xuan juliana wang (b.1985) is a New York-based artist from Heilongjiang, China. Her publications include “For Our Children and For Ourselves,” The Atlantic Monthly (2010) and “Days of Being Mild,” Ploughshares (2012). She also has forthcoming work in The Pushcart Prize Anthology (2015).
wang was a Wallace Stegner Fellow, Stanford University, Palo Alto, (2011–2013) and received an Artist Grant, Elizabeth George Foundation, WA (2014). She has previously completed a residency at Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris, France (2014). She holds a B.A. from the University of Southern California and a M.F.A. from Columbia University.
Image credit: courtesy of the writer
Excerpt from Novel
A professor in the Classical Literature had seen them kissing. It was an accident. She had woken up early, right before sunrise and was taking the long way to the Peking University campus post office when she happened to pass the back of Shao Yuan dormitory. There she saw two pairs of legs tangled together against the brick wall. The boy’s large American sized back was to her. A purple T-shirt, shorts, and sandals a local would never leave the house in. The girl was a local, that much was unmistakable. She had her arms around the boy, her hooded eyes like two dirty smudges.
Winter was still hanging around that summer morning. The teacher could see her breath in the air in front of her, crisp with the last shivers of the cold season. That morning even her blooming daffodils were frozen, unable to express themselves. The professor did not remember to move when faced with this intimacy, as she was used to having no privacy, so she stopped and stared intently at their kiss.
When they noticed her, she straightened her back and walked quickly past.
It was that new snack shop girl. Of course it was.
The Professor turned the corner and onto the shaded path towards the back entrance of the dormitory, which sat on the western corner of campus. The structure was separated from the main quad by a walkway lined with willow trees. The dorm rooms enclose from three sides the best-kept lawn of the whole University. This morning as the Professor walked away, she heard the snack shop girl’s happy laugh behind her, traveling between the trees.
Everywhere smelled like new life, dirt and grass warmed by the sun. She didn’t turn around. The Professor disapproved greatly of the snack shop girl but she liked hearing a good laugh.
1. Moments Earlier
He was going to kiss her. Pei Pei was going to be kissed by The Big Nose. It was big for nose by most standards, not as large as the name dictates but that was his default Lao Wai nickname.
She ran through her memory of all the people she’d ever seen kissing, just to get herself more in the mood. Some people open their mouths exactly fitted onto the other person’s mouths, like two bottles making a transfer. Some people kiss with one person’s eyes slightly ajar, eyelashes fluttering. With mustaches, one lip is left completely out of the action. Some women like to be on their backs, this is practical too, since in her experience it was helpful in getting the hair out of the way. Many people like to hold each other’s faces when they kiss, hold it in place.
Why isn’t he kissing her now, she wondered? Hadn’t they spent the whole evening looking at moon and talking about the missing stars? Hadn’t it all been enough already?
“Do it,” she said.
“What?” he asked.
“Kiss me! Right now!”
So they kissed, his nose fitted nicely around the edge of her mouth. She opened her eyes to see: some people looked very sad when they are kissing and this boy, this Reggie, was one of them.