Life Plans at 27
Ling Ma

a) Move back to Fuzhou, China. Live with your grandma in her 16th-floor cement apartment in a building with no elevator. Resist keeping the same hours as your elders. Eat congee for breakfast, cockle shell soup for dinner. Learn Mandarian all the way through. Marry Tony Leung, who unfortunately speaks Cantonese. Good thing his bedroom eyes do all the talking.

b) Get pregnant by someone totally inappropriate. Move to a desolate ranch in Utah. Nurse the kid with steak and butter. Read lots of Cormac McCarthy. Begin writing short stories with no quotation marks. Or in general, learn how to write like a man, or at least type like one, with more emphatic punching of the space bar. Develop a happy trigger finger.

c) Go to grad school at Oxford for your doctorate in English Literature. Begin with the best intentions to center your thesis on medicine in the 19th century British novel, but gradually shift to materiality in post-Industrial American modernist lit. Soften up your abrasive American mannerisms. Develop a healthy complexion despite the continual rain. Rhapsodize about marmite. Marry Gary Oldman. Wife number five. Tragically, the fifth time is still not the charm.

d) Move out to the suburbs of Chicago. But first, get married to a man who works at a pharmaceutical company in Indiana developing new drugs for motormouth and existential angst. As a stay-home wife, you spend most days at Neiman's playing dress-up in gold lame pants, turbans, rompers. No one looks. For your sake, he develops the cure for shopping. Unfortunately, he fails at finding the cure for vanity, and he leaves. Attempt to become a lounge singer at the local divorcee club, singing songs about how no man can save you. Fail. Get a real job.

e) Somehow, it all ends like this: True story. Some sweet-faced old guy with an Eastern European accent studies your face on the bus. He asks you, "Are you Japanese?"

"No," you respond. You think to yourself, I will say no to everything this guy asks me. No no no no no.

"Are you Korean?"


"Are you a woman?"


"If you are not a woman," he says seriously, "then I am a wolf in the forest."

You miss your intended stop. The bus drops you off in front of ancient, silent elms.

Ling Ma has fiction in or coming from Another Chicago Magazine, Featherproof Press, The 2nd Hand and others.

Detail of art on main page courtesy of Dream Glow Pumpkin Cat.

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