As through the wrong end of a telescope you look back in time and see—at the end of a dark perspectival tunnel—a tiny illuminated window. The window is nineteen years in the past. Seven thousand days ago. With the seven-league boots of the imagination you start to stride down the tunnel towards the window. Boom. You are a thousand days closer. The window has doubled in size. It is apparent that it is a train window. Boom. Three more intervening years disappear. Now the shape of the train window is clear. A nearly square rectangle with rounded corners. Boom. Another step. A wall of a thousand days collapses. The window is bisected horizontally. It has two separate panes, an outer and an inner, both of which have been raised. The lower half of the window is open. Boom. A fourth step. The window is a horizontal split screen. The upper half reflects like a mirror. The lower half yields no reflection. The reverse telescope’s perspective is slightly elevated so that, reflected in the window’s upper panel, a landscape can be vaguely discerned. The interior of the compartment is dark. Boom. A fifth step. The window takes a great leap towards you. At a distance of only two thousand days from the narrative present of the scene wreathed in the window’s interiority, the shadow of steam boiling from the train’s locomotive engine can be seen rushing past the window at right angles to the perspective with which you view it, the white vapor itself—like a great flowing bridal veil—dissolving in the train’s imminent past. Boom. The sixth step. The window is large. Reflected in the window’s upper panel an incredible sight. Steep mountainsides farmed into terraces fall away from the train for thousands of feet like the densely packed contours of a relief map. Next, the silhouette of a woman bearing a tubular basket on her back is projected by the setting sun onto the green paint of the train’s carriage. With superhuman strength she has just borne an immense load to the top level of the terraced mountain. She stops. Stretches her muscles. From the shape of her silhouette it is clear that she is a Yi tribeswoman in traditional hat and embroidered clothes. Her shadow waves at the passing train. Boom. The seventh step shakes the past from its foundations. You see the window from the perspective of the tribeswoman bearing the enormous basket of harvested plants. In the upper panel of the window white clouds charge across an azure sky. In the lower panel you see four eagerly waving hands. Four faces, two on each side of the window. A surgeon from Nanjing on his way to Kunming to do research. Two young Guangzhou merchants in Yunnan Province to buy Golden Horse tea in bulk. And a fourth face—your own.
On her way from the ferry terminal to the train station, she got into a fight with a merchant in the Qing Ping Market who said she’d accidentally stepped on a jade bracelet from his curbside display and broken it. The guy demanded a hundred Yuan in compensation and got angry fast when she refused to pay him for a jade bracelet she had not stepped anywhere near. Things got out of hand. A crowd gathered to watch her and this tattooed local tough yelling at each other. Before long the guy started pulling her ponytail. But it just so happened that her boyfriend in Hong Kong was a judo champion who had taught her a lot of moves when they worked out together in Victoria Park. He could throw her onto the rubber bricks in about forty different ways. She’d never joined a club or gone to a grading, but she’d been wrestling and wriggling with her own personal sensei for a year, and he thought she was on a par with a pretty good orange belt. So, in her fight with the merchant, she shook herself free and faced him sideways. Her opponent tried to slap her face, but when he lunged towards her she dodged the blow, took hold of his right wrist, grabbed his flailing left arm, placed the flat of her right foot in his belly, rolled onto her backpack, and catapulted him over her head with a perfect tomoe nage throw. She must’ve broken the guy’s back because there he was motionless on the ground. Panic in his eyes. Tongue lolling. While his friends tried to revive him, she slipped through the crowd and got the hell out of the market. She was on her way to the station anyway, so she rushed up there and got lost in the ticket-hungry hordes. There was nothing like Guangzhou Station on a Friday around five. It was like a revolution. To keep order in the surging crowds, station security guards whacked people with bamboo sticks. Police prodded people with batons. Army guys brandished long staffs. At first it seemed she would never get a ticket. It was hopeless. But in those days Guangzhou was a city full of gangsters, and with a little help from the mobsters (who were in cahoots with the police, who themselves had a racket going with the ticket vendors) she was able to jump the serpentine lines, sidestep the masses, and get on a train for Shanghai. When she was settled in her seat and heading north she looked out of the window at the Guangdong countryside and thought about what had happened. On the one hand it was crazy. On the other hand it was strangely typical. After all, there was no such thing as a dull moment in a place like Guangzhou.
About the author:
Mark Crimmins's fiction has been nominated for a 2014 Best of the Net Award, a 2015 Pushcart Prize, and a 2015 Silver Pen Association Write Well Award. His stories and flash fictions have been published in Confrontation, Columbia, Cha, Tampa Review Online, theNewerYork, Pif, Split Rock Review, Portland Review, Penmen Review, Trainless Magazine, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, and elsewhere. He has been teaching Contemporary Fiction at the University of Toronto since 1999.