Fiction / February 2009 (Issue 6)

Excerpts from Solitary Love Letters

by Yuan Qiongqiong, translated by Kevin Hsu

Author's Preface [i]

A friend said she went to see a pig, and told me a story about that pig.

The pig was in a small temple somewhere, and was fostered by the temple. The small temple was right at the end of an alley, and on entering the alley, one could see the pig sitting by the temple, watching the alley entrance.

As the friend described it, this pig was sitting like a person would, with its rump settled on the stone bench, its two front feet dangling in the air, and its hind feet on the ground. Its large, fat head rested on its shoulders, looking ahead.

The friend spoke a few sentences to the pig, obviously not taking it for anything other than an animal, addressing it with facile human language. But suddenly, the pig stood up. It strode in front of the friend, and began waxing eloquent.

According to the friend's description of what the pig said, it was really nothing more than a series of mixed high and low "oink, oink" noises, but the pig spoke unusually fast, and for quite a while, in those chaotic, hurried "oink, oink" noises, as if with diction and phrase, which must have had content and narrative.

However, no matter how good this human's intentions before it were, it could not understand her. Humans cannot understand the language of pigs.

So the pig left. It returned in front of its bench, and, setting its two feet on the ground like a human would, sat down.

When the friend was telling this story, her eyes turned red, and she was nearly in tears. She said when she looked into the pig's eyes, she clearly felt something inside this pig; she felt this pig was not a pig inside.

A pig not being a pig inside — nothing is more horrifying and tragic than this.

After listening to the friend tell the story, I just kept thinking about this pig for some reason, and could not get it out of my mind.

Maybe it's because I feel I am a little like this pig.

The self that exists inside of me is, honestly, vastly different from this person on the outside. What is strange is I had not known this before.

I have always thought of myself more as a person who can face herself. For example, I don't get facelifts or wear makeup or hide my age; I don't collect or read any criticism about me; whether it be praise or disparagement, I let it all blow away, allowing admiration and loathing all to pass me by. I thought that not letting myself be tinged by all these additives was a way to keep myself pure.

Yet, what is a pure self?

The self that I thought was me before was very clear-cut: I knew certain things I would not do, certain feelings I could not have, certain people I would never approach, and certain stories that would definitely not happen to me.

Yet in these two years, I have completely overturned myself.

Having lived for so long, I suddenly discovered that I have actually been existing in constant misunderstanding of myself.

I suddenly discovered there were new sprouts springing up within myself. Toward that fresh, never before known self, honestly, I feel full of surprise, shock, incredulity, curiosity, and astonishment.

Ah, this is me, too.

Ah, this would happen to me, too.

But the miracle for me is happening only in the microcosm inside me; this miracle is not external. Still I use this body and flesh which have carried me for a lifetime to bear the explosions filling me inside, to bear these newly appearing flares in the sky.

So I say that I feel I am like that pig.

Maybe it's like how that pig has to be treated, and only by looking into my eyes, can you understand the words I speak here.

Walking in the Dark

I always seem to be selling out my friends. Now I am going to tell the story again of an old friend.

This girlfriend is very interesting. She is a straightforward and outspoken person.

She knows how to read fortunes very well, and is always asking people for their birth dates and times upon meeting them; then she would go home and send you a reading right away.

She lives abroad, but electronic mail is not bound by space or time, so it does not affect her sending you an e-mail on a whim, warning you of your impending rotten peach blossom luck. [ii]

For rotten peach blossom luck, her eight-word maxim is "Make love with diligence, enjoy while you can."

An uninhibited person like this, so rough around the edges, ended up falling in love with her complete opposite.

The first time they met she knew right off the bat that he was a homosexual. The man was fine and delicate, plain and scentless, a very clean man. He was a sculptor, making those metal sculptures that weighed tons. Because of the many burns accidentally inflicted on his body from welding metal, he always wore long-sleeve shirts, covering most of his frame. He had a slim and tall figure, and in a glance no one would guess there was a beautiful stalwart build underneath the clothes.

My girlfriend laid his horoscope out for a reading, and immediately said, "Ah, you're gay."

The man's face instantly ballooned red. He had not come out of the closet, and no one knew it.

Between one person and another, sometimes, a connection born out of a mistake can be stronger than one born more conventionally. A connection born out of hurt will be stronger than one born out of harmony and sympathy. My girlfriend knew her recklessness had hurt this person, and at the moment, I suspected, some deity in heaven in charge of love and fate must have revealed a curious smile, and had these two's red strings knotted together. [iii]

Afterwards the two began a course of chase-and-run. She could never help going to see him, bringing him things to eat and to drink, caring for him like a mother, and watching him arrange his works by his side; when he burnt himself, she would apply medicine and bandage him. She always said, "I know you're gay, but don't worry, I'm not after you. I'm only your friend."

She told others, and herself, this. She told the man this, too, but they both knew clearly, it was not like this.

The man in the beginning was somewhat not used to it and accepted her passively, but then he started to resist. When she went looking for him, he would often stand by the window, letting her know he was there, but not open the door.

But she still would on occasion go to his house, stand outside the door, and look into the window; feeling hopeless on one hand, and yet thinking she would get lucky on the other, she would ring his doorbell.

One day she went to his house again, and when she rang the doorbell, the door instantly opened. Answering the door was a blond-haired man with the physique of a Greek statue, with a towel wrapped around his waist. Behind him, in the room with the door wide open, her sculptor sat on the sofa, completely naked; this was the first time she had seen his beautiful body, which was proclaiming, however, that he would never belong to any woman.

That day she spent six hours walking the grid of New York's streets, feeling like she had nowhere to go. Then she had a breakthrough. This was the first time the sculptor had disclosed his orientation, and she was the one to whom he disclosed it; she was after all, to him, special still.

The situation therefore became just as it was before, and nothing changed. She kept going to see him, taking care of him, and that blond Greek statue as well. Until one day she went to his residence, and found the sculptor had already moved away.

Because she was someone who valued her friendships, as she always told everyone, she began looking for him everywhere. Oh I forget to mention, my girlfriend is a journalist, so it was not hard for her to find him. No matter where he went, she would always get wind of his whereabouts eventually. And for the sake of friendship, after finding him, she would continue taking care of him. And the man's method of countering was to move away again soon after.

The two's chase-and-run relationship lasted five years. She chased him from the East Coast to the West Coast, from the United States to Canada, and then from Canada back to New York. She always said, "Too bad he's my friend." Afterwards, the man disappeared again.

At the beginning of the year, my girlfriend came home to spend New Year's with her family. We met for coffee, and she said she was still trying to get wind of the sculptor. The sculptor had been missing for two years, word of mouth was that he had died of AIDS, but my girlfriend never believed it; she felt he was still just avoiding her.

She never told him, she loved him, and never told herself.

To this day she is still searching for him everywhere, as if walking on a street where the day never breaks.

[i] Yuan Qiongqiong. 'Zi xu' [Author's preface] (7-9) and 'Zou zai hei an zhong' [Walking in the dark] (173-9). Gu dan qing shu [Solitary love letters]. Taipei: INK, 2006.

[ii] 'Peach blossom' [tao hua] is an expression referring to one's romantic life. — Translator

[iii] 'Red strings' [hong xian] is an expression from the popular Taoist myth of Yue Lao, or the 'Old Man Under the Moon'. Yue Lao is a Cupid-like deity that controls love and marriage among humans, and matches couples by tying red strings together. — Translator

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