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Singing

He had left at sunrise. The rising sun’s rays shining through his thinning grey hair, he had told me he would be home soon, that the child in my growing belly had better be a son. He had a brown rice grain in between his two yellow front teeth. I didn’t bother mentioning it. He leaned in to kiss my forehead, not noticing I was holding my breath. And with that, he mounted his horse and disappeared into the ranks of China’s soldiers.
Good riddance.
I sang that morning for the first time since the night before my arranged marriage. That night two years ago, I sang for the childhood I was leaving behind. I sang with the hope I would bear many sons and bring honor to my family, that my mother-in-law would treat me kindly.
I sang innocently.
The day my husband left, I sang with half-concealed joy. I sang for the baby girl at home that my husband hated and for our freedom. I sang with the knowledge that he would eventually return.
I sang bitter-sweetly.

Seven moon cycles passed before I would sing again.
“Great honor has been brought to our family. Your husband has died in battle,” my mother-in-law, po, announces. She shows no emotion.
I am silent.
“I expect you to be equally honorable,” she says to me: a widow. I know what she is implying. When the rest of the town learns of his death, they will expect it as well. At my husband’s funeral pyre, as his unkind body is consumed with flame, I am expected to join him. My neighbors will watch hungrily, their eyes reflecting the flame, as I burn to death to show my loyalty to a husband I do not love. That is honor.
They expect me to be honorable; I must be honorable. I will not. I will take my child and run away to the city. Perhaps I will become a third or fourth wife, perhaps a concubine. My opportunities are limited, but what else is a woman to do in the face of death?
I begin to sing, clutching my baby girl to my chest. I sing for the child in my belly and the child in my arms; their future is shameful and dull. I sing for my husband, a man whose death I never expected to mourn. I sing for myself, a woman who should be ashes on her husband’s pyre.
I sing for my last time.



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