by Arthur Hinds
See, this is the size needles I’ll use on you. They’re the smallest. They
won’t hurt a bit. All individually wrapped to keep them sterile.Just trust me,
darling. I know what I’m doing.Lie down on this towel I spread over the bed and
relax while I gather things together.I’ll take care of your leg.Don’t forget I studied
for four months with the best teachers in Shanghai.I can do everything. I was one
of the best students in the school–not like the stupid one who was expelled for
hitting a nerve. He didn’t study. I studied very hard.You don’t need a doctor
anymore. You have me!
Just relax and take some deep breaths.I’ll turn on this space heater. Are
you warm and comfortable?There, that one’s in. Did that hurt? Didn’t I tell you it
wouldn’t hurt? This is the meridian for the left leg.Isn’t it amazing how the body is
connected by all these. . .
Oops, there’s the phone.You take some deep breaths and relax. I’ll be
It was Mrs. Yang. She asked me to make her a chi pao for her daughter’s
wedding in June, but I told her I’m not making Chinese dresses anymore. They’re
too much trouble and people are so fussy, never satisfied until every detail is
exactly right, and then changing their minds about the trim or something else. I
liked making clothes for people who appreciated my work, but most people don’t
There, that one didn’t hurt, either, right? You didn’t even know I put another
needle in, did you?
Remember, how the newspapers would do a story on my dresses each
Chinese New Year? I would paint the zodiac animal for that year right on the dress
— white satin was the best– and hire a model to show off my work. I still have those
articles in my scrapbook, complete with photographs of me, the models, and the
dresses. Did you have a favorite ? dress, I mean?Even if they didn’t sell, they
were great publicity, and it was fun. . . for awhile.
Oh, sorry. Did that one hurt? It shouldn’t have, maybe I’m just a little bit off
there. It’ll be all right in a few minutes. You’ll get used to it. Now, one over here two
fingers below the navel. One here on your foot, and–oh, did that one hurt too? I’ll
take it out and try again. Oops, it shouldn’t have drawn any blood. How about this?
OK? That’s good. Now, another . . . oh, the phone again! I should just disconnect
it when I’m working. Hold on. I’ll be back in a jiffy.
Sorry, darling, that took longer than I expected.It was Jenny. I told her I
was giving you a treatment and you couldn’t come to the phone.She sounded
worried and mistrustful. She has no confidence in me! I reminded her that I have a
certificate from the best acupuncture school in China. It even had students from
Europe and Australia.I may have been the oldest woman in the school, but I
already had a medical degree–a surgical assistant–so I was far ahead of those
young people with no medical knowledge at all. I gave her an earful!
You know, I didn’t want you to spend all four months at Jenny’s while I was
away. Before I left, I told her you could only stay for two weeks, but she didn’t listen
to me. She had the nerve to phone me in Shanghai and practically accuse me of
abandoning you! She claimed that you fell in the bath tub and couldn’t get up and
that you had trouble changing planes. Did you really fall?I think she made it all up
to get me upset. She just resented my going to learn something she doesn’t know
and wanted to make me feel guilty. Anyway, where was I supposed to keep you? I
only had a small dormitory room with a single bed. No one else brought spouses
with them.Step-children are always full of anger and resentment, anyway. What
can you expect?Does Jenny have a big house?Oh, you don’t remember.
Just one more over here, and we’re done! I just hook you up to this little
machine.It sends a mild electric current through the needles to make them vibrate.
They’ll work faster.Now lie still and relax.I’ll be back in forty-five minutes.
Well, darling, how are you doing? Have you fallen asleep? I bet you don’t
even feel the needles anymore, right? I can take them out now.
Try moving your leg. Is it better? Well, it may take several treatments to
make the swelling go down, but if you feel less pain, that’s an improvement, isn’t it?
Didn’t I tell you I can do everything? Remember how quickly I learned to deal Black
Jack in Atlantic City five years ago? When you finally decided to join me, I got you
a job in the casino, too. You looked cute in your money-changing apron, going
around to all the tables with change in those big pockets. The money in Atlantic
City was really good, but the bosses had a prejudice against older employees.Oh
well, it’s their loss. . . Also, your older brother didn’t like your working at the casino.
It was okay for him to lose money but not okay for you to earn money there. He
said that money-changing was beneath you and caused the family to lose face.
But I’m a descendent of the last Emperor of China and if working in a casino was
good enough for me, why wasn’t it good enough for you? Besides you haven’t
used that civil engineering degree in years, so what’s the big deal?
Wang Shu-yin’s 80th birthday banquet is this Saturday. We have to get you
back on your feet by then. The Wangs are always proud of their dinner parties,
though I don’t really understand why. At their last banquet, the abalone was
rubbery and shark’s fin soup was mushy. I can tell real quality right away.I have a
superfine, discriminating taste. Of course, for your birthday, we gave everyone
Peking duck and sea cucumbers cooked to perfection–and those pea tops were the
freshest and most tender I’ve ever eaten. That Peking Garden has the finest chef
in town. I certainly know how to pick restaurants. It doesn’t matter that the dinner
cost $3000. We had eight tables of ten; we didn’t squeeze twelve people to a table,
like the stingy Yu’s. You’re only eighty once in your life, right? Only the best for my
husband.Don’t worry about my birthdays. The man in the family is the only one
who counts. No, I won’t tell you how old I am. It’s still a secret, even if we have
been married for thirty-eight years, seventeen years longer than your first marriage.
Too bad your children are all the way on the other side of the country. We
almost never see them. Yes, I know I wanted us to move to Southern California but
that’s because the sunshine is good for your bones and the dry air is good for your
hay fever. How was I to know you’d develop allergies to oleander flowers, orange
blossoms and whatever’s around?But my grandchildren are only two blocks away
so we have young people around us–that’s all that matters–keeping a close
connection to the next generation. They are good children, aren’t they, and getting
more and more helpful as they get older. Anyway, with acupuncture, I can take
care of your allergies, this leg problem, and everything else, you’ll see.
Except your hair. With needles I can’t stop the white from growing in.But
I’ll dye it again before the party. You look young with black hair and so handsome
in your navy blue suit and your beautiful new red silk tie.I took a long time
choosing it; I knew you’d like that one. They’re really a bargain over there. Silk ties
cost $40 here, but only $5 there. Everything’s cheap in China. I had ten new
dresses made, with the finest French fabrics. I couldn’t afford to pass up the
opportunity since labor cost practically nothing. After all, we have so many dinner
parties to go to and to give, and I can’t be seen in the same dress, party after party.
I gave Jenny several of my old dresses, but she never even thanked me.
Obviously, her mother didn’t teach her proper manners, though you’d think by now,
she’d have picked up some on her own.When someone gives you a gift, you
show appreciation, if you have any breeding whatsoever. Those dresses may have
been a bit too large for her. I ordered them loose; that’s the latest style. Anyhow,
Jenny knows how to sew and can make adjustments, and I would have done them,
if she had stayed around long enough.I still can’t get over the nerve of her–
disturbing my studies by phoning me in Shanghai! Well, it’s not good to get all riled
up again, so I’m not going to think about that anymore.
You still look pretty good for your age, darling, except for those dentures.
They distort your jaw. The dentist didn’t fit them very well, but he was affordable.
Since you don’t have any insurance, we can’t be extravagant about doctors and
dentists these days.
You’ve certainly gotten quieter as the years have passed. You hardly say
anything anymore.And your memory isn’t what it used to be. Come to think of it,
what does it matter what I feed you if two minutes later you don’t remember what
you ate? But of course I remember. Dinner parties are very important, and we
must keep up appearances, no matter what.I’ve always been good at doing that.
When you married me, you didn’t know what you were getting, did you?
It’s safe and peaceful down here at the bottom of this well. She can’t reach
me.But she’s blocking that little circle of light.