-1-

Just as it was about time for the Festival of the Ghosts, Mother drew my two sisters and me to her. A worried look on her face, she said, “I’m afraid I won’t live much longer.” She pulled up her pant-legs, revealing bruises the size of copper coins. “Last night, I dreamed I was fighting over hell money with dead people . . . See, Luo Xiao hit me here with his ritual implement, and Xiaoqing made this other bruise.”

Luo Xiao was a shaman in Qinghuatan who was known far and wide, and Xiaoqing was the Li family’s daughter-in-law who had hanged herself just a few days earlier.

My sisters were frowning. I couldn’t tell if they were scared or surprised. Second Sister Qiuxiang was the prettiest girl in town. Her skin was very pale, and after next spring, she would be of marriageable age. She gently touched the bruises on Mother’s calf and asked, “Should we ask Luo Xiao to do something about this?”

Mother sighed and said, “Each year during the Festival of the Ghosts, Luo Xiao runs around in circles, for he has to officiate at two yueban ceremonies a day.” These ceremonies are supposed to release from purgatory the souls of persons who have died in the last three years, and can only be held during the Festival of the Ghosts. Naturally, this was the busiest time for the shamans. “I dreamed last night that I pounced on the paper charm in the instant that it was burned. Xiaoqing threatened me, saying I was not allowed to take things that her family was burning for her. Her hair was disheveled, and her face pulpy from scratches. Yet for some reason, I still couldn’t restrain myself from taking a handful of her hell money. Then she poked me. Luckily, Luo Xiao intervened and separated us.” Mother gave us a heavy-hearted look.

After breakfast, Mother took Qiuxiang and me to the market. When we reached the courtyard gate and looked back, Older Sister Qiulei had already gone silently to the inner room. She walked lightly, as though on tiptoe. She never made a sound, even when she coughed. After we went out the gate, Mother locked it securely from the outside. For the time being, the small courtyard was absolutely quiet. As long as Qiulei didn’t make a sound, no one would know that anyone was inside.

Our home was a single-family dwelling. Father had built the small courtyard before his death. I often complained that it was too small: sitting in the courtyard was like looking at the sky from the bottom of a well. I couldn’t help but think of myself as a big frog. The only exit from the courtyard was the beat-up gate made of fir. Fir is strong and easy to use. But over time, it became so weather-beaten that it developed finger-sized gaps. When one looked through these gaps from outside the closed gate, the inner scenery of the courtyard changed into narrow strips, as if it had been chopped up. Some time after Qiulei came to live here—I don’t remember when—the gaps were stuffed up with rags.

It was probably the smallest courtyard in the neighborhood. You could take in everything at a glance. A banana tree and a peach tree were planted in one corner; there was also some bamboo. On the northeast side stood two wooden poles for drying clothes; they were Mother’s creations, of course. A variety of clothing was drying on them. A little farther away was a Chinese toon of indeterminate age which gave off a strange smell every spring. Stir-fried eggs with tender toon leaves was a unique dish here; I didn’t like it, though. And Mother always complained that bamboo and toon shouldn’t have been planted in the courtyard. She said bamboo could summon the souls of the dead, and toon wood was good for making coffins. Although she talked like this all the time, she never tried to get rid of them. But her words made such an impression on me that I didn’t dare linger alone in the courtyard after dark, let alone look at these blurry things.

At night, our old dog Brownie often snarled at these indescribable dark areas. People always said that dogs could see souls at night. They added that if you smeared dog’s tears in people’s eyes, people would also be able to see souls and would be scared to death. That’s what people said, but no one had ever experienced this.

 

It was almost time for the Festival of the Ghosts, so the market was crowded. All along the way, I wondered if Mother would buy me a slice of watermelon. This was the main reason I had come along. Ever since Father had fallen ill and died, things at home had become progressively bleaker. Mother earned a little money by toiling at the brickyard. She was in a lot of pain from rheumatism, and she didn’t have enough money for therapy. Of course I knew our family’s circumstances, but I still yearned for a slice of sweet watermelon.

On the eve of the Festival of the Ghosts, the market vendors doing the briskest business were those selling incense, hell money, candles, and firecrackers. People who were good at running their houses had already done their shopping much earlier. When the Festival of the Ghosts was approaching, these things always cost more than usual. And because there were so many buyers, it wasn’t easy to bargain.

Mother had long since purchased the things she needed for Father’s yueban ceremony. Last week, she had also sent me to the shaman’s home to ask him to come to our house the afternoon of the Ghost Festival to complete the final yueban ceremony for Father. Father had been dead for three years. During the Festival of the Ghosts, we had to have a yueban ceremony for him each of these three years. We always asked Luo Xiao to officiate.

Luo Xiao told me his schedule. He said he wouldn’t eat lunch at our home, but would arrive at one o’clock in the afternoon for the ceremony. Mother said, “Then lunch can be simple, but dinner has to be better.”

She looked a little depressed. At times like this, I knew that—no matter what—I mustn’t provoke her. I should stay as far away from her as possible. At such a time, I could turn only to Qiulei for comfort.

After Qiulei married a carpenter from Fengshu and went to live there, she had a baby girl very soon. That was three years ago.

“Giving birth to a girl is just like not giving birth at all.” After hearing this news, Mother was filled with anxiety. The young carpenter was a little humpbacked, but his temper was like a small ax. Like Father, Qiulei had a warm personality: she never argued with anyone. Later on, Mother said the carpenter’s mother was a mean old bitch.

“Qiulei’s life won’t be easy. I just know it.” Whenever she spoke of Qiulei, she sighed.

Qiuxiang said, “His family can’t act this way. Isn’t a girl also a human being? Isn’t a girl also their child?!”

Mother said, “What do you know about anything? Just wait until you’re married. Then you’ll understand what it’s all about.”

Qiuxiang was angry, but she said with a smile, “I’ll never get married!”

 

I was like a little loach in the throngs of people going to the market. As I darted in and out of the stream of people, Qiuxiang kept a tight grip on my hand and dragged me along. She was so tired that she was sweating all over. She was annoyed and said, “If you don’t stop running to and fro, I won’t buy anything for you!”

It was as though she had seen through to all of my desires.

Mother was taking us through the areas selling incense, hell money, and candles; occasionally she would ask the price. We already had enough things for Father’s ceremony; I had no idea what she was up to.

All of a sudden, Mother turned around and said to Qiuxiang, “The incense and hell money cost thirty cents more than the last time we bought them!” None of this interested me. Whenever we passed the watermelon booth, they didn’t even glance at the watermelon, and I felt cheated.

By noon, it was unbearably hot, and I begged Mother for a slice of watermelon. With a pitying look at me, she walked over to the watermelon booth and asked the price. Then she rapidly dragged me away. She kept rattling on in an irritated fashion: “It’s just a slice of watermelon, isn’t it? It shouldn’t be more than fifty cents, and yet she wants eighty cents. It’s highway robbery!”

At that, I was really upset. I was wondering if, in the end, she would buy watermelon for me or not. Just then, I noticed that Eighth Uncle was also at the market. When I called his name he turned around and saw us. We hadn’t seen him for a while: he looked much older.

“So you’ve come to the market, too?” he asked Mother and Qiuxiang. He looked at Mother’s empty hands: “Why haven’t you bought anything?” Mother said, a little embarrassed, “Qiuming was just asking me to buy watermelon, and here we are.” Mother’s words made me feel better. He said, “Have one of mine!” I noticed that he was carrying several slices of watermelon. Mother pushed the bag away in some confusion and said, “We’ll buy our own!” Looking a little unhappy, he said, “It’s just watermelon, isn’t it? Come on!” Mother was embarrassed.

Each of us took a slice of watermelon. Mother and Qiuxiang were rather discomfited and didn’t eat it right away. But I ate mine happily. Mother stole a look at me, and I could see that she wasn’t happy. They kept chatting, and suddenly he said, “Is Qiulei still in Fengshu? How’s she been lately?”

Mother answered hastily, “She’s fine. She’s working in Guangdong now.” She added, “In an electronics factory.”

His expression was unfathomable as he said, “Oooooohhhhhhh . . .?”

This long, drawn-out sound was upsetting. Mother said we had more shopping to do, and we left in a hurry. After we had walked some distance, she asked Qiuxiang suspiciously, “How did he happen to ask about your sister all of a sudden?”

Qiuxiang was quiet for a while and then said, “Perhaps word somehow leaked out.”

Mother’s face fell. She had never liked this man. He had lost his wife three years ago and still hadn’t remarried. Several days ago, a matchmaker had come to see Mother and told her that he intended to marry her. The matchmaker was roughly the same age as Mother, but she was about to lose her teeth. She knew all the jargon, and the two of them talked for a long time. Mother said, “I can’t agree. This guy—he forced his daughter-in-law to have an abortion when she was six months pregnant. That was inhuman!”

At last, the two of them parted on bad terms, and the matchmaker took off in a hurry. It seemed this incident caused Eighth Uncle to lose face, so for a long time, he didn’t come to our home at all. He used to come by quite often, even if he didn’t have a reason to visit. Although he had quite a lot of prestige in this town, very few people really liked him. Ever since his daughter-in-law had died of an infection from her abortion, his eldest son had broken off relations with him. For a time, this had caused a great commotion. Yet, the higher-ups had also praised him for the action he had taken, and it seemed he would soon be promoted to a position in the township

-2-                                                           

In the afternoon, for no reason that I could figure out, I was dragged off to get a watermelon haircut. I hated this style. Mother was in a bad mood, so all I could do was squelch my feelings. As the market was about to break up, Mother finally decided to buy a bar of soap and a bottle of pesticide. It was almost time for the rice harvest, and pesticides were no longer needed. I had no idea why Mother was buying it.

A terrifying warning suddenly began making the rounds.

Everyone dashed around spreading the word: “They’re coming to catch people! Go into hiding!” People kept saying this to us.

“They’re coming to ferret out pregnancies!” people yelled.

Qiuxiang was holding my hand tight and pulling me along, lest I be crushed and lost in the stream of people. Bewildered, Mother drew a woman aside to ask her questions. The woman looked at Mother and said, pointing at Qiuxiang, “You’d better hide this girl quickly! They’re almost here, and they’ll take her off to the clinic for an examination!”

Mother said immediately, “She isn’t even married yet.”

The woman thought Mother wasn’t listening and hurried off.

A tractor fully loaded with shrieking women drove past. It was frightening. They had been captured on their way to the market and were being taken to the clinic for examinations. If anyone was found to be pregnant and it was learned that it was her second pregnancy, she would have to have an abortion before being allowed to go home.

Worry all over her face, Mother watched the tractor go into the distance. She sighed repeatedly, “What bad luck!”

All along the way, I felt uneasy. I saw those women taken away, wailing and sobbing. I couldn’t get the sound of their weeping out of my mind.

All kinds of slogans were posted on the walls of buildings alongside the road:

It’s glorious to have only one child, it’s shameful to have two!

Anyone who dares to have more than one child will be ruined!

Everything we saw along the road was desolate and dilapidated. Large holes had been smashed in many buildings. Some tiles and windowsills had even been lifted off. The dark holes looked like wide-open mouths that could swallow everything. Many homes had been abandoned. Those unoccupied homes looked lifeless; they gave off an eerie chill, making people feel inexplicably afraid.

People often say that this is how houses become haunted: after people leave their homes, ghosts sneak in and occupy them.

Mother also said that during the Festival of the Ghosts, one should avoid going out at night, because there’s a lot of negative qi at that time. The roads are filled with lonely souls and unruly ghosts who return at this time to ask their descendants for hell money. Some of these ghosts have no home to return to, and can only rob people or beg at the side of the road.

“If you do go for a walk at night and someone calls your name or taps you on the shoulder, you must be sure not to turn around!” Mother cautioned us again.

I had no reason to doubt this.

It wasn’t yet dark when we got home. We locked the courtyard gate very early. Only then did we feel fairly safe. As Mother cooked, she kept grumbling about buying watermelon for me.

“If you hadn’t been clamoring for watermelon, that old thing wouldn’t have taken us by surprise!” Mother’s tone was unpleasant. I couldn’t be sure if her wrath was aimed at me or at him.

Qiuxiang was sitting on a small stool washing vegetables. She said, “Don’t blame my brother. And anyhow, the old guy doesn’t know Qiulei is here!”

Mother didn’t say anything else. We all felt uneasy. After we ate dinner, the moon came out. We could see each other’s faces in the bright moonlight. The four of us cooled off as we sat in the courtyard and cut up paper to be used as hell money offerings during the festival.

The moon was always quiet. As I sat there at one side, I was a little bored so I stood up and strolled in the courtyard. When I looked up, I noticed that the moon was walking with me. I wondered whether it was walking more quickly or whether I was. Just then, from a corner, Brownie began snarling at something outside. It looked really frightened. In the night air, it seemed we could smell the scent of strangers.

Mother stood up at once. She grabbed the yellow paper from Qiulei’s hand and motioned to her. They crept quickly into the main room of our house.

Brownie was still howling when Mother came out. If I opened the door, it would certainly shoot out like an arrow and make straight for its quarry. Just then, I realized that it had been barking all along at a pine tree outside the courtyard. The pine tree was much higher than the surrounding wall. We could see it from inside.

Mother cursed Brownie. Chagrined, it wagged its tail and whined in surprise. Just then, the pine tree seemed to quiver, and then right after that, it wobbled. And after that, it seemed that something jumped down from it. Brownie barked even louder. But then, to my surprise, it stopped barking right away.

After the dog calmed down, I whispered to Mother:

“Have our ancestors come back?”

Mother looked at me in annoyance, and Qiuxiang said, “You’d better go to bed right now.”

The next morning, I was surprised to discover that Qiulei had disappeared. When I asked Mother and Qiuxiang, they reluctantly pantomimed that she had left.

-3-

On the evening of the tenth day of the seventh lunar month, we “invited” all the ancestors to our home. When Mother said “invite,” I felt a little uncertain. Why did she have to say “invite”? Had someone gone to the other world to extend the invitation?

Mother had already told Qiuxiang and me to take our baths after dinner and then set the incense burner table. We knew without being told that the offerings would be the same as those in past years—a liter of rice, with a stick of incense inserted on top of it, and four cups of fragrant tea. Some fruit, vegetables, ham, and red peppers were also placed on the table.

Mother lit the incense and then turned toward the entrance and began murmuring:

“Today is the tenth day of the seventh month. This is the home of Li Dangping in Qinghuatan. We extend a special invitation to all of the ancestors to come to our home to observe the Festival of the Ghosts . . .”

After Mother burned the hell money and the worship ended, our home immediately turned desolate again. The lighted red candles attracted some moths: not fearing for their lives, they pounced on the candles and were burned to a crisp. A scorched smell filled the air.

People say that during the Festival of the Ghosts, one shouldn’t deliberately kill moths, for they had originally been ghosts. People also say that during the Festival of the Ghosts, after the ancestors finish dinner, they like to go out and watch the opera. They don’t return until very late. Sometimes you can hear their footsteps at midnight. There are also rules against providing certain foods. For instance, bitter melon is prohibited because it’s too bitter, and the towel gourd is prohibited because it’s shaped like a snake and would scare the ancestors away.

The bruises on Mother’s calf had gradually faded. They seemed to be latent scars in Mother’s mind, which could surface at any time.

She sat on a small bamboo chair. Because of years of exposing her calves while doing hard work, her skin was somewhat yellow. The blue veins crisscrossed in all directions.

Mother said:

“I might not live very much longer. Sooner or later, I have to be with your dead father Li Dangping!”

I’d been terrified ever since Qiulei disappeared. She adored me. Whenever she was around, I always felt a special warmth. With her sudden disappearance, I felt as if there were a hole in my heart. I suspected that her pregnancy was already very evident. Where could she go? Her tummy was sticking out so much . . .

It was very quiet at home during the several days of the Ghost Festival. Mother said, “Don’t make a racket. The ancestors are all here.” I immediately felt my hair stand on end: it was as though eyes and shadows were everywhere. Some of them were smiling; others were gazing sternly at their descendant—me. I was walking on eggshells. I didn’t dare even think of certain kinds of things. People often said that ghosts could penetrate to the very depths of one’s being.

I was waiting sulkily for the yueban. Mother was systematically preparing everything needed for it. The huge drum—the most resounding one in this vicinity—had been borrowed and placed in the hall. I imagined the loud sound it would make on the fifteenth day.

Just then, he showed up.

-4-

Mother asked me to pour tea for him. As I picked up the pot, I decided not to throw out the tea leaves from the day before, but just to pour more hot water over them and give him that. Of course he wouldn’t say anything to me. I stood to one side watching him carefully, and I gloated a little.

He said, “My legs are getting worse.”

Mother said, “You need to see a doctor.”

He said, “That won’t do any good. I’ve been taking medicine for a long time. I’ll probably be deformed.”

Mother said, “Don’t say such things. You have to keep taking your medicine.”

He said, “If I am deformed someday, everyone will surely think I’m nothing but a joke. My older son won’t come to see me, even on my dying day.” As he went on talking, his eyes grew moist.

Mother said, “How could that be? You’re the party secretary!”

He said, “So what? In this job, I end up making people angry. . . Do you think I want to kidnap these women? I just do what the higher-ups tell me to do and hope that I don’t do anything that I’ll regret. I just go along with what the higher-ups say. They can’t be wrong.”

After a while, they started talking about Qiuxiang’s marriage. Mother said, “She isn’t yet eighteen years old; it’s too early to talk of this . . .”

Mother was preparing beans for supper. The beans that were wrapped like snakes around her fingers dropped to the ground. She picked them up. After this, they talked about trivial matters, and then he rose to take his leave. After he stood up, he looked into all of the rooms and said, “You don’t have anyone here who’s pregnant, do you?”

Frowning, Mother said, “What are you saying? If you don’t trust me, just go ahead and search!”

He forced a laugh and said, “You’re kidding. How could I not trust you?” Watching him leave, Mother let the beans fall from her hands again and they scattered on the ground. She looked at me bitterly, and then decided I’d done nothing wrong. I had barely regained my composure when I suddenly noticed that she was shivering all over. 

-5-                                                                                                

Father’s ceremony was scheduled for the most solemn day of the Festival of the Ghosts. That morning, Mother rose early; by the time we got up, she had already made breakfast. She sat alone in front of the kitchen stove, stirring the embers with tongs. Above the embers were drawn some slipshod mysterious symbols. I noticed that she hadn’t combed her unkempt hair, and her spirits were sagging a little. I didn’t dare ask if she was in a bad mood. She drew Qiuxiang and me to her.

“Last night, I dreamed that I saw souls.”

Just then, she pulled her pant-legs up to her thighs. I saw that the skin on her thighs and calves was absolutely different. Her thighs were pale and delicate. I was a little ashamed to look at them. Pointing to a bruise, she pressed down on it with her thumb and said:

“Look. I remember for sure that Pingtao hit me here! I dashed out to take her hell money, and she hit me.

“Your eighth uncle said I shouldn’t take that hell money. It’s for the dead. But I didn’t listen, and so Pingtao did this to me. I don’t remember what she used as a weapon. But it hurt a lot. She almost broke my bones. Afterward, your eighth uncle rushed over and pulled me away. I woke up at midnight and couldn’t get back to sleep. Oh, God knows . . .”

The expression in her eyes was confused and distracted.

At noon, Mother told me to press Luo Xiao to come. And so the afternoon ceremony began on time. Father’s portrait—a serious expression on his face was placed in the shrine. Qiuxiang and I knelt in front of the portrait. He was constantly gazing at us. The gongs and drum were loud, and firecrackers made explosive sounds outside. Several people came, including shamans and a number of villagers who showed up on their own. Naturally, he also came.

Generally speaking, at the third ceremony for the dead, family members don’t need to cry. But that day, Mother cried especially hard. Holding a long bath towel, she sat paralyzed on the floor. Her voice was hoarse, and she couldn’t speak. She was inconsolable.

The villagers whispered, “. . . She’s too sorrowful. Even when Li Dangping had just died, we didn’t see her crying so hard.” As I knelt there listening, I felt these words were rather harsh.

I had no idea why Mother was crying so hard. She seemed beside herself. She even seemed to have forgotten that the ceremony was for Father.

When the sun set, the ceremony finally ended. Noise rose all around. People sitting at the table were waiting to eat. Mother’s eyes were swollen and bloodshot. Her hair was a complete mess, and her nose was red. Some women were consoling her, but Mother said nothing. She just kept wiping her nose.

He was the party secretary, so of course he would stand up and say a few words.

He drank a lot; many people toasted him. He said to Mother, “You mustn’t grieve so much. The ancestors have all been in your home for several days. Seeing how much you care about him, Li Dangping will surely feel reassured!”

With that, the people at the feast all burst out laughing.

All of a sudden, I felt embarrassed and sad for Mother.

It was as though Mother had remembered something, and she turned to Luo Xiao and asked about the bruises on her legs. Luo Xiao seemed a little out of it. He said, “So are you saying that you dreamed you had seen me in the afterworld?”

The people on the sidelines burst out laughing again. No one thought Mother’s dreams meant anything, and of course Mother didn’t have the nerve to bring it up again.

The crowd of people finally left, and the courtyard grew quiet again. I kind of missed the chaos just now, because the noise had made everything more colorful.

He left, too, but in the evening he came back, reeking of alcohol. Mother sent me to a side room to string beans. I sat there in a trance, listening to their voices which were sometimes halting and sometimes arguing vehemently.

Qiuxiang sat down next to me.

After halfheartedly stringing a few beans, Qiuxiang and I stood up in confusion and walked inside. In the dim light, I saw him embrace Mother.  Both of them were staggering, and they seemed to be scuffling.

Catching sight of us, he dropped his hands in a hurry.

Mother said in disgust, “He’s drunk!”

He said crossly, “Who says I’m drunk!? I’m not!”

As if he’d been provoked, he shouted, “You can’t hide this from me! Do you think I’m blind?”

Mother and Qiuxiang were dumbfounded. Their faces pale, they stood there, as if they were stark naked. He hiccupped and said, “Actually, I knew a long time ago. Someone reported it to me. Sooner or later, someone will notice that Qiulei is hiding there!”

He seemed to regret having said this. Qiuxiang walked up and helped Mother walk away. She also tried to help him. Putting his hand on Qiuxiang’s shoulder, he said, “You’re a nice girl!”

Qiuxiang threw his hand off impatiently. He instantly placed his hand there again. Annoyed, she threw it off again.

Just then, I saw him quickly pinch her face. Exasperated, she scratched at his face, leaving a long bruise. Mother squatted on the floor and began weeping loudly . . .

After he left, Mother still couldn’t stop crying. She hunched her shoulders and kept choking with sobs.

This was the last day of the Ghost Festival. In the evening, all of the ancestors had to be sent back to the afterworld.

Mother didn’t say anything. She was in a stupor as she prepared the offerings. I stood there, wanting to help her, but I found I was absolutely superfluous. I was afraid she would lash out at me for trying to help.

I started speculating: if the ancestors saw this scene, how would they react?

Mother finally finished preparing all of the offerings. She asked me to set off a string of firecrackers outside the door. Other villagers farther away also set off firecrackers. This was a special send-off saluting the ancestors. All kinds of offerings were placed in front of the incense burner table, and then the hell money was burned. After lighting the incense, she began saying words of farewell. In the firelight, I realized that it was as if Mother were sending off a living friend or relative. She kept repeating these customary farewell remarks. All of a sudden, I felt my hair stand on end.

I shot a meaningful glance at Qiuxiang, who was sitting on a bamboo chair. She pretended not to see it, and so I had to walk over and tug at Mother. As though being awakened all of a sudden, she glanced at me in return. Her face was an unearthly dark color, as if she’d been struck by a ghost.

When all of this was finished, the only thing left to do was to burn the paper packages.

In the packages were piles of hell money. On each package were written the name of an ancestor and the date, as well as the name of the person burning the package. Qiuxiang’s and my names were also included. The word “seal” was written in large script on the back of each package. This meant that other ghosts could not steal it.

The packages were lined up neatly in a corner of the courtyard with brushwood beside them. Mother shakily struck a match and lit the brushwood.

Flames leapt up all at once and encircled the packages. The burning turned them into dark smoke which the ancestors took with them.

One package surprised me greatly. No matter how big the fire grew, except for burning a little at the corners, it remained almost the same as at the beginning. Mother walked up cautiously and knelt down and said to me, “You can read. Come and see whose package this is.”

“It’s Father’s.”

“Why do you suppose he doesn’t want it? Could he be upset with us?”

Mother’s words frightened me and made me sad.

She placed some more brushwood on top of it, and said, “Don’t blame me. I’ve done all I can. There’s no way I can protect them any longer. Someday soon, I’ll probably join you!”

At once, the package went up in flames. In the night wind, the red ashes rolled and fanned out as they rose and flew up toward the unfathomable night sky.

-6-                                                                                                  

At midnight, Mother shook me awake. As soon as I saw her face, I knew something very bad had happened. Qiuxiang had risen early. We followed Mother to the deep cellar behind the house, which was used for storing sweet potatoes. You needed a ladder to go down. I remembered that Father had spent two months excavating it. Carrying a kerosene lamp, Mother cautiously led us into the cellar.

All of a sudden, Qiulei’s face appeared before me. In the light from the kerosene lamp, her face was frighteningly pale—as though she was near death. She was lying in a pool of blood and shivering. In flashes of light from the kerosene lamp, I could see that the cellar was filled with centipedes, some as large as chopsticks and some as thick as fingers. They were shining with horrific black light. On the ground were a lot of centipedes and locusts that had been trampled to death. The turbid air was suffocating and nauseating.

Qiulei had miscarried and had a stillborn infant. She was gasping for breath. If she hadn’t been found in time, she would have died, too.

It was a baby boy. If he had lived, I would have had a nephew. Without a sound, he had left this world; he hadn’t had time to see his uncle even once. I felt desolate.

Mother was carrying a bamboo basket on her back, and she placed that thing in it. He lay there quietly, as though looking at me. This made me uncomfortable. But it was just a bundle of flesh and blood. Lifting the kerosene lamp, I carried a hoe on my shoulder. Without a sound, Mother followed me.

We found a place in the middle of a mountain in back and started digging a hole. In the quiet night, the sound of the hoe was unusually harsh. We finished digging the hole quickly, and Mother gently placed “it” in the hole and then covered it with earth. The red earth seemed fresh. I supposed it was the first time it had been turned over: just like my nephew, it was the first time it had come into the world.

After tamping down the earth, Mother squatted feebly on the ground. With her disheveled hair, she looked rather ghost-like. Very scary. To cast off the rising dread I felt, I had to keep telling myself, this is my mother, this is my mother.

“Why? Why in the world? We just have to,” Mother said faintly.

 

That summer seemed really long. We kept waiting for the family planning officials to show up on our doorstep. But a long time passed, and they never came. The next spring, Mother married Eighth Uncle.

© Zheng Xiaolu. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2011 by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping. All rights reserved.

 

1.

那年的鬼节来临之际 ,母亲将我们姊妹三人拉到跟前,满脸愁容地说:“我怕活不了多久了。”她将裤脚拉到膝盖,裸露出一铜钱大小的块块淤青,“昨夜的梦,我看见自己又和死人在抢冥币……瞧,这一块,就是骆骁的法器打的,这块儿,则是罗小青打的。”

骆骁是青花滩远近有名的道士,而罗小青则是鬼节前刚刚上吊死的李家媳妇。

我望了望大姐和二姐。她们眉头紧锁,不知出于害怕,还是诧异。二姐的肤色出奇的白,她是这一带最漂亮的姑娘,待明年春天一过,她便到结婚年龄了。她轻轻地抚摸着母亲小腿上的那些淤青,拧着眉说,那要不要去找骆骁去消消灾?

母亲叹了口气,说,每年的鬼节,骆骁忙得像个螺旋,人家一天都得打两个“月半”呢。月半只有鬼节的时候才能举行,就是给三年之内死去的人超度。每到鬼节,也是道士们最忙的时候,粥多僧少,他们有时忙得中午饭都吃不上,便得赶赴下一家。

“昨夜的梦里,灵符火化的那一刹那,我便扑了上去。罗小青恶狠狠地恐吓我不许抢她家人烧给她的东西。她披头散发,脸上被抓得稀烂。不知怎地,我还是忍不住向前抓了一把冥币,结果挨了她一戳。嗯,幸亏骆骁把我们拉开了。”母亲忧郁地瞅了我们一眼说。

 

吃完早饭,母亲带我和二姐去赶集。走到院子门口,回头看时,大姐已经一声不响地走到里间去了,她走路很轻,仿佛踮着脚,一天里,她不会发出任何响声,包括咳嗽。我们一出门,母亲便将门反锁了个结实。小院子顿时寂静无比,只要大姐不出声,便没人知道里面有人。

我家是独户。小院子是父亲生前替我们盖的。可我常常嫌它太小,坐在院子里,像坐井观天似的,这样一来,我便不免联想自己是一只大青蛙了。院子里唯一的出口是那扇颇为破旧的杉木门。杉木是好东西,结实、耐用。但是日晒雨淋的,日久便露出手指般大的缝隙来。透过这些缝隙往里看,风景便像刀斩断似的,变成窄窄的一条条了。自打大姐来我家后,木门的缝隙不知什么时候,又被用一些破布条给堵上了。

这大概是这一带最小的庭院了。三角形的院子里是一览无余的:角落里栽着一树芭蕉和毛桃,附带的还有一些麻竹;东北边上,立着两根晾衣服的木桩,那自然是母亲的杰作,上面晾着五颜六色的衣裳。再过来点,是一株说不出年龄的香椿。每到春天,它总是散发出一股怪怪的气息。香椿炒蛋是一道味道独特的菜,我不爱吃。母亲总是埋怨,麻竹与香椿不应该栽在庭院里。她说麻竹会招惹来鬼魂,而香椿,则是做棺木的好材料。一直这么说,但也没见得她就把这些砍掉。倒让我心里记着了,晚上便不敢一人在院里停留,更不敢看那些影影绰绰的东西了。

家里的老黄狗,夜里总是莫名地朝那些黑暗处吠叫。人常说,狗夜里能看见鬼魂。又说,如果把狗泪涂在人的眼里,人便也能看得见鬼,会被活活吓死的。说是这么说,但并不见得谁就真的去验证过了。

 

走了半晌了,母亲突然冷不丁地问了我们一句:我好像忘记反锁门了?

吓了我们一跳。等母亲慌乱地从兜里翻出钥匙,我们才松了口气。二姐埋怨地瞅了眼母亲说,“你常常吓我们。”

母亲有些难为情地苦笑,她把钥匙交给二姐,“咦,你装着好了。”

 

快要过鬼节了,赶集的人很多。一路上我想的是母亲会不会给我买一块西瓜吃。这是此行最大的心愿。自打父亲生病去世,家里的日子便一天比一天萧条。母亲靠给砖窑码砖挣点辛苦钱,她的风湿病常常使她苦不堪言,也没钱去打封闭。我自然明白家里的境况,但我更渴望能吃到一块清甜的西瓜。

鬼节前夕,集市上卖香纸蜡烛鞭炮的生意最火。懂得持家的,都是赶早的,便已经买回家了。鬼节时买这些东西,都比平时要贵一些,而且买的人多了,便不易还价。

准备给父亲打月半的东西母亲早早便购置好了。上礼拜她又打发我去骆骁道士家,请他鬼节那天的下午来我家替父亲打完最后一个月半。掐指一算,父亲到今年,已经整整去世三年。每年一到鬼节,都得给他打月半,直到打完三年为止,这三年都是请骆骁道士打的。

骆骁是青花滩最胖的老头。肥肚子里的油足足装得下一脚盆,长着一副菩萨般的脸,笑眯眯的。母亲说,爱笑的人招财。她又说,你父亲就不爱笑,简直一个大木雕,一辈子也没见他笑过几回。

 

和骆骁谈好了时间。他说中午饭不在我家吃,下午一点钟来我家打月半。母亲就说,中午饭可以潦草点,下午饭那就不能这样了。

她的脸色有些阴郁,往往这个时候,我便知道无论如何也不能惹她生气。或者干脆躲起来,滚得远远的为好。这个时候,只有大姐才会挺身而出替我讨保。

大姐嫁给了枫树一个木匠后,很快添了一个女儿,到今年,已经三年有余的事了。

“生一个女儿,那等于没生似的……”母亲当时听到这个消息后忧心忡忡的,很有些为大姐恨铁不成钢。小木匠背有点驼,脾气却像把小斧子。大姐像父亲,性格温和,从不和人争论。后来,母亲又说起小木匠的母亲是个厉害的角色。

“我知道的,秋香这下没好日子过了啰,哎!”每到聊起大姐时,她便向我和二姐叹息着说。

二姐说,“那他家也不能这样啊,难道女的就不是人了,就不是他们的后代了?!”

母亲用手指戳了戳二姐的脸颊说,“你知道个什么,等你以后嫁人了,就明白个中的滋味了……”

二姐有些愠怒地笑道,“我才不嫁人呢!”

 

赶集的人摩肩接踵,我像条小泥鳅似的,在人潮里钻来钻去的,二姐紧紧地牵着我的手,累得全身都是汗。她有些恼怒地瞪了我一眼说,“你要是再跑来跑去的,就不给你买任何东西了!”

她仿佛洞穿了我所有的愿望。

母亲带着我们在卖香纸蜡烛的地方转来转去,偶尔问问价格。给父亲打月半的东西已经不缺了,我不知道她再来有什么意图。

母亲突然转身得意地对二姐说,香纸比我们上次买的每叠贵了三毛钱!我对这些了无兴趣。每次路过西瓜摊时,我都幻想。但是她们看都没往西瓜上看一眼。我觉得有些被欺骗的感觉。

中午的时候,天气已经热得不行。我终于忍不住哀求母亲买块西瓜吃。她有些可怜地望了我一眼,走到西瓜摊前问了问价格,然后很快拉着我走了。她嘴里还在喋喋不休,面带愠怒,“不就一块西瓜么!别个卖五毛,她那要八毛,想吃人啊!”

这么一折腾,我的心顿时七上八下的,很纠结,不知道她究竟会不会给我买。这时我发现他也在赶集。我叫了他声八伯,他回过头来便发现我们了。几时不见,他又老了许多。

“你们也在赶集?”他朝她们俩说道。她们赶紧应了一声。他朝母亲手里看了一眼说,“怎么什么都没买?”母亲有些不好意思地说,“秋明刚在嚷着买西瓜呢,我们正在看。”母亲的话顿时像一剂强心针,让我很舒坦。他就说,“先吃一块吧!”我才发现他手里提着几块西瓜。母亲慌乱地拽住他的袋子说,“我们自己就去买!”他显得有些不高兴地说,“不就吃块西瓜嘛,你这么客气干吗呢!”说得母亲便不好意思了。

 

我们每人手里拿着一块西瓜。她们俩有些尴尬,没有动口,我一个人吃了个不亦乐乎。旁边的母亲偷偷地朝我翻白眼,看得出,她一脸的不高兴。他们继续聊着,忽然他就说:

“秋蕾还在枫树吗?她最近怎么样?”

母亲连忙说,“她好着呢,现在去广东打工了。”又补上一句说,“她去了一个电子厂。”

他神情显得变幻莫测的样子,长长地说道:“哦……?”

这声拖腔把我们弄得七上八下的。母亲称还有别的东西要去买,匆匆离开了。走了老远,她疑窦丛生地问二姐,“他怎么突然间就问起你大姐来了呢?”

二姐沉默了会,说,“莫不是哪里走漏了风声?”

母亲的脸色顿时非常难看了。

 

母亲对他一直没有好感。他大前年丧妻,他至今还未续娶。前些日子,一位媒婆曾来找母亲,说了他的想法,他似乎想和母亲过的意思。媒婆年纪和母亲差不多,但是满嘴的牙都快掉光了,很能调侃。两人聊了老半天,母亲说,我不会答应的,他这人,连自己的大儿媳妇的命都不要,那还叫人么!逼人家腆着六个月的身孕去流产,亏他也做得出来!

最后两人不欢而散,媒婆怏怏地离开了。那件事似乎让他很没面子,以至于很长的一段时间,他都没来我家走动。平日,他总爱有事没事往我家坐会的。他在青花滩尽管享有较高的威望,可是却很少有人对他有好感。自从大媳妇流产因感染而死在医院后,大儿子便与他决绝了。这事一度闹得沸沸扬扬的,他后来因此受到了上面的表扬,乡里似乎也有提他去乡政府的意图。

 

2.

下午我莫名其妙的被拉去剃了个西瓜头。我顶讨厌这种头型,那天母亲脾气不好,我也只好把这股闷气往自己肚子里吞。快要散集的时候,母亲才下定决心买了一块香皂和一瓶井冈霉素。那会儿稻子已快成熟,早已不需打农药,我不知道母亲还买那东西干吗。

突然传来的流言让我们都很恐慌。

人潮像是乱套了,每个人都行色匆匆。“来抓人了!快躲起来!”不断有人对我们说。

“捉计划生育的来啦!”又有人慌张地喊道。

二姐紧紧地拽着我的手,生怕我被不断涌来的人潮挤丢了。母亲慌慌张张地拉着一位妇人打听,妇人望了望母亲一眼,指着二姐说,“这位婶娘,你赶紧把闺女躲起来吧!他们逮到了,就得去卫生院去体检!”

母亲连忙说,“她还未婚呢。”

那妇人以为母亲没领情,匆匆走了。

 

一辆满载着女人的拖拉机开了过来。上面的女人纷纷鬼哭狼嚎似的,看了让人害怕。她们都是赶集时被逮着,集体送往卫生院体检的。如果一旦检测已怀孕,得知是第二胎,便得做完流产才允许回家。

母亲愁容满面地望着拖拉机远去。她重重地叹了一口气,说:

“真是背时啊!”

 

一路上我有些心神不宁,她们的哭泣声在我心中经久不散,我看见她们有的长号,有的啜泣,形态迥异地被集体送上了远处。

沿马路的房屋墙壁上刷满了各种标语:

生一个光荣,生两个可耻!

谁胆敢超生,就叫他倾家荡产!

 

沿路所见,一片荒凉残破的景象。许多房屋被砸了一个个巨大的窟窿,有的甚至连瓦片和窗台都被掀掉了。黑乎乎的窟窿看上去像是张开的大嘴,要吞下巨大的欲望。很多房屋都被人暂时废弃了,没有人烟的楼房顿时失去了生气,散发出一种怪诞的冷清,让人说不出的害怕。

 

人常说,鬼宅就是这么产生的。人不住了,鬼便偷偷住进来了。

母亲亦说,鬼节期间,尽量少走夜路,阴气重。路上都是孤魂野鬼,每年鬼节,这些野鬼便按期回来向后人索要阴财。有些回不了家的孤魂和野鬼,便只能在路边乞讨或多少捞一些。

“要是走夜路的时候,有人在身后叫你名字或者拍你肩膀,千万别回头!”母亲一再告诫说。

我对此深信不疑。

 

回到家,天尚未黑,我们早早就把院子里的门栓了。只有关上门,心里才稍稍的有些安全感。母亲做饭的时候,一直在埋怨我买西瓜的事。

“如果不是你嚷着买西瓜,也不会在那里撞见那老东西!”妈妈的声音很难听,她的愤怒让我捉摸不定,不知是针对我多些,还是他。

二姐坐在小板凳上择菜。她说,“不要说弟弟了,再说,他又不知道大姐在这呢!”

妈妈没再说话。我们都感觉心里堵得慌。吃完饭,月亮就出来了,明晃晃的,能照清人的脸。我们四个人坐在院子里纳凉,顺便裁纸,以备鬼节那天的纸钱。

月亮总是很安静,我坐在旁边有些无聊,站起来在庭院里踱步。我抬头走的时候,发现月亮也在跟着我走。我想,到底是它走得快,还是我走得快呢。这时,角落里的老黄突然朝外面吠叫起来。它显得焦虑不安,夜空中,我们似乎都嗅到了陌生人的气息。

母亲立刻站起来。她一把夺过大姐手中的黄纸,做了一个手势,然后飞快地、轻轻地、蹑手蹑脚地走入了堂屋。

母亲出来的时候,老黄还在叫。它显得已经亟不可待了,如果一打开门,势必如离弦之箭飞扑而去,直奔目标。这时,我才发现,它一直是在朝庭外的一株松树叫。松树比庭院的围墙高多了,我们一眼就能看见。

 

母亲故意恶毒地咒骂了几声老黄。它很委屈地摇了摇尾巴,嘤嘤嗯嗯的。就在这时,我仿佛发现松树轻轻地颤抖了下,紧跟着,又抖动了下,接着似乎又什么东西从上面跳了下来。老黄这时叫得更激烈了。可马上,它又不叫了,这让我甚是诧异。

等它安静后,我悄悄地问母亲说:

“是不是祖宗们已经回来了?”

母亲的脸色很难看地望着我。二姐就说,“你还是早点去睡吧。”

 

第二天早晨,我意外地发现大姐不见了。我问母亲和二姐,她们都含糊其辞地将我敷衍了过去。

 

3.

农历的七月初十晚上,便已把列祖列宗们“请”到家来了。母亲说“请”字,让我感到有些吊诡。为什么非得用请呢?难道还得去阴间去邀请不成?

吃过晚饭,母亲早早地吩咐我和二姐沐浴,然后摆好香案。不用说也知道,和往年的没什么区别的供品,无异于一升米,米上插上一炷香,四杯香茶。桌面上摆放着一些果蔬和熟腊肉以及红辣椒。

母亲上好香,然后面朝大门,开始念念有词:

“今天是农历七月初十,这里是水口庙王地名叫青花滩李党平家,特邀请各位列祖列宗们前来家里过鬼节……”

母亲烧了纸,祭奠完毕,家里顿时又冷寂了下来。红色的蜡烛上方,一些飞蛾不惜生命地扑了上去,烧得噼里啪啦的响。空气中有股烧焦了的味道。

人说,鬼节的时候,夜里的飞蛾是不能够随意弄死的。它们都是鬼变的。他们还说,鬼节期间,列祖列宗们吃完饭,都喜欢外出看戏。他们挺晚才回来,有时能听到脚步声响。吃什么菜也是有讲究的,苦瓜不能吃,因为苦瓜太苦,丝瓜不能吃,因为丝瓜像蛇,会吓跑祖先们的。

母亲小腿上的淤青渐渐消失了。它像是母亲心头的一块隐形的伤疤,随时都有浮现出来的可能。

她坐在小竹椅上,她那因长年干活裸露在外的小腿,肌肤有些泛黄。这些经络如水面上四通八达的阡陌一般,让人产生迷惑。

母亲说:

“我可能活不了多久了。迟早是要去见李党平这死鬼的!”

 

二姐坐在那里用一把巨大的木梳梳理头发。母亲常劝她,夜里不要梳头发,也不要照镜子。夜里梳头发,白天便会有干不完的事,而照镜子,则常会做恶梦。但是她似乎并没听信母亲的话。

自打大姐不见,我心里顿时惶恐不安起来。大姐在的时候,她对我疼爱有加,使我感到一股出奇的温暖。她的突然消失,我顿时感到心里缺了一道大口子。我疑窦横生地想,大姐的身体目标已经非常的明显,她会去哪?她腆着这么大的肚子……

 

鬼节这几天,家里一直很安静。母亲说,不要大声喧哗,列祖列宗都在家里待着呢。我顿时感到毛骨悚然,四周仿佛都是眼睛和人影儿,他们有的笑眯眯,有的一脸严肃地望着我这位后代儿孙。我如履薄冰,甚至都不敢想一些有悖于常理的事。他们常说,鬼能洞察人的内心的。

我闷闷不乐地等着“月半”的到来。母亲有条不紊地将做法事时该用的物件都筹办齐了。借来的那面巨大的鼓便摆放在堂屋里,那只鼓是这一带最为响亮的鼓之一,我想象月半那天它会发出多大的响声。

 

就在这时,他来了。

 

4.

 

母亲忙让我去给他倒茶。提起水壶时我突然决定不把我们昨天喝剩的茶叶倒掉,而是继续添了些温水给他端过去。他当然不好和我说些什么。我察言观色地站在一边,有些幸灾乐祸。

他说,他婶娘,我的腿越来越不好使了。

母亲说,找个医生瞧瞧去。

他又说,瞧不好的,中药都不知熬多少副了,大概是要残疾了。

母亲就说,话可不能这样讲,不吃药哪能医得好呢!

他就说,我要是哪天残疾了,你们准会看我笑话的,我那大儿子兴许我死那天,都不会来瞧我一眼的。他说着说着,眼眶便湿润了。

母亲忙说,哪敢呢!你是党委书记呐!

他说,这官当得卵意思!还得罪人……你以为我就想把她们绑走么?我都按照上面下达的文件来做的,但愿做到无愧我心就好了,上面说什么,我就做什么,你能说,难道上面的也是错的么!?

母亲冷笑了两声。话题又扯到了他的腿的毛病上去了。

 

他皱着眉毛喝了一口茶。过了良久,又说,倒也不痛。很怪的病。母亲就说,既然吃药不见效,那倒不如去请个巫医来瞧瞧。他说,前段日子来了个女的,枫树请来的,折腾了大半夜,说是我见到了肮脏的东西所以才至于遭到小鬼的报应。但是也没弄好。

又过了会,便聊到了二姐的婚事。母亲说,她说她还没满十八呢,说谈这些还早……

他就说,早是早,但是也是迟早的事吧。接着又说起他的小儿子四坊来。四坊是青花滩的一个大笑柄,一次修马路炸石头,吓得尿了裤子,不久落下了病根,嘴角经常挂着口水。为人倒也老实。

他说,四坊也到该成亲的年纪了。

母亲说,之前给他做的那个媒,怎样了?

他很生气地说,那些是什么人嘛,四坊又不是残疾,难道要他去娶一位残疾么!?

我才想起,去年底,一个媒婆给四坊物色了一个侏儒,人丑不说,还不能干重活。这事让他甚是羞恼。

 

他说,我死了也就死了,但四坊是个好孩子,我真的有些愧疚他……

母亲说,你说什么呢,四坊会找到合适的!

他沉默许久,望了望院子里的二姐的背影说,要是能找到像秋香这样的好女孩就好啰。

母亲当时正在择菜,豆角像蛇一般缠绕在她手指间,慌张地掉了下去。他们又聊了些无关紧要的话题,他就起身告辞了。他站起来,朝各个房间探头张望了下,有意无意地说道,你家没人来躲计划生育吧?

母亲皱起眉头有些不痛快地说,你说什么话呢,不信你就去搜吧!

他打了一个哈哈,说看什么看呢,都是自家人。看到他走后,母亲手中的豆角纷纷撒落在了地方,她有些怨恨地望了我一眼,又觉得我并没有犯错,我还没回过神来,蓦然发现她浑身打了一个哆嗦。

 

5.

 

父亲的月半安排在鬼节期间最隆重的那天。那天早上,母亲起得很早,我们起来时,她已经将早饭做好了。她一个人呆呆地坐在灶前,用火钳轻轻地拨弄着灰烬。灰烬上画满了一些潦草的神秘的符号。我发发现她还没有梳头,蓬头垢面的,精神有些萎靡。我不敢问她是否心情不好。她把二姐和我拉到了跟前。

“昨夜,我又梦见鬼魂了。”

她这次将裤脚拉到了大腿处。我看到她大腿的肌肤和小腿的截然不同,大腿上的肉洁白,白里透红,让我看了有些羞涩。她指着一块淤青,用拇指按了按说:

“瞧,这块,我记得清清楚楚,是李平桃打的!我非得去抢李平桃的冥币,结果就挨了她的这一下。”

“你八伯说这钱不能要,是给死人花的,可是我怎么说都不听,非得去抢,结果李平桃就给我来了这一下。我不记得她用什么东西砸的,砸得我生疼,骨头都快给她砸裂了。你八伯后来就冲过来将我拉走了。半夜我就醒了,一直没再睡,哎,天晓得……”

她的眼神一直扑朔迷离,神不守舍的样子。

 

中午时分,我奉母亲的命令又去催了骆骁一回。于是下午的月半便按时举行了。父亲的遗像端正地摆放在神龛上,我和二姐跪在遗像前,遗像里的那个人目光严肃,他正不知疲惫地望着我们。锣鼓喧天,鞭炮声在屋外格外地响亮。来了许多人,有道士,大多数则是自发而来帮忙的乡亲,他自然也来了。

一般来说,亡人在第三个月半时,家人是没必要哭的。但是那天母亲却哭得格外的凶。她手里拿着一块洗澡用的长毛巾,瘫坐在地上,嗓子全嘶哑了,说不出话来,怎么也劝不住。

乡亲们在一边私下说,“……哭得太伤心了,李党平刚去世时,也没见她这么哭过的。”我跪在那里,听得有些刺耳。

我搞不懂母亲为什么会哭得如此伤心。她似乎什么也不管不顾了。甚至忘了,这是父亲的月半。

 

日头西沉,月半方结束。四处都闹腾腾的,坐在方桌上的人们都在等吃饭。母亲的双眼浮肿着,里面布满了血丝儿。她的头发全乱了,鼻尖儿红红的。一些妇女纷纷在安慰她,母亲什么话也不说,一个劲地揩鼻子。

他是党委书记,自然会站起来说两句。

席间,他喝了很多的酒,自然也有许多的人敬他酒。就说,“你也别这样伤心了,这几天列祖列宗们都在你家呢,看着你这么痴心,李党平也该安心啦!”

一句话说的满席的人都欢笑起来。

 

我突然为母亲感到有些尴尬与难过起来。

 

母亲像是想起什么似的。便向骆骁问起她腿上淤青的那些事来。骆骁也显得有些茫然。他说,“这么说,我也常在阴间地府走动啦?”

一旁的人又笑了个不亦乐乎。大家都没有把这个当一回事儿,母亲自然也就没再好意思提起。

乱糟糟的人群终于走了。庭院里又恢复了往昔的寂静。没有了这些人,我倒又有些舍不得了,似乎嘈杂一些,于我而言,更为丰富多彩。

他也走了,但晚上的时候,他又折转了回来。满嘴的酒臭味。母亲将我支到了偏房去剥豆角,我神情恍惚地坐在那儿,听见那边传来的声音偶尔断断续续,偶尔又伴着几声激烈的争执。

 

二姐坐在我的身边。我说,如果把你嫁给四坊,你情愿吗?

二姐横了我一眼说,你再说,我揍你!

胡乱地剥了几个豆角,我和二姐都慌乱地站了起来,朝里走去。昏暗的灯光下,我看到东倒西歪的他正搂着同样东倒西歪的母亲,他们似乎在扭打。

见到我们,他的手怏怏地拿开了。

母亲很厌恶地说道,他喝醉了!

他很执拗地说道,谁说我喝醉了!




Zheng XiaolouZheng Xiaolou

Zheng Xiaolu is the pen name of Zheng Peng, who was born in 1986 in Longhui, Hunan.  His stories have been published in several literary magazines in China. He has also published a collection of short stories, 1921 nian de tongyao [Children’s ballads from 1921].  Zheng lives in Beijing and is a member of the Chinese Writers’ Association.

Translated from ChineseChinese by Karen GernantKaren Gernant and by Chen ZepingChen Zeping

Karen Gernant, professor emerita of Chinese history at Southern Oregon University, translates contemporary Chinese fiction in collaboration with Chen Zeping.  Among their translations are:  Can Xue, Blue Light in the Sky and Other Stories (New Directions, 2006); Can Xue, Five Spice Street (Yale University Press, 2009); Eleven Contemporary Chinese Writers (Turnrow Books, 2010); Can Xue, Vertical Motion (Open Letter Books, 2011); Zhang Kangkang, White Poppies and Other Stories (Cornell East Asia Series, 2011); and Alai, Tibetan Soul (forthcoming: MerwinAsia, 2012).

Chen Zeping, professor of Chinese linguistics at Fujian Normal University, Fuzhou, China, has written more than thirty articles and papers for professional journals and international conferences, and has also published numerous books in his field.  He has also taught at Southern Oregon University and at Ehime University in Matsuyama, Japan.  In 2005, he received a fellowship from the Japan Foundation for the Promotion of Science to present a series of lectures in Japan.  He returned there to present lectures in early 2008.

Since 1999, he has also collaborated with Karen Gernant in translating contemporary Chinese fiction into English.  Their translations have appeared in Conjunctions, Manoa, turnrow, Chinese Literature, Black Warrior Review, Ninth Letter, and Words without Borders.