BAD QI

BAD QI

He licks her big toe, glides his tongue across the arch of her foot, softens the cracked and toughened skin of her heel with warm saliva, and then presses his nose to the skin right above her tarsometatarsal joint. The arch of her foot curves with an elegance the rest of her body lacks. Your feet are so beautiful, he tells her, the same thing he said yesterday and the day before. What about my face? she dares to ask. But it’s like she hasn’t spoken; he strokes her foot in silence. So she begins to wonder: what if there’s something wrong with her face? A droopy eyelid putting her left eye in a perpetual squint? A blunt nose shaped like a rubber bouncy ball? She reaches for her phone so she can see her reflection in its dark, glass screen, but he places his large hand over hers and shakes his head. Just look at me, he tells her. But when she does, he is licking her toe again, avoiding eye contact, clamping a hand down on her ankle. She can think of plenty of things more delicious than her toe: kimchi fried egg, chewy balls of glutinous rice flour stuffed with black sesame paste and sugar, an ice cube stuck to her tongue. Mother never let her drink ice water – it would throw her body’s yin and yang off balance. No, she says. Stop. She leaps up, grabs the nearest t-shirt on the nightstand – it’s his t-shirt, the one that reads “I’m Senpai” even though she’s two months older than him – and tugs it over her head. He shrugs and shifts his gaze to his phone while readjusting the covers, don’t stay up too late. Her slippers slide against the hardwood floor as she walks. She has never really given her gait much attention but now she wonders if she’s making her calluses worse. Maybe she can walk less, she thinks as she reaches the bathroom, places her hands under the faucet, splashes water onto her face. When she was still learning how to tie red string into a knot of good fortune, a plea to Buddha for a beginning-less and endless life, she also learned to paint her face white. He will like you if you look like a nü gui. The ghost of a woman who had all the right incisions on her sketched double eyelid, now drained of orbicularis oculi muscle and fat tissue, a woman without a hint of bad Qi or wrinkles or blocked meridians, all rolled away with jade, a woman whose hands and feet were tiny – stubs capping the ends of limbs. The first step to become nü gui: her feet must disappear. She glides back to the bedroom. He is still watching videos on his phone, swiping to a new video before the previous can finish. She sits on the bed beside him. He reaches his hand over to stroke her toes. He jolts, pulls his hand back, slick and warm with red. What have you done? he yells, finally looking up. But when he makes eye contact, he cannot recognize her face.

Lucy Zhang

Lucy Zhang is a writer, software engineer, and anime fan. Her work has appeared in Maudlin House, Parentheses Journal, Gone Lawn, and elsewhere. She is an assistant fiction editor for Pithead Chapel and can be found at https://kowaretasekai.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.

Lucy Zhang is a writer, software engineer, and anime fan. Her work has appeared in Maudlin House, Parentheses Journal, Gone Lawn, and elsewhere. She is an assistant fiction editor for Pithead Chapel and can be found at https://kowaretasekai.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.

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