DD_web _illustration by Xi Dahe
A time-bending tale of love and life from author Li Hongwei

Almost time.

He looks around the room one more time. Three silent bunks. The beds clean, the desks below tidy.

His bed—all in order… Not a single crease in the sheets. The blanket folded into a perfect block.

On his desk, only a computer. Books on the shelf or in drawers. The only item left out is the mug. It is new. A light blue glaze. Two holographic zebras nuzzling each other and whispering. He reaches out his right hand and turns the mug, so that the zebras seem to move. One of their tails swishes. He sees the trace of his last cup of tea. Why wasn’t it cleaned? He takes the cup and goes to the washroom. A knock at the door. He rushes back to the desk and sets the cup down. He pauses, squints, moves it to the other side of the computer, and then takes a longer look. He pushes it in a bit further. Knocking again. Two steps, then back. Feet on the ladder up to the bunk. Pull down the blanket. Finally, two bounds toward the door. He rips the door open on the second knock of the third round.

Five years, eight months, three days later, he pulls the door open on the fourth knock of the first round. Outside the door, there is a solemn, gorgeous radiance. Fourteen years later, he opens the door in the same instant she takes out the key. Unexpectedly, a soft pink haze rushes in. Fourteen years, one month, and twenty-seven days later, she hammers on the door, and he sits at his desk, staring at her on the screen, crouched between two girls. Thirty years later, at around the same time, two minutes to four, he stands in front of the bedroom door, straightens his collar, strokes his cheek, reaches out and knocks. From inside she answers, “What’s wrong?”

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author Li Hongwei (李宏伟)

Li Hongwei is a senior editor at The Writer’s Publishing House. He has a master’s degree in philosophy from Renmin University. Li has authored three novels, four short story collections, and two poetry collections. His fictional works are often surreal thought experiments, ranging from fable to science fiction. With several literary prizes under his belt, Li has mostly recently won the biennially Yu Dafu Fiction Prize in 2022, one of the top awards for short stories in China.

author Dylan Levi King

Dylan Levi King is a writer and translator. His most recent translations are Cai Chongda’s “Vessel” (HarperCollins) and Jia Pingwa’s “The Shaanxi Opera” (AmazonCrossing).

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