Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Chairman Mao Would Not Be Amused

Fiction from Today's China

by Howard Goldblatt Edited by Howard Goldblatt

“In contrast to the utopian official literature of Communist China, the stories in this wide-ranging collection marshal wry humor, entangled sex, urban alienation, nasty village politics and frequent violence. . . . [Goldblatt] lets the stories speak for themselves, which, fortunately, they do, quietly and effectively.” –Publishers Weekly

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 336
  • Publication Date March 16, 1996
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-3449-3
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $17.00

About The Book

Chairman Mao Would Not Be Amused is a showcase for twenty writers from the new literary generation in China. Hard-core realism, experimental prose, and black humor; exoticism and eroticism; shocking tales of brutality, tender evocations of love, and engrossing mysteries all coexist in an anthology that spans nearly a decade, ten years that have witnessed a dizzying array of societal and political changes. Almost all of the stories appear in English translation for the first time.

Events of the late 1980s, culminating in the Tiananmen incident of 1989, unleashed a veritable explosion of talent and ideas that clearly places Chinese writers at the forefront of creativity and invention. The writers from this new generation are destined, given the beauty and skill of their work, to shock and entertain readers all over the world.


‘superstition, murder, abuse–Chairman Mao is a collection of pointers to a Chinese heart of darkness.” –The Nation

“A fresh collection of twenty-one tales about love, superstition, sex, murder and honor which takes readers into worlds the Chinese government has long tried to hide from public view.” –The Washington Post Book Review

“In contrast to the utopian official literature of Communist China, the stories in this wide-ranging collection marshal wry humor, entangled sex, urban alienation, nasty village politics and frequent violence. . . . [Goldblatt] lets the stories speak for themselves, which, fortunately, they do, quietly and effectively.” –Publishers Weekly

“Indeed he would not be amused. . . . Goldblatt introduces fiction that reflects the turmoil brought about by Tiananmen and the money-making ethic found in China today. . . . Deftly translated.” –Library Journal


First Person

That year, in the fall, I was assigned housing. It wasn’t a bad apartment, just too high up, on the twenty-first story, and a long way from downtown. I took half a day off work to go have a look. The trip took almost two hours by bus, and by the time I got there, it was already after four o’clock. I saw it right away. Just as I had been told, it was the only building for about a mile around. It was white and surrounded by a green brick wall. The area was pleasant, with trees on three sides and a river to the south. The river flowed west to east, just as I had been told. The wall ran right up against the riverbank, and a small bridge led to the courtyard gate.

Even so, as I walked through the gate, I was thinking I should make sure I’d come to the right place. Near the western wall stood a huge parasol tree; a young woman was sitting against its trunk in the quiet, concentrated shade.

I walked over and asked her if this was the building I was looking for. I didn’t think I was speaking too quietly. She lifted her head, seemed to glance at me, and then settled back down as before, looking with lowered eyes at the shifting dots of light that the autumn sun was sprinkling down through the shade. It was as if I no longer existed. I stood waiting for a while, and then I heard her murmur, “Go with the flow.” Her voice was quite soft, but she spoke each word slowly and distinctly. I nodded. I was positive I no longer existed. Her thoughts were off in a fantasy land. Some vulgar noise had disturbed her for a minute, that was all. I felt a little apologetic and a little abashed, so I stepped back, turned away, and walked straight for the front door of the apartment building, thinking that this had to be the place.

The building appeared empty; people hadn’t started moving in yet. No one was there to run the elevators, which were all locked. I have heart trouble, but since I’d come so far, I couldn’t just leave after one look at the stairs. I figured that as long as I didn’t try to go fast, I wouldn’t have much of a problem climbing to the twentyfirst floor. “Go with the flow” was what the girl said. That seemed to be sincere, appropriate advice, so I took a few deep breaths and started to climb. When I reached the third floor, I stopped to catch my breath. I leaned out the window and caught sight of the girl. She was still sitting there in a trance, her head slightly lowered, her hands resting casually on her knees. On her simple, elegant skirt, dots of sunlight and shade silently divided and then combined, gathered together and fell apart again. “Go with the flow” was what she said. Actually, when she said it, she didn’t see me and didn’t hear any vulgar noise. She didn’t see anything and didn’t hear anything. She was a thousand miles away. I couldn’t see her face, but I could sense her tranquillity and enchantment. The autumn wind swept invisibly past the huge parasol tree, making a soft, dignified sound.

On a fall evening, when the sun was about to set, she left home alone, locking the gradually gathering twilight in her room. She walked where she pleased along paths through the fields. She followed the smells of the grasses and the earth as she walked where she pleased. Who was she? She walked to a remote, quiet place and sat down facing a tall, empty building. She leaned against an ancient tree. She sat in its deep, swaying shade, sat in the low, chanting sound it made. She made the place her own. Who was she? She thought about things near and distant, about things real and illusory. Her mind and body slipped into a natural, mysterious realm “. A woman like that, who could she be? A woman to be admired.

But I had to keep climbing my stairs. I didn’t know what had been arranged for me by nature’s mysteries. Take, for example, climbing stairs; take, for example, the fact that there was an apartment on the twenty-first floor that would belong to me. When had this been determined? How had it been determined? Fourth floor, fifth floor. I had to rest again. To tell the truth, resting was of secondary importance. As I climbed, I didn’t stop thinking about the girl, even for a minute. I had no bad intentions, I just wanted to look at her again and was afraid she had already left. I just wanted to have another look at her, another look at the contented nonchalance with which she sat alone under that big tree, quietly lost in thought. I looked down. She hadn’t left. She was still sitting there by herself, still sitting the same way. But now I saw someone else.

There was a man walking back and forth along the outside of the western wall. I hadn’t noticed him before. The wall had blocked my view, and I couldn’t see him. The wall was quite high. By this time, I was on the fifth floor; yet even so, I could see only his head and shoulders. He paced back and forth as if caged. He walked for a while, then stopped, looked into the distance, and puffed repeatedly on a cigarette. Then he started walking back and forth again, then stopped again, and smoked furiously as he peered toward the distant woods. I could hear his footsteps; they sounded irritated, restless. I heard the snap of each match he struck; he broke match after match. The spot where he stopped was also in the shade of the parasol tree; only the wall separated him from the girl. Along with the appearance of this man, I noticed that not far from him and the girl, in the northwest corner of the wall, there was a small gate. It had been there all along, of course. I had just overlooked it. Now it was especially obvious. Who was the man? What was he to her? One was inside the gate, the other was outside. There was no one else around, no one else in the vicinity. What was going on? The man was terribly upset and anxious, and the woman was in an absolutely silent trance. What had happened? What had happened between them? A slanting beam of sunlight came through the gap between the doors of the small gate and settled in the damp shadow at the base of the wall; it was bright and sadly beautiful.

“Go with the flow” was what the girl said, but what did she mean? To what did “Go with the flow” refer? Was she forced to leave him? Did she have no choice but to leave him? Yes, yes. If she had no choice but to leave him, then all she could do was go with the flow. No choice but to leave him. That meant she still loved him, but there was nothing she could do. “Go with the flow.” Wasn’t that the truth? When she said it, her voice was hollow, her eyes dazed. She didn’t see me at all and, of course, couldn’t hear what I asked her. She was overcome with sadness; all she could think of was the happiness and the bitterness of the past. But finally there was nothing she could do. And the man outside the wall? He was madly in love with her and wanted to make her happy. How he hoped she would be happier because of him. It never occurred to him that he would drive her to such suffering. It never occurred to him that things could end up like this. He had thought it was enough that he loved her and that she loved him, too. It never occurred to him that the world was so large or that everything in life was connected in so many ways.

“As long as you’re happy, it’s OK.” Maybe that’s what he said finally.

The woman sat under the tree with her head lowered. Restlessly, the man walked to her side, around her, in front of her.

“As long as you’re happy, I’ll be OK whatever happens,” he said to her.

“But if you’ll just not be afraid, if you’ll just have a little courage.

“Will you say something? After so long, you must give me a definite answer.”

The woman couldn’t speak. Yes or no. The logic of it wasn’t so simple.

The man said, “I’m waiting for you to say the word. Yes or no.”

The man said, “What’s important is what you want. What’s important is what you think will make you happy.”

The man said, “It’s not that I want you to make a decision right away, but I have to know what you think is best.”

The woman couldn’t speak at all. What would be best? Maybe it would have been best if you and I had never met. Maybe it would be best if people didn’t fall in love, if there were never such a person as you, never such an autumn as this, never such hollow afternoon light, and never such an expanse of shade. She didn’t want any of it. Such long, slender, restless legs, such delicate, nimble feet crushing fallen leaves. She didn’t want any of it. And the long, drawn-out sound of leaves ripping into pieces. She didn’t want it. She had never wanted it.
“Are you going to say something?” the man asked. “I don’t know what it means that you won’t say anything.

“I don’t understand why it’s so hard to answer my questions.

“I don’t know what else I can say. I don’t know what to do.

“OK, OK, maybe I shouldn’t pester you like this. Maybe I should be sensible and just walk away.

“OK, I’ll go. I never thought I could make things so difficult for you. I’ll just say one more thing. As long as you’re happy, it’s OK with me whatever happens.”

He turned and walked out through the small gate. She didn’t stop him. She really no longer had the strength to stop him. She heard him walk through the gate, listening with despair to the sound of his departing footsteps. She held her breath and listened, listened. The familiar sound didn’t travel far, and she sighed in relief. Or maybe it was the opposite. Her despair deepened. She heard him walking back and forth outside the wall, heard him smoking, heard him sighing, heard him crying his heart out. She could fully imagine his pain, but she had no idea what she should do. The only answer left to her was “Go with the flow.” The wind blew between the dense, broad leaves of the parasol tree and through the surrounding woods; it sounded like water, like splashing oars, like waves someplace off in the distance. Why? Were their parents opposed? What other reason could there be? It was better to keep climbing my stairs. I came to look at my apartment. All I could do was get myself up to the twenty-first floor.

Then again, maybe she didn’t love him. Or once loved him but didn’t anymore. “But why?” the man asked. “I don’t want to pressure you, but I have to know why this is happening.” It wasn’t that she didn’t want to tell him, but she truly didn’t know what to say. There seemed to be many reasons, but when she tried to speak, she couldn’t make any of them clear. There really were many reasons, but when she spoke, she couldn’t find any of them. “Go with the flow” was what she said. It was what she always said to him. In her mind, she was still saying it to him and to herself. There was no way to prove or disprove love; all one could do was go with the flow. The man went around to the other side of the wall. Maybe he was grieved; maybe he was angry. He just turned and walked out through the small gate. Maybe it was love; maybe it was hatred. Not wanting to say anything more, he walked out through the small gate. But he couldn’t leave her. He didn’t want to leave her. He was upset and anxious and didn’t know what to do; he stood looking around helplessly. The sun had neared the woods. Gray magpies called back and forth. Inside the wall, the woman listened worriedly to the man’s movements. She couldn’t leave either. She was afraid he might be capable of anything. But what should she do? There was absolutely nothing she could do except go with the flow. That and pray quietly. It was the only wise thing to do, the right thing.

I reached the seventh floor. When I looked down, I could see over the dense treetops nearby. I saw a gravestone among the trees. First one, then two, then three. When I looked carefully, I saw they were all over, like stars in the sky or men on a chessboard, and I realized it was a cemetery. So that’s what was going on. All along, the man had been gazing at the cemetery. That’s what was going on. That’s why the woman was dressed so plainly and neatly. Maybe it was the anniversary of someone’s death, and they had come together to visit the grave.

Death has always been the most mysterious of affairs. A living, breathing person is gone. A living soul, someone who could think, could speak, could laugh, could love ” suddenly is gone. You and he were once so intimate. You could see him whenever you wanted. You could say to him whatever you wanted to say. But he died, and you’ll never see him again. If there’s something you forgot to tell him, it’s too late now. But even after many years, when the woman came to the dead man’s grave, she still couldn’t accept this fact. She placed a handful of earth on the grave, sprinkled a little wine on it, and set down a bouquet of wildflowers. But the deceased? He was dead, gone, couldn’t be found, couldn’t be found anywhere, would never be found. The woman sat by the grave and felt chills run through her body and her heart, too.

The man pleaded with her. “This is the natural way of things. You’ve got to understand that this is the inevitable resting place for us all.”

Looking at the irrefutable grave, she still could not believe death was so cruel.

‘don’t be this way, OK? Don’t be like this.” He pleaded with her in a gentle, humble tone, as if it were all his fault.

“To live, you’ve got to learn to forget,” the man said.

Looking at the grave, the woman also saw the dead man’s likeness, smiling and very real. She still could not imagine what dying was.

The man said, “You have to keep thinking that he’s gone, that he’s been released. You have to keep thinking that we are alive.

“You and me,” the man said, “we’re together. I’m here with you.”

After a long time, the woman left the graveside and walked blindly through the woods. Her long skirt drifted in the air like a ghost. She walked out of the woods. There was a white apartment building surrounded by a long, green brick wall. She walked through the small gate. It was a good place, with a big, lonely tree that calmed one down a little and gave one something to lean on. “Let me be alone for a while, just be by myself, OK?” she said. She didn’t have to look back to know the man was right behind her. Obediently, he turned and walked back through the gate. She sat down against the tree. It was a little better here, by the vacant building. Unfamiliar places help one forget the past. The gently sliding shadow of the tree and the softly falling leaves made just the place for a grieving heart. Go with the flow, just go with the flow, she thought. Really, he was right–death didn’t have to be so scary. “Go with the flow,” she said quietly. Maybe she thought the man had come back inside the courtyard, or maybe she was speaking to whomever it was who had died. She didn’t see clearly who I was, didn’t understand at all what I was asking. The man kept watch outside the gate. The woman’s persistent heartache often left him at a loss. He didn’t know if he respected the dead man or was jealous of him; maybe he even hated him a little. At such times, he couldn’t say if he himself was decent or base and mean. He had come here with her, he had agreed to come every year. He knew he would live up to his word, but he also knew, and only he knew, that he truly wished that she would forget that man, forget him forever. He looked toward the woods and the grave they surrounded. He prayed to heaven either to bless and protect him or forgive him: let that man die for good, and let the two of them never come here again, never return to this place.

The ninth floor. It was evening, and the autumn breeze had stiffened. If there was a strong wind that night, by the next day most of the leaves on the trees would be down. By now, the rays of the setting sun seemed to be coming in on the horizontal. I could see that the man outside the wall was shading his eyes with his hand and staring at the woods, in the same direction in which he had been looking so expectantly before–toward the setting sun. In that direction, through the trees, I could see two roads that intersected. Where struck by sunlight, the roads’ pale surface was dazzling. One of the roads ran east-west, the other north-south. At the far end of the east-west road–the west end–I could see a stop sign for a suburban bus. A bus was pulling in just then, and a few people got off. The man was looking in that direction. He remained absolutely still as he watched the people. He seemed to be waiting for someone. Then the bus pulled away, and the people dispersed. They had probably come to visit graves. Some carried fresh flowers. The man’s hand came down slowly, fished out a cigarette, and placed it between his lips. As he lit the cigarette, he began to pace back and forth. But now he seemed to notice something else. He raised his hand to shade his eyes and looked off in the same direction again: a woman was walking this way. She had probably taken the wrong road; she turned around and headed back this way. Her snowwhite windbreaker was striking as it appeared and disappeared among the trees. The man’s head turned slowly as he followed the woman with his eyes. But she stopped, looked around for a minute, then turned, and headed north. The white windbreaker disappeared among the trees to the north. At this, the man finally took a drag from his cigarette. He was definitely waiting for someone. Who? A woman? So that’s what was going on. He was waiting for another woman. They had agreed to meet below the empty building east of the woods.

“The building is white and has a green brick wall around it. After you get off the bus, go east. Pass through a grove of trees and a cemetery.”

“A cemetery?”

“Yes, I’ll wait for you there.

Maybe it was at the entrance to analley. Maybe it was while they were both rushing to work. Maybe the streets were already full with a crashing flood of cars and people. Or maybe there was only a handful of pedestrians on the sidewalk, and the city was still a pale blue.

“What did you say, there’s a cemetery there?”

‘don’t worry about it, don’t worry. It isn’t scary in the least.”

Maybe it was a Saturday or a Sunday evening, at a bus stop near her dormitory, the last time they said good-bye. The sky was already very dark, and it was about to rain. The wind came in swift, violent gusts; dampness spread out through the black night. Or maybe it was after the rain, and everything was quiet, not a single person in sight. The streetlamps shone on the wet street, which was like a river reflecting festival lights.

“Honest, it’s not scary. It’s a pretty cemetery.”

“Go east? Is it far?”

“No, not far. You’ll be able to see it as soon as you get off the bus. It’s a very tall building.”

Maybe it was close to midnight, in a gloomy corner of a diner. The occasional sound of lonely whistling from someone walking came from the street. The little diner was about to close.

“The building is twenty-one stories. It’s white.”

“A green brick wall?”

“Right, I’ll wait for you there.”

But what about the woman inside the wall? Who was she? What was she doing here? Maybe she and the man outside the wall had absolutely no connection to each other. But did they really have no connection? She was sitting beneath the big tree, not making a sound. Behind it, actually. If you looked carefully, you would notice that she, the big tree, and the small gate all happened to line up perfectly. If you looked in through the crack between the doors of the gate, you wouldn’t be able to see her. Why should this be? The man couldn’t see her, but she could hear everything outside the wall. And why didn’t the man go to the bus stop to wait for his friend? Why did he hide over here and waste all that energy peering into the distance? “Go with the flow” was what the woman said. If her husband had fallen in love with another woman and if she had found out, what could she do? Suffer, yes, she would suffer. She would cry, argue, throw a fit, but in the end what good would that do?

“Nothing like it, nothing at all,” the man said. “There just isn’t anything like that going on.”
But after he said this, she knew that if he continued to see the woman, there would be little she could do. “No! No!” She would cry and shout. “No, this won’t do! It won’t do “”

“How can you be so vulgar?” the man said. “How can you be so petty?”

The man said, “I never thought you’d act like this. She’s just a friend, an ordinary friend.”

But he spent far more time with his ordinary friend than he spent with her. When he was with his ordinary friend, he laughed and talked excitedly, but when he was with her, he had less and less to say, and he grew more and more withdrawn. What could she do?

“For the children,” she said to him. She didn’t want to argue anymore, and she didn’t have the strength to cry anymore.

She said, “You don’t have a thought for me, but you must think of the children.”

“OK, OK,” the man said. ‘since you refuse to believe me, I won’t have any more to do with her.”

But after he said this, he kept seeing the other woman behind his wife’s back. If that was how things were, what could she do? She could take him to court. She could cause a scandal, raise such a fuss that everyone in the neighborhood would know. She could walk away. She could leave him. But she loved him. Love was as difficult to explain as death. She didn’t want to hurt him, and she didn’t want to leave him. What should she do? Obsessed, she followed him here. She watched him walk back and forth along the outside of the wall, anxiously waiting for that ordinary friend of his. Quietly, she went around to the other side of the vacant building, crossed the little bridge, and came in through the main gate. She walked over beneath the big parasol tree and listened for a while. She could hear that he was still outside the wall. Not wanting him to discover her, she hid behind the thick trunk of the parasol tree. She wondered what it was she thought she was going to do. Make her existence known to the other woman? Talk face to face with her? Expose the man’s lies there and then? But what good would any of that do? What would be the point? If he had already fallen out of love with you, if he longed for another woman, what more hope could you have in him? All you could do was go with the flow. Let him go, all you could do was let him go. “Go with the flow.” When she said this, her heart was like a cemetery. She was unaware that somebody had walked over to her, unaware that somebody had asked her a question. The sun had sunk completely behind the trees. The evening breeze was stronger with each gust. It grew gloomy and lonesome beneath the tall tree. The shadow of the tree and the dots of light that had swayed and pulsated were the same as the past, the same as yesterday; they passed away quietly, unnoticed. Of course, tomorrow they would do it all over again in the same place. Let’s go, but where? Let’s go home, but what is home? Were you just going to wait? Wait until when? You didn’t care? You were indifferent? OK, OK, go with the flow. But I had to be on my way, for I still had a dozen more floors to climb.
As I’d expected, my new apartment wasn’t bad. Two bedrooms and a living room. The bigger bedroom was close to 180 square feet, sixteen feet long and eleven feet wide. The smaller bedroom was sixteen feet long and eight feet wide, 128 square feet. It was a miracle for a bachelor like me to have an apartment like this. The living room was 75 square feet. The kitchen was only 54 square feet, but there would just be me cooking and me eating, so it was big enough. To my surprise, the toilet was in a different room from the shower. I hadn’t expected that. The closet was so large I could sleep in it. The balcony? Four feet by seven feet. (How many square feet would that be?) From it, I could look down to the woods.

Under an unfathomable autumn sky, the trees were a riot of color. The maple leaves were already red, the ginkgoes were completely golden, the pines and cypresses were so green they were almost black, and numerous white tombstones ornamented the spaces between the trees. I wondered if in the future I would want a gravestone. If I did, where would it stand? Would I want words engraved on it? What should I have engraved? Over the years, a number of people are likely to come to my grave, on rainy days, on windy days, on snowy days, on clear days. They will pass by my grave, read the words on the gravestone, and then walk away. Who will they be? Will they wonder who the person buried in the grave might be or wonder about the experiences he might have had? Will it occur to them that the person in the grave once imagined their coming? Perhaps some of the people destined to walk by my grave have already been born and are walking toward my gravestone. Of course, they have a long way to go, and many things have to happen in their proper sequence. There is no way to predict which road they will take to get to my grave, because I have yet to die. There is no way yet to determine the place and time, but this sort of thing is certain to occur. Someone who is certain to pass by my grave has already begun his trip. Maybe he is in Africa, or maybe he is within my field of vision. As I was thinking about all of this, I suddenly noticed a child in the woods.

It was a baby. You could see him only from the twenty-first floor. He was lying behind a gravestone in the pale red light of the setting sun. There was a baby carriage beside him, filled with many colorful toys. He was wrapped in a pink woolen blanket so that only his little face showed. He was sleeping soundly and peacefully, as if nothing could disturb him. Who was he? Whose child was he? Where were the adults? Where had his mother and father gone? Why had they stayed away so long? There was no one else around; I could see clearly from the twenty-first floor that there was no one else anywhere in sight. Why wasn’t the child in the baby carriage; why was he sleeping on the ground? Heavens! I understood: an abandoned infant! In a flash, I realized what was going on. The man outside the wall! And the woman inside the wall! The man was gazing steadily in the direction of his child. He paced back and forth beyond the wall, looking off into the distance at his child. He watched the bus stop to see who would come take the baby away. He had no choice but to abandon his child, but he was uneasy; he wanted to see with his own eyes what sort of person would take the boy. Why are you doing this, young father? And you, the mother, why are you doing this? She couldn’t bear to watch, so she hid. After walking in through the small gate, she no longer had the strength to stand, and so she sat down beneath the big tree as if at the center of a nightmare. She listened to hear if the child was crying or not. She wondered if she had brought along enough toys. She listened for any movement from the distant woods. She wondered what sort of fate was in store for the child. Yes, when she looked at me, her eyes were full of alarm. It never occurred to her that someone might come in through the main gate to the south. “Go with the flow,” she said in a voice heavy with despair. Maybe I look reasonably honest and decent, but I didn’t go toward the small gate, and she couldn’t say to me, “Go into the woods. Thank you. Please take care of the child for us.” She thought with resignation, Go with the flow, just go with the flow. The sky grew darker and darker, but the child was still lost in his sweet dreams. Did he dream? What did he dream of? No, no! This could not be! No matter what had happened, they could not do this. I went down the stairs. I have a little heart trouble, but going down stairs is always easier than going up. I rested on the fourteenth floor and again on the seventh. When I reached the bottom, it seemed that other than the fact that my heart was beating a little faster than usual, nothing was amiss.

The woman was still there. Her hands were on her knees, palms up. She was sitting with her eyes closed, beneath the big parasol tree, absolutely motionless. I stood beside her for a while, but she seemed oblivious to my presence. It occurred to me that as a man, I should go talk with the man. I walked over to the small gate and pushed it, but it didn’t open. I pulled it, and it still didn’t open. It was locked; there was a great big lock on the outside. Strange. Then how did the woman get inside? My head, like my heart, is not particularly good. I thought for a minute before recalling how I myself got inside. I ran over toward the south gate, planning on circling around to the west side of the building. It would be best to first go have a look at the child. It was late and getting cold. The child had to be kept from getting sick. I would go have a talk with the young father and then maybe speak to the child’s mother also.

What is it you’re doing? Just what are you doing? What calamity has occurred? You’re not married? If you’re not married, then hurry up and get married. There’s still time. You simply cannot do this. You were pretty daring in the beginning, so what are you afraid of now? There’s no need to be afraid of anything. Let people talk. “Go your own way and let others talk.” An important person said that, so it can’t be wrong. Look, you two, this is a wonderful child, so well behaved. Illegitimate children are all smart. He could grow up to be a great man. Great men shouldn’t just be tossed aside in some cemetery.

But, but! There was a river in front of the main gate on the south side. I had all but forgotten it. The river flowed right up against the green brick wall; there was virtually no space between them. The bridge could take one only to the south bank, and there was absolutely no way to circle around to the west side of the wall. I crossed the little bridge and walked west a long way but didn’t find any place where I could cross the river. Then I followed the riverbank east. I walked a long way, but there was still no place to cross. Now what was going on? The wall around the compound was so high that the man would have had a hard time jumping over it, let alone the woman. I continued on, figuring that sooner or later there had to be a place where I could cross the river. By the time I’d gone another considerable distance, it was deeper into the twilight, and still I hadn’t found a place to cross. If there were such a place, I reasoned, it had to be on the west side; so I turned and headed back. After I had walked for a while, I met up with a woman.

“Excuse me,” I said, “where can I cross the river?”

“Cross the river?” She glanced all around. I realized she was the woman who had been sitting beneath the tree.

“Go west. After about five hundred yards, more or less, there’s a big bridge,” she said.
“Where are you going?” I asked.

She looked at me for a moment with suspicion. “I’m going home.”

“Well, what about him?”


“Who’s that man on the other side of the wall?”

“What? What man? What do you want?”

“OK, we won’t talk about that,” I said. “But what about the child?”

“Child? What child?”

“The child in the woods to the west.”

She laughed. “You’re not feeling well, perhaps?” She turned and was about to leave.

“There’s an abandoned child over there! Listen, no matter what, it’s getting late, and we have to get that child and take it home. Tell me again, where is the bridge?”

Events proved my heart was OK, for I jogged all the way to the woods, and it kept working normally. I found the gravestone. I was positive it was the one. I could swear my eyes hadn’t deceived me. I couldn’t have been wrong. But there was nothing in front of the gravestone–no child and no baby carriage. I hurried off to find the man. He was still outside the western wall. He was just then in the process of tidying up a pile of painter’s things. Brushes, portfolios, paints, bottles, and jars were spread out at the base of the wall, and a finished painting titled Cemetery in the Woods stood to one side.

I walked up and asked him, ‘did you happen to see a child in the woods?”

“A child? What sort of child? How old?”

‘very small, a couple of months.”

“Good Lord, aren’t you a case? How could you lose such a small child? He couldn’t run away by himself, could he?”

We looked off toward the woods simultaneously. I walked back and forth along the green brick wall, from south to north and north to south. I couldn’t see it; from there, I couldn’t see the gravestone at all. Then the woman showed up. I described for them everything I had seen.

“Please believe me, my eyes work better than anything else in my body,” I said to them. “Please don’t look at me like that, like there’s something wrong with me.”

I said to them, “If we spent some time together, you’d realize that I’m quite normal.”

I said, “Will you go with me to have another look?”

The man said, “I don’t doubt your sincerity, but how can you guarantee you saw everything there was to see? As for me, I’m sorry, I have to go home.”

The woman said to me, “All right, I’ll go with you.” I could tell she said this only because she wasn’t entirely satisfied that I was OK.

We went into the woods and walked to the gravestone. Sure enough, nothing. There was nothing there at all. I sat down beside the grave. I said, “Go on home. Weren’t you on your way home? Go on.” She sat down beside me. I said, ‘don’t worry. You don’t have to worry about me. I’m a little tired. I think I’ll rest here for a while.” She reached out and felt my pulse.

I said, ‘maybe the painter was right, maybe the child’s parents were nearby.”

I said, “But maybe I wasn’t wrong, and someone took the child away while I was looking for the bridge.”

I said, ‘shall we take another look around?”

We walked through the woods together. We walked until the sky was completely dark.

I said, “What sort of person do you think took him away?”

I said, “I think it was a good person who took him away. What do you think?”

I said, “What do you think that child’s fate is going to be?”

She said, “Go with the flow.”

And that’s how we met. Who would have expected it? Two years later, she became my wife; three years later, the mother of my son.


Copyright ” 1995 by Grove Press. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic Inc. All rights reserved