The Foremost Good Fortune

The Foremost Good Fortune by Susan Conley Read Free Book Online

Book: The Foremost Good Fortune by Susan Conley Read Free Book Online
Authors: Susan Conley
    “Oh no!” Aidan calls out.
    Thorne laughs out loud. He does that when he’s nervous. “They told me I was in a place foreigners shouldn’t go. They were mad. But then”—Tony props his head up on his elbow—“the police decided to take me to dinner.”
    “Dinner?” Aidan can’t believe it. “So they were not mad anymore?”
    “No. Especially,” Tony turns to me and says, “after they plied me with baijiu [a kind of Chinese grappa] and got me to tell them about Cyndi Lauper. Then they put me on a bus to Kashgar.”
    I have this new image in my head of my husband as a twenty-year-old, six-foot, brown-haired backpacker winning over the local security. Here he wants to talk to strangers. In the States he was more reticent.
    In Boston he’d come alive in a cramped Chinese restaurant called Wings. It was a basement place on a busy Chinatown corner, and the food became Tony’s conduit to the mainland. I didn’t know the names of China’s provinces then; I just knew what tasted delicious. We lived in Boston for seven years. Tony became friends with the owner, Mr. Wong, and his wife, who did most of the cooking. Each time we stepped down into the drop-ceilinged dining room, Tony transformed into a chatterbox—a man who could debate the finer qualities of braised eggplant with Mr. Wong in Mandarin with a rapturous look on his face.
    My husband stayed close to his parents after their divorce. His mother is a designer who lives on an island in Maine now. His father made a life as a marble sculptor with Tony’s stepmother in New Hampshire. Tony has a track team of nine combined siblings and a posse of friends across the States, but in 1985 he thought nothing of going off the grid in China’s mountains alone for months.
    Tony sits up quickly in the kang and grabs Aidan’s ankle and starts tickling his toes until Aidan screams, he’s laughing so hard. Then Thorne joins in and they wrestle until Tony crawls back under the quilt. “I give up!”
    “What did you do in Kashgar?” I ask. I still find it hard to understand how he got around—how he lived on the road without a plan.
    “There was this group of older, bearded Muslim men there who tended their gardens in the mornings and talked to me while they smoked in the shade in the afternoons. They were Uighurs. They wanted to hear about the rest of the world. To hear about America,” Tony explains. I try to imagine my husband sitting in a Uighur courtyard talking to the elders about the beaches of California.
    Behind our guesthouse is a sign directing us to the Great Wall with a carved arrow that looks like it points straight up the cliff. Tony and Thorne leave to climb, and I convince Aidan to stay on the ground. He is only four years old, after all—two whole years younger than Thorne. Aidan and I walk to the outdoor dining room for milk tea and a bowl of delicious vanilla yogurt they serve here with golden raisins from the mountain. We sip our tea and watch a scraggly white duck paddle in what’s left of the river. “Why can’t the duck fly?” Aidan asks.
    “It’s been clipped,” I explain. “Someone has cut one of its wings just enough so it can’t take off.”
    The Tibetan waitress smiles when I ask her where the fish have gone. She tells me in English that the restaurants in Huairou mostly farm their trout in freshwater concrete pools. She’s eighteen, on a work visa from Tibet. She misses her family, she says. Soon the ranch will close for the winter. It’s already almost too cold to stay in the unheated rooms. Then, she explains, she’ll take a train for four days across China, back up into the Tibetan plateau, where her people are from.
    She leaves to begin chopping garlic and ginger for dinner. I ask Aidan what he likes most about China so far. He says he likes some of the boys he’s met. “The older boys.” And by that he means Thorne’s six-year-old friends. “But I liked the sleeping better in Portland.” “The

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