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The Short Form

“Extra”

Yiyun Li

Excerpt

She has an odd suspicion that Old Tang is not ill. He knows she is there, and he is observing her secretly. He knows that his wife of fifty-four years has left him for good and that Granny Lin is his new wife, but he refuses to acknowledge her. He pretends to have lost his mind and expects her to play along as if she were a hired caretaker. But Granny Lin decides not to concede. He is her husband; she is his wife. Their marriage certificate is secure under her pillow. If Old Tang is testing her patience, she is ready to prove it to him; it is a tug-of-war that Granny Lin is determined to win. She puts down the magazine and looks boldly into Old Tang's face, trying to outstare Old Tang. Minutes stretch into an hour, and all of a sudden Granny Lin awakens in a dread that she, too, is losing her mind. She drags her body out of the couch and stretches, feeling the small cracking of her arthritic joints. She looks down at Old Tang, and he is still a statue. Indeed, he is a sick man, she thinks, and feels the shame of having cast rootless doubt on Old Tang, a man as defense-less as a newborn baby.

We read it in A Thousand Years of Good Prayers.

Originally published in New Yorker: Dec 23, 2003.