The Judge’s Widow (Shanghai)
The central staircase, as wide as the lane outside the doorway, winds upward to the former ballroom. Above our heads, the day’s laundry dries on bamboo poles slotted between the balusters. On the second-floor landing, the judge’s widow is frying her lunch: a platter of small headless fish, each no longer than the handle of a teaspoon. Eleven judges once shared this dwelling, a mansion that its Concession-era owner intended to house a single family. But the Party liberated it for the judges, followed by their survivors and descendants, three of whom stand side by side at their stoves at this very moment, each tending a single burner. For the first fifty years, they all took turns in the lone bathtub and toilet. But their collective spirit came to a halt with the advent of utility bills. Each resident now has designated gas, electric, and water meters, with separate switches and taps. The judge’s widow has lived in this place since she was a bride of twenty-five and this is what she wants me to know: last year, she and her housemates were finally rewarded with private bathrooms. Steam rises from the widow’s wok and I follow its path upward, to a decorated plaster ceiling, once pink and gold and perhaps green, but now the tactile brown of five decades of cooking grease. One resident tried to paint it white, the widow says, but we think it looks better this way.
About the writer:
Peter Fong’s work has appeared in American Fiction, Gray’s Sporting Journal, the New York Times, and many other publications. Fong’s first novel, Principles of Navigation, won the 2012 New Rivers Press Electronic Book Competition.