A LIFE IN THE DAY

王说短篇小说二则

The World of Chinese - - Editor’s Letter -

In a pair of com­pelling short sto­ries from the school of Weibo lit­er­a­ture, a wife trapped in an abu­sive mar­riage seeks help—and makes a shock­ing dis­cov­ery. In the se­cond, a young woman with ro­man­tic as­pi­ra­tions finds so­lace in Weibo, where she makes a tragic re­al­iza­tion about her­self

0

Mrs. He had been abused. She sat in the park, phone in hand, scrolling through the cal­en­dar.

The weather was un­be­liev­ably good, the grass as green as could be.

1

Mrs. Huang walked by her. Huang: Oh dear! She knew what went on in her neigh­bor’s home. She took out a fine silk scarf, and wiped the blood from He’s face. “He hit you again? What hap­pened?”

He: I don’t know. He went crazy over noth­ing.

Huang: There’s al­ways a rea­son, oth­er­wise why would he hit you?

Huang con­tin­ued: When my hus­band goes off, I just go along with him. It’s not easy for men work­ing out there. When they come home to let off some steam, just ig­nore them. Fin­ish your own chores, so there’s noth­ing for him to take is­sue with. My house­hold is peace­ful and demo­cratic; we don’t en­cour­age vi­o­lence.

He’s wound hurt, and she didn’t feel like an­swer­ing. She left to go find her own friends.

On the way she saw a car ac­ci­dent. The driver was busy on his phone, call­ing in his con­nec­tions, as a san­i­ta­tion worker bled out un­der the wheels of the car.

2

Mrs. He saw Wen­zhu, and tears poured down her face.

He: Wen­zhu, I’m so scared. Saisheng beat me again. Me be­ing hurt is one thing, but he let Pearl watch. Pearl was so scared that she cried. Wen­zhu: He’s crazy! He: I want to get a di­vorce. Wen­zhu: That wouldn’t be good for you. You don’t have a job; if you leave, he’ll prob­a­bly get cus­tody of Pearl.

He: I have rea­sons; would I still lose my own daugh­ter?

Wen­zhu: You have rea­sons, he has money.

He: He works to earn money, but I work so hard at home, so shouldn’t I get a por­tion of our as­sets? Wen­zhu: There’s no law that says so. He was pained. “We just do dif­fer­ent jobs, but my work doesn’t count. So house­work isn’t eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity, only profit counts? This isn’t what we learned in school.”

Wen­zhu felt bad for her friend. They’d both been ed­u­cated well and found good jobs. But the bur­den of keep­ing a house and rais­ing her daugh­ter was too great, and He had to quit. Af­ter that, her hus­band looked down on her.

3

He’s mother heard, and called. Mother: Saisheng says you haven’t been home all day. Where’d you go? He could only cry. Mother: Aie… She knew how things were with her daugh­ter.

Mother: There will al­ways be con­flicts be­tween hus­bands and wives. You just have to give and take a lit­tle, and things will clear up. He: I want a di­vorce. Mother: You’re old, who else would want you? What will your daugh­ter do? Dear lit­tle Pearl! As a mother, how can you stand it? He: I’m afraid. Mother: Women are weak by na­ture, but as a mother, you must be strong. Hang in there and you can get past any­thing. He had noth­ing to say. Her mother asked care­fully: Did… you do some­thing un­to­ward? He was baf­fled. Mother: I was just ask­ing. If you didn’t, that’s good.

He hung up the phone, and switched to her cal­en­dar, scrolling through it aim­lessly.

4

The sky was slowly get­ting darker. Mrs. He didn’t dare go home. She’d left in a hurry, and hadn’t brought her wal­let or keys. The com­plex had a res­i­dent’s coun­cil; she could go there to try her luck.

She hadn’t gone far when she saw a group of women in the court­yard, drink­ing tea and crack­ing sun­flower seeds.

Woman A: In Build­ing E5, he beat her up again.

Woman B: Oh no… what did she do? Woman A: No idea. Woman B: Mrs. He is quite good­look­ing, and reads a lot, but no

THE DRIVER WAS BUSY ON HIS PHONE, AS A SAN­I­TA­TION WORKER BLED OUT UN­DER THE WHEELS OF THE CAR

com­mon sense. Last time I went to buy veg­eta­bles, I saw her buy­ing a big­head carp for 15 yuan a pound!

A: Fif­teen yuan! She didn’t hag­gle? You don’t get by like that.

B: She had a su­per-ex­pen­sive de­signer bag, and had pow­dered her face. Some­one like that doesn’t bar­gain.

The woman was both in­dig­nant and en­vi­ous.

A: You’re right, she loves dolling her­self up. Now that you bring it up, I think she has a lover on the side! B: Re­ally? A: I think I’ve seen him, tall and thin, of­ten comes around dur­ing the day­time. You know, that might be the rea­son that her hus­band’s beat­ing her!

B: What a shameless woman! She de­serves it—he should beat her to death! Do you think it’s true, though? A: Yeah! Mrs. Huang sus­pects it, too. The two women ex­changed a look, both let­ting out a scorn­ful “hmph!”

He had over­heard it all, and was fu­ri­ous, but more than that, she was fright­ened.

She could rely on no­body.

5

She de­cided to go to the po­lice. Two of­fi­cers were chat­ting on the street, lean­ing against their pa­trol car.

She sobbed as she told them about the de­tails of the abuse, her voice grow­ing softer and softer.

Be­cause she knew from their re­laxed pos­ture and amused look that they didn’t in­tend to help her.

She started from the top: “My hus­band’s been beat­ing me, I need the law’s help.”

The of­fi­cers ex­changed looks, and their at­ti­tudes be­came even more taunt­ing: “The law can’t help you.” He: Why? Am I not a cit­i­zen? One of the of­fi­cers gave her a play­ful salute. “The law doesn’t pro­tect cit­i­zens like you.”

6

Sud­denly she heard a scream from a nearby al­ley­way.

There was a tall, dark shadow, hold­ing a big knife, ap­proach­ing a girl and pulling her to the ground by her hair.

Mrs. He gulped a breath of cold air: “My God….”

She grasped the of­fice’s hand: “Over there!”

The of­fi­cer looked over, but just stayed lean­ing on the car, un­flus­tered, un­mov­ing.

He: What are you do­ing! He’s com­mit­ting a crime! He’s…he’s…

Her face turned red as she heard the sounds in the al­ley­way.

The look on the of­fi­cer’s face was one of de­tached pity.

He took two steps back, feel­ing some­thing wasn’t right.

“This can’t be hap­pen­ing...it can’t be.” Her eyes were full of tears. “My hus­band abuses me, no­body feels for me; my mother looks down on me, other women blame me; even the law isn’t on my side. You cops won’t even stop a crime when it’s hap­pen­ing in front of you…this can’t be real.”

She looked around in the gath­er­ing dusk, mum­bling.“this surely isn’t real…”

7

Beeeeeep… “CON­NEC­TION LOST DUE TO FAULTY LOGIC.” “SWITCH­ING TO HOST PER­SON­AL­ITY.”

8

The dust faded slowly, re­veal­ing a con­crete ceil­ing.

Two prison guards waved a flash­light, check­ing his pupils.

A guard joked: “Mrs. He, do you know where you are?” “This is…” As soon as he heard these two words come out, he shut his mouth. This wasn’t “her” voice. It was a deep, raspy, mas­cu­line sound. Why was “he” a man? He looked down in fright, to see an or­ange jump­suit and man­a­cles.

The guard fin­ished check­ing his body, and ticked a mark on a form. “You can go back and sleep now.”

A ce­ment ceil­ing, iron bars, coldly smil­ing guards…he got up to run, but the guard turned around, and shoved him back into the prison chair.

“Don’t you want to go back and be Mrs. He some more, He Saisheng?”

Hear­ing the name “He Saisheng,” He trem­bled.

That’s right. He re­mem­bered. He wasn’t Mrs. He—that was his wife. He was…he was serv­ing a sen­tence.

And in the long row of prison chairs be­fore him lay con­victs of all kinds.

He rec­og­nized the care­less driver in the ac­ci­dent; the scary man from the al­ley­way.

They were deep in sleep, eyes spin­ning rapidly.

The en­tire room had the at­mos­phere of a night­mare.

9

[SYS­TEM SELF CHECK] [CON­NECT­ING TO SEC­ONDARY PER­SON­AL­ITY] [SCENE NO: 638] [23 DE­CEM­BER, 2052. TIME: 08:05 AM]

Mrs. He had fin­ished busy­ing about, and fi­nally was able to sit down at the din­ing ta­ble. Saisheng had al­ready flipped through to­day’s pa­per with cig­a­rette in mouth.

Mr. He: Whoa, the gov­ern­ment

WHAT A SHAMELESS WOMAN! SHE DE­SERVES IT—HE SHOULD BEAT HER TO DEATH!

de­vel­oped a chip that can im­plant some­one else’s sen­sory in­puts and mem­o­ries in your brain, so you can im­merse your­self in what they went through. Some­thing this cool—and they’re us­ing it in pris­ons? Mrs. He: Oh? Mr. He: Ex­tract the vic­tim’s mem­o­ries, and im­merse the per­pe­tra­tor in them. An eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.

Mrs. He didn’t ap­prove at all: That was Ham­murabi’s code. Eye for an eye, both peo­ple just end up with one eye.

Mr. He: You’re a real saint, huh? Long on hair but short on sense. If you ask me, this is how it should be.

10

The Al­ter­nate Chip al­lows a per­son to be im­planted with the sights, sounds, and even mem­o­ries ex­pe­ri­enced by an­other. One can be im­mersed in an­other’s ex­pe­ri­ence, and it’s cur­rently widely em­ployed in the pe­nal sys­tem.

Com­pli­cated sen­tenc­ing guide­lines are a thing of the past: Ex­tract­ing the mem­o­ries of a vic­tim—and im­plant­ing them in the per­pe­tra­tor—is the most ex­treme form of pun­ish­ment.

An abuser be­comes a vic­tim, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing their own abuse.

A reck­less driver be­comes a traf­fic fa­tal­ity, crushed un­der his own car.

A rapist be­comes an in­no­cent girl, as­saulted by him­self.

Some­times a judge will de­cide an eye for an eye isn’t enough, and add to the sever­ity of the sen­tence, us­ing data to ma­nip­u­late the sur­round­ings of the con­vict.

He Saisheng’s sen­tence had been “Hell.”

He went back to his cell, thought about all he’d been through, and sobbed. When he’d been beaten by the man in his wife’s mem­o­ries, he was pet­ri­fied. But his sen­tence had only just be­gun. Writ­ten on the wall, his time re­main­ing was as long as the years he’d abused his wife.

“My hus­band abuses me, no­body feels for me: my mother looks down on me, other women blame me; even the law isn’t on my side.”

This was Hell.

0

Mrs. He had been abused. She sat in the park, phone in hand, scrolling through the cal­en­dar.

The weather was un­be­liev­ably good, the grass as green as could be.

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