KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 1: Fall 2014
Flash Fiction: 560 words

Red Army Girls Go Battalion

by Jajah Wu

The street knew.

The whole neighborhood knew.

The Qian family did not lose their daughters in the usual way. They did not lose them to match-made marriages. They did not lose them to sickness, or tram accidents, or old age. They lost their daughters in a single swoop, a storm, a flight.

Madame Qian was upset. Her daughters were runaways, vixens, whores, brats! She wailed after Eldest, for the oldest daughter never leaves her mother’s side without a wedding. She swore at the Second, so ugly and so arrogant—who shouldn’t have been allowed to live at all. The Third and the Fourth: spoiled, brain-dead. Worst of all, she raved, they took their incomes with them. Her boys clung stupidly around. Who will do our homework now? they wondered. Her husband smoked and smoked and didn’t say a word.

The Qian sisters left in the autumn, swept into war like red leaves from red trees. They marveled that no one thought to stop them. But then who’d ever imagine they would fly? They were well-bred, well-off, cool as plum ice, with all their lives ahead of them to do as they were told.

Except, the Second had been burning since day one, since birth, since her mother asked the midwife to kill her if she turned out to be a girl. She burned when father beat her, and she burned when her brothers started beating her too. She was eighteen when the war started, and her bones were set with a fire that made it hard to stay in one place.

All her sisters watched in horror as the Japanese troops invaded Shanghai. The great metropolis began to burn and smoke, and it did not stop for days. They could smell blood in the air, carried over the river on the ashes of bedsheets, baby clothes, uniforms, flags. The Eldest, lofty and intellectual, started to whisper patriotism and Marxism to the Third and the Fourth. Besides, though she didn’t say it, her secret suitor had just joined the Red Army, and she wasn’t about to let him go off alone. But the younger girls perched on her words like kites on the wind. Watching them emulate the Eldest, the Second decided not to tell them that all she felt was a great desire to walk into the flames.

August hit with a shatter. Shanghai surrendered, finally. The dead streamed from her sides and crept into the sea. When Japanese troops moved into their suburb, the girls decided it.

On the day of their escape, they met under the awning of the ferry station, clutching their satchels and each other. A regiment of Japanese soldiers marched towards them, asking for identification. With some hesitation, the Eldest presented their papers. The younger girls held their breath while the Second tried not to stare insolently.

Then, the Eldest smiled. And how could they imagine her leading a troupe of second Mu Lans into the guerilla Red Army, ready to plant trickwire, trip bombs, white-hot at the thought of those bloodied bayonets by their sides? The soldiers let the girls pass, let them out of their curated lives and into the wide and hungry war.

And all through the silent trip upriver, the Second felt her heart blazing in front of her and filling the world with fire.

— From a longer work-in-progress by the author, based loosely on her grandmother’s life

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