Fish Belly

Translation by Jianan Qian

It was a rainy day. I followed the tour guide to the Sea of Weeds. We walked down a winding trail, our view obscured by the weeds all around us.
“Over there is the village I mentioned.”
“Anything special about it?”
“The women in that village get pregnant only when they’re possessed.”
“Right. When the rainy season comes, the women are haunted by spirits. Their men stay with them, listening to the ravings. If they like what is being said, they’ll have sex with the women that day.”
“What do the women usually say?”
“Can be anything. But the men prefer the spirits that tell stories.”
“Why’s that?”
“Perhaps they’re brighter? See, the spirits are their future children. But the kids should never hear those stories.”
“What happens if they hear it?”
“No idea.”
As we spoke, we reached a straw shed, its door closed. Through the windows, we saw only blackness.
My guide put her ear against the door and said in a low voice, “Come. Right in the middle of a story.”
“I don’t think it’s right…” I didn’t move.
“Don’t worry. It’s on our itinerary.” She continued waving me toward her.
I neared her, and I too pressed my ear to the door. It felt chilly and damp against my cheek.
Inside, someone was telling a story; it was neither a man nor a woman:

Once upon a time, there lived a skilled fisherman. One day he caught a huge white fish—he’d never seen anything like it before. He slashed open the fish’s belly and found a naked child inside. “The fish must have swallowed the poor thing alive,” he thought. It was a boy, chubby and fair. He was not crying. The fisherman, who was alone, happily adopted him. Later he discovered the boy was mute, and felt a bit sad. The boy’s eyes were often cloudy and fixed on the sky—nobody knew what he was thinking. As time passed, the boy grew into a sturdy, handsome young man, and the fisherman grew old and fell ill. One night, he saw his adopted son standing by his bed, naked, knife in hand, a fierce look in his eyes. Bewildered, the fisherman shouted, “But I’m your savior!” For the first time in his life, the son spoke, his voice strange and inhuman, “You’ve made a terrible mistake. I’m the fish’s child.”

The story seemed to end there. Silence fell over the house, followed quickly by the sound of stirring, then heavy breaths and the woman’s moaning…
“So they’ve started, right?” I turned to ask my guide in a low voice, but found she’d already gone back into the Sea of Weeds. The weeds, tall as men, swung and swayed in the wind, veiling her face. I walked up to her.
“Did you hear that?”
“No, I wasn’t listening.”
She smiled mysteriously.

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