June 23,2016
In this short story, writer Gu Xiang finds humanity and humor in the idiosyncrasies of elderly Chinese

On the morning of June 23, 2016, Gu Cunxing rises from bed at 4:30 a.m. Cooking over firewood, he prepares some corn porridge for himself and his wife, Shen Haiying. Gu pours a spoonful of white sugar into the bottom of his bowl, waits for it to infuse slowly into the porridge, and eats it at a snail’s pace. Shen takes hers with pickled cucumber. She stands up as Gu makes to leave the house.

At 5:34 a.m. Gu cycles the four kilometers from his village to Shenjiang Road subway station. “Bleep! Senior card!” chimes the entrance gate. As if explaining to everyone in earshot: Please scrutinize this person. Are they old or not? Yet nobody is around, and there is no sign of the security staff. Gu takes the first train westward.

Gu’s zodiac animal is the Sheep. By the year’s end, he’ll have reached the ripe age of 73. He looks every part the wizened old man. Unlike some men of his age who dye their hair, he has his shock of white trimmed smartly at a barbershop that offers free haircuts every Wednesday for customers over 70. Gu cuts a slender figure in his freshly laundered shirt. Deep grooves emerge from his sunken cheeks to sketch a jocular expression. His smile has a few gaps for missing teeth. He has large, bright, thin-lidded eyes and a ruddy complexion, suggesting some breed of handsome monkey.

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June 23, 2016 | Fiction is a story from our issue, “Upstaged.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


Gu Xiang (顾湘) is a contributing writer at The World of Chinese.

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