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The Gloves Shang Qin

Translated from the Chinese by Steve Bradbury

Once, when I had called it a day and gone back to my room, I pulled off one of my work gloves and tossed it on the bed so that I could fish out a cigarette and place it between my lips. I had no sooner struck a match and was about to inhale when I found myself staring through the smoke of the match flame at the coarse cotton glove, once white but now stained yellow by yellow earth, black by black earth, and dingy ocher where black and yellow earth had mixed.

Without my hand to fill it, the glove had, quite naturally, collapsed upon itself, its index finger bent at a thirty-degree angle and its pinkie, which lay crumpled beneath the ring- and middle-fingers, all but invisible, so that it looked exactly like the glove had lost a finger. It grieved me to think how lonely it must feel, and so I quickly shook out the match, tore off the other glove, and tossed it on the bed beside the first glove.

But the second glove just lay there on its back, its fingers splayed in exhaustion, pointing in the direction of the other glove, which lay at a right angle to the first some four inches away. You might think the gloves were only resting, but they were in fact trembling; and so it seemed to me that nothing could more symbolize hope without hope, sorrow without significance, or the thousands upon thousands of lost souls at the nth degree of their decrepitude than a pair of dingy white work gloves. Not even a widow dancing a slow waltz with an empty overcoat.