Seven Pieces at a Time
Yu-Han Chao

At Tai Ping Junior High my classmates nicknamed me pih, Fart. That's probably the reason I never went to senior high school. And not finishing school is why from the age of fifteen I worked full time in my parents' corner store in the middle of Shi Ling Nightmarket. Everybody thinks I'm retarded or something, but the truth is I simply don't know what to say a lot of the time. I can think perfectly fine, but when I speak, the words don't come out entirely right. A speech impediment would probably be a more correct thing to call my condition, but people don't care, they just think I am stupid.

Working at my parent's store is how I met Natasha. She has golden hair and the kind of face you see in a western magazine, all angles and sharp lines. I could never pronounce her name, so she let me call her Na Na. It's a good name because there are Chinese words for it, there there, so soothing and soft, and because I gave the name to her. Soon she went by "Na Na" all the time, she said, because it's easier for people to say. I'm a little mad that she used the name that I gave her with other people—that takes the specialness away a bit.

Na Na used to come to the store two or three times a week. She bought the same thing every time, one pack of green Wrigley's gum with seven pieces in it. She'd take the gum from the gum rack and place a 10 NT coin on the counter, and I'd give her three 1 NT coins for change. She must have a whole jar of 1 NT coins, I used to think to myself, since she never gave me smaller change, always 10 NT. Once I showed her a value pack of Wrigley's gum because she bought so much every week it would save her money to just buy a larger pack, but she smiled and pushed the value pack away; she only wanted seven pieces at a time. She pointed at the weekly calendar on the counter and flipped pages. Each time she flipped a page, she made a shrugging motion. Then she let all the pages fall back into place and pointed at the current week, making a thumbs-up motion. I thought about that for weeks, for months. I decided it was a good philosophy. Instead of being greedy and hoarding a lot of gum, and possibly risking losing it or letting it go stale, you can get it seven pieces at a time, just like life. You consider everything one week at a time like the weather report and never worry beyond that because there's no point. You might die next week, and somebody else will eat your extra gum.

I would never say that to my son, of course. I don't say much to my son. He's only one, and he can't walk yet. I figure he's too young for the depressing realities of life. He's confused enough as it is. Na Na speaks Russian to him, my parents and I speak Taiwanese or Chinese to him, and he never responds. He has no words. He has some sort of speech delay, my parents say. I asked them if I had speech delay when I was little and they said absolutely not, I started speaking earlier than most kids. Something must have happened along the way. The teasing didn't help. You see, I hardly spoke to anyone at school, but once, just once, I farted out loud during siesta time. Since then my name has been Fart. My classmates said I farted more than I spoke because I farted instead of talking. I hope nobody makes fun of my son in the future, call him names like bai chi eat white, which means idiot. His name is Bai, white, because that's my favorite color, and also Na Na's favorite color—at least I think it is.

I ran into one of my old junior high classmates the other day. She couldn't believe that I was married and had a son. You, Fart, married? A son? Yes. It was mean of her to still call me Fart after all those years. If I see her walking down the street next time I will close the door and pretend the store is closed. I don't want my son to hear her call me Fart. I am a father, and a father should keep his dignity in front of his son. To your son, you are always someone big, someone important, not a fart or a joke. If you set a bad example and lose face before your children, the children will grow up with low self-esteem and become the running dogs of gangsters or accept beatings from their spouses. I learned that much from TV.

Na Na worked in a bar. She was one of those Russian white girls who came to Taipei to dance in bars for money. She's not really a prostitute. Though I think she's probably slept with a customer or two that she liked, but she is too quick-tempered to "service" just any man. A sex worker? Forget it. She would never go down on her hands and knees and put her mouth around a stranger's dick—she's too proud. She doesn't even do it for me. She does like to dance for them, though. I don't understand why a man would need a woman to perform a dance for him, but I don't mind too much. She is tall, like a goddess made of white chocolate, and she likes to show off her body because it is such an overwhelming sight, so gorgeous and creamy, like a marble statue. There is a crease here or there and her breasts have fallen a little bit, but she carries herself very nicely. She's almost as tall as me, and I'm pretty tall for Taiwanese, 182 centimeters. Bai will be tall when he grows up, I'm sure. Unless he gets bullied too much at school and becomes depressed and covered in acne, and turns to drugs, alcohol and smoking, all of which will stunt his growth. Otherwise, he will be tall, light-skinned and handsome. White and Asian is a good mix, and he's a nice looking kid, long lashes, big eyes and everything. He looks like a Russian child with dark hair, although I'm not really sure what a Russian child looks like. I can only imagine a very short and chubby Na Na.

I lost my virginity to Na Na on our first date, at least, I like to call it our first date. She took me by the hand to her one-bedroom apartment down the alley, kicked the front door shut, unzipped my pants, stared at my privates, jerked me off, and laughed because I came so quickly. Her apartment was small, essentially a bedroom with a corner paneled out for a bathroom. Later on I noticed there was no stove. All she had to cook with was a hot water kettle to make instant noodles. After sucking me off, she wiped my softening dick off with a rough towel covered with dark stains. She removed the rest of my clothes. She examined every part of me, touching my chest over and over again. I've heard that white women like Asian men because our bodies are smooth, maybe that was what she was thinking. As her hands moved down toward my privates, my dick grew hard again.

And just like that, she sat on me, and took me all the way into her amazing, slippery body. It felt so good and warm and wet inside. It was the most wonderful thing in the world. I couldn't stop after that; it was like drugs. She screamed things in Russian. I had no idea what she was saying, but I could tell she liked it. We had sex all night. Na Na didn't go to work the next day, and I didn't go home. When our stomachs were both growling, I went out and bought some yang chun noodles from a food stand nearby. We wolfed down the noodles in hot soup, and fell asleep in each other's arms. Soon I woke up with an erection and drove it into her, and we became animals again.

A few months later, when Na Na pointed at her stomach, slightly fuller than it used to be, and made cooing baby noises for me, I understood she was having a baby. She also pointed at me. I unwrapped a piece of gum, rolled it into the shape of a ring, and put it on her long, bony ring finger. She smiled. That was how we were married. We were never officially married because there was something wrong with Na Na's papers—that was as much as I understood, after one of her Russian friends tried to translate for me in her bad Chinese. It was okay. I loved her, she loved me, and we were going to have a little baby. I began referring to her as my wife in front of everybody. My parents liked the idea of me being married and having a kid. They were living in the countryside by then, having moved into my grandmother's house after her death.

Na Na stopped going to work after her stomach became too obvious. Her breasts were more magnificent than ever, like helium balloons fully inflated. She stayed in her apartment and slept all day or sat with me in the store, reading Russian novels and chewing a lot of Wrigley gum. She still only wanted the seven pack gum, even if she could finish two packs in a day. It was a good thing she agreed not to smoke during her pregnancy.

Bai was a gigantic, healthy baby. Na Na screamed like I had never made her scream when Bai came out of her. When I leaned close to kiss her during the delivery, she slapped my face, yelling something in Russian. I grabbed her hand and squeezed it, but she looked away. I offered her gum, which she grabbed and tossed straight across the room. The obstetrician chuckled at me.

"It's the hormones and the pain. The bad mood will pass."

I stared at Bai. He was plump and adorable. When I put my face close to his, one of his hands reached out and hit me with curled fingers.

"Good reflex," the doctor said.

He was wrong, however, about Na Na's bad mood. It did not pass. He instructed us not to have sex for six weeks after the baby, so I stayed away from her, but that made her even angrier. She grabbed my dick, forcing it hard and drawing me close to her all the time, but I had to say no and push her away. Sometimes she got mad and left the apartment. She couldn't go back to work yet because her tummy still looked pregnant, so I don't know where she went when she ran out like that. When six weeks finally passed, and I wanted to sleep with her, she just slapped me and ignored me and pitched the TV remote control at my head.

Some days she only chewed gum and didn't eat. She also smoked a lot of cigarettes. She lost the baby weight quickly and went back to work. Na Na wasn't always around to breastfeed Bai so he got used to formula, which he sucked down eagerly and grew plump on. My parents came and helped me take care of Bai. He was a very easy baby. He didn't throw tantrums and could sleep through anything. Just change his diaper, give him a bottle, burp him, and put him in the crib. This was all stuff I could do between counting out change for customers at the store.

One night Na Na came home very drunk. Her floral dress was unbuttoned at the top so her breasts were mostly exposed. She threw things at me, and when I tried to stop her because she was waking Bai, she hit me. I blocked all the blows, which made her even angrier. We fought and struggled until she was tired, and then her mood changed. She reached for my pants and unzipped them. At first I thought she was going to hurt me down there, but instead she started stroking my dick and sucking it. I unbuttoned her dress and fucked her hard, the way she liked it. We fell asleep together, exhausted.

The next night, Na Na didn't come home. I waited all day the next day. When I closed the store, she still wasn't home. She had left for work like usual the previous night, taking only her purse with her. The closet was still full of her clothes. I went to the bar she worked at and asked her friends and boss about her, but they said that she didn't come to work and they hadn't seen her or heard her say anything about leaving.

A month later, I got a small envelope in the mail with a foreign postmark on it. I tore open the flap and shook the contents out of the envelope. It was a small package of Wrigley gum. It had seven pieces in it. I understood her meaning completely. Na Na really was living life seven pieces at a time, and my seven pieces with her were up. I looked at Bai, who toddled over and grabbed the bright green gum packet from me. He held it up to his nose and smelled it.

"Mama?" he asked, one of his first words. I didn't know he remembered Na Na and the gum she was always chewing. Maybe he remembered the gum on her breath, or her ripping open the bright green packaging.

"Yes, from Mama."

Yu-Han (Eugenia) Chao was born and grew up in Taipei, Taiwan, received her BA from National Taiwan University and MFA from Penn State. She teaches writing at the University of California, Merced. The Backwaters Press published her poetry book, We Grow Old: Fifty-Three Chinese Love Poems in 2009, and Dancing Girl Press, Imaginary Friend Press, and Boaat Press published her chapbooks. She is at work on a mystery novel, Karaoke Girls. Her website is www.yuhanchao.com