Saturday Storytime: The Fish of Lijiang


Having recently had a much-needed vacation and time to think, this story by Chen Qiufan, translated by Ken Liu, had maybe a little too much resonance for me.

Twenty-four hours ago, I had a multiplicity of identities: an office drone with a strict routine, the master of a gray Ford, the prospective owner of a moldy apartment tucked into a hidden fold of the city, a debt-ridden parasite, etc.

Now, I’m just a patient, a patient in need of rehabilitation.

It’s the fault of that damned mandatory physical exam. On the last page of the report were the words: PNFD II (Psychogenic Neural-Functional Disorder II). Translated into words normal people can understand, they say that I’m messed up and I must take two weeks off to rehabilitate.

My face flushed, I asked my boss whether I could be exempted. I felt the stares of everyone in the office burning into the back of my neck. Schadenfreude. They were delighted that the “boss’s pet” was shown to be human after all, weak in the head, collapsing under the stress.

I shuddered. That’s office politics for you.

The boss spoke slowly, methodically: “You think I want this? I have to pay for your mandatory vacation! People working at other companies can’t even get rehab even if they need it. But the new labor law requires it of us. Our company is a proper, globalized business; we have to set an example … Anyway, if you get worse, your disease will turn into neurosyphilis and infect the rest of us. Better that you leave now, yes?”

Ashamed, I left the boss’s office and cleaned out my desk. I ignored the stares. Keep on looking, you neurosyphilitic assholes. I’ll be back in two weeks and we’ll see who gets to be assistant manager at the end of the year.

Keep reading.