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from the August 2016 issue

From “Notes of a Crocodile”

She was used to relying on other people. I had a habit of protecting girls. If she was in class at a set time, for a set time, I was there to soak it up. In class I was a show-off, but from the moment classes ended till the moment they started up again, I was gone. Her long hair trailed over her shoulders. Her elegant clothing gave her the appearance of being around twenty-four or twenty-five. That entire year I went for a kind of misfit look, wearing outdated jeans that made me look barely fifteen or sixteen.

She was like a pendulum’s motion between school and home. I’d sleep until the sun disappeared off the western horizon. Then I’d cut loose from my cave like a charged particle and hit the town like a social butterfly. Hindered by shyness, she had refused to socialize. Cunningly, I changed all of that.

Two very different types of people, mutual attraction. And for what reason? It’s hard to believe, this thing beyond the imagination of the chess game known as the human condition. It’s based on the gender binary, which stems from the duality of yin and yang, or some unspeakable evil. But humanity says it’s a biological construct: penis vs. vagina, chest hair vs. breasts, beard vs. long hair. Penis plus chest hair plus beard equals masculine, vagina plus breasts plus long hair equals feminine. Male plugs into female like key into lock, and as a product of that coupling, babies get punched out. That product is the only object that will fill a square on the chessboard. All that is neither masculine nor feminine becomes sexless and is cast into the freezing cold waters outside the line of demarcation, into an even more precisely demarcated zone. Man’s greatest suffering is born of his mistreatment by his fellow man.

She agreed to stay over at my place. I was like a little girl who was finally able to buy a long-coveted doll in a store window. At ten in the evening, heading home from private tutoring on Chang Chun Road, I took the 74 bus down Fuxing South Road, picking her up along the way. She waved as she stood at the bus stop, an overcoat draped over her shoulders, a spotless white rucksack by her side. A woman ready to elope, was she? As I looked out at her, she was almost like a vine extending one slender, delicate branch toward my window, hoping I was the sky, not knowing that inside that window, there was no shade, and not much sunshine, either.

Like two sparkling gemstones, we were shakily carried to campus by the 74 bus. I gave her a ride on my bike. She quietly sat sideways on the back. I started singing a song that was popular back in high school, pedaling to the rhythm. It streamed out to the flowers and trees that lined Yelin Avenue, and which grew vaster the further we rode. I couldn’t see her face. I was dying to see if it was that of the Moon Goddess herself. “Waiting for the Sun,” Waiting for You,” and “The Wild Lily Has Its Spring, Too, ” those were the songs that defined my high school days. My favorite Sylvia Chang songs—“The One I Love Best,” “Flower on the Sea,” “Standing on Top of the World,” or “She Goes Walking by the Sea”—they capture the mood of each of her major eras. “Love Song 1980,” “Love Proverbs,” and “Little Sister” were Lo Ta-Yu’s biggest hits. To my seventeen-year-old self, Sylvia Chang and Lo Ta-Yu were equivalent to a dab of some kind of cosmetic powder, a soundtrack applied to cover up teenage heartbreak. After high school, I couldn’t remember the names of songs and singers anymore, but I still knew the words by heart—and you?

She said that night she’d wanted to wrap her arms around my waist, but didn’t dare, and really regretted it afterward. She said it after a few days had passed. Within my catalog of various little memories, that easily went straight to the top of the list.

“What are you writing?” she asked.

“A journal,” I said.

“What are you writing about in your journal?”

“I’m writing about you coming over.”

“What did you come up with because I came over?”

“Want me to read it out loud to you?”

“Yes.”

“Tonight’s the big night. A certain someone came over for a romp in the hay.”

“That’s enough. I don’t want to hear the rest.”

“Scared?”

“Uh-huh. Scared of you.”

We were in the room on Wenzhou Street. I put away the journal. Helped her lay down the bedding. Made her sleep on the bed. I lay down on a plank of hardwood flooring next to the bed.

“If we were locked up in a mental hospital together, would it be any better?” she asked.

“Would we be locked up in the same room?”

“I don’t want to be in the same room.”

“Why not?”

“I’m scared of you.”

“What are you scared of?”

“I’m just scared.”

“What’s so great about being locked up together?”

“We could live next door to each other. Our beds would be separated by a wall. I’d sit on my bed and talk to you. You’d sit on your bed, too, and we could talk all day long . . . That’d be so much fun with no one else around.”

“What if we ran out of things to talk about?”

“How can we run out of things to talk about? I’d pound on the wall and say I was tired. Then I’d go to sleep. After you wake up, you automatically have things to talk about again.”

“Fine. You go to sleep, and I’ll go write in my journal and wait for you to wake up.”

“You’re not allowed. You can’t keep a journal anymore. I don’t have anything. You’re only allowed to talk to me.”

She leaned partway over the edge of the bed to talk, her face peering at me. I wrapped the covers tightly around myself. When you sleep next to me, I suffer, I said. So come sleep here on the bed, she said. That’d be even more painful, I thought. Mischievously and teasingly, she lowered her body onto my covers. Her hair brushed against my face, and her scent filled my lungs. I pulled her head in close, wrapping my arms around her neck. My lips were pressed up against her eyelid. She was so tender. It was an awkward embrace, like black rain pelting down onto the snow-covered ground . . . 

長篇小說『鱷魚手記』 © Qiu Miaojin. By arrangement with the estate of the author. Translation © 2016 by Bonnie Huie. All rights reserved. 

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