And then, all quiet, I reach down and lift the baby from the carriage.

And I find the smell.

I pull the blanket back from her face and can tell she’s been dead at least three weeks. Not much is left of the cheeks and nose. The lips are gone, eaten away from the gums where teeth never got to grow.

The girl sees me and stands, again eyes wide. “Please give me sister,” she says, “Please give me sister.” She holds her arms out, her hands shaking so bad they’re almost blurry.

I smile, hold my index finger to my lips, and say, “Ssh.” Pulling the blanket over the baby’s face, I lay it back down, slow and easy, into the carriage.
She puts her arm over her sister, still staring up at me. Reaching down to my foot, I slip my shoe off and take out the envelope of money. I lay it down on the baby’s still stomach and walk back up the ally.

At the sink, Mei Lin told me how the Mongols were able to conquer most of the Eastern world by wearing silk shirts. I laughed.

“Not kidding,” she said, a soap bubble on her nose. If a Mongolian warrior was hit by an arrow, he’d just grab a fistful of shirt on each side of the shaft and pull in opposite directions. Rinsing a dumpling plate, she said, “Because it couldn’t go through the silk, the arrow popped right out.”

What’s left are the facts. As if they really matter.

Leaving the Mansions, I grab a young guy by the arm, twist him toward me, and say, “If we just had silk shirts, the whole world could stay alive.” The guy, he snatches his arm away and backs inside, watching me.

I walk back to the Avenue of Stars, still covered in wet black. Across the harbor, the light show’s started, and red and blue, yellow and violet reflections are thrown across the dragon scales in the water. I sit at the railing and watch.

After a while, I pull out the wedding picture and stare at it. My shaking hands. Her red face. The lights throw shadows across me, then her. Me, then her. Me nervous. Her laughing.

Everything red for luck.

A single tear slips over my cheek and snakes through the caked curry and trash on my face.

I wipe my eye and laugh. Things like crying are gone now. Like strings without knots. Warriors without silk.

The shadow covers me. Covers her.



And I put my fist to my mouth, close my eyes, and wait to start coughing.

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