Two Stories

by Virginia Suk-yin Ng, translated by Mary King Bradley

Virginia Suk-yin Ng is a Hong Kong fiction writer, essayist, and communications consultant. She is the author of the short story collection People from the Mountain (2014), and a collection of essays, Night Follows Day (2017), both published in Hong Kong. She has also published a number of other stories and essays in Hong Kong and Taiwan. In 2015, she was a resident of the International Writing Program at The University of Iowa.

Mary King Bradley received a Master of Fine Arts in Literary Translation from the University of Iowa in 2016. She has translated fiction, essays, and poetry for several organizations, including the International Writing Program at The University of Iowa, the Robert N. Ho Foundation in Hong Kong, Books from Taiwan, and the Macau Literary Festival. Her translations include fiction from authors Ng Kim Chew, Liu Cixin, Mo Xiong, Loi Chi Pang, Lawrence Lei, and BTR. A collaborative Chinese-English-Chinese-English translation with Matthew Cheng of Du Fu’s poem “Presented to Wei Ba, Gentleman in Retirement” appeared in the Of Zoos’ “Faithless Translation” issue. She currently lives in Hong Kong.

Virginia Suk-yin Ng has described her stories as scrolls that leave the past and future of a story hidden at either end while she relates what happened on the part left visible. Her stories record an important time in Hong Kong’s history, a period too easily pushed aside as China puts increasing pressure on Hong Kong to give up its independent identity twenty years after the 1997 handover.

“Good Fate” is set in the 1970s. During World War II, the Japanese occupied Hong Kong for three years and eight months after the British crown colony forces surrendered on December 25, 1941. This was a time of hunger and fear for the people of Hong Kong who lived through it, with lasting effects on many families. The focus on food and what it represents in this story, set many years later, is perhaps especially poignant because of what the two sisters experienced.

“600 Square Feet” is set in the 1990s. Much like New York City, square footage comes at a premium in Hong Kong. Six hundred square feet may sound small, but as a waterfront property, Macy’s apartment would be quite expensive, even in the 1990s. Fifteen hundred square feet in the Mid-Levels would be almost palatial. This story takes place in the years just prior to the 1997 handover of Hong Kong after the British lease of the New Territories expired.

—Mary King Bradley


“Good Fate” by Virginia Suk-yin Ng
Translated from the Chinese by Mary King Bradley

 

Her voice pitched above the din of clanging woks, Aunt Fong suddenly spoke: “My name is Lee Kam Fong. I’m from Panyu, and my father had a handkerchief factory in Guangzhou. I was married at sixteen, with no household duties before I was twenty-three. During the war, I fled from Guangzhou to Hong Kong. I now have one daughter, who is already a married woman. I live in a flat at the Choi Hung Public Housing Estate with my younger brother, his wife, and my niece and nephew.”

“Aunt Fong, why are you talking to yourself?” asked Tuen Ching, pressing her small self close to Aunt Fong.

“Your eldest brother wanted me to say something. He’s trying out his tape recorder,” she said, smiling and pointing at the small machine on the table. The tape was still spinning. “Now you’re on the recording too!”

Aunt Fong was in a very good mood that day, the one time of year she could show off her skill. It was the twelfth lunar month, when offerings were made to the Kitchen Stove God and every household was busy tending deep fryers and steaming cakes. Aunt Fong had married well, so before the war she had learned the etiquette of a wealthy household at her husband’s home in Guangzhou. She could still make all the different kinds of handcrafted dim sum no master chef could learn outside a private kitchen.

When the war started, Tuen Ching’s mother, who was Aunt Fong’s younger sister, had wanted to get married right away, but the only man she could find was a not so well-off widower. She became his second wife anyway. Whether it was her husband’s home, her knowledge of grand style, or her cooking skills, Mother came up short compared to Aunt Fong. So, to take advantage of the family’s improved circumstances in recent years, Mother would invite Aunt Fong over for two or three days during the twelfth lunar month to make sure the cakes and delicacies for the lunar celebration turned out well and ensure everyone enjoyed the new year. Decades of sisterhood and decades of comparisons later, each sister had already played the cards granted her by fate. The outcome was quite clear. What remained was to take advantage of holidays like the New Year, demonstrating superb womanly skill with rice flour and sweet bean paste and letting the kids have some fun.

Aunt Fong usually came three days in a row. Yesterday, the first day, had been steamed radish and taro cakes; today was crispy dumplings, the vegetable crisps and fried peanuts to accompany hot tea, taro-shrimp fritters, and sesame balls. Tomorrow would be the greatest test of skill, the brown sugar New Year’s cake. On these three days, Aunt Fong came over every morning and took the six siblings out for morning tea. Because Mother wanted to set up the kitchen, she usually didn’t go with them.

They liked going to the teahouse with Aunt Fong best, because she didn’t waste time ordering the tea first; as soon as they sat down, she started ordering from the dim sum trolleys passing their table. “Kids are hungry,” she’d say. “They can’t wait.” Before long, steaming-hot dim sum would cover the table.

Shrimp dumplings for this table? Yes. The big steamed buns? Yes. White sugar sponge cake? That, too. Tuen Ching and Tuen Hong whispered how great Aunt Fong was. She got right down to things. She wasn’t like Father, who sat drinking his fill of tea for half an hour before he ordered even a little bit of food. Father came up short in everything, always slower than everyone else.

‘When buying food for others, it’s better to have too much than too little.’

Of course Aunt Fong remembered to get Mother some dim sum before they went home. Because it was getting close to noon, she got some E-fu noodles and ordered more shrimp dumplings. Eldest Sister said it was too much for Mother to eat all by herself and she didn’t need the shrimp dumplings. Aunt Fong immediately replied, “When buying food for others, it’s better to have too much than too little.” After that, they all went home holding their bellies and heads high.

Tuen Ching and her older brother Tuen Hong liked the day things went into the fryer best. On that day, they could play with dough made from flour paste, plus the food right out of the fryer was the most mouthwatering, and the raging flames under the woks were the most exciting. Mother, however, always worried a bit on that day, especially with kids in the house. She was afraid they would speak carelessly while the woks glowed red hot, and then the coming year wouldn’t be auspicious. So while food was actually in the woks, the children were not to enter the kitchen under any circumstances; they were only allowed to play in the living room, where they pinched and rolled flour paste dough into shapes or ran around.

Tuen Ching and Tuen Hong were watching the sunset from the veranda when they suddenly very much wanted to know how the red bean paste got inside the sweet bean dumplings. They wanted to know why crispy dumplings were crispy, how the sesame seeds on sesame balls were stuck on, and why the taro-shrimp fritters were crisp balls of shredded taro, not shrimp. Before, they had been too small and weren’t allowed to be in the kitchen. This year, Mother said they could stand next to the counter and watch, but they weren’t allowed to touch anything.

In the kitchen, they finally saw Aunt Fong’s skill. Today the round wooden table where they ate on ordinary days was divided into several workstations. In one section was a plateful of still steaming bean paste straight out of a hot pan, left to cool before being put to use. In another was glutinous rice flour and boiling water worked into a dough, ready for Eldest Sister and Eldest Brother to stuff it with bean paste and turn it into soft dumplings. In Mother’s section, she was working a pile of rice flour into a dough that would soon become delicate, crispy coconut dumplings. In Aunt Fong’s section was a plateful of small butterfly-shaped crispy egg shatters. Waiting to go into the wok were five or six beautifully rolled sesame balls, their insides bulging with popped corn, as well as several small, darling bits of shaped dough.

“What are these?” Tuen Ching asked Mother, stroking the soft shapes with one hand. “Those are arrowhead flowers made of dough. We fry them crisp and put them with the sesame balls on the offering table to pray to the ancestors.” Next was the sesame seeds for the sesame balls. Evidently, they weren’t stuck on one by one. The whole ball was put into a pile of sesame seeds and rolled around until it was completely covered.

After that, they started to stuff the dumplings. Mother and Eldest Sister were old hands and immediately started stuffing. Tuen Ching crouched down next to Aunt Fong to watch. Apparently, the edges were sealed by bringing thumb to forefinger and gently pressing the dough together one bit at a time, making beautiful pleats. This sealed in the bean paste and made each dumpling a plump curve that could be put into the wok to fry. Tuen Ching was eager to try sealing one, but her small fingers were clumsy and broke holes in the dumpling skin.

When Mother said, “Anyone whose dumpling is ugly or comes apart in the wok has to eat it. It won’t be kept for the New Year,” everyone was delighted and made a few especially big or ugly ones when no one was looking. It was at this point that Mother said to Aunt Fong, “Isn’t today your husband’s death anniversary? Eat here. I bought a chicken for the memorial offering.” Then she asked, “Did the payment from the government go up? It seems to me the paper said compensation would increase every year for any civil servants who passed away while the Japs were here.”

‘Isn’t today your husband’s death anniversary? Eat here. I bought a chicken for the memorial offering.’

That reminded Aunt Fong of something, and she wiped her hands and took a letter from her handbag. She handed it to Eldest Sister and said, “Yesterday I got this letter in English from the government. Take a look at it for me.” Eldest Sister read it carefully, then said that money for orphans and widows would be adjusted each year, but the amount would depend on…something. Eldest Sister read this ‘something’ word again, still didn’t understand it, and went into her room to check her little dictionary. She didn’t find it there, so she promptly volunteered to go downstairs to ask Teacher Lee. Aunt Fong was pleased and praised Eldest Sister for being so capable and hardworking. Her own adopted daughter had gotten married too soon. She was no use.

“What’s ‘money for orphans and widows’?” asked Tuen Hong. Then mother said, “Adults are talking. Children shouldn’t interrupt.” After that she and Aunt Fong put their heads together to talk some more. Three o’clock finally came, that wonderful moment when everything went into the woks, although the children weren’t permitted to watch. The closed door couldn’t stop the scent of fragrant oil from penetrating beyond the kitchen, however. Eldest Sister came back. Now she knew the English word was pronounced “in-flay-shun,” although even Teacher Lee wasn’t sure what it meant. Eldest Sister said she would ask her social studies teacher the next day.

Eldest Sister noticed how happy her little brother and sister were, seated at the wooden table making figures out of dough, and she sat down to make some, too. Tuen Ching and Tuen Hong had made some little dogs and flowers, but Eldest Sister made eight little people with feet, so they could stand up.

Tuen Ching asked who the little people were, and Eldest Sister whispered that they were Uncle and their seven cousins. “Mother said that while the Japs were occupying Hong Kong, Uncle disappeared a few days after the Kitchen God offering. Uncle was an employee at the post office in Tsim Sha Tsui. His colleagues said he was almost to the post office when he ran into some military police. A hand took Uncle by the shoulder, and after that he didn’t come back. Our cousins—Aunt Fong couldn’t take care of them. She had to give them away. She left some of them on the church doorstep.” Eldest Sister was afraid her little sister didn’t understand, so she whispered some more explanation. “Mother often says Aunt Fong received good fate because she had lots of sons. These dough people are our five boy cousins and these are the two girl cousins.” Her little brother and sister picked up the dough people and played with them, not at all afraid. They remembered they weren’t allowed to mention them in front of Aunt Fong, however.

Mother and Aunt Fong were already finished frying things. They carried out big platters and bowls of food that needed to cool before it could be put into glass jars. Aunt Fong called everyone to come get it while it was hot, telling them to eat a little bit of everything. Overjoyed, the children came flying with bowls and chopsticks. On the veranda, Mother opened out the little wooden table, put out fresh fruit and rice wine, and handed Aunt Fong a small cup of offering wine. Aunt Fong poured the wine onto the ground. Then each sister set up a stick of incense and prayed silently to the afternoon heavens.


命好

 

伍淑賢

廚房一片油鑊喧鬧,姨媽突然高聲說:「我是李錦芬,番禺人,阿爸在廣州開手巾廠,十六歲結婚,廿三歲前未做過家務。打仗時由廣州逃來香港,現在有一個女兒,已經嫁人。我跟弟弟、弟婦和姪兒姪女住彩虹邨。」

「姨媽,你為什麼自己和自己說話?」段貞小小的身體挨住姨媽問。

「是你哥哥要的,他試錄音機,就講幾句。」說著笑指檯上的小機器,磁帶還在轉動,「把你也錄了進去!」

姨媽今天心情極好,又是她一年一度大展身手的日子。臘月裡謝過灶,家家都張羅炸油器,蒸糕。姨媽因為嫁得好,戰前在廣州夫家學了大戶人家的禮節,還有做各式點心的私廚手藝,都是外面師傅學不到的。

段貞的媽媽,卻要到開戰時才倉卒嫁人,只能找到個拮据的男人,還要當繼室,無論在夫家、排場見識和廚藝上,媽媽都比姨媽大大吃了虧。所以這些年來趁家中境況好了點,媽媽每年臘月都請姨媽過來兩三天,準備各式糕點過年,壯壯聲勢。幾十年的姐妹,幾十年的比較,各自的命運都已十分清楚。剩下來的,就是趁過年這種時節,在麵粉和豆沙堆中把女人的功夫做好,也給小孩樂一樂。

姨媽通常一連來三天。昨天第一天,蒸蘿蔔糕和芋頭糕,今天炸油角、茶泡、芋蝦和煎堆,明天,也是最考功夫的,是做黃糖年糕。姨媽這三天,每天一早就來,總是先帶他們六兄弟姐妹飲早茶。媽媽因為要在廚房準備家伙,通常都不去。

他們最喜歡跟姨媽上茶樓飲茶了,因為一坐下來,茶還未開,姨媽就急急要點心,說小孩餓呢,不能等。很快熱騰騰的點心就放滿一桌。

蝦餃?要。大包?要。白糖糕?也要。段貞跟哥哥小聲說,姨媽真好,真爽快,不像爸爸,先要坐半個鐘頭,自己喝夠清茶,才給叫一點點吃的。爸爸甚麼都吃虧,都比人慢。

回家之前,姨媽當然記得給媽媽帶點心。因為近中午,所了要了伊麵,又重新點了蝦餃。姐姐說只媽媽一個人吃,太多了,蝦餃可以不要。姨媽想也不想,說:「給人買吃的,寧願太多,不能不夠。」於是大家都挺著肚子,理直氣壯的回家。

段貞和哥哥段康最喜歡炸東西這天,因為可以玩麵粉公仔,炸出來的東西最香口,熊熊的火鑊也最刺激。媽媽卻有點擔心這天,特別有小孩在家,怕他們油鑊燒紅的時候亂說話,來年不吉利。所以東西真正下鑊的時候,小孩一律不准進廚房,只可在廳裡玩,揑麵粉,跑來跑去。

段貞和哥哥有次在騎樓看日落,突然很想知道豆沙角的豆沙是怎樣跑進去的,脆角為甚麼會脆,煎堆上的芝麻是怎樣黏上去的,還有,芋蝦為甚麼是一個球,而不是一隻蝦。他們以前太小,不讓走近,今年媽媽說可以站在檯邊看,但不准碰東西。

於是他們終於看見姨媽的手藝。平時吃飯的圓木桌,今天分成幾個工作區。一邊是剛才在熱鍋上搓好的一盤豆沙泥,還冒熱煙,正放涼備用。一邊是一包包現成的白芝麻、沙糖、椰絲,也是備用。另一邊是糯米粉,開了水,搓成了麵團,大哥大姐姐正準備包豆沙軟角。媽媽那邊是一堆粘米粉,也搓開了麵團,快要開始包精緻的椰絲脆角。姨媽這邊,早已弄好一盤蝴蝶小蛋散,在等下鑊,還揉好了五六個煎堆,裡面鼓鼓的包了爆玉米花,另外有幾個很小很小的可愛東西。

「這是甚麼?」段貞用手撫摸那些軟軟的東西問姨媽。「這是麵粉做的慈菇,炸脆了,和煎堆一起放神檯拜祖先。」跟著為煎堆上芝麻。原來不是一粒一粒貼上去的,是全個放芝麻堆裡,滾幾滾,便黏滿了。

跟著開始包角仔。媽媽和大姐姐很熟手了,馬上包起來。段貞蹲在姨媽旁邊看,原來是這樣鎖邊的:用拇指輕輕按食指,一下一下把柔軟的麵按好,變了美麗的辮子,把豆沙鎖住,隻隻胖胖彎彎,便可以下鑊炸。段貞馬上要試鎖邊,小手指笨,角仔都破了洞。

媽媽說:「誰的角仔弄得醜,或者下油鑊時破了,要負責吃掉,不准放過年。」大家聽了很高興,暗下都弄幾個特大特醜的。媽媽這時跟姨媽說:「今天應該是姐夫的忌日?在這兒吃飯吧,我買了雞拜神。」跟著又問:「政府的津貼有沒有加?報紙好像說,日本仔時不在的公務員,撫恤金以後逐年會加。」

姨媽這時記起了甚麼,抹淨手從皮包掏出一封信,遞給大姐,說:「昨天收到這政府寄來的英文信,你給我看看。」大姐細細看了,說孤兒寡婦金以後會每年調整,不過要看……甚麼而定。這個甚麼字,姐姐看了一回,不懂,進房查小字典,沒有,馬上說要到樓下的李老師家去問。姨媽好高興,讚大姐姐能幹又勤力,自己的養女兒太早嫁人,不中用。

「甚麼是孤兒寡婦金?」段康問。媽媽即說:「大人說話,小孩別插嘴。」然後與姨媽又低頭做活。等到下午三點,是好時辰,便把東西下油鑊,不過小孩不准看。廚房掩上門,油香禁不住還是溜了出來。大姐姐回來了,知道那個英文字解「通貨膨脹」,不過甚麼是通貨膨脹,連李老師也說不清楚。她說明天再問社會科老師。

大姐姐見弟妹們圍住木桌揑麵粉公仔十分高興,坐下來也揑一份。段貞和段康都弄些小狗小花兒的,大姐姐卻揑了八個小人兒,還有腳,可以站起來。

段貞問小人兒是誰,大姐姐小聲說,是姨丈和五個表哥和兩個表姐。「媽說日本仔的時候,姨丈就是謝灶後幾天不見的。姨丈是郵局職員,就在尖沙嘴,同事說都快到郵局了,卻遇上了憲兵,一手拿住他肩膀,以後就沒回來過。那些表哥表姐,姨媽養不來,後來都送人,有些丟在教堂門口。」她怕妹妹不明白,小聲補充一句:「媽常說姨媽命好,兒子多,有五男二女,就是他們。」弟妹們把麵粉人仔拿住搓弄,一點不害怕,卻記住了不准在姨媽面前提起。

媽媽和姨媽這時已把東西炸好,大碗大碟端出來,放涼透,才可以入玻璃瓶。姨媽叫大家趁熱,各樣吃一點。小孩大樂,碗筷齊飛。媽這時在騎樓開張小木桌,放好鮮水果和米酒,給姨媽一小杯酒奠在地上,兩姐妹各上一炷香,向下午的蒼天靜禱。

 

二○一○年一月二十六日

二○一二年一月二十四日修訂

 


 

“600 Square Feet” by Virginia Suk-yin Ng
Translated from the Chinese by Mary King Bradley

 

I’m in Macy’s six-hundred-square-foot waterfront flat when I listen to Engelbert Humperdinck’s “The Last Waltz” for the first time. Macy is in the kitchen, cooking me egg noodles. While she waits for the noodles to boil, she goes into her room to pack and to look for a spare door key. The noodle water begins to simmer in the kitchen, releasing its alkaline odour.

Ordinarily I would never make a girl work this hard. I would say, Beijing is cold, you’ll need to take a down jacket. Besides which, I would definitely be cooking the noodles for her. But I feel wrung out. I haven’t slept for several nights and don’t know how I’m going to make it through tomorrow.

Earlier, Macy gave me a glass of milk. I took a sip, and let that cold, heavy whiteness drop into my gut.

So, there’s been a beautiful song like this, such a rich, mellow baritone, and I’ve lived thirty-odd years without knowing it. Just like I didn’t know about Gigi’s other man, until she finally admitted it the day before yesterday. She married him two weeks ago. They live in Repulse Bay.

Using the little bit of energy I have left, I’d like to say, Macy take a break, sit down and talk with me. At this point, she’s already served the noodles, has set out the chopsticks, and is waiting for me to go eat.

The noodles are salty and my head feels swollen. I ask Macy what time her flight is. Two o’clock, she needs to leave at noon. Half an hour still.

She gives me a key to the front door, tells me to stay there a few days, to wait for her to come back, and then we’ll talk. Yes. I don’t want to go home. I won’t know how to answer any of the questions in my mother’s third degree. Here I am, a magistrate, and I don’t dare go home.

I thank Macy, drink the rest of the milk, and lie down on the sofa. In a daze, I watch her put the noodles in the refrigerator, turn down the volume on the record player, pull the curtains. Then she picks up her suitcase, grabs her coat and briefcase, and is out the door. I intended to say goodbye, but the words stick in my throat. I notice Macy is wearing really stylish stilettos and a long, gleaming string of beads. Too bad she isn’t better looking herself when she wears such good-looking clothes.

I lie there a long time, until the sun is in the west and the room is a bit stuffy. I get up to wash my face. The bathrooms of women in their twenties and thirties are always scented, and always have cutesy shower curtains and towels printed in a Mickey Mouse or Hello Kitty design, perfume bottles of various sizes, nail polish, and so on. Macy’s has none of this, just liquid soap, towels, moisturizer. All her makeup is put away. All her things are solid blue, white, or green, no fancy patterns. Dog-eared current affairs magazines and novels sit piled on the tub’s edge. A variegated croton sits in a pot on the floor. Sandalwood burns in a small white dish.

It’s past five o’clock. How am I going to pass the time tonight? Am I really going to stay here?

The record ends, the turntable comes to a stop. I have nothing to do, so I take a set of five golden oldies CDs from the shelf and flip through them. Starting with “The Last Waltz,” I listen to the songs one by one, on a loop, paying close attention to each so I can understand all the lyrics. Next up is “I Went to Your Wedding,” “Delilah,” and then “Tell Laura I Love Her.” My thirty-plus years have really been lived in vain. Whatever joys and sorrows I’ve had, someone from however many decades before knew all about them, and clearly, unmistakably, sang about them, talked about them. And I didn’t know.

My thirty-plus years have really been lived in vain. Whatever joys and sorrows I’ve had, someone from however many decades before knew all about them, and clearly, unmistakably, sang about them, talked about them. And I didn’t know.

I look for a piece of paper and pen to sort out my thoughts. I want to write down the timeline for the Gigi business point by point. Everyone says Gigi cheated on me, insists she two-timed me. I don’t believe it. I think she wanted to tell me. It’s just that she’s too kindhearted, so she couldn’t bring herself to tell me the truth. I was even apologetic at first. Why hadn’t I bought her that flat in the Mid-Levels last year? She’d liked it, but I said, “I’m a magistrate, a thousand square feet is too small. Wait a bit. We’ll go look again when there’s one with fifteen hundred square feet.” She didn’t say anything. I really was an idiot.

At this point Gigi calls, her name showing on the caller ID.

“How are you? Everything okay? Are you still having trouble sleeping? Did you go to work today?” she says in a low voice. She’s calling while her husband is out, to see if I’m doing any better.

I don’t really know what to say. Holding the mobile phone, I lean over to turn down the stereo.

On the other end, Gigi starts to cry. “Don’t be like this, okay? I’m sad enough. The past several nights he held me, and all I could think about was you. Where are you? Let’s meet tomorrow, okay?”

After a moment’s thought, I hang up. Gigi doesn’t call back. Macy was right; it’s best to make a clean break. I know what Macy thinks of Gigi, which is why Macy makes me sick. I’m offended by her lack of good looks, hate that deep down she despises Gigi, and yet I continue to enjoy her milk, sofa, CDs, and flat.

Since I’ve hung up on Gigi, there’s no going back. There’s no going back when it comes to lots of other things, too, including all the places Gigi and I used to go — the Peak, Repulse Bay, Manila, Taipei, Bangkok. So will I refuse to go to Maxim’s after this, or to McDonald’s? Will I still ride the MTR? Will I avoid the promenade at Tsim Sha Tsui? Am I never taking a Star Ferry again, and will it prove impossible to go back to certain movie theaters? Yes, it is my selfish, fervent hope that these places will no longer exist from this point forward. If only someone would tear them down, blow them up.

It’s past seven o’clock when another CD ends. Listening to the CDs has worn me out, so I lie back down on the sofa. Outside, the occasional airplane flies past. I sit up and lounge for a bit; might as well watch the news. I turn on the TV and see Macy’s boss at the Beijing airport, where he’s mobbed by Hong Kong reporters asking about Hong Kong’s prospects. He spouts a string of essentially meaningless words. Macy is in the background, holding her coat, eyes on her boss as she takes careful note of how he responds, a slight smile on her face. She isn’t so unattractive there in Beijing, on the TV screen. I notice the coat she’s holding. It looks familiar, and I remember one time in Admiralty when she was looking at coats. She had asked me which color was best. I said women shouldn’t wear black all the time. They should wear more vibrant, upbeat, unusual colors, and it was best to pull back long hair and show the ears and temples. That way, men would notice you. This is exactly what she’s done — and she chose purple!

The news says her boss will meet the leaders of the PRC in the Great Hall of the People tomorrow, which means she’ll go with him and meet them too. She took my advice and is going to wear a beautiful purple coat to go meet important political leaders. A moment of pleased satisfaction surprises me. I watch a while longer, then turn off the TV, sink into the sofa, and give in to a raging headache for half an hour. Afterwards, I lock the front door and take the MTR to my house in Shau Kei Wan.

Girls look clean, but who knows what sort of dirt lurks in those dark corners.

I finally go back to work the next day, which turns out not to be as hard as I thought. I have cases to try, and even though it’s just petty crooks, it’s something to do, and I get through the day with relative ease. At six-thirty I have to go, but where? There’s Macy’s house. I remember there are two things she said I could do: “There’s a spider web up in a corner of the ceiling. If you’re bored, you can take care of that for me. And the sunglasses in the drawer haven’t been tidied up from last summer. If you feel like it, you can polish them.” Now that I’ve suddenly remembered these tasks, this evening’s free time has a purpose. With work to do, it occurs to me I should eat something.

I take a turn around the area over the MTR station. I haven’t put any food in my stomach for several days, so something light is called for. I buy some fish congee, green vegetables, and a litre of cold fresh milk, and then return to the six-hundred-square-foot flat. I watch the news while I eat. Macy’s boss really did go to the Great Hall of the People, looking very dignified. I don’t see Macy today; maybe she’s busy behind the scenes.

The spider web doesn’t take much effort to get rid of, so I clean the whole ceiling. Girls look clean, but who knows what sort of dirt lurks in those dark corners. I wash my hands, start the CD from the beginning again, and carefully take out the dozen or so pairs of sunglasses. I spread them out on the table and wipe them with a clean, soft cloth.

Why a woman needs so many pairs of sunglasses, I will never understand. I polish away at the glasses but suspect that I’m leaving fingerprints. What to do? Looks like I need gloves, and not the rubber kind in the kitchen for washing dishes, but something like silk. I hesitate for a moment, and then go into the bedroom to look for some. If I can find some clean stockings, or maybe velour gloves, that would work too.

Luck is with me. A pair of velour gloves is hanging on the back of the door. Maybe Macy uses them mornings to put on her stockings, so she doesn’t get runs in them. I put on the gloves and use the cloth to polish the sunglasses’ lenses again. Simple and twice as effective; mission accomplished.

Afterwards, I have nothing to do. If this were a Hollywood movie, I would now clean the kitchen, wipe down the bathroom, fill the refrigerator with groceries, tidy the whole place until it sparkled, and then wait for her to come back, at which point we would become lovers. That wasn’t going to happen, of course, because that’s what we used to be.

I sit quietly next to the telephone for a long time, but no one calls. Macy isn’t going to call; she should be eating dinner with her boss right about now. I’m suddenly curious about this boss of hers, so I go into the bedroom and try to decode her diary. I want to see if she’s written about him.


六百呎

 

伍淑賢

在美思那海濱屋苑六百呎的家,我第一次聽到英高柏.堪背丁的《最後華爾滋》。那時,美思給我在廚房下麵。趁麵還未煮開,她到房裡收拾行李,和找條備用門匙。廚房的水有點沸出來了,傳來蛋麵的鹼水味。

平時的我,一定不會讓女孩這樣累。我會說,北京很冷,要多帶件羽絨,而且我一定會為她煮麵。但現在我人癱軟,幾晚沒睡,不知道明天怎樣撐下去。

美思早前給我一玻璃杯鮮奶,我喝了一口,讓那涼重的白色沉墜臟腑。

原來有這樣好聽的歌,這般醇厚的男聲,我活了三十多年竟不知道。正如我不知道珠珠外面另有男朋友,直到前天她終於承認,半個月前已結了婚,住淺水灣。

我想用僅餘的精力,說,美思你歇歇,坐下來陪我說說話。這時她已經把麵端出來,放好筷子,等我過去吃。

麵很鹹,頭很脹。問她幾點飛機,兩點,即是十二點要動身了,還有半個小時。

美思給我一條大門鑰匙,叫我在這兒住幾天,等她回來再說。是的,我實在不想回家,不知怎樣回答母親的問長問短。虧我還是裁判官,竟然不敢回家。

我謝了她,把鮮奶喝完,在沙發上躺下。迷糊中,看到她把湯麵放進冰箱,扭細唱機音量,拉好窗簾,然後拖着行李,夾住大衣和公事包出門。我本想說再見的,喉嚨卻卡住沒聲。我留意美思穿了很精緻的細跟高皮鞋,戴了圓亮的長珠鍊。可惜,她穿衣好看,容貌不美。

這樣躺了很久,到太陽西斜,有點悶熱,我起來洗臉。人家廿多三十歲的女子,浴室都是香噴噴的,毛巾浴簾都印上可愛的米老鼠、哈囉吉蒂公仔,還有大瓶小瓶香水,指甲油甚麼的,美思沒有,只有梘液、毛巾、潤膚霜。化妝品全收起來。東西都是純藍白綠的,沒花兒。浴缸邊上,倒有一疊摺了角的時事雜誌和小說。地上灑金有一盆,小白碟放了檀香。

才五點多。今天晚上如何打發?真在這兒住?

唱片早播完了,在休止狀態。我無事可做,把櫃裡一套五張的金曲CD全翻出來,由《最後華爾滋》開始,反覆的聽,逐首細細的聽,想完全聽明白曲詞。跟着的是《你的婚禮我去了》,《狄拉娜》,《告訴羅拉我愛她》。這三十幾年真是白活了,我的甚麼悲歡離合,人家幾十年前已經清清楚楚,明明白白唱過說過,自己還不知道。

為了整理思緒,我想找張紙,和筆,把珠珠的事一件一件按時序記下來。大家都說我給珠珠騙了,一口咬定她是一腳踏兩船。我不信。我覺得她是有想過要跟我講清楚的,只是她心地太好,不忍說出傷害我的真話。其實是我對不起她在先,為甚麼去年不給她買半山那個房子呢,她是喜歡的,可是我說,我是裁判官呀,一千呎太小了,再過一陣,有千五呎的再看吧。她就不作聲。我真是大笨蛋。

珠珠這時打來,來電顯示的。

「怎樣,還好嗎?是不是還睡不着,今天有沒有上班?」她小聲的問,趁先生還未回來,看我好點沒有。

我不知應該說些甚麼,拿着手提電話,俯身把唱機扭細。然後那邊珠珠哭了。

「你不要這樣好嗎,我已經夠難過的。這幾天晚上他抱着我,我心只想着你。你在哪兒?明天我們見面,好嗎?」

我想了一回,把電話切斷。珠珠沒再打來。美思是對的,不要糾纏下去。不過我明白美思心裡怎樣看珠珠,而因為這樣,我討厭美思。我是在嫌棄美思長得不美,又討厭她心底看不起珠珠的情況下,繼續享用她的鮮奶、沙發、CD和房子。

既然切了電話,就回不去了。回不去的還有好多其他的,包括所有以前和珠珠去過的地方,山頂啦、淺水灣、馬尼拉、台北、曼谷。那麼,美心快餐和麥當勞,以後去不去呢?地鐵還坐不坐?尖沙咀海邊是不是要閃避著走?天星小輪不再坐嗎,去過的電影院都不能再去?是的,我都自私的強烈的希望着,這些地方以後都不再存在,最好有人給馬上拆掉,炸毀。

七點多,一片CD又完了,聽得很累,躺回沙發上,偶爾有飛機聲經過。呆坐了一回,不如看新聞吧。一扭開電視就見到美思的老闆,在首都機場讓香港記者重重圍住,問香港前途怎麼看。他說了一串基本沒意思的話。美思在鏡頭後面,手拿住大衣,眼神留意着老闆怎樣回答,有點笑意。人在北京,上了鏡頭,她原來也不太難看。我特別看了她手拿住的大衣,很眼熟,記起來了,有次她在金鐘挑大衣,問我甚麼顏色好看,我說呢,女人不要天天穿黑色,要多穿鮮美的,快樂的,偏峰的顏色,最好把長頭髮挽起來,露出耳鬢,這樣男人才會注意你啊。那天就是這款大衣,原來她挑了紫色!

新聞說的,明天她老闆要在人民大會堂見領導人,即是說她也要陪着見領導人了。她聽了我的意見,會穿着美麗的紫大衣去見政要呢。我竟然舒心了一陣。再看了一回,關上電視,深深坐進沙發,讓頭狠狠地痛足半個小時。然後鎖上大門,坐地鐵回筲箕灣的家。

第二天,我銷假上班,原來沒我想像中難受。有案可審,雖只是雞鳴狗盜之徒,但有事情做,時間比較易過。到六點半,得走了,哪有地方去?還是上美思的家。我記起有兩件事可做:她說,天花有個牆角起了蜘蛛網,你要是無聊,就幫我把它掃掉,還有,抽屜裡的太陽眼鏡夏天過了還未清理,有心情的話,也幫我抹抹。突然記起這些,今晚的光陰忽的有了目標。因為要勞動,便想到要吃東西。

在地鐵站上面轉了個圈,幾天沒食物下肚,還是清淡的好,買了魚粥和青菜,一公升凍鮮奶,回去那六百呎房子。邊吃邊看電視新聞,她的老闆真的去了人民大會堂,好體面的樣子。今天鏡頭前不見美思,可能在後面忙着。

蜘蛛網,我不費氣力就弄掉了,還把天花掃了一遍。女孩子看上去乾乾淨淨的,有些暗角卻不知道有甚麼髒東西藏着。洗過手,把CD 又從頭播一次,將十多個太陽眼鏡小心的端出來,攤開在飯桌上,用清潔的軟布去抹。

一個女人為甚麼需要這麼多太陽鏡呢,我是永遠不會明白的。抹來抹去,我都嫌有指模印,怎麼辦。看來要戴上手套,而且不是廚房洗碗那種膠手套,幾乎是要絲的。我猶豫了一回,到房間去找,其實只要找到乾淨絲襪,或者絲絨手套都可以。

真走運,原來房門後面就掛了一對絨手套,可能是美思每早穿絲襪時用的,免刮花走絲。我套上了,再用布抹太陽鏡片,簡且事半功倍,美滿完成。

接著下來,還是無事可做。如果是荷里活電影,到了這時候,我就會幫她洗廚房,抹廁所,買食物塞滿冰箱,全屋收拾得閃亮,等她回來,然後我們就會變為戀人。我們當然不會這樣,因為我們曾經就是。

我靜靜坐在電話旁,很久,沒人打來,美思是不會找我的,她現在應跟老闆在吃晚飯。我突然對她的老闆很有興趣,走進睡房,試試翻她的日記,看有沒有寫過他。

 

二○一○年六月十四日

二○一二年一月二十五日修訂

 

 

 


Virginia Suk-yin Ng is a Hong Kong fiction writer, essayist, and communications consultant. She is the author of the short story collection People from the Mountain (2014), and a collection of essays, Night Follows Day (2017), both published in Hong Kong. She has also published a number of other stories and essays in Hong Kong and Taiwan. In 2015, she was a resident of the International Writing Program at The University of Iowa.

Mary King Bradley received a Master of Fine Arts in Literary Translation from the University of Iowa in 2016. She has translated fiction, essays, and poetry for several organizations, including the International Writing Program at The University of Iowa, the Robert N. Ho Foundation in Hong Kong, Books from Taiwan, and the Macau Literary Festival. Her translations include fiction from authors Ng Kim Chew, Liu Cixin, Mo Xiong, Loi Chi Pang, Lawrence Lei, and BTR. A collaborative Chinese-English-Chinese-English translation with Matthew Cheng of Du Fu’s poem “Presented to Wei Ba, Gentleman in Retirement” appeared in the Of Zoos’ “Faithless Translation” issue. She currently lives in Hong Kong.

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