and determined, and when his lips touched hers, she was almost choked by puffs of bad breath, of nicotine, and cheap, strong liquor.
She opened her eyes, and through the weak, early morning light coming through the window, she saw that hideous garlic-shaped nose, and a pair of bold, bloodshot eyes. They were monstrously big.
But the tall officer was too strong for her. His big left hand held both of her hands behind her back in a crushing lock; his right hand fondled her breasts, roughly, fumbled with her bra, then groped along her hips and thighs.
She pushed, kicked, and tried to throw him off her, but her limbs were weakening and she didn’t know how long she would last.
The door opened.
The voice of the short officer—she didn’t hear what he said.
The monstrous weight on top of her was gone.
“The little bitch!” she heard the tall officer roar. “Trying to bribe a People’s Police Officer with her flesh!”
Footsteps stomped down the hallway. The door clanged shut.
Muffled voices, arguing: something about wanting sesame seeds or watermelons, chicks, or big bonuses. Chicks could be had a handful at a time, easy, cheap, elsewhere. . .
A few minutes later, the short officer returned. He looked at Fangmei silently, his right hand pulling at the six or seven curly hairs on his chin.
“All of this could been avoided,” he mumbled. “Now, come with me to the Interrogation Room.”
Fangmei struggled to stand, her legs shaking, her joints and muscles sore. She smoothed her disheveled hair and tramped behind the short officer, still dizzy.
The chief and the tall officer were already sitting at the desk.
“So, you’ve thought it through?” the chief asked, fixing his gaze on Fangmei. The same measured tone, the same thin, scratchy voice, hair combed all the way back, a bit overdone with mousse and hairspray.
“I’m not that kind of girl. . . .I didn’t do anything. . .” Fangmei struggled, trembling.
“What did I tell you,” the tall officer said. “This bitch isn’t going to cooperate until I really show her how.”
He bounded up from behind the desk, grabbing Fangmei’s collar again, then threw her face-down to the cement floor, twisted her arms behind her, and handcuffed her again.
She felt her face being hit by something cold and hard; a current of choking soreness coursed up her nose, between her eyes, to a spot in her forehead.
She turned her face to the side to breathe, tasting something warm and salty dripping from somewhere inside her swollen mouth.
Gasping for air.
Someone grabbing something.
Something being dropped on her back.
Four pointed things, two close to her shoulder blades, two close to the small of her back—the legs of the chair she had sat in the day before.
A veritable mountain crashed onto the chair. . . its four prong-like legs sinking into her, tearing into her; sharp, piercing, burning, sending blinding sparks all over her body, her flesh, her joints, her bones, her eyeballs, her hair.
She couldn’t breathe. She was ready to explode.
She wanted to scream but she couldn’t find her voice. . . I’m going to die today. . . .
From somewhere, a faraway, dark, dungeon-like place came the thin, scratchy voice:
“Confess and I’ll tell him to get off you.”
The mountain bounced a bit, releasing its weight, before plunging in again, sinking deeper into her, nailing her to the cement floor. . . I’ll never get up again. . . I don’t want to die. . . I want to live. . . .
She heard her voice erupting from the depths, like a volcano that had been simmering too long. The world—this damned world—collapsing into smoldering, ashen silence.
Fangmei didn’t remember how she had left the public security station and dragged herself back to her shop; how she had found the small bundle of cash—3,500 yuan—hidden in a bottle under the bed, money for Pa to buy fertilizer, new seeds for next spring, and pig feed; how she had dragged herself back to the station to pay the fines—she didn’t remember getting a receipt, either; nor how the old tractor driver had allowed her to hitch a ride back to Wu Village.
She had been in bed for days now, refusing to say a word. No tears, either.
Pa stood by her door. He hated himself for having allowed his daughter to go to Shanhe Town to be a hairdresser.
Later, he heard from village folks who had read the County Express that the public security station there had busted a prostitution ring, involving a hairdresser, a karaoke hall owner, a Sichuan restaurant chef, and five or six others. They had all confessed, paid very heavy fines, and been released.
“Did you…?” Pa asked, tears welled in his eyes.
“No,” Fangmei said, weakly.
Two days later, he saw Fangmei getting up, putting on her best clothes.
“I’m going to sue them,” she muttered.
“Crazy girl,” he wanted to say, but didn’t have the heart to do so. Yes, sue those damn sons of turtles. He had heard people talking about how average folks had sued corrupt government officials and won.
Pa sold the other half dozen of the fattened pigs. They went to Anyan County.
“The evidence against you is solid, undisputable,” concluded the Deputy Chief of the county’s People’s Procuratorate, a man in his late forties. Glancing at the file on his desk, he continued, “You yourself have confessed, signed a document, and paid the fines. So have all your patrons.” His voice was even and he looked dignified in his deep-blue uniform and the big-brimmed cap. “If you sue those police officers for illegal arrest, assault, kidnapping, and wrongful imprisonment—without solid evidence—you’d be charged with libel and could end up in jail for a long, long time. Think carefully.”
The attorney she had hired looked helpless. Without solid evidence, she could not have justice.
She and Pa left the People’s Procuratorate. She wandered aimlessly, listlessly, from street to street. Pa followed.
Hours later, she stopped at a billboard promoting a new line of shampoo and conditioner. The girl in the advertisement had long, wavy hair and the look in her maidenly eyes was so innocent, so pure. Fangmei gazed at that girl for a long time, as if lost.
All of a sudden, she turned around, walked on again, at a much faster, more purposeful pace, stopped to ask the woman behind a magazine stand something. The woman pointed and gestured. Fangmei walked again, almost ran. Pa followed, puzzled.
Inside the compound of Anyan County People’s Hospital, patients were trudging around slowly, helped by family or friends, nurses in white gowns hustling here and there quietly, lines of people waiting to pay bills or have their prescriptions filled.
Fangmei ran into the main building, ran through crowds outside doctors’ offices on both sides of the hallway: old peasants dozing off on long benches, young couples holding hands, women trying to quiet crying babies. She saw a motherly-looking doctor, standing in front of a crowd of waiting patients. Elbowing her way through the crowd blocking the door of the office, Fangmei dropped to her knees and prostrated herself at the doctor’s feet.
“Doctor, please save me! Save me!” she begged, gasping for air.
“Please get up,” the doctor said, kindly. “Tell me what’s going on here?”
“I won’t get up until. . . . until you agree to save me!” Fangmei said, her hands still clutching the doctor’s feet, her forehead touching the tips of her shoes.
As she was lying there, pants down, waiting to be examined, Fangmei suddenly became nervous.
She suddenly remembered something. In her eagerness to learn to do the splits during gym class, she had pushed her legs a bit too hard and hurt herself. Before going to bed that evening, she saw a few red spots on the inside of her underwear.
That morning in the detention room: did that turtle’s son with a garlic nose have his way before she woke up?
What if? She felt stupid and hated herself for feeling so. No time to turn back now. She already began to feel the doctor’s cool fingers touching her.
“You’re still a virgin,” the doctor announced, as if from another world, through the white gauze mask on her face.
Fangmei lay there.
Tears surged up from her heart and flooded her eyes, as if the dyke of the Yellow River had burst, cascaded down her cheeks, and fell, like pearls, onto the pillow.
She wept, shamelessly.
One morning two months later, Fangmei was feeding Pa’s dozen young piglets in a fenced sty. A faint smile appeared on her face as she watched the piglets attacking the feed in the stone troughs, noisily, making grunting noises at each other as they crowded in.
Her eyes still had that luster of dreaminess, but they were toned by a heavier, more visible pensiveness. Now and then, she would catch herself staring at things, long and blank.
The piglets’ hair, black or white, was smooth and shiny. The belly of the smallest piglet, however, showed signs of ticks: clusters of hair stuck together. She could even see white, sesame-seed shaped baby ticks hidden in the hair.
After the piglets finished their meal, Fangmei tiptoed closer to the smallest pig. Slowly, she reached out her hand, scratched its belly, tentatively, gently. The piglet stood there, its eyes gazing ahead dreamily. Then, it kneeled down, fell on its side, stretched out its little legs, and gave itself completely to Fangmei. It grunted, appreciatively, its skin twitched as Fangmei smoothened its hair with an old, fine-toothed wooden comb to rid its belly of all the ticks.
In the face of solid, undisputable evidence, the county’s People’s Court had exonerated Fangmei and all of her so-called “patrons,” and had ordered 85 yuan to be paid to her in restitution, but was still examining her suit against the three police officers.
(The first story in Red Guard Fantasies and Other Stories. Long River Press, 2007. It first appeared in Feminist Studies, Volume 31, Number 3 (Summer 2005): 400-415)