Jing Wu

by Effie Pow

Mrs. Su Xue adjusted an oil painting that hung above the bed. It was her own copy of Monet – a woman in a field under the shade of a parasol with a red bloom at her waist. She admired the way she painted the grass and saw herself in the same dress with a sunny breeze behind her.

This canvas and the other unframed images were from private lessons with a Chinese artist, Tian Feng. She had not progressed beyond their many mornings of still life studies. While he arranged fruit and towels, sometimes a tea pot or flower vase, Tian had hinted an interest in her eldest daughter Lin Rei. However, he eventually moved to Chengdu and Lin Rei was now a graphic designer in New York. After graduating, she had insisted it was the only place for her. Mrs. Su had marveled and envied her daughter’s choices.

Mrs. Su had finally divorced her husband two years ago. He never held a real job since they moved to Shanghai over a decade ago. He became a vacant shell; they both slowly splintered. She knew something had been wrong for years. The bao’an prodded her with a question one day.

– Hello Mrs. Su, the young woman with your husband is your older daughter, right?

– Yes, of course.

Now, she shared the home with the youngest daughter Lin Mei and had lunch with friends instead of staying home. Over a tearful plate of spaghetti at the Windmill Café, she shared her anguish, tried to explain.

– He left his mother against her wishes and came to me, so I thought it was love.

The phone calls and the sofa-panties incident capped the marriage. The mistress lived in a rented apartment near the Crossing Supermarket, and they were in the aisle clasping a basket filled with rice crackers. Mrs. Su twisted for the exit and rushed home; her ears rang as she cried and her back froze on the door. After a summer vacation, the aiyi found a small pair of red panties in the sofa; she waved them about stupidly. Lin Mei shook her head blindly and denied they belonged to her.

Su Xue smoothed the bedspread. Now almost sixty, she upheld a youthful beauty despite the last years of spoiled mornings. She preserved a full social life and once a week copied Monet or Chagall with contentment. Her bible group only knew her in broad strokes, but the meetings offered a measure of comfort.

There was a clatter in the kitchen. Su Xue went in to oversee the dinner; she clicked her tongue and pointed to the pan. The aiyi glanced up from the stove; she had been with the family for years and watched the children grow.

–This cabbage is too old to fry. Why do I have to explain this again?

– Sorry about that. Want to check the fatty pork, Mrs. Su?

Su Xue nodded.

Then, she thought of getting new brushes and more tubes of cobalt paint soon.