‘Joint Ventures’ by Kate Sullivan


From The American Scholar:

When she met her husband he was a veterinarian. They lived a simple life in their small town by the lake. He would walk to work in his clogs and scrubs; she would ride her bike to her job at the hospital. At night they would canoe to the Dairy Queen for small vanilla cones. Love, a friend had told her, was like two dogs running together down a hill.

These were the things she thought about, looking out the open window of their room on the 15th floor of an old grungy high-rise. She thought about their old life, and she thought about the sound of English words she loved, and she thought about cold air and quiet. In this small room, their home now, there was a small refrigerator and a narrow closet for their clothes. If her husband sat at the desk, which he often did, she had to climb over him to get from the bed to the bathroom. The microwave, which they shared with the other one-room tenants, was out in the hall. The room was dreary: yellowed wallpaper, musty curtains, a pattern of mold on the ceiling in the corner. And yet this was where she felt comfortable now. It was safe, high above the mess of buses and people below—she had never lived up high like this—and from their window, she could see a horse racetrack that lit up at night.

After a series of events that hadn’t quite yet sunk in, she and her husband were in Hong Kong. He had left the veterinary practice and was now a student, with a deep and unforeseen fascination with China and the one-child policy. In the mornings he took a minibus from the middle of the city and across the busy harbor to a university campus near the ocean, covered in fog on the edge of a cliff. He stayed there all day, ate dinner there—meat and rice in the cafeteria—and returned home late at night. She slept while he was gone, sometimes past noon, and then ate cereal in their bed, watching the fog float down over the mountains into the city. When their room grew too warm and dank, she went out into the crowded streets, pushed along in various directions by the massive tide of people.

What will you do? people had asked her before they left. How will you spend your days?

She spent some days searching the crowds for Chinese faces that looked like people she knew. She kept a list of these people—her friend’s mother, an ex-boyfriend, college professors—and imagined mailing them one-sentence postcards that read: You have a Chinese twin.

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