Excerpt for The Melting Candy by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Melting Candy

By Lahmu Ray

Ever since I fell from the mossy stairs at school, my memory has been like a diary with many missing pages. My mom later told me how a military truck carried us, and how it struggled on the perilous mountain road beneath ceaseless rains. It took us two days to get to Liberation Army Hospital No. 88.

“You have no idea how much I hated those soaring mountains in Yunnan,” my mom said to me years later. “The endless forest made me giddy. You didn’t remember because you were sleeping.” She sighed with a deep knit in her brows. “You slept a lot after you injured your head, you poor thing.” Her voice saddened by her memory.

Yes, I did sleep a lot in those days, but I still remember a thing or two about the military hospital. Everything in that place was white: white walls, white furniture, white coats, and white pills. And the revolutionary slogans were everywhere, pasted on every building. “LONG LIVE CHAIRMAN MAO!” “LONG LIVE THE COMMUNIST PARTY!” “OVERTHROW THE IMPERIALISTS!” “SERVE THE PEOPLE!” “TO HEAL THE SICK AND CARRY OUT THE REVOLUTIONARY HUMANITARIANISM!” The black catchphrases were written on red papers, each character was more than a meter high. In the sunlight, the words seemed to turn green. They shimmered with weird flickers, hurting my eyes and forehead. On the contrary, the lawns were broad and pleasant, between them, the winding paths looked spotless and were flanked by weeping willows. Men with white bandages were here and there, some sat in old wheelchairs, some leaned on crutches. The hallway inside the building was cool, damp and smelled of disinfectant. Chairman Mao’s portrait hung in every room in the most conspicuous place. To this day, I could still remember how eighteen needles pricked into my head, each connected with red or blue wires, and how the doctors held me to the scary chair as they kept trying to attach and reattach the needles to my scalp, digging deeper with each attempt. No matter how painful it was, I did not cry. Never show your weakness! The old soul inside my little shell resounded. Fortunately, I was born with an extremely high tolerance to pain. So, the doctors and nurses were certainly impressed, they declared that I was the bravest kid they had ever seen. “Even a tough soldier would wince with this kind of pricking.” One nurse said to my mom. She was a tall, chubby lady, and her uniform smelled like a clean kitchen.

Back then, the hospital did not have a pediatric department. Therefore, they had to settle my mom and I in the OB/GYN ward.

It was 1975, the spring I turned nine. I could never forget the day I walked into the room. The sunlight was awfully strong, it busted in from two large windows and bleached everything in harsh white. Five beds lined both sides of the room. Women clothed in those ugly, ashen, hospital pajamas were either resting in beds or moving like zombies. A large Chairman Mao’s picture was fixed on the whitewashed wall between the two windows. The eyes of Mao seemed to look directly at the door where I stood small and timid.

A nurse told my mom that I needed to sleep. Like a shot, I hid myself under a big quilt, one was snowy white with a red cross printed on its shell. I loved the quilt very much, it was light, fluffy, and smelled of cotton baked in the sunshine. Immediately, I closed my eyes and let the harvest aroma soothe my stinging scalp and lull me into a deep slumber.

I slept almost 18 hours a day back that time, and the little white pills that the nurses gave to me always made me drowsy and fatigued. But whenever I woke up, I spent all my energy watching and listening.

To the nine-year-old me, the OB/GYN ward was like a mysterious book that I was unready to read. Particularly when I heard words I did not understand: abortion, cervical cancer, induced labor, chorioadenoma hysterectomy and tubal ligation. For some reason, those terms always sent chills down my spine. But at the same time, they stirred my curiosity so deeply, perhaps in a disturbing way.

I saw a lot of blood stained straw-paper-pads, some smelled like stale fish and some as foul as rotten meat. The burgundy sanitary belts were like torture instruments to me, and their ugliness made my tummy ill. I had a lot of stomach aches in those days, but I managed to not show it. We are Chinese kids, we are taught to be quiet, normal and serious. I thought I was good at it. At a very young age, I have already mastered the skill of never showing my true feelings. From under my quilt, I peeped at the women around me.

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