The third of our five readers from Flash Fiction for Charity. Also see:
- Daniel Tam-Claiborne, “If Not for the Melon”
- William Wang, “The Antecedents of a Rodent”
- Jacques Qu, “Delivery”
- Rosalyn Shih, “Taishan No. 20”
The faintings started on the subway. The first time on Line 10 to Guomao. Wasn’t even during rush hour. I wanted to clock in a few extra hours on a heady project at the office. My partner Shane began his Saturday morning routine on our tiny balcony that, after a trip to the flower market, had become a veritable greenhouse.
Maybe it was all the green. “Hey I’m walking to the subway,” I adjusted my tie and announced to Shane.
He wrinkled his nose. “In this weather? Good luck.”
He had a point. It was typical soup weather. By the time I waded out of Xingfu Ercun, I was fish without water, morphing into reptile crawling underground, scampering onto the train only to find no breathing space. I lodged myself in a car full of migrants, their faces wizen. To the right was a flock of school children, and to the left, a group of backpackers with big limbs and bigger laughs.
I was stuck. Three stops. I told myself, and all of a sudden the open plains of Ohio flashed through. Three stops, the four churches at the intersection leaned on the sleepy college town. Two stops, the American restaurant on our first date, afterwards Shane and I went to the CVS Pharmacy for a walk. One stop, that’s when my heart twisted and closed like a hand around my throat and everything went black.
It is said that reptiles have a three-chambered heart consisting of two atriums and one partitioned ventricle that lead to systemic circulation. The variation in blood flow has been hypothesized to allow more effective thermoregulation and longer diving times, but has not been shown to be a fitness advantage.
It was a grandma that shook me awake. She was yelling in my face, waving an empty bottle of Wahaha in her hand. My shirt was soaked.
“So… her son was my landing cushion. He was squatting and I fell right on him.” Six months later when I recounted the story, Xue’er looked at me incredulously.
“Hey you need to get this checked out. It might be your heart.”
“He wore a heart monitor for a while,” Shane jumped in, “but the doctor says it has to do with nerves. In other words, David is shenjingbing.”
“Has this happened before? Like in America?” Xue’er pushed her salad aside.
“It just started this year. Twice on the subway. Once on the plane. Maybe it’s some form of claustrophobia. The doctor told me to squeeze my thighs really hard and inhale.”
Xue’er raised an eyebrow and looked at Shane. “Maybe next time you should just slap him, like you know, a good lover’s slap.”
Shane darted for the Starbucks after we parted with Xue’er. He’d picked up the ice coffee habit after four years in America but seemed to have left everything else. Once he said I’d wanted to go back only because I was the nostalgic type, that it didn’t matter where it was or how goddamn boring.
“Just for a visit,” I’d explained to his shrug.
It began on the intersection between two malls. Shane was walking fast and my heart was speeding up, then hiccuped to the next beat. I squeezed my thighs hard then shouted at him, “let’s go back!”
My lover spun around, his expression unreadable. “What?”
“Let’s go back to America.”
He sighed. “Babe we’ve talked about this. Our lives are here. Our careers are here.”
“Let’s go back!” My heart beated wildly and I kept sputtering. “Let’s! Go! Back! Let’s! Go! Back!”
Shane slapped me. A good lover’s slap.
“Let’s! Go! Back!” My heart giggled and gurgled. I saw visions of green hills and abandoned mills, my ears rang church bells. “Let’s! Go! Back!”
“Let’s! Go! Back!”
It went black.
“Baby? My God!”
“Hey…” I croaked.
“You fainted again! This is ridiculous. We have to get you checked out properly.”
I’m on the ground with Shane’s arms around me, a crowd hovering above us. Let’s! Go! Back! an echo, in my mind. “Did I say something to you before I fainted?”
“Yeah you yelled, Shane! Then your body went rigid like a domino and I grabbed you. Thank God. You would have smacked on cement.”
“Oh, right, thank God.”
“Thank God! Thank! God! Thank! God!”
Qing Qing was born and raised in Tianjin. She is now Managing Director at a creative agency in Beijing, and also considers New York home.