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Saturday, March 18

The Year of the Pig

"The Year of the Pig"
Short Fiction - Literary
by Jamie Ford

No one ever calls me by my real name. They call me Foo Foo, which means "happy". But I felt no joy sitting in the balcony of the Marion Street Opera House. There was no singing tonight. Just yelling. And crying. My mother covered my ears at times, not sure if I understood the swearing words on the stage below.

"Not for girls." She said.

The Knights of Labor, white men who once took advantage of our cheap coolie workers, now resented the competition. Their resentment bloomed to hatred.

Mother looked on, wiping away an occasional tear. I tried to understand why. The white men in suits, with sharp beards, were screaming and pointing. The head of the Luck Kim Benevolent Association was trying to make his point in the best English he knew. The Methodist ministers in the middle looked the most angry––furious at the men in suits.

It didn’t matter. Tomorrow we’d all be leaving.

The Queen of the Pacific was steaming its way to Seattle. The next day we’d all be herded on board. There were 350 of us left. Like most, my mother left the famine in Southern China. Leaving her village near the city of Canton in the Kwangtung Province. Families were promised jobs mining, but the gold was gone by the time they arrived. Other jobs grew scarce. Which is why they were forcing us south, to a place called San Francisco. They must have really hated us because they paid our way––$7 each.

I was the only one happy to leave. The men here treated my mother poorly. Even at a young age I could see it. The men from the old country shunned her, and the white men used her. They’d come from the cannery, smelling of liquor and fish. They’d lie with her for a while, then leave. My mother would make sounds, like they were hurting her while I hid under the bed in our one-room apartment. In the morning she would pull me out by my ankles, still sleeping. I’d wake and everything would be fine again.

That was our life together––the same each night for as long as I could remember.

The same bad dreams.

But tonight was our last night. We went home and packed our belongings. Everything but a small feast of wind-dried sausages, preserved duck eggs and a whole rock-cod. My mother called it you yu, which means "fish" but also "plenty". She had been saving it for good luck; after all it was Chun Jie the Lunar New Year. And the end of its twelve-year cycle was tonight. With it my twelve years in America had come and gone. The Year of the Boar was ending. A new life and a new calendar would begin for us in California.

My mother told me about the old country, how they’d kill a pig at the end of the lunar cycle, to mark the end and celebrate the beginning.

So when I woke up early, hearing the horn of the steam ship entering port, and seeing a red-haired man still sleeping in the bed I shared with my mother, I decided to celebrate.

I took the sharpest knife we had, the one my mother used to trim pig intestines for the sausage, and I drove it hard beneath his chin. The way I’d seen the butcher do it.

It was over quickly. And we left that hour, for our new life.

I had sacrificed an animal. The way they did where my mother came from.

This will be our lucky year.

10 reactions:

Kelly Parra said...

Jamie, very strong and compelling! Wow, I'm very impressed. Way to go! Thanks for sharing with FM. =D

Jeff said...

I agree with Kelly, strong writing. Thanks for sharing. :)

M. G. Tarquini said...

This is excellent.

Jaye Wells said...

Another excellent one, Jamie. Keep 'em coming!

jamie ford said...

Thanks. You're too kind.

Nobody said...

I thought the writing was strong and compelling. Liked the twist at the end. Liked that she didn't feel anything much about doing it.

This is probably my lack of knowledge of the period, but I didn't understand where they were. "The Queen of the Pacific was steaming its way to Seattle." From where? Because later on she says: "With it my twelve years in America had come and gone. The Year of the Boar was ending. A new life and a new calendar would begin for us in California."

So where are they that they're in America but sailing to Seattle and then going on to California? And is California not part of America?

jamie said...

It's always hard to sum everything up in 700 words or less--especially a fictionalized scene based on historical events.

The Queen of the Pacific was steaming its way to Seattle. The next day we’d all be herded on board.

They're in Seattle. Around 1885, all of the Chinese in the Puget Sound area were forcibly send to SF.

Thanks again for the comments.

Kelly Parra said...

Nobody, short fiction is hard to pull off, especially a historical piece like this, but Jamie managed to provide a compelling piece that captured history and emotion. That is awesome!

In short fiction like this you brush upon details instead of stating the details that are not necessary to the scene.

And if anyone is new here, just a reminder we don't critique. =)

kalbzayn said...

First off, very cool story.

I'm actually glad "nobody" wrote. I didn't think it was a critique as much as a question about something that I was confused about on the initial reading. Then I reread the story and it all made sense.

Anyway, I liked the story quite a bit.

Kelly Parra said...

Yeah, what Nobody wrote wasn't a critique. I delete those comments. =D I just have to remind every so often because new visitors don't read the FAQs unless considering submitting.