The Diary of Li Na
                     Fiction by John Lowry

      I was on the subway, on my way home, when I noticed a couple.  The
girl was young, maybe nineteen, her dark hair in bangs.  She had high cheek-
bones, a cool expression, and carried a large, red leather handbag.  The young
man was tall and supercilious.  He wore glasses and one knee of his jeans was
torn out.  They seemed to be avoiding each other’s gaze.  I thought they were
married until I noticed the girl was not wearing a ring.  At Fourteenth Street,
the young man wanted to get off.  The girl did not.  They exchanged harsh
words, half in English, half in Chinese.  He pulled her off the train onto the
platform.  She wrestled herself free and tried to get back on.  The door closed
and caught her bag.  She screamed.  The train started to move and she let go
of it.  I jumped up and pulled the bag out of the door.  You’ll have to take that
to the police, a plump woman said, lowering her book.  I know, I said shortly.  
She smiled.  Just in case, she said.  Instead, I took it home.  I placed the bag
on the kitchen table and sat down.  It had three pockets on each side.  I
carefully investigated them.  One contained the expected: lipsticks and eyeliner,
tweezers and three sizes of combs, and two tiny bottles of perfume, blue, and
smelling like the sea.  Another had pictures: schoolgirls in white blouses and
plaid skirts, their arms around one another.  One was smiling, the other was not.  
The girl from the train, I decided.  There was one of the couple.  They were at
a resort, a pool in the background.  The young man was exuberant, laughing
and waving his arm in the air.  Again, the girl was almost expressionless.  And
finally, someone’s parents, thick-bodied and gray, standing with a dog in front
of a house with snow on the roof.  The dog looked almost as old.  I found
canceled tickets to movies and plays, a page torn from a telephone directory
with a number circled in red, and a color picture of Mount Everest, the
shadow of an airplane on its side.  In the last pocket, I discovered a red
notebook with green flowers on the cover.  The Diary of Li Na was written in
purple ink on the first page, the handwriting neat and small.  Today, the first
entry said, I bought the most cool shoes, purple and feeling velvety.  It is
absolutely sad that after six weeks I will like them no more.  I must buy
another pair and another!  Ha says my feet are delightful.  I wash them, paint
them, perfume them so he can suck on my toes.  It gives me such a sensation!  
My toes are having sex!  Grandmother Ho-Cha (Wing) died last week.  She
was born ancient though I know that is not possible.  Her greatest pleasure
was chewing gum.  Once I got drunk and chewed tobacco.  It made me
vomit for hours.  I had bad breath forever!  Ha said I smelled like fertilizer.  I
wonder what I am doing?  School.  Studying until my head falls off.  My
parents.  Ha.  And money!  Money!  Always money!  And Ha is so arrogant!  
Our sex is always great.  He is going to be my husband!  If I tell him I have no
excitement, he is furious!  I will soon be twenty-one, the start of old age.  
When I am thirty-one, my body will be bloated and worn because of children,
my heart a pool of regret and sadness because of my stupid life.  I will
accomplish nothing.  No one will remember me.  Maybe I could fall asleep
forever?  Maybe there will be a better life in my dreams?  This upset me.  I
turned to a fresh page and wrote:  Li Na, this is foolish!  It is true that life is
hard and, from time to time, we all feel discouraged.  But you are so young!  
You can do so many things!  Learn to swim!  Learn to play the piano!  Make
a movie; become a scientist and cure diseases!  Travel!  Above all, do what
you want to do!  Do not please people!  Nature will bring life to a close.  
When you look back you must know that you have tried, that you have done
what is right for you.  I signed my name, Gran Wilkes, and enclosed my e-mail
address.  I closed up the purse and took it to the Lost and Found Department
of the New York City Transit Authority.  It was a dreary room with green
walls and racks filled with umbrellas, books, and cell phones.  The clerk,
stooped and bald, spoke in a low voice.  They would keep the purse for a
year.  Sixty percent of items are claimed.  If not? I said.  He shrugged.  They
were auctioned off.  I went home resigned to the fact that Li Na might never
retrieve her purse.  Life went on.  I got engaged, but my fiancée, a travel
agent, met someone in London and broke it off.  I got a promotion at work
and bought an apartment.  For some reason, I got a dog but he spent most
of the time under the bed, growling.  I gave him to a friend who declared him
to be wonderful.  He just didn’t like me.  On Christmas Eve, I got an e-mail
from Li Na.  She was amazed that I found her purse and returned it to her.  
And my comments in her diary had inspired her.  She had left Ha.  He was
a brute, telling her how much he loved her while stealing the money
Grandmother Wing had left her.  She had moved to San Francisco.  A friend
had gotten her a job at an internet start-up.  They shared an apartment
overlooking the harbor.  Many mornings, she woke up to see the Golden
Gate Bridge rising through fog.  Her phone was always ringing.  She was
going out constantly and had many offers of marriage.  But why?  Her life is
exciting!  Last weekend she took a ride in a hot air balloon.  The pilot said
she was the most brave of his passengers.  He took her to dinner.  He is from
South Africa.  His family grows wine and live in a mansion.  She is thinking
of taking a trip to visit with him.  And, before she gets too old, she wants to
see an elephant in the wild.  In exactly one year, she will return to New
York and will appear on my doorstep.  I was happy for Li Na.  In January,
Rene returned from London.  She fell into my arms and cried.  She had made
a mistake.  Could we possibly love again?  We agreed to meet in a
restaurant to discuss the question.  I took a cab and at a stoplight glanced
out the window.   I saw Li Na and Ha walking down the street.  Ha now
wore a silk tie and an elegant coat.  Li Na had the same red handbag and
now a baby hanging on her chest like a papoose.  I almost called out her
name.  The light changed and we sped off.     




                        ____________________________


John Lowry’s work has appeared in In Posse Review, Danforth Review,
Fiction, The Quarterly, and Prism International.  


On “The Diary of Li Na”:    
I saw the characters I call Li Na and Ho on the subway returning to
Brooklyn.  They were doing their best to ignore one another and after
they got off the story started coming to me in bits and pieces.  It
struck me as a bit silly and I kept telling myself I didn’t want to write
it but the next morning the story was in my head and, to use Scott
Fitzgerald’s expression, crying to be written.


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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary
Literature
 

ISSN 1931-3888

Volume 3, Number 1
(Spring 2008)

Copyright © 2008
by Leah Browning, Editor.  

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