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-from Dogshit Food, by Liu Heng
Yang Tiankuan carried the grain on his back like a donkey to the appointed place, his self-respect compromised. Panting, his eyes went white and he could no longer speak. He was in a daze when a man approached him and asked, “New grain?”
Yang Tiankuan nodded, wiping his sweaty face with a towel. The man had a squat mule behind him. Without bothering to gauge the weight, he lifted the sack onto his shoulder and swung it over the mule’s saddle.
“Okay, it’s a deal. You can rest up a bit now.”
Then the man laughed and led his mule away. Someone emerged from behind the mule, standing there watching Yang, who took a quick glance but didn’t dare to look closer. He felt like dismembering the man who had just left, bud didn’t have the strength.
He heaved a long sigh, which was to become his habit and for which he would occasionally be mocked later.
What an ugly monster! A hundred kilograms of millet in trade for a giant goiter? Was she worth it? He mulled it over and concluded that she probably was. After all, the woman was his now. He led her down the road, preoccupied with what he would do with her on the kang. Things happened faster than he expected; the woman had set his passions afire.
“How did you get that goiter?” He started a conversation only after they had left the back streets of Clear Water Town.
“I’ve had it since I was little.”
“Your man sold you because he couldn’t stand the sight of …”
“I’ve been sold six times. If you decide to sell me, it’ll be seven. Are you going to? If you are, you might as well do it here and save the trouble of making the round-trip. This town has a market. Do you want to sell me or not?”
“No, no…” The woman talked so fast that Tiankuan had to compose himself before deciding. “I’m not selling you.”
“That’s good, since you might be crushed to death carrying a hundred kilograms of millet back to the mountains.” Laughing, the woman took off in front of him. The goiter above her shoulder swayed back and forth, but Tiankuan no longer paid any attention to it. His gaze was fixed on her buttocks, fat as a horse’s, and her yamlike feet scurrying along the mountain road.
“Will the goiter get in the way of having babies?” Tiankuan appeared a bit worried.
“Get in the way of what? It isn’t growing on my crotch.” The woman’s words had a coquettish air that roused Tiankuan’s ardor. “Whatever you want, I’ll make it, believe it or not.”
The woman went down the mound to piss. But after squatting down, she didn’t get back up. She let Tiankuan carry her into the bushes where they finished their business amid moans and screams. By the time they entered the village, Tiankuan no longer felt ashamed of his wife’s goiter. On the contrary, he now cherished it like a precious part of his own body.
All this happened not long after the Communist parceled out the land. Since Yang Taikuan’s household had increased, his acreage no longer sufficed. So the village assigned him another two acres of carrot plots. The land was fertile, but far from the road. It hadn’t been planted in years, not since the Japanese guerilla invasion, when the farmers burned the crops to keep the Japanese from getting at them.
Rather dull by nature, Tiankuan didn’t even complain when he was given land no one else wanted. He just swallowed the injustice. But not his woman. She climbed on top of the pigsty to curse loudly, and even though her curses appeared to be directed at the pigs, the real message was lost on no one. The village cadres were so frightened by her, they dared not show their faces.
“Hey, you pig! What were you in your previous existence? You must have sinned and bullied my man in your former life. Well, you sure are a beautiful sight now! What are you snorting at? Watch me take a shit and feed it to you. You putrid guts…”
The villagers knew that Tiankuan had married an extremely ugly woman with a goiter, but were surprised to learn that she was a foulmouthed demon as well. No one dared to cross her. Even Tiankuan was afraid of her. The more she cried, the shinier her goiter became, expanding into a huge balloon. Tiankuan felt dwarfed in her presence, wondering if he was really a man, since she was so much more aggressive than he.
He went to the stove and ladled out some water. Timidly he reasoned with her. “You must be tired. That should do it. Come down and have a drink.”
“Don’t you have any balls? You probably can’t even squeeze out a drop of urine or a single fart! I’ll get down if you take my place, climb up here and give those fucking bastards hell for me.”
Tiankuan helped her into the house, burdened with worries. This sharp-tongued woman promised only hard days ahead. Still, she was his woman, able-bodied and vigorous, as good in bed as she was skilled in the field. Wasn’t that the kind of woman he wanted?
The woman proved to be not only capable but hardworking. She took a hoe and some food straight to Hulun mound to build a grass hut. She worked for five days and five nights straight without going home. During the day the couple would work bare-chested, turning over black soil. At night they’d couple in the grassy brush, their naked legs entangled. In three days Tiankuan was worn out, but his wife showed no sign of exhaustion.
After work she let her husband rest in the hut to nourish his male essence, while she went home to fetch baskets of yam shoots. Back at the mound she would cut them into equal pieces, mix them with grass ashes, and plant them in the spongy soil, carefully spacing them two hands apart. The woman was a skilled farmer.
That fall Tiankuan and his woman harvested more yams than they could eat. Since his cousin Yang Tiande had a large family with four children and a very poor crop that year, Tiankuan wanted to help him.
“Bullshit! In times of plenty you forget about hunger. You may not worry about the future, but I’m scared of starving. If he wants to eat, let him grow his own food.”
To prevent him from giving away their yams, she dug a cellar behind the hut and piled the yellow skinned yams up as carefully as if they were eggs. Then she sealed up the cellar.
Her deeds were as abusive as her foul tongue. Tiankuan was embarrassed to raise his head in front of his fellow villagers, but he knew in his heart that his wife treated him well. This knowledge assured him that they would survive all hardships.