“If the needle rotates to the right, it’s a boy; if to the left”—he shrugged—“then your esteemed wife may have to pay a visit to the clinic. Now—” he paused for a second, “let’s see.”
Pinching one end of the cotton thread between the thumb and finger of his right hand, Old Fu held the needle above my lower abdomen. I lifted my head as far as I could while trying to keep my body still, and watched him clasp the thin thread with the thumb and index finger of his left hand, drawing downward to the needle to steady it before he let it go.
Three pairs of eyes locked on the tiny needle. It hung motionless for a second, then slowly began to rotate.
“The needle has turned right! It’s a male!” Loyal exclaimed, joy in every word. “Isn’t that so?”
“Yes. Yes,” the Wind and Water man responded, winding the thread around his finger. “Your father will be pleased.”
“And generous, too, Old Fu,” Loyal added. “Your service to our family will be rewarded.”
Fu showed us out, an unctuous smile plastered across his face.
As we made our way home, Loyal chattered cheerfully on, as if a heavy load had been suddenly lifted off his shoulders. “I am going to have a son, a grandson for my father. All the sacrifices have finally paid off.”
My mind, meanwhile, was miles away. From where I had lain I had had a clear view of the old man’s hand. Just as he released the needle he had almost imperceptibly turned it to the left, ensuring the hoped-for sign.
Listening to Loyal talk on and on about the past and future, I didn’t have the stomach to tell him what I had seen. Revealing Fu’s stunt would cause turmoil, and I wanted peace.
F riday is usually Kevin’s day to mow the grass. He comes home a bit early—there isn’t much insurance business on Fridays—and puts on his work clothes, does the lawns, and putters about in the garden until dinner. That way the outside chores are done and his weekend is free. He hasn’t gone into the office on a Saturday for years.
So when I called the girls to the table for a supper of barbecued veggie burgers, chicken breasts, and roast corn on the cob, Kevin was relaxed and refreshed after a hot shower and enjoying a pre-dinner cocktail on the patio. Megan was in a grouchy mood, having spent a beautiful afternoon working frantically on anEnglish essay, which was, if I knew her, late; and Dong-mei was chirpy, since it was her weekend to command the television.
As soon as we sat down the phone rang. As usual, Kevin suggested we let the answering machine pick it up, and as usual we ignored him. Dong-mei jumped to her feet and grabbed the phone.
“Oh, hi, Grandpa,” she said cheerily as a sour look passed over her face. “Hold on. Mom’s right here.” And she tossed the cordless phone to me as if it was a hot iron.
Neither of my daughters liked to talk to my father on the phone. Megan and Dong-mei enjoyed Dad’s company and his stories, but they tried to avoid one-on-one occasions with him, when, they complained, the librarian in him shuffled out of its cave. He meant well, but sometimes he turned the conversation into an interrogation about school, unsatisfied with vague answers like “okay” or “fine.” He would ask Megan what she was reading, then quiz her about the book. He questioned Dong-mei about books he had bought for her or loaned her. Poor Dong-mei. At eight she had no sophistication to fend him off gently. She would admit that she forgot where she had left the unread books.
Dad’s call was abrupt for him. “Turn on the TV,” he said. “Right away. It’s about China. Talk to you later.” I got up from the table and went into the family room with the phone still in my hand.
“Mom,” Dong-mei yelled from the table. “Supper’s not over yet.”
She couldn’t resist the jab. Our firm rule was, no TV until supper was finished and the dishes cleared away. Kevin says I have a