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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Severance

A Novel

Ling Ma

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK

1


The End begins before you are ever aware of it. It passes as ordinary. I had gone over to my boyfriend’s place in Greenpoint directly after work. I liked to stay over on hot summer nights because the basement was cool and damp at night. We made dinner, veggie stir-fry with rice. We had showered and watched a movie projected on his wall.

The screening was Manhattan, which I’d never seen before, and even though I found the May–December romance between Mariel Hemingway and Woody Allen kind of creepy, I loved all the opening shots of New York set to the Gershwin soundtrack, and I loved the scene in which Woody Allen and Diane Keaton get caught in the rain in Central Park, and they seek shelter in the Museum of Natural History, wet and cocooned in the cavern darkness of the planetary display. Just looking at New York on the screen, the city was made new for me again, and I saw it as I once did in high school: romantic, shabby, not totally gentrified, full of promise. It made me wistful for the illusion of New York more than for its actuality, after having lived there for five years. And as the movie ended and we turned off the lights and lay down side by side on his mattress, I was thinking about how New York is possibly the only place in which most people have already lived, in some sense, in the public imagination, before they ever arrive.

I was saying some of this to him, the shapeless mass lying next to me in the dark, when he interrupted and said, Listen to me. Look at me. I have something to tell you.

His name was Jonathan and he liked to party. Not really. His name was Jonathan and he was high-rolling. He owned a laptop, a coffee maker, a movie projector; everything else went to rent. He ate air and dust. We had been together for almost five years, about as long as I’d been at my job. Jonathan didn’t work in the nine-to-five sense. He did odd freelance gigs here and there so that he could spend most of his time writing. Divested of most obligations, he lived cheaply, held jobs when he could find them. Once, for a secret Wall Street club, he was hired to slap middle-aged businessmen for a living. I used to clasp his face between my palms, his expression wrought with worry, with unassuaged anxiety.

Okay, I said. What is it?

He took out his retainer, didn’t place it in the mug on the floor but held it there in his hand. It was going to be a short conversation. He said, I’m leaving New York.

What, you didn’t like the movie?

No, I’m serious. Be serious for once.

I’m always serious, I deadpanned. So, when are you leaving?

He paused. In another month. Thom is sailing up to this—

I sat up, tried to look at him, but my eyes hadn’t adjusted. Wait, what are you saying?

I’m saying I’m leaving New York.

No, what you’re saying is, you’re breaking up with me.

That’s not— He looked at me. Okay. I’m breaking up with you.

Lead with that.

It’s not you.

Okay.

No, it’s not you, he said, grabbing my hand. It’s this place, this city and what it turns a person into. We talked about this.

In the past year, Jonathan had become increasingly disillusioned with living in New York. Something along the lines of: the city, New York fucking City, tedious and boring, its charms as illusory as its facade of authenticity. Its lines were too long. Everything was a status symbol and everything cost too much. There were so many on-trend consumers, standing in lines for blocks to experience a fad dessert, gimmicky art exhibits, a new retail concept store. We were all making such uninspired lifestyle choices. We, including me.

Me, nothing really weighed on me, nothing unique. Me, I held down an office job and fiddled around with some photography when the moon hit the Gowanus right. Or something like that, the usual ways of justifying your life, of passing time. With the money I made, I bought Shiseido facial exfoliants, Blue Bottle coffee, Uniqlo cashmere.

What do you call a cross between a yuppie and a hipster? A yupster. Per Urban Dictionary.

Then he said, You should leave New York too.

Why would I do that?

Because you hate your job.

I don’t hate it. It’s okay.

Name one time, one time when you really like it.

Every Friday night.

Exactly.

I’m kidding. You don’t even know what I do. I mean, not really.

You work at a production firm in publishing. You oversee the manufacture of books in third-world countries. Stop me if I’m wrong.

I had worked at Spectra for almost five years. We worked with publishers who paid us to coordinate book production that we outsourced to printers in Southeast Asia, mostly China. The name Spectra suggested the ostensibly impressive range of book products we were capable of producing: Cookbooks, Children’s Books, Stationery, Art Books, Gift and Specialty. I worked in Bibles. The company had huge collective buying power, so we offered even cheaper manufacture rates than individual publishers could achieve on their own, driving foreign labor costs down even further. Obviously Jonathan kind of despised what I did. Maybe I did too.

I changed the subject. Where are you going? When?

Sometime next month. I’m going to help Thom sail on his yacht. The idea is to end up in Puget Sound.

I scoffed. Thom was Wall Street, a client from the club where Jonathan once worked. I said, Right. Like he doesn’t crush on you and expect something in return.

You think like that because you live in a market economy.

And you don’t?

He didn’t say anything.

Sometimes, I said, I think you hold it against me for not being more like you.

Are you kidding? You’re so much more like me than you think. In the dark, I could see him winking, bittersweetly. Want to do a sumo roll? he said.

The sumo roll was when he would roll across the bed, and when he reached me, he would compress his body into mine, belly to belly, until I was sunken into the mattress, obliterated, and then he would roll away. This repeated until I convulsed from laughing too hard.

No, I don’t want to do a sumo roll, I said.

Ready?

When he rolled on top of me, he weighed into me fiercely, indenting me into the bedding. He could be so heavy when he wanted. I squeezed my hands into fists. I squeezed my eyes together. I made my body stiff as a board, inhospitable. Slowly, I felt him lessening. I felt him stop. He could feel me shaking. He put his dry, hard palm on my forehead, as if he were taking a sick person’s temperature.

Stop crying, he said. Don’t cry. Please.

He offered me some water but I stood up and retrieved some Evian from my bag. I sat down on the edge of the mattress, taking small, worthless sips.

Lie down, please, he said. Will you lie next to me?

I lay down, next to him, both of us on our backs. We stared up at the ceiling.

Jonathan broke the silence. In a timorous voice, he said he could see clearly now, could see the future. The future is more exponentially exploding rents. The future is more condo buildings, more luxury housing bought by shell companies of the global wealthy elite. The future is more Whole Foods, aisles of refrigerated cut fruit packaged in plastic containers. The future is more Urban Outfitters, more Sephoras, more Chipotles. The future just wants more consumers. The future is more newly arrived college grads and tourists in some fruitless search for authenticity. The future is more overpriced Pabsts at dive-bar simulacrums. Something something Rousseau something. Manhattan is sinking.

What, literally? Because of global warming? I snarked.

Don’t make fun of me. And yes, literally and figuratively.

The thing was, I didn’t disagree with what he was saying. It is an impossible place to live. My salary was enough to keep my head above water month to month. Given my rent and lack of financial savvy, I had very little in savings, let alone retirement funds. There was very little keeping me here. I didn’t own property. I didn’t have family. I’d be priced out of every borough in another decade.

But having heard all this before, I began to tune out, thinking about what I would do next. When he nudged me, I realized he was asking me a question. He was saying, Would I consider leaving New York with him? We could do it together.

What would we do? I asked.

We would live together and take part-time jobs, he said. I would write and finish my book. You could work on your art too. I could make a darkroom for you to develop your photos.

Can you even have a darkroom on a boat?

Well, not during the trip. I was thinking that afterward, we could settle in Oregon. There are some cheaper areas out there in the rural Pacific Northwest.

I guess I’ll be a nature photographer, I said drily.

Some R&B track with jumpy bass tremored the ceiling. It was that time of night again, when the neighbor upstairs brooded to sad songs with good beats. I didn’t think much of my photographs. When I first moved to New York, I had created a photo blog called NY Ghost. It was mostly pictures of the city. The intent was to show new, undiscovered aspects of New York from an outsider’s perspective, but in retrospect, the pictures just looked clichéd and trope-y: neon-tinged diners, gas-slicked streets, subway train cars packed with tired commuters, people sitting out on fire escapes during the summer—basically, variations of the same preexisting New York iconography that permeates calendars, rom-coms, souvenirs, stock art. They could have been hung in any business hotel room. Even the better, more artfully composed images were just Eggleston knockoffs, Stephen Shore derivatives. For these and other reasons, I hardly updated the blog anymore. I hardly took pictures anymore.

Would you at least consider it? Jonathan asked.

I’m not an artist.

Moving with me, I mean.

You’ve already decided to move away. You’re only asking me as an afterthought, let’s be honest.

I didn’t think you would go if I asked, he said sadly.

The song ended, then began again. The neighbor had it on repeat. Jesus. It sounded familiar but I couldn’t name it.

We spoke until our voices grew hoarse, deepening and breaking and fissuring. It lasted early into morning. Our bodies curled inward, away from each other, dry leaves at the end of summer.

In sleep it came to me. The name of the song, I mean: “Who Is It.” Michael Jackson. My mother used to play it in the car when I was a kid. She loved to drive. She drove down long, unfurling Utah freeways on aimless, drifting afternoons, while my father was at work and I was still too young to be left alone. We would go to other towns to buy just one carton of eggs, one pint of half-and-half that she mistook for milk. I was six, and had only been in the U.S. for a few months, newly transplanted from Fuzhou. I was still dazed at the variety and surplus of the supermarkets, miles of boxes and bottles lit with fluorescent lighting. Supermarkets were my favorite American thing. Driving was my mother’s favorite American thing, and she drove in a very American way: fast, down empty freeways before rush hour, skimming through cathedral canyons and red rock, her long black hair billowing everywhere, like in the movies. Why move to America if you can’t drive? she’d say, never breaking her speed as we veered toward exit ramps, stop signs, traffic lights.

* * *

I woke up like I had a cold, my head heavy, my throat sore. Light peeked in through the blinds of the windows above us, and I heard footfalls on the sidewalk. Right away, I knew that I had overslept. The alarm hadn’t gone off, and I was going to be late. In his tiny bathroom, rusty pipes cursed loudly for cold tap. I brushed my teeth, splashed cold water on my face. Put on yesterday’s work outfit, a pencil skirt and a button-up shirt.

Jonathan was still asleep, swathed in gray threadbare sheets. I left him there.

Outside, the air was surprisingly cold for a July morning. I walked up the basement stoop and crossed the street to the Polish bakery for a coffee. The woman behind the counter was setting out a pan of something. Apple cider donuts. Steam rose off them and fogged up the windows. All the pedestrians in Greenpoint were bundled up in their cold-weather finery, red autumnal plaids and flourishes of thick, lustrous flannel, even though it was summer. For a moment I wondered if I hadn’t just slept for months. Maybe I’d Rip-Van-Winkled my way out of a job. I would arrive to find someone else sitting in my office, my belongings in a box. I would return to my studio and find someone else living there. I would start over.

I walked to the J train, thinking up excuses for being late. I could say that I had overslept, though I’d used that one time too many. I could say there had been a family emergency, except my boss knew my parents were deceased and I had no other relatives living in the States. I could say that my apartment had been robbed, but that was too big a story. Plus, it had actually happened before. They’d taken everything; they’d stripped my bedsheets. Afterward, someone had said, You’re officially a New Yorker now, as if this were a point of pride.

Looking out at the gray East River as the J crossed the Williamsburg Bridge, I decided that I’d just claim I was sick. I looked like I was sick, my eyes clustered with puffiness and dark bags. At work, they knew me to be capable but fragile. Quiet, clouded up with daydreams. Usually diligent, though sometimes inconsistent, moody. But also something else, something implacable: I was unsavvy in some fundamental, uncomfortable way. The sound of my loud, nervous laugh, like gargling gravel, was a social liability. I skipped too many office parties. They kept me on because my output was prolific and they could task me with more and more production assignments. When I focused, a trait I exhibited at the beginning of my time there, I could be detail-oriented to the point of obsession.

At Canal, I transferred to the N to ride all the way to Times Square. A light rain had begun to fall by the time I emerged aboveground. Spectra’s glass office, housed on the thirty-first and thirty-second floors of a midcentury building, were located a few blocks away. The rain scattered the tourists as I ducked and weaved through their dense sidewalk congregations down Broadway, accidentally banging my knees into their Sephora and Disney Store bags. A street saxophonist played “New York, New York,” his eyes closed in feeling. The cluster of tourists around him seemed moved, if not by the quality of his playing, which was drowned out by the trains roaring beneath our feet, then by his pained expression, a sorrow that seemed more authentic than performative. When the song ended and he emptied his Starbucks cup of dollars, he looked up, straight at me. I hurried away, embarrassed.

You’re late, said Manny, the building doorman. He was sitting behind the reception desk, cleaning his glasses with the same Windex he used to wipe down the revolving glass doors every morning and evening.

I’m sick, I told him.

Here. For your health. From a drawer, he put out a pint of blueberries, and I grabbed a handful.

Thank you. Manny always brought amazing fruit to work. Mangoes, peeled lychee, diced pineapple with salt sprinkled all over it. Whenever I asked him where he bought his produce, he’d only say, Not Whole Foods.

You’re not sick, he said, putting his glasses back on.

I’m ill, I maintained. Look at my eyes.

He smiled. You don’t know how easy you’ve got it. He said it without malice, but it stung anyway. I stepped into the elevator, pretending his comment didn’t cut me.

When I disembarked on the thirty-second floor and swiped my employee key card at the wide glass doors, the halls were empty. So were the cubicles. The big, sweeping SVP offices that I passed every morning, made of glass as if to suggest corporate transparency, also sat empty. Had I forgotten about some meeting? My heels sank into the newly vacuumed plush carpeting. It was almost eleven. I followed the din of voices down the hall, which opened up to the atrium.

They were in the middle of a meeting. They meaning everyone, all two-hundred-odd Spectra employees standing in the atrium, crowding around the glass staircase that connected the thirty-first and thirty-second floors. The CEO, Michael Reitman, stood on the staircase, speaking into a microphone. Next to him stood Carole, the Human Resources manager, whom I recognized by her severe bob.

Michael was wrapping up a speech. He said: Spectra is a company run by people, and we take your health very seriously. As our business relies on overseas suppliers, especially those in southern China, we are taking precautionary measures with this announcement of Shen Fever. We are working in accordance with the New York State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the next few weeks, we will keep you abreast of new updates for keeping you safe. We would appreciate your cooperation and compliance.

Scattered applause rained down on us. I joined the flock as inconspicuously as possible. As I scanned the crowd for friendly faces, Blythe caught my eye. She used to work in Bibles, but since her transfer to Art Books, she sometimes pretended I didn’t exist. I’d try my luck.

Hey, I whispered, sidling up to her. What’s going on?

Public health scare. She passed me a handout, printed on Spectra letterhead, labeled “Shen Fever FAQ.” I skimmed it, catching the most alarming parts:

In its initial stages, Shen Fever is difficult to detect. Early symptoms include memory lapse, headaches, disorientation, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Because these symptoms are often mistaken for the common cold, patients are often unaware they have contracted Shen Fever. They may appear functional and are still able to execute rote, everyday tasks. However, these initial symptoms will worsen.

Later-stage symptoms include signs of malnourishment, lapse of hygiene, bruising on the skin, and impaired motor coordination. Patients’ physical movements may appear more effortful and clumsy. Eventually, Shen Fever results in a fatal loss of consciousness. From the moment of contraction, symptoms may develop over the course of one to four weeks, based on the strength of the patient’s immune system.

Shen Fever had been in the news through the summer, like a West Nile thing. I swallowed, remembering how I’d woken up with a sore throat. I tried to pass the flyer back to Blythe, who waved it away.

Carole clapped her hands. Okay, now, let’s take questions.

Seth, Senior Product Coordinator of Gifts and Specialty, raised his hand. As if reading my mind, he asked, So is this like the West Nile virus or something?

Michael shook his head. West Nile is an easy, but inaccurate, comparison. West Nile is transmitted to humans from mosquitoes. Shen Fever is a fungal infection, so it’s transmitted by breathing in fungal spores. And it’s not a virus. It rarely spreads from person to person, except perhaps in extreme cases.

Frances, Product Manager of Cookbooks, was the second person with her hand up. Is this an epidemic?

Carole took the microphone from Michael to answer: At this point, Shen Fever is considered an outbreak, not an epidemic. The rate of transmission is not rapid enough. It is fairly contained so far.

Lane, Senior Product Coordinator in Art, said, It says here on the FAQ sheet that Shen Fever originated in Shenzhen, China. So how are fungal spores from China getting here?

Michael nodded. Good question. Researchers aren’t sure of how Shen Fever made its way to the U.S., but the popular theory is that it somehow traveled here through the shipment of goods from China to the States. That’s why businesses like ours were notified by the health department.

Lane followed up with another question. We handle lots of prototypes and other samples shipped from our suppliers in China, she said. So how do we make sure we’re not coming in contact with the fungus?

Carole cleared her throat. The New York State Department of Health has not mandated work restrictions. But, as you know, your health is our first priority, and the company is taking precautions. Can I ask the interns to come around? We are distributing personal-care kits to every employee. I’d like everyone to look through the contents. Inside, you’ll find some protective tools, such as gloves and masks to use when handling prototypes.

The interns pushed mail carts piled high with cardboard containers the size of shoe boxes, which they distributed to everyone. The boxes were printed with the company name and its prism logo. We crowded around the mail carts.

Michael wrapped up the meeting. You can send further questions to Carole or me. Look out in your email for any updates to this situation.

We quickly dispersed after receiving our boxes. I opened up my personal care kit on the spot. There were two sets of N95 face masks and latex gloves, each imprinted with the Spectra logo. There were some New Age–looking herbal tinctures. I opened up the brochure. It detailed an expanded insurance plan. Last, at the bottom of the box, lay a cache of nutrition bars from a health company for which we’d produced a cookbook that contained recipes for transforming nutrition bars into desserts.

I unwrapped a nutrition bar. I hadn’t eaten any breakfast.

Out the glass floor-to-ceiling windows, the city didn’t look any different, not really. The Coca-Cola sign gleamed, winking. I thought about going downstairs to get a cappuccino before checking emails, but I didn’t want to scuttle past Manny and his judgmental gaze. A few employees were talking amongst themselves, the din of their conversation magnified by the respirator masks that they’d put on as a joke.

Hey again.

I turned around. It was Blythe.

I knocked on your door earlier, she said. The Hong Kong office called me, about the Gemstone Bible job. They said they tried to call you.

I stiffened. Maybe the Hong Kong office wanted to tell me that something had gone wrong with the manufacture. They probably called Blythe because she used to work in Bibles.

I’m running a bit late today, but I’ll check my messages, I said finally.

She looked at me skeptically. Okay. Well, you know, in our department, we assign two product coordinators per book project—a main person, and another backup. We’ve found this method pretty helpful whenever one of us is out.

By us, I guess she meant the other girls who worked in Art. The Art Girls, for they were all invariably girls—colt-legged, flaxen-haired, in their late twenties, possessors of discounted Miu Miu and Prada, holders of degrees in Art History or Visual Studies, frequenters of gallery openings, swishers of pinot, nibblers of canapés—carried themselves like a rarefied breed, peacocking through the hallways in Fracas-scented flocks. They worked exclusively on the most detail-intensive, design-savvy projects—coffee-table books and color-sensitive exhibition catalogs. Their clients were galleries, museum presses, and, most important, the big glossy art publishers. Phaidon, Rizzoli, and Taschen. Lane, Blythe, and Delilah. Everyone wanted to be an Art Girl. I wanted to be an Art Girl.

I’ll take care of it, I echoed emptily. Did Hong Kong say what was wrong with the Gemstone Bible?

She looked away, embarrassed at my need for specificity. They didn’t say. They did mention they want to get a response from New Gate today if possible. With that, she turned and walked away.

I walked back to the Bible department. I unlocked the door of my office, closed the door, dropped all my belongings, and breathed a sigh of relief.

My office was small, the size of a supply closet, with a tiny window. I could close the door and shut out all views of Times Square, though its sounds still penetrated. Back when TRL aired, during my first year working at Spectra, in 2006, the afternoon shrieks of bridge-and-tunnel teens outside MTV Studios would resound through the walls. Sometimes I could still hear their phantom hysteria in the afternoons.

The one window was a small circular thing, as if I were aboard a submarine. If I squinted and craned my neck a certain way, I could see Bryant Park. Before the fashion shows moved to Lincoln Center, I would gaze out at the clutter of white tents popping up in the park like umbrellas. The spring collections showed in September. The fall collections showed in February. In this way, five years passed.

My position was Senior Product Coordinator of the Bibles division. No one can work in Bibles that long without coming to a certain respect for the object itself. It is a temperamental, difficult animal, its fragile pages prone to ripping, its book block prone to warping, especially in the humidity of South Asian monsoon season. Of any book, the Bible embodies the purest form of product packaging, the same content repackaged a million times over, in new combinations ad infinitum. Every season, I was trotted out to publisher clients to expound on the latest trends in synthetic leathers, the newest developments in foil embossing and gilding. I have overseen production on so many Bibles that I can’t look at one without disassembling it down to its varied, assorted offal: paper stock, ribbon marker, endsheets, mull lining, and cover. It is the best-selling book of the year, every year.

I sat down at my desk. Once I started, I was good at losing myself. I popped some Tylenol, and the morning passed in a blur. I answered emails. I measured spine widths to the exact millimeter. I ordered updated prototypes of Bibles for clients. I drew up specs for new Bible projects, sent them to the Hong Kong office for an estimate. I calculated the volume and weight of books to estimate packing and shipping costs. I received a call from an Illinois publisher, and assured their team over speakerphone that the paper for their prayer-book series was indeed FSC certified, without the use of tropical hardwoods. I don’t remember if I took lunch or not.

All day, I kept putting off doing something I dreaded. The Gemstone Bible, marketed toward preteen girls, was to be packaged with a keepsake semiprecious gemstone on a sterling alloy chain. The Bibles were already printed, but the jewelry hadn’t arrived, so they couldn’t assemble and shrink-wrap the bundles. Earlier that day, the Hong Kong office had emailed with bad news. The gemstone supplier that Spectra had initially contracted for the job had unexpectedly closed. Several of their workers had developed various forms of lung diseases. A class-action lawsuit had been filed on behalf of the workers, leading to the closure of the supplier.

I Googled pneumoconiosis and drew up images of lungs in formaldehyde, lungs that had been X-rayed, lungs shriveled up into morel mushrooms. With the force of the images in front of me, I picked up the phone and called the production editor at New Gate Publishing, based in Atlanta. I took a deep breath and explained the situation.

What’s pneumoconiosis? she asked, on the other end of the line.

Pneumoconiosis is an umbrella term for a group of lung diseases, I said. The workers who grind and polish semiprecious stones, they’ve been breathing in this dust and developing lung diseases, without their knowledge, for months, even years. Apparently, from what Hong Kong is telling me, the lawsuit claims that the workers have been working in rooms without ventilation systems or any sort of respirator equipment.

This doesn’t have anything to do with the Shen Fever thing that’s been in the news, does it?

This is unrelated, I confirmed. This is a matter of workers’ rights and safety. The gemstone granules are tearing up their lungs. That’s why it’s a particularly urgent matter.

A silence at the other end of the line.

I mean, they’re dying, I clarified. The supplier is putting all its contract jobs on hold. Hello?

Finally she spoke, slowly and stiffly. I don’t want to sound like we don’t care, because obviously we do, but this is disappointing news.

I understand, I conceded, then almost couldn’t help myself: But the workers are dying, I repeated, as if I knew.

I mean, the thing is this. There’s nothing else like the Gemstone Bible on the market, and we think a title like this is going to do very, very well. So I want you to tell me where we can go from here, as far as the Gemstone Bible is concerned. Can your Hong Kong office find another supplier?

I had to tread gently. We could try, yes, but this is now an industry-wide problem. It’s not just one gemstone supplier. This isn’t an atypical issue in Guangdong.

Guangdong? Her voice grew incrementally more exasperated.

It’s a province in China, where all the gemstone suppliers are centered. This isn’t an isolated incident. Almost all suppliers are suffering from the same problems and are also suspending production to evade lawsuits.

Almost all, she repeated.

Yes, almost all, I confirmed, then tried a different tack. We could package the Bible with faux gemstone charms instead. We know a plastic supplier—

I could almost hear her shaking her head. No. No. We’re committed to the Gemstone Bible. We placed the order with you guys as the Gemstone Bible. We’re not reconceiving this entire project on the basis of one supplier failing. She was speaking very quickly, her words stumbling over one another. Obviously, it doesn’t reflect well on Spectra that you guys placed this job with a shoddy supplier.

I’m very sorry, I said mechanically. The working conditions—

I know. She sighed. Everyone says placing jobs in China is a risk. There are no rules, no enforcement. But that’s why we used an intermediary like Spectra, because you guys are supposed to eliminate the risk. Otherwise, we could’ve just dealt directly with the suppliers ourselves.

I started, Let’s try—

So what I need you to do, Candace, she continued, is to replace the supplier, find another gemstone source. It can’t be that hard. You need to pull every string you can, call in every favor. Because, honestly, if you can’t produce this, then we’re going to look elsewhere, maybe even in India. Maybe we’ll start working directly with suppliers.

She hung up before I could respond.

It took me a second before I put the receiver down. Then I picked it up and put it down, picked it up and put it down, picked it up and threw it, the receiver unleashing a loud, repeating signal in protest. With both hands, I took the phone and yanked its cords out of the wall, dumping the whole thing into the wastebasket. With my heels on, I jammed my foot into the basket, until I heard plastic crack. I took my foot out, assessed the damage. I took the phone back out of the basket, swabbed it with some antibacterial wipes, reassembled it, and plugged it back in.

I picked up the phone and called Hong Kong. It was six in the morning there, but I knew there would be someone who’d come in early to work. There was always someone. I had been to Spectra’s Hong Kong office. Through the sweeping windows, you could see the sun rising over the shops along Causeway Bay, the Tian Tan Buddha, the Hong Kong Cricket Club, Victoria Park, so named after the colonizing English queen herself, over the mountains and over the sea, rising and rising, an unstoppable force, bringing in a new day of work.


Copyright © 2018 by Ling Ma