5/15/19

&: Something from Qinqiang (1)

She took the slap without crying. She went out into the yard and sat for a while on the laundry stone, then went into the kitchen to put the jianbing on the stove. She couldn't sew worth a damn but among the five daughters-in-law, she made the best jianbing. Her mother had died when she was still young, so starting at four years old, she had dragged a stool over to the table and began learning to make the various doughy staples of the village. She'd been married long enough to know what her husband was like and that their future together promised nothing but more of the same. She was resigned to her fate. In years past, she might have cried or made a scene, but she knew it wasn't worth it. As the jianbing cooked, she felt a sudden twinge in her breasts. The baby was still at her mother's place, so there would be no chance to use the milk. She pulled her full, tender breasts out of her shirt and squeezed the milk out over the fire. When she was done, she put the jianbing out on a plate and then filled four bowls with vinegar and chili oil. She closed the kitchen door, went out into the yard and called, "The jianbing are ready!"
Jia Pingwa is associated mostly with his priapic literati avatars like Zhuang Zhidie, but even in his horniest books, the women are, of course, closely, but also sensitively observed. Xiaxia 瞎瞎 hits his wife. He is the youngest of Xia Tianyi's 夏天义 five sons, named after his brothers had been given far more impressive names (Xia Qingjin 夏庆金, Xia Qingyu 夏庆玉, Xia Qingman 夏庆满, Xia Qingtang 夏庆堂). When Xia Tianyi's wife is pregnant, he wishes for a daughter, but she gives birth to a particularly ugly son ("...到了二婶怀上第五胎, 一心想要个女子, 生下来还是个男的, 又长得难看,便不给起大名了,随便叫着'瞎瞎'"—and 瞎 here for the name, since it's because he's ugly rather than blind, is perhaps a 方言ish use, meaning something like 坏, although I'm not completely sure). Xiaxia has a temper. In this situation, he wanted his wife to go to his brother's place to pick some pepper leaves to put in the jianbing and slapped her when she refused. Xiaxia is never given a proper name and neither is his wife. Her sisters-in-law are all named but throughout the book she is simply, "Xiaxia's wife" (瞎瞎的媳妇). She spends her day laboring in the yard of the house and working out in the field, and in her free time sneaks away to go to the shrine dedicated to Master Zhaocheng's 昭澄师傅 preserved corpse. And it's a beautiful moment that I think I must have skimmed over in first reading but that stands out while translating, Xiaxia's wife over the stove, completely resigned to her fate, taking her swollen breasts out of her shirt and spraying the milk over the cooking fire. You can still hear the raucous game of cards going on in the next room and smell the woodsmoke and feel the warmth of full breasts in palm. After she serves the jianbing and sneaks out to sell a bag of grain to Zhao Hongsheng 赵宏声 for some extra cash, you can't help but cheer her on, until she explains she needs the cash because Xiaxia is gambling away their savings in the card game.