One of my favorite parts of life is the end of one season and the beginning of another.
I mean literally: summer into fall, fall into winter, winter into spring.
It always seems to come at just the right moment.
Just as I am craving hot tea and buckling orange leaves, the melting heat of summer evaporates, and I walk one morning surprised at the goosebumps on my arms.
As I wish for grey skies, cold air, and silent white ground, winter sneaks up and I realize I gave away all my winter clothing back in August, when I thought I’d never need it again, so I’m back at a thrift store (or since there are no thrift stores in China, the nearest clearance sale), piling on thick sweaters.
And now, as Spring Festival approaches, and I don’t think I can bear much more of the dense “nuclear winter” pollution of China, the sun breaks through the clouds and I breathe the same scent of soil that I grew up on in Aprils back home – when wet Rocky Mountain snow pounded in the morning and melted by the afternoon.
In any case, I have a poem for trees here in Ningbo.
And another stab at this Zhejiang-based fiction piece I’m working on, about a woman who is born in a small village outside of Linhai and grows up to work in Hangzhou. You can read the opening here.
Autumn Leaves Slowly in Ningbo
I noticed trees.
Bare, whispering branches
Scattering one by one
Quick yellow leaves
The sort you shed when
It wells up and all you can do is hold your mouth shut and
Try to breathe slow
The store was Japanese. Cheap in Japan, expensive in China. It sold elegant storage containers, soft blankets, and aromatherapy steam machines. Ann got a job there via a recruitment table at her university.
On her first day of work, Ann wore Mary Jane shoes, a cardigan, clean blue jeans. She colored her eyebrows and pinched her cheeks. She consciously tried to keep a delicate smile on during the quiet, clean train ride. On the elevator, she kept her eyes downcast. When the doors opened, she let everyone else exit first, until she felt the air around her open and then she looked up. He held the door.
He was her boss, her “small boss” – not enough her boss that he could fire her, but enough to remind her how to do a task when she asked and enough to take her out, occasionally, to the tea shop across the hallway that sold a kind of fruit juice tea with sweet cheese.
Her first impression of him was that he was too serious.
His first impression of her was that she smiled too often. But she also managed to help a foreigner buy 2000 RMB worth of merchandise with her proficient English and bubbly attitude – so he offered to take her out for the fruit cheese tea at the end of her first day.
Standing in line, she stood near to him – buzzed of the sale, her mouth running 100km a second. Her shoulders were slim and sharp. They jolted as she talked. Looking up at him, she thought (almost unconsciously, in a whisper of an image) about how her shoulders would fit perfectly beneath his collarbone were they to embrace. Ann became quiet. The image whispered in again. A pinkness flooded her cheeks. It made him smile. Barely. Imperceptibly. A hair of a smile.
The next morning, both thought (vaguely) to themselves – Ann riding on the train and watching her reflection in the window – Zao on his e-bike with a black scarf swallowing his face – that they were excited to see the other at the store.