Read an excerpt of Small Beauty

From the forthcoming novel by jia qing wilson-yang

“Hello?” She grabs the phone off the living room wall. She is out of breath. Boots on, tracked-in snow melting a path behind her. Hazel approaches, tail wagging, pushing her wet nose into the back of Mei’s hand.

“Hello, darling! Jesus, Mei, you took your time getting to the phone. It must have rung thirty times—you’re lucky I’m busy looking for a job. I just put you on speaker and waited for your answering machine to pick up. Which it didn’t. You do get cell reception out there. I know you do, I looked it up. I don’t see why I need to call you at this number and wait for ages while you do whatever it is you’re doing—god, you’re breathing heavy. Did I interrupt you? Is there someone special there? Is there? I told you! You’ll go to the woods and meet one of those woodsy dykes! And she’ll—”

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“Hi Annette,” Mei interrupts. Her lungs are taking in the warmer air of the house, softening. “There are no woodsy dykes in my house. I wish. Just me. And Hazel.”

“Who is Hazel?

“Sandy’s dog. I think she’s a cattle dog. Or maybe a weird Corgi mix? Do they have Corgis on farms?” Mei unzips Sandy’s parka and walks into the kitchen, boots clunking on the linoleum.

“Right. The dog. I forgot. I don’t know about Corgi dogs or whatever. Why are you asking me? Aren’t there people around that you can ask?” Mei can hear, beneath the sarcasm, her friend’s worry.

“Well. Yeah. Probably.” Mei plays with the phone cord and clumsily sits down at the kitchen table, pausing before kicking her boots off. An imprecise action that takes her socks off as well.

“You still haven’t talked to anyone, have you?” The question is more of a statement; Annette knows her friend.

Almost ashamed, Mei pauses and says, “I, uh … I have.” She stands, silently wincing as she steps barefoot into a pool of melted snow.

“Liar. Two months! You’ve been gone two months. You’re connecting with the dog? Don’t make me come out there. Go make some friends. You grew up in the woods. Go make a fire and wear practical shoes.” She is right, Mei needs to get out. The demanding love of her pushy friend is cold water on a sleepy face.

“Sandy grew up here, not me. I just visited sometimes.” Mei walks to the sink and stares out the window over the back of the property. The goose has returned and is looking in the window. She should probably stop feeding it. Annette won’t let Mei dodge the direction of the conversation.

“For, like, months at a time…” Mei can hear Annette rolling her eyes.

“It’s just that … I just don’t know how to meet people here.” She knows Annette won’t buy it, but she is in retreat, losing the conversation and firing off poorly aimed defences.

“That’s bullshit. Is there a bar?” Mei is caught. Sliding the small, mostly dead plant on the counter closer to her, she sticks her finger in the soil. Still damp.

“Yeah, there’s a bar.” She had moved the plant from Bernadette’s room to the window by the kitchen a few weeks ago to see if it needed more light. No change yet. The pile of brown crumpled heart-shaped leaves hadn’t sprouted anything new.

“Well. It can’t be that different out of the city. Go to a bar. Sit there. Talk to someone. Introduce yourself.” Mei can’t be irresolute any longer.

“Why did you call?” Mei crosses her arms, pinning the phone between her cheek and shoulder and leaning on one hip, picking dead leaves off the plant.

“Harsh, my love, harsh. I called because you wanted to know if anything happened with welfare. I called the automated system. They think you’re still in the city, trying to look for work and not living in your dead cousin’s empty house. In the winter. Alone…” She pauses. “Anyway, they want you to go to a resumé-writing workshop in two weeks.

“Agh. Those are the worst! Everyone hates being there, even the facilitators. People ask things like, ‘I was a brain surgeon before I moved to Canada and now I can’t even get a job cleaning hotels. What should I put on my resumé other than the fifteen university degrees and decades of experience I have?’ And the facilitator will say something like, ‘What font did you use?’ It’s racist. I bet I can skip it and they won’t notice. I’m supposed to be inept at getting a job anyways, right? That’s why I’m on welfare.” Mei leans further back on her hip and supports herself in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room. The solidity of the house confirms her position.

“Whatever you say. If they cut you off, it wasn’t because of me.”

“I know, Annette, I know.”

“I worry about you out there alone.”

The friends continue talking, Annette catching Mei up. Her clients, her dates. Good ones and bad. Mei hears about what’s happening with the women at the drop-in the two of them used to visit, and new dramas she is happy to miss out on. How Annette is sick of being the only Asian transsexual left in Dundurn, which they both know is a lie. Annette is one of the only people Mei wants to keep in contact with from the city, and the only one whose phone number seems to work. Her friend Connie’s number isn’t working these days, a semi-regular occurrence. She probably just missed a few payments. Once Mei hangs up, she cradles the phone and resumes looking through the window in the kitchen. What if she stopped feeding the goose and it didn’t leave? It seems like it will be around all winter. She looks down at Hazel, who is licking her pant leg.

Seeing a stale heel of bread on the counter, she asks the dog, “Who says I’m not making friends?” She walks to the fridge and pulls out a handful of spinach to put in a bowl. “Ya see? A snack for our friend,” she says proudly, taking the bowl out to the goose.


 

 

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