4 Scissors And Seduction…
The pair of scissors dominating the dressing table,
like a bird perched on the topmost branch of a
magnolia, had long been waiting their moment.
After deciding what to do and how to do it, they
flew into my head and borrowed my hands to
complete their work.
At last the rainy weather announced its end by suddenly opening a fissure in the leaden gray clouds through which glinting blades of sunlight angled earthward.
It was early Sunday morning, and even though I hadn't opened my eyes, I knew the sky had cleared.
I luxuriated in my bed with no desire to get up. Mother was ignoring me for the moment, and I simply indulged myself in another of my imaginary dialogues.
Father was reading the paper as he ate his breakfast. He obviously read very quickly. The way he wolfed down his food as he read bore witness to this. An intense man, the way he focused on his work and his impatient nature made it very difficult for him to lead a quiet and relaxed life. His mind worked at lightning speed, leaving most ordinary people behind. His thoughts were always a sentence ahead of his tongue or had even jumped to a different subject, to the point where he was unable to express himself clearly, a fact that often caused him great vexation. He could never queue up to buy anything or to get something done. He would sooner do without than stand in line.
From my father's impatience and agitation I knew that he had to go to a meeting. This was just at the time when there had been a major turn in the course of political events in China. From the few things that my father and mother said about this, I gathered that this had resulted in a turn for the better in my father's situation. But at that time I didn't really understand what went on in the adult world outside our home, nor did I have any interest in it. That world had nothing to do with me. The only thing that concerned me was that improvement in the outside situation had brought no improvement to the atmosphere in our home. I was just as unhappy as I had always been.
Wiping here and tidying there, Mother was busying herself with her household chores.
From my bed, through the open window above me that I saw through half-closed eyes, a rusty reddish intermittent sound of breathing seemed to come from the distant horizon. It was the deep and heavy breath of this city that I live in – Beijing. Its breath filled our house and filled my lungs. Like ashen, filthy time itself, it forever clings closely to the arms of all good people as it leads them silently away.
On his way out the door, briefcase in his hand, Father was saying, "Is sleeping in all Niuniu is good for? Doesn't she know how to talk? She'll end up with some job for the deaf and dumb."
Mother said, "She's still just a child."
Father said, "How old does she have to be before she starts to grow up? It's no good, the way you spoil her and turn her against me."
"It's you yourself who have turned her against you; it's got nothing to do with me. You don't know how to get along with anybody. Even the dog didn't like you," Mother retaliated.
Father slammed the door and left.
I was elated. I could spend the whole day at home alone with Mama. I didn't have to go to school or listen to Father's angry outbursts. Lying in bed, it seemed as if I could see the little black car. It was in the shadows just outside the big wooden door to our courtyard, listening for the sound of Father's footsteps. Then, opening one of its doors, it looked like a huge bird with one wing spread, waiting for my father to disappear into its body before they set out in the 8 o'clock morning light.
… Then, unexpectedly, the little car suddenly turned into a police car, its siren bleating, and Father into a felon in dark brown prison garb, his hands and feet tightly fettered. He was trying desperately to free himself, but the police car took him to a place so far away that it would be impossible for him ever to come home again…
I awoke with a start from semisleep, and my muddled dream faded away. Father had already left for his meeting.
I continued my silent movies in my head. This habit not only allowed me to avoid the clamor of crowds but also even let me escape my mother without feeling left alone.
But it is this habit of actively longing to avoid people and submerge myself in my own thinking that has made me like a real carrier of an infectious disease.
I continued my stroll through my thoughts:
… Again I saw the long, narrow corridor at my primary school. Bearing traces of the passage of countless tiny feet, like the thought patterns of serious young students, the pavement of bare red brick mottled with a patina of dull silver gray bore testimony to its great age. Smiling through half-closed eyes as if harboring some evil intent, Mr. Ti stood at one end of the passageway. I turned and ran as fast as I could for the other end, but when I turned my head to get a better look at him, in disbelief I saw him suddenly turn into my father, tall and imposing. When I finally got out of the passageway, I saw another me run out. We looked at each other intently, eager to discuss just who it was that we had seen. But although we wanted to talk, we also wanted to avoid each other, and in the end we went our separate ways, refusing to have anything to do with each other.
At that point Mother called me to get up for breakfast.
I wanted to, but my body refused to move.
I turned away from my previous thoughts. I really didn't want to think about that day, about anything to do with men.
Sitting down on the edge of the bed, Mother turned to look at me as she gently massaged my skinny back. From the bed, I could see past Mother leaning over me, under the table in the next room, where Father had just eaten his breakfast, to our rather battered front door.
Listening carefully, I could just make out what seemed to be the faint voice of a woman singing somewhere far away across the ruins of temples and crumbling walls, her words taking a very long time to reach me.
As I recall this, I remember that it was a love song expressing the grief of an abandoned woman. Although the plaintive lyrics were much too soft for an insensitive ear to pick up, they came through to me with vivid clarity:
… Open this door,
This door I beat with my tears.
All time has passed away
And left me here alone.
The lyrics seemed to have come on the crest of a distant swell; they rolled back and forth in the hallway and through the entire house, lingering, swirling, their gentle rhythm clinging to me. They crossed through the courtyard dappled in sunlight, following the scattered shafts of slanting sunlight. At last the flow of reverberating melody came to rest at the front door of our neighbor. It was the Widow Ho who was singing. Her voice was as soft and soothing as a cooling balm on an aching wound.
In rainy weather Widow Ho's voice was especially deep and clear, without any hint of fragility. The humid air encased her clear tones in a sleek shell that gave them a kind of seductive sensuality that was both masculine and feminine in quality – or feminine with masculine undertones.
In the long and heavy years since then, the broken strains of that sensual voice have always had the ability to cut through the confused net of memories surrounding me to fill my ears as clearly and distinctly as if they were real. The rain-laden sounds characteristic of such wet weather (actually, I mean during the brief period of clearing skies that often follows a shower) always take me back to the little disconnected fragments of my past life. They are like hair so unbearably messy and disordered that its tangles cannot be washed or combed free. I am helpless in front of these buried feelings with their endless possible ramifications.
The sound of her singing obscured by the monotonous, senseless drone of the cicadas that summer filled me with an indefinable melancholy that I could not suppress.
I slipped out from under Mother's gentle hands, then stood up on the bed and started pulling on my clothes. Through the window I could see some children playing tag in the dusty and withered grass. I could see the June sunlight extending like a thick miasma across the clear and endless sky.
Mother said, "Hurry up and get ready, we're going to go and see a movie." Touched with excitement, I quickly finished dressing and made my bed.
As soon as I was up, Mother carefully spread out a pair of cream-colored woolen trousers on my bed and started pressing them, moving the iron methodically back and forth. I saw at a glance that they were the trousers Father usually wore to meetings. Amid the rising steam, you could easily see that Mother, not very good at this sort of thing, was tense and overly careful.
All the ironing used to be done by Nanny, so I didn't see it as being that important, but it was very obvious that it became very weighty and difficult work in my mother's hands.
Anyway, I had an inexplicable dislike of seeing my mother do this work.
When she was finished, she took the iron into the kitchen and started washing something in the sink.
By this time I had washed my face and felt much more awake.
I glanced quickly over at my clean and neatly made bed. After a quick and silent examination, my eyes came to rest on the cream-colored woolen trousers. While I was rubbing cream on my face, I noticed that the door to my bedroom was closed as tightly as the lips of someone standing rigid, lost in deep thought. Only the window was open, through which I could hear the sound of running water.
As I was putting the skin cream back in the dresser drawer, my gaze fell upon the cold blue glint of the scissors. I shrank back, as if trying to avoid doing something wrong.
Going over to the window, I stood on tiptoe and leaned out as far as I could, straining to hear the tap running in the kitchen. There was no need for me to actually leave my empty bedroom; I could visualize the unbroken icy stream of water falling like a long thin neck from the single faucet. To me it seemed that unfeeling time, because of the existence of that sound, had the desire to flow unceasingly, and it also gave me a strange feeling of strength.
I turned quickly, picked up the scissors, and went straight to the woolen trousers on the bed. I heard the clipping sound of scissors against wool as I sheared off the legs of the neatly ironed trousers, and felt a cold lightning flash of dangerous joy that left me with a sort of postclimactic numbness.
The delight of my little game had me feeling tense yet satisfied.
Then I bounded out of the house like a frightened rabbit.