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Amituofo

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If he were superstitious, he would have blamed the monks for cursing him.

https://www.guernicamag.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Lost_Portrait_3_550.jpg
Pema Rinzin, Lost Portrait #3, 2010. Mineral pigments and gold on wood, 48 x 36 in.
© Pema Rinzin

Outside the bakery, the monks flocked around Boss Yeung.

Four monks in all, droning in the same voice, pressed toward him, clasping their palms together, as if Buddha himself had replicated, a miracle in this outdoor shopping mall. Incense, heavy as a monsoon, washed over him. A car honked, Boss Yeung blinked, and his wonder faded. He was jet-lagged, pained by the hazy Southern California sunshine that felt like a violation. The sky should have been dark, he should have been asleep on the other side of the world, and his mistress should have been resting in the final days of her pregnancy.

In saffron robes, with shaved heads and wrists ringed in prayer beads, the monks reminded him of those from his childhood. His mother used to drop coins into their metal alms bowls, the pattering jackpot clang of slot machines. Ever practical, she piled oranges on the family’s ancestral shrine in the living room, lit votives at the local Catholic church, and festooned the Hindu temple with marigolds. Whatever gods ruled the universe, she wanted their favor for her family.

He’d landed that morning at LAX, having taken a nonstop from Hong Kong after his mistress went missing from Perfume Bay, a maternity tourism center that promised US citizenship to every child born under its care. Bowing, the head monk tilted his bowl, full of red-string amulets and sandalwood bracelets, toward Boss Yeung. “For luck,” the monk said, and rattled the bracelets, a jumbled nest holding a twenty-dollar bill. Boss Yeung brushed past him, to the bakery. The mall wasn’t far from the maternity center, and on the run, his mistress might have stopped here before leaving town, or maybe she’d holed up nearby. If he waited here long enough, she might walk through the door.

The bakery was an outpost of a Hong Kong chain in a mall that catered to Chinese immigrants, with a supermarket, handbag boutique, and restaurants wafting cumin and garlic.

At the counter, he ordered jasmine bubble tea. An undignified drink, with the fat pink straw and chewy tapioca balls, of the kind Scarlett loved.

I’m looking for…” Boss Yeung trailed off.

“Do you want to add whipped cream?” the clerk asked. “Chocolate syrup?”

Further confirmation he’d ordered a children’s drink. How to explain, where to begin with the clerk? He had no photos of her, no record of their affair, no proof that they were linked in any way but for the ultrasound the technician had printed at twenty weeks, a blurry image in which their son seemed formed from silvery clay, bulbous and covered in boils. The son he’d always wanted. Ultrasounds hadn’t been available during his wife’s three pregnancies, all mysteries until delivery. Nine months spent predicting, puzzling over the baby’s health and sex. Three times, his wife gave birth to a girl, with a mounting sense of inevitability and defeat.

At the first sip, Boss Yeung regretted ordering the bubble tea, with a cloying sweetness that tasted counterfeit, something in the air, something in the water that couldn’t be replicated here. Nausea gripped him, a side effect of his medication, and he tried not to heave. He pressed the sweating plastic cup to his forehead to cool down, and the monks converged upon him, chanting, “Amituofo,” a blessing and a prayer for infinite life.

His mistress dead, their son and heir born early, born sick, hooked to tubes, or the tiny body unclaimed in the morgue.

Their leader thrust his alms bowl at Boss Yeung. “For your loss.” His bulging eyes pierced with a timeless, mystical knowledge. Boss Yeung swayed on his feet. His mistress dead, their son and heir born early, born sick, hooked to tubes, or the tiny body unclaimed in the morgue. His every secret, stifled fear, surfacing at once, every fear that had driven him to America on this impossible mission.

The head monk offered a bead bracelet for twenty dollars.

“I’ll tell your fortune,” his disciple added. “What is your birthday?”

“Incense for sale,” chimed another. “Best quality.”

“Two bracelets, thirty dollars,” the head monk said. Next, he’d offer a cure for a broken heart, for debt, for disease, for every tragedy that drove people in search of a higher power. Boss Yeung shoved the monk, his robes flapping up to expose sports sandals and skinny calves. He popped up with a surprising agility. “Fear my fist!”

If he was Shaolin then Boss Yeung was Chairman Mao. Because Boss Yeung’s hair was threaded with silver, because his shoulders were starting to stoop, the monk was threatening him. Boss Yeung drew back his arm, filled with an exhilarating fight. Smirking, the monk feinted and ducked, and Boss Yeung grabbed a fistful of the man’s robe. The knot parted, and the coarse fabric of the robe slid apart with the sound of a climbing rope whipping out of control. Stripped down to black athletic shorts, the monk had the sagging breasts of a wet nurse suckled dry.

The monk bolted with his disciples, and Boss Yeung pursued them, until he realized that from a distance he might seem a thief and a liar too.

*                      *                     *

The house at the top of the hill had yellow tape across the front door like a crime scene. In the alley, garbage cans were stacked high with trash and recycling, tins of cooking oil, balled-up diapers, and flattened cardboard boxes that once contained infant formula and baby wipes. Authorities must have shut down Perfume Bay, something Mama Fang, the owner, had failed to disclose in their conversations.

Boss Yeung wouldn’t call her, not yet, not before he investigated. Mothers-to-be arrived a month before birth, staying at Perfume Bay before delivering at a local hospital, and spent another month here recovering, in keeping with tradition: a special diet, bed rest, no visitors and no baths, nothing that might harm the women in their weakened state.

He crept through the backyard, whose weed-choked, yellowing grass, patches of dirt, and concrete patio had the charm of a prison camp—nothing like the photos from the website, the koi pond under a willow tree and view of snow-capped mountains. Finding the sliding door locked, he crept along the house until he found an open window. He tried to pop off the screen, coated in grime, the dust thick as moss. He could have left then, but fighting the monk had made him bold. He could have battled a legion of bandits and brought a shape-shifting skeleton to its knees. He picked up a lawn chair and swung it over his head, grunting with satisfaction when it poked through the screen. He pushed the chair under the window and climbed in. The impact upon landing jolted through his spine. He’d thickened about the waist, stiffened about the knees, was no longer a naughty tree-climbing rascal, but he’d landed on his feet. Not many his age, not many in his condition, would have.

At sixty, Boss Yeung had completed what the ancients deemed a full span of life. Now the cycle would start over, and he’d be born again in time to guide his heir, who would conquer China and then the world. He had outlived his father, his grandfather, possibly every male in the long line of ancestors that had led to him. Against his protests, his eldest daughter, Viann, was planning a lavish celebration in Hong Kong, with longevity peach cakes gilded in twenty-four-carat gold flakes and fireworks over the harbor. He wasn’t eager to publicize his age, to give off the impression that he was close to retiring and no longer possessed the fire that had lit the ambitions of his youth.

Dusty footprints tromped across the carpet, traces of a man’s heavy boot. The services at Perfume Bay were legal—according to the Constitution, every baby born in the US would receive citizenship—but maybe Mama Fang hadn’t paid her taxes, maybe she’d been running an illegal side business.

He retrieved a baby’s sock curled on the floor, as big as his thumb. He’d forgotten how tiny, how helpless, newborns could be. Shortly after the birth of their first child, his wife had fallen ill. Though he could have left Viann with the ayi, he soothed her like no one else could. Rocking her until she fell asleep against his chest, and if she started to wake, he’d take a deep breath, to let her know he was still there.

As infants, each of his daughters had had a strong resemblance to Boss Yeung—him in miniature, crowned with thick tufts of hair. With each passing year, his daughters became his wife’s children, dressed, fed, and schooled as Mrs. Yeung wished.

When his father died, he left debts and a shortbread recipe that his grandfather, a houseboy, had learned from the British. Armed with that paltry inheritance, Boss Yeung had searched for a source of cheap, high-quality butter—with the taste of pasture and sky. When the butter was combined with rice flour, icing sugar, and cornstarch, the biscuits were simultaneously light and rich, crisp and melting. He spent extra on sturdier, glossier plaid tins customers coveted as gifts and used as kitchen storage, landed orders with the most fashionable department stores, and charged four times as much as his competitors to make the biscuits a luxury. With his success, he expanded with factories in China, with new lines of business: plastic flowers lifelike enough to attract a honeybee and mobile phones affordable enough for an amah to call home to the Philippines every week.

Each time he returned from his trips in China, on the road or on site for months at a time in the Pearl River Delta, he felt more like an interloper. His daughters became strangers and his wife stranger still, and he only had Uncle Lo to confide in—an uncle not by blood or marriage, but by close association. They were both outsiders, born into unpromising circumstances, tolerated but never accepted by Hong Kong’s wealthiest, those who had sacked imperial treasuries in China generations ago and cornered the market in palm oil and shipping, or married the boss’s daughter.

The night they met, Uncle Lo, then an upstart newspaper publisher, drank two shots for every one of his and told stories ten times as wild. Boss Yeung’s new bride had been furious when he returned at dawn, and this was the first of many arguments they’d have about his friendship with Uncle Lo. From the beginning, he’d known he couldn’t keep up, but around Uncle Lo, no venture seemed too daring, and in the decades since, both men had prospered.

Scarlett’s pregnancy seemed a good omen, for what dying man could create life?

Boss Yeung rubbed his face with both hands, fighting the urge take a nap. Not long before he’d met Scarlett, doctors had diagnosed him with a chronic blood disorder with an unpredictable course. A sufferer might live two months, two years, or two decades more. He had told no one, not his wife or his daughters or Uncle Lo. He didn’t want their pity or their fear, or the prayers of the Celestial Goddess, who had already extracted a fortune from his wife. Besides, a cure might be found before he experienced his first symptoms.

But the illness had unleashed something in him, sent him chasing after new business and after a manager in his factory. Stirred by Scarlett’s youth, by the thick locks that she shed onto his pillow, hair without end that he could have woven into a rope to climb out of a tower. Scarlett’s pregnancy seemed a good omen, for what dying man could create life? Enlarging himself until no coffin could ever contain him. The ultrasound revealed a son and his fortunes appeared to turn. He began grasping for signs. For certainty. Because no greater certainty existed than the rights, privileges, and protections of every US citizen, over the summer he sent Scarlett to Perfume Bay.

They arrived early for her flight and while waiting in a café, he’d marveled at the size of her belly. Pregnancy had filled her out, softening her sharp angles and her sharp temper. He already missed her body, tucked next to him in his bed, and her calm navigation on their weekend drives. She studied maps for days, weeks, in preparation, and had an unerring sense of direction, like one of those birds that migrate to another hemisphere and then find their way back. A tai tai with huge sunglasses cut in line and Scarlett blocked her. A wealthy married woman, with a diamond ring big as a gumball, the kind of woman who spent days shopping and gossiping, the kind of woman who would have been scorned as decadent and paraded around during the Cultural Revolution with a dunce cap, her arms tied behind her back.

The tai tai tried again, and Scarlett pressed against the teenager ahead of her, leaving no room. She knocked over a roller bag, which rocked on its wheels and landed with a crash, causing everyone in the café to stare. The tai tai left the café, probably fearful of bodily harm.

Scarlett had lived her life elbows out, and she treated her new bulk like cricket pads. She’d send herself into labor! She was unrepentant, angry that he’d tried to stop her from chasing after the tai tai, maybe angry that he was sending her away.

He’d come to believe that if they’d left things differently that day, if he had told her about the illness ticking within, if he had said he wanted to live with her now and always, all their arguments might never have followed.

*                      *                     *

Over the summer, orders fell, credit tightened, and a worker on the assembly line killed herself by jumping off the roof of the dormitory. A teenager, a girl far from home, someone’s daughter, crushed by the seven-day workweeks and fifteen-hour days in the Pearl River Delta, just over the border from Hong Kong. To prevent copycat suicides, the plant manager insisted on hiring a Buddhist monk to purge the factory of evil spirits, and gave everyone a raise.

Working, working, always working at the factory to make up for his losses, Boss Yeung turned gaunt as a candle flame. His mouth tasted metallic, as if he’d been sucking on a coin. Weary, the simplest tasks accomplished only through monumental effort. Even his walks around the factory floor seemed to take twice as long. He vowed never to be careless again, not in business, not with this pregnancy. For an additional fee, Mama Fang had provided disturbing progress reports about Scarlett.

But maybe Mama Fang had exaggerated and lied, just as she’d exaggerated and lied about the accommodations. He couldn’t remember if he or Mama Fang had suggested that he take custody.

The night he authorized Mama Fang to pay off Scarlett in exchange for the baby, he came down with a high fever. He woke up in sheets soaked in sweat and piss, and all but crawled to the driver to take him home to Hong Kong. Doctors confirmed his illness had turned aggressive, and recommended a bone marrow transplant. A sibling or a child would provide the best chance of a match. Boss Yeung had outlasted his younger brother and sister. His daughters, then. In the old tales, filial children cut out chunks of their own flesh to feed starving parents, enslaved themselves to pay for funerals, and sat shirtless all night to draw mosquitoes away from their sleeping mothers and fathers.

His two youngest shared half of his markers, and his eldest daughter, Viann, none at all, a consequence of fate and of genetics. He’d wanted a match between him and Viann, he admitted to himself only then. Of his children, she was most like him, in her shrewdness and ambition. But she’d never be a satisfactory heir, not when she’d someday marry and give up her name and her allegiance to another clan.

Uncle Lo arranged an appointment with a highly regarded specialist for Boss Yeung, and launched a bone marrow drive that he promoted in his magazines and newspapers. But his greatest gift had been his suggestion that a cure might be found in the baby that Scarlett carried, in the stem cells circulating through the umbilical cord.

“Your own blood is the most powerful medicine,” Uncle Lo said.

“Then let’s join our blood.” Boss Yeung had always wanted their children to marry, but Uncle Lo had resisted. His eldest son seemed affable and soft-spoken, with a tofu blandness that could take on any flavor.

Uncle Lo smiled. “If our children are old enough to get married, then it means we’re getting old.”

The excuse wounded Boss Yeung, this implication that his bloodline was tainted.

Because of Mama Fang, the future of that bloodline was slipping away, along with the chance of a cure. In her office, Boss Yeung searched for files about the guests, for jotted notes with details only he might understand were significant to Scarlett. Sometimes when he’d called Mama Fang, he’d heard the clank of pots and pans, so her office had to be near the kitchen. Thirsty, he searched for a glass, but the kitchen cabinets had been emptied. Cupping his hands under the faucet he slurped tap water with a mineral tang of blood, then entered Mama Fang’s ransacked office, with an upended leather desk chair, a dead plant, and filing cabinets. He yanked out drawers—empty. Receipts were scattered on the ground, including one for Lum Femcare, a medical clinic located on Foothill Boulevard, where he’d exited the freeway for Perfume Bay, and where he’d go next on his quest.

Boss Yeung had asked Mama Fang to make arrangements to harvest the cord blood. Only then had she admitted that Scarlett had gone missing, though Mama Fang had remained vague on the details, no matter how many times he had pressed, and not even Uncle Lo—an investor in Perfume Bay—had been able get much out of her. The private investigators found nothing in China or California, and with the due date approaching, Boss Yeung had booked the next flight to Los Angeles. If only he could find Scarlett before she delivered. If only technicians could put the stem cells into cold storage.

He heard footsteps outside. Mama Fang! But when he swung open the front door, he discovered the police.

*                      *                     *

Short and stocky as a gingerbread cookie, the officer wore aviator sunglasses that masked her expression. Though she’d identified herself, Boss Yeung hadn’t caught her name. Neighbors must have reported that a stranger had come into the house. She stonily asked for his identification. That much he gathered, as he cursed himself for his deaf-mute English: he read some, understood less, and spoke almost none at all.

She wasn’t much older than Viann and the stiffness in her manner made her seem like a recent graduate of the academy, eager to prove herself yet already assuming, already resenting those who questioned her authority. Sunlight winked off her badge, and her pants had a knife-edge crease, with no stains or loose threads. She’d left the engine running, the patrol car perched below the crest of the hill. The dashboard and computer screen blinked and the radio crackled with a garbled shaman’s chant.

“How much?” In China, he had settled such matters by paying the fine on the spot. He hadn’t withdrawn much from the airport ATM, sixty dollars minus what he had paid for lunch, and he hoped it would be enough.

Her mouth hardened, and she repeated her request for identification. He reached for his passport, in a travel pouch tucked into his waistband, but the officer ordered him to keep his hands up. She patted him down. Yesterday, he’d been a VIP, a chief executive with tens of thousands on his payroll, used to deferential and preferential treatment, but here he was nothing.

Police in China didn’t carry guns. They didn’t have to. But Americans were violent, and so too their police.

If he were superstitious, he would have blamed the monks for cursing him. The officer’s belt bristled with a walkie-talkie, a nightstick, keys, and a gun—a gun. Police in China didn’t carry guns. They didn’t have to. But Americans were violent, and so too their police. Wet patches of sweat began blooming under his arms and on his back, and his bowels went as hot and loose as a bowl of ramen.

She found nothing on Boss Yeung, and neither did he. His identification had gone missing, along with his wallet and mobile phone. He got into the car. Maybe he’d left everything under his seat, tucked in the sun visor, or under the rental paperwork piled on the passenger seat? No. He popped open the glove compartment and out spilled amber bottles of his medication, which he’d stowed for safekeeping after taking a dose.

Boss Yeung was drowning in the car’s toxic fumes of hot plastic and air freshener. He’d paid for his boba tea, and then—the monks. During the fight, the rats must have pickpocketed him. He must have seemed an easy mark. He was the victim, not the criminal, but the officer scrutinized his bloodshot eyes, his nervous hands, his rumpled clothes, and his scarecrow frame—those of a junkie, of a thief in search of his next high.

After he climbed out of the car, she asked if he had—had what? He didn’t understand until she said, “Doctor.” She must want the prescription, but he didn’t have one on him. She mimed the motion of opening the car door. “You don’t mind if I have a look in your car?”

If he resisted, he’d appear guilty. He nodded, and she motioned for him to sit on the curb. She held each pill bottle up to the light: the pale blue morphine tablets, white and canary-yellow pills, to be taken three times a day, once before bed, on an empty stomach, or with food, each dose a bitter reminder he’d become an invalid. Chinese medicine too. Prescribed by an herbalist, the tiny black balls smelled like burning autumn leaves and must have seemed like dark magic.

The officer frowned and glanced back at him, to make sure he was still sitting. He noticed the black metal bars on the rear windows of the squad car. She’d arrest him, detain him, and tie him up in legal proceedings, wasting time he didn’t have. He couldn’t try bribing her again, not with his wallet gone. Then he remembered the change he’d stuffed into his back pocket. The bills, damp as tofu skin and stained by the touch of many hands, filled him with as much jubilation as if he’d won the lottery.

“I help,” Boss Yeung said. The officer ignored him, or perhaps she didn’t hear over the crackle of the walkie-talkie. He waited until a woman walking her poodle passed. Officials who campaigned most loudly against corruption had the blackest hands, and the policewoman wouldn’t want witnesses. He stood and rapped on the trunk, trying to get her attention.

She spun around, and he flashed bills at her, his hand quick as a dealer’s at a blackjack table. She thrust her face into Boss Yeung’s and barked something at him. How badly he’d misjudged the situation. How badly he’d misjudged Scarlett. He sat down. Returning to the car, the officer picked up a bottle with a loose cap and pills cascaded onto the seat, onto the floor mat, and into the crevices. She retrieved another bottle, which also spilled, and the more she tried to scoop up the pills, the more they fell from her fingertips. She elbowed the boba tea, which sloshed onto the seat. Next she’d turn her rage on him.

If he had been thinking clearly, he wouldn’t have slipped around the corner. He wouldn’t have crossed the intersection and flagged down the bus. But then, the wind never would have risen in him. The fleetness of his step never would have returned, with the speed and strength he had thought lost forever.

*                      *                     *

Until he mentioned Mama Fang, the receptionist was tight-lipped, and wouldn’t confirm Scarlett had visited the clinic.

“She’s a client of Perfume Bay,” Boss Yeung said.

The receptionist’s expression darkened like a thunderhead.

“A client of Mama Fang,” he said.

“Mama Fang,” she muttered, and Boss Yeung suspected the proprietor of Perfume Bay had left the clinic with a large bill.

“You’re in touch with her?” Her nails were long red talons. “Ask her!”

“She told me to come here. Before we met this afternoon.”

Mama Fang had said no such thing, but he suspected the doctors here would be very interested in finding her. After evading the police, he wasn’t ready to give up. He’d let his luck ride.

“Please,” Boss Yeung said. “I’m the father.”

He was the only man in the waiting room, and he could feel the patients staring at him. They were all Chinese. Shifting uncomfortably, their ample bottoms spilling out of their seats, their breasts swelling into udders, and their greasy faces round and gleaming. No matter how much the women had wanted their children, each at some point must have cursed the man who’d done this to them, the father who wouldn’t suffer the aches of pregnancy and the agony of labor.

What traits would his son inherit from him: the same long fingers? His bow-legged walk? The set of his mouth, or the focus on business that distanced him from every woman in his life?

He studied photos of the babies tacked onto the walls. Round cheeks, rosebud mouths, chubby fists, in little knit hats, and wearing embroidered silk tunics from their red egg parties. What traits would his son inherit from him: the same long fingers? His bow-legged walk? The set of his mouth, or the focus on business that distanced him from every woman in his life?

The receptionist summoned him in. Seated at her desk, Dr. Lum was younger than he expected, perhaps ten years out of medical school. Her hands were scrubbed clean, the nails squared off, the sort of hands that held tight to slippery fish, and she emanated the scent of antibacterial soap, of probing efficiency. He needed a bone marrow transplant, he said, and his daughters didn’t match. Unexpectedly, his eyes welled with the tears.

“Children usually don’t,” Dr. Lum said. “You need at least six of the eight markers, and children typically have half from each parent.”

Daughters no. 2 and no. 3 had four of his eight markers, and Viann, none at all.

“None?” Dr. Lum asked. “That’s impossible.”

“My doctor’s a VIP.”

“None?”

“None.”

“Then she’s not your daughter.”

Boss Yeung must have contaminated the sample, or a technician must have mixed up Viann’s swabs in the lab, and he’d have to get her tested again. Yet. His doctor in Hong Kong had seemed so agitated. Hesitating, which was unlike his usual brusque manner. Suppose—suppose the test had been accurate. What if his doctor wanted to spare a terminal patient the news that he’d been a cuckold almost three decades ago? Dr. Lum didn’t know him and didn’t care about helping him preserve long-held illusions.

He swallowed, his tongue unbearably thick and disgusting. He felt pinned to the chair. For months after giving birth to Viann, his wife had stayed in bed and wept, pushing the baby away. That distance always remained between mother and daughter. A coolness, born out of jealousy and resentment, as his wife’s beauty faded and Viann’s blossomed. Did this affair explain why his wife wanted to bear him a son? Why she’d considered each subsequent daughter a curse, why the guilt had driven her into the plump arms of the Celestial Goddess?

With great effort, he spread his hands in his lap, long fingers that he and Viann shared. Dr. Lum flipped open the chart and told him that the baby was healthy, with a strong heartbeat, and developing normally.

If he wasn’t Viann’s father, then who was? Did his wife have a fling with an old classmate, or instructor at the club? She’d briefly taken tennis lessons. A friend’s husband? His thoughts were like feathers in a storm, whirling out of his grasp. He tried to remember her friends, from the days before the Celestial Goddess.

A friend—of his? He had no friends, no friends but Uncle Lo. Uncle Lo, who’d resisted pairing his son with Viann. Uncle Lo, who had twelve acknowledged children. Uncle Lo, who’d taken an interest in Viann, arranging for pop stars to visit her birthday parties and an internship at his flagship magazine. He struggled to catch his breath. Viann had the intelligence and drive that her sisters lacked, that she’d inherited from her father.

From Uncle Lo? Early in their marriage, Boss Yeung’s wife had seemed loyal as a dove, and thrifty too, careful to make use of every scrap of food and to tailor clothes to make them new. Even after she began worshipping the Celestial Goddess, he’d been faithful to her. Until his diagnosis. Until he met Scarlett.

Everything Boss Yeung had taken for granted as steadfast and true had betrayed him. It was as if gravity had disappeared, as if air had turned into water. The room blurred around him and faintly, he heard Dr. Lum asking if he was okay. He found himself on the ground, staring up at her. In her grip he felt as a newborn must, drowsing against a parent. Oh, Viann. The daughter he’d been willing to forsake, until he realized she might never have been his to give.

*                      *                     *

The walk took longer than expected, and by the time Boss Yeung arrived at the outdoor mall, the sky had turned apocalyptic, the murky air slashed by streaks of rust and orange. Despite the heat, he was shivering and in a cold sweat after missing his last dose. He sat on the edge of the chlorinated water fountain, its blue tiles covered in coins, numerous as the scales of a fish. So many wishes. Outside a perfume shop, Boss Yeung spotted the head monk, bowing before teenagers who snapped his photo on their cell phones. The monk chased after them, asking for a tip. For a dollar. For the leftovers in their Styrofoam box.

The monk’s shoulders sank and Boss Yeung might have offered his hand in friendship, to a fellow hungry ghost cursed to roam the earth. Instead he struck the monk from behind, the blow to the head strong and true like nothing else in his life, the kind of blow that splits mountains and hatches new gods. He filled with the light of an exploding star. As the disciples fell upon him, ten thousand bronze bells tolled.

G

Author Image

Vanessa Hua is the recipient of the 2014 James D. Phelan Award for Fiction. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, ZYZZYVA, Calyx, the New York Times, The New Yorker online, Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. A former staff writer at the San Francisco Chronicle, she has filed stories from China, Burma, South Korea, and Panama. A recent Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing, she blogs about three generations living under one roof at threeunderone.blogspot.com. She is at work on a novel.

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