China Dolls

China Dolls by Lisa See Read Free Book Online

Book: China Dolls by Lisa See Read Free Book Online
Authors: Lisa See
maid or working as an elevator operator in one of the department stores on Union Square doesn’t appeal to him either.”
    “But you have a good job already,” Grace blurted.
    I sighed. “The manager at the Chinese Telephone Exchange is indebted to my father. I’ve been working there for six months. I hate it, and I’m only making five dollars a week. If I get the job at the Forbidden City, I’ll make twenty dollars a week.”
    Grace croaked, “That much?”
    The sum must have seemed fantastical to her. Ruby ran the tip of her tongue over her teeth. Twenty dollars must have sounded like a fortune to her too.
    “Didn’t either of you ask what the pay was going to be?” When they shook their heads, I said, “But that’s the most important piece of information.”
    Ruby ignored the criticism. “What happens when your father finds out you’re dancing?”
    I jutted my chin. “Fathers like to give orders and tell you what to do. The next minute? Who are you ? Get out of my way! Having a worthless daughter isn’t just something Chinese say. It’s been in our culture for—”
    Grace cleared her throat. “My father said I could have anythingand do anything I want in America. That’s why he forced me to take dance and singing lessons with the other girls in town. He made me do everything they did.”
    I wanted to ask, If he’s so great, then what are you doing here? But I didn’t, because her talent and her pluck couldn’t hide the fact that offstage she seemed barely above a frightened street urchin. But then Ruby saw only her own light and heard her own music, and I was happy to be anywhere but in the compound. Yet as dissimilar as we were, it was as clear to me as chrysanthemum jelly that all three of us were alone in the world—each in our own ways. I saw, felt , an invisible string of connection tying us together.
    Since the conversation seemed to have reached its end, Grace went back to fingering her chopsticks. Finally, she asked, “Could one of you gals teach me how to use these?”
    “You don’t use chopsticks?” The idea was astounding.
    “I’ve never seen them before, so how could I know how to use them? Plain City …” Grace hunched her shoulders, humbled, embarrassed. “How do you eat soup with sticks?”
    “Cripes!” Ruby exclaimed again.
    We showed Grace how to pick up the noodles with the chopsticks and dangle them over her porcelain soupspoon before lifting them to her mouth. She was beyond hopeless, but she ate like she hadn’t had a meal in a year.
    “You’ll get better,” I promised. “If you can teach me how to tap, then I can certainly teach you how to eat like a proper Chinese.”
    After dinner, we walked back to the telephone exchange, where we spotted Monroe waiting for us. “If you were going to have noodles here in Chinatown, you should have told me,” he said, proving what I’d said about Chinatown’s gossip mill to be true. “Next time, we’ll all meet there. Okay?”
    Grace, excited, grabbed Ruby’s and my hands. What was it about these girls and all their touching? Didn’t they have any manners?
    “Thank you,” Grace said to Monroe, whose cheeks went crimson. “Thank you so much for letting us see each other again.”
    I waved goodbye to my new friends and let Monroe escort me home. Most people rented apartments, but not my family. Our home took up nearly a whole block. We occupied an American version of a Chinese compound, with four sides, each with two stories, surrounding an interior courtyard. My six oldest brothers, already married with wives and children, inhabited the side wings. Monroe and I lived with our parents in the back of the compound, where we also had the public rooms. The laundry-supply business faced the street.
    Monroe opened the gate, and we walked across the inner courtyard, which was littered with tricycles, balls, and other toys. Suddenly, he stopped and turned to me.
    “What are you doing?” he asked gently.
    “I’m trying to

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