Shifu, You'll Do Anything For a Laugh

Free Shifu, You'll Do Anything For a Laugh by Mo Yan, Howard Goldblatt

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Authors: Mo Yan, Howard Goldblatt
the cancer-battling celebrity. A flock of gray swans wheeled in the air, as if looking for a spot to land on the frozen lake, the ice blanketed with dust and dirt. He rode into town, totally numb. The streetlights were already on; a constant explosion of broken glass drove his heart up into his throat. A police car cruised past, lights flashing, siren off; he nearly fell off his bike in terror.
    Muddle-headed though he was, he managed to make his way to the door of his apprentice, Lü Xiaohu, and had just raised his hand to knock when he spotted a drawing pasted on the door; it was a sketch of a boy with anger in his eyes. Old Ding turned to get out of there just as he saw his apprentice coming up the hallway carrying a plucked chicken. The sight of the dead chicken's pimply skin in the murky light raised goose bumps on his skin. His legs buckled, causing shooting pains in his newly healed broken leg, and he sat down hard on the steps. Lü Xiaohu stopped dead in his tracks.
    “Shifu,” he asked anxiously, “what are you doing here?”
    Like a little boy who's been picked on, then suddenly sees his daddy, old Ding felt his lips begin to quiver and tears spill from his eyes.
    “What's the matter, Shifu?” his apprentice asked as he rushed up to help old Ding to his feet. “Has something happened?”
    His knees buckled, and he knelt at the feet of his disciple.
    “Little Hu,” he sobbed, “something terrible . ..”
    Quickly opening his apartment door, little Hu dragged him inside and sat him down on the sofa.
    “Shifu, what's happened? Your wife hasn't died, has she?”
    “No,” he said weakly. “It's much worse than that… .”
    “Tell me, what is it?” Little Hu was getting worried. “Shifu, tell me before I die of anxiety.”
    “Little Hu,” he sobbed, wiping his tears, “I'm in big trouble”
    “What is it? Tell me!”
    “A man and woman went in around noon today, and they still haven't come out… .”
    “So? Just collect more money from them.” Little Hu breathed a sigh of relief. “This is good news.”
    “What do you mean, good news? They died in there….”
    “Died?” Little Hu was stunned; he nearly dropped the hot vacuum bottle he had in one hand. “How'd that happen?”
    “I'm not sure”
    “Have you seen their bodies?”
    “No.”
    “Then how do you know they're dead?”
    “They must be … they went in over three hours ago, and at first I heard the woman sob. Then no more sound.” He showed his apprentice his injured hand. “I tried to break down the door, I pounded on the windows, I shouted, and hurt myself doing it, but no sound inside, not even a whisper… .”
    Little Hu laid down his vacuum bottle and sat on a stool across from the sofa. He took out a pack of cigarettes, put one in his mouth and lit it. With his head lowered, he took a deep drag, then looked up. “Shifu,” he said, “take it easy.” He took out another cigarette, handed it to old Ding, and lit it for him. “Maybe they fell asleep. That sort of activity can tire a person out.”
    Old Ding nervously rubbed his knees with his hands as he sat there gazing hopefully into the eyes of his apprentice.
    “My fine young apprentice, you don't need to try to reassure me,” he said sorrowfully. “I knocked till my knuckles were bloody and yelled myself hoarse. I made enough noise to wake the dead. But nothing stirred inside, nothing… .”
    “Couldn't they have slipped out while you weren't looking? That sounds plausible to me. Shifu, you should know that there's nothing people won't do to get out of paying what they owe.”
    Ding shook his head. “That's not possible, absolutely impossible. First of all, the door is bolted from the inside. Besides, I never took my eyes off the place. I'd have seen a pair of rats scurrying out of there, let alone a pair of full-sized humans.”
    “Rats, you say. How about this?” Little Hu said. “They tunneled their way out.”
    “My fine apprentice,” old Ding said,

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