Michelle Richmond Dream of the Blue Room

ISBN 13: 9781931561242

Dream of the Blue Room

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9781931561242: Dream of the Blue Room
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On a warm July night, thirty-two-year-old Jenny finds herself sitting on the deck of a Chinese cruise ship next to a charming but secretive stranger. Her husband is down in their cabin sleeping, and in Jenny's lap is a cookie tin containing the ashes of her best friend, Amanda Ruth, brutally murdered fourteen years earlier in a small Alabama town.
In this foreign landscape, filled with ancient cities that will soon be inundated by the rising waters of the Yangtze River, Jenny must confront her haunted past and decide the direction of her future. As the ship moves slowly upriver, from one abandoned village to another, Jenny journeys deeper into her own guilt and eroticism.

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About the Author:

Michelle Richmond is the author of the critically acclaimed story collection The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress, which won the Associated Writing Programs Award for Short Fiction. She holds an MFA from the University of Miami, where she was a James Michener Fellow.

A native of Alabama, Richmond lives in Northern California, where she teaches in the MFA Program in Writing at the University of San Francisco and edits the online literary journal Fiction Attic. Her stories and essays have appeared in Glimmer Train, Other Voices, Salon.com, Travelers' Tales, Gulf Coast, and elsewhere.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Dusk settles over Yeuyang. At outdoor tables, people talk and laugh and follow me with their eyes. I wander into the darkest alley I can find, away from the scrutiny of so many onlookers. The blue lights of tiny television sets flicker through the windows of bamboo huts and hutongs, centuries-old structures of stone and brick. Through the narrow doorways I can see into open courtyards. In one, a young girl is bathing by candlelight in a metal tub; her wet hair flows over the edge of the tub and touches the ground. Beside her an old woman dozes. In another courtyard a child bends over a basin, brushing his teeth. From some hidden room come familiar sounds; someone is making love.

All night long I wander. Gradually, the village drifts off to sleep. At some point I find myself on a hillside, walking between the terraced rows of a newly harvested paddy field. I take off my shoes, feeling cool mud between my toes. It reaches above my ankles, making a pleasant sucking sound as I walk. The fields look green and damp in the moonlight. I remember nights on Epson Downs Street as a child, how I would wake in someone else’s yard. Looking down I would see my yellow nightgown and know that I had been sleepwalking. In the stillness of the suburban night I felt a familiar panic. The smell of chlorine from neighbors’ pools tinted the humid summer air. Dogs barked. In the distance, eighteen-wheelers lumbered by on the highway. Crickets chirped, oak branches moaned, pool filters hummed, the summer night filled me with a secret longing and an unnamed fear. I raced in the direction of home, certain my bare feet left telltale prints in the neighbors’ lawns. In the morning they would wake, go outside to fetch their papers, and see the shape of my foot in their otherwise impeccable grass. I was sure they would call my parents, and I would be grounded for trespassing.

At some point I am overwhelmed by a desperate need for sleep. My body aches with tiredness. At the edge of the paddy field I come upon a small square of packed red earth. I clean my feet and ankles with grass, pull my sweater around me and lie down on my back. The moon overhead is nearly round, the earth still damp from rain. Cars whisper on some distant road. There is the sound of night creatures, crickets, as loud as those of my childhood, their frantic hum playing backup to the silvering rush of the river. I feel an unfamiliar sensation in my brain—a shutting down, a slow and soundless closing, a relief, a deep and dreamless nothing. Sleep.

At dawn, emerging from the fields, I find myself in another, smaller village. The sun has just begun to come up, and the village is still damp from the night, flushed an orangey pink. Entering this place I feel as if I have been here before. The slope of the narrow street, the eaves of the houses casting shadows on the pavement, the sound of footsteps in an alley—a plastic shoe hitting someone’s heel, again and again and again—this rhythm I remember, this smell of new rain and old clothes dripping on a line. From out of nowhere, then, another familiar sound, the ringing of a telephone. I pass an alley and there, beneath the joined eaves of two houses, a young woman sits behind a table. In front of her is a red rotary dial telephone, and beside that an oil lamp, its wick glowing orange. The young woman speaks into the phone, sees me, then hangs up, shouting something out to me.

"Ni hao," I say, not knowing how else to respond.

The young woman gets up from her chair and follows me. "100 yuan America," she shouts. "You talk America, 100 yuan!"

A curtain parts on an upstairs window, and an old woman looks down at us. Then, at another window, a man. "No, thank you," I say, as quietly as possible so as not to attract further attention, but she has grabbed my arm and is urging me to come with her. She is surprisingly strong. "100 yuan! You call America!"

Soon lights begin to flicker on, and the windows of the houses along the narrow alley are crowded with onlookers. It seems the whole street has awakened to witness this transaction. A young man is laughing, calling from his window, "You call America!" He is naked, the dark of his pubic hair showing just above the window sill. A bare white arm reaches around his waist, a girl’s face appears, and she pulls him back. The curtain falls into place. I jerk my arm away and begin running. Behind me, the young woman’s curses, the laughter of the people in the windows, the high whining sound of an erhu. Moments later I am alone again in the orange-tinted street, the only sound the rush of the river, the quick bursts of my own breath.

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