By: Sabrina Huang
Translated by: Jeremy Tiang
Born in Taipei in 1979, Sabrina Huang released her first short story collections under the pen name Jiu Jiu; Welcome to the Dollhouse and her more recent essay collections have been published under her own name. In Unitas magazine‘s “20 Sinophone Writers Under 40” feature, Chen Yuxuan wrote: “When reading Huang Liqun’s fiction be warned—you won’t get any comfort from soft whispers. Rather, you can count on one page in this book (about love or illness or disfigurement) stopping you in your tracks, leaving you torn and unsettled” (translated by Poppy Toland for Asymptote).
“There is Nothing to Bind Our Hearts Together” comes from Sabrina Huang’s collection 海边的房间 (literally *The Room By The Sea, although its official English title is Welcome to the Dollhouse) — thirteen stories that gently prod apart human frailty, each with a wicked little sting in its tail. The further goes she goes into the psyche, the harder it becomes to tell the difference between truth and imagination, delusion and reality. Naturally, dreams feature a great deal — “The Girl of His Dreams”, for instance, pushes one man’s longings into dangerous wish fulfillment, showing how the mind can play tricks on us, and that what goes on in our subconscious at night may not be entirely benign. Translating her stories have made my own dreams more disturbing (and, incidentally, full of cats).*
Jeremy Tiang was awarded the 2016 NEA Literary Translation Fellowship to work on Taiwanese writer Lo Yi-Chin’s novel Far Away. His short story collection It Never Rains on National Day was recently released by Epigram Books.
Their dreams were growing shorter and shorter.
Some mysterious force had caused their dream worlds to collide one twilit evening. They dreamed themselves a white house with a blue-tiled roof, washed over with dappled light and gusting winds, in the middle of a plain set ablaze by the setting sun.
In the dream they were young, clear-featured and slender. Because they retained memories of the real world, this pair of lovebirds seemed even more adorable and precious. They went fishing by a stream, sat shoulder to shoulder beneath one of the many towering, nameless trees. She tied her hair up with her handkerchief, he captured golden May bugs and kept them on the window sill.
Tired out from frolicking, they’d sprawl on the grass, bodies pressed against each other, looking up at the stars, hand in hand, no need for words, falling gently asleep. When they woke again, they were back in the dust-filled real world.
Then they’d gradually feel themselves fill with sorrow. This oppressive reality, squatting on top of their dream.
In the dream, he often raised his eyes to the sky, knowing that beyond these clouds, he was a weary, depressed middle-aged man. His wife – they now slept in separate beds – nagged him all day long about not earning enough money to cover the household expenses. His son and daughter, entering their rebellious years, treated him like the enemy.
If only it were possible, he’d be willing to die in exchange for an eternity of that dream. Nowhere else in his life could he recall such clear moments of joy. Taking her delicate, childlike hand, he knew her heart held the same anxiety, the same determination.
They had such a strong connection. Each knew the other wasn’t just a figment of their dream, but that the dream had somehow brought together two people with a real existence. They never revealed their true selves, afraid that mentioning even one word from the other place would destroy the magic of the dream.
Yet their dreams were growing shorter and shorter. In the end, there wasn’t even time to catch a single fish.
That night, they both had a premonition that this would be the last time. Sitting beneath a sky full of stars, each clasped the other’s moist hands, foreheads touching, eyes shut, resisting the moment when daybreak would invade their bodies. When they knew the very last moment had come, they couldn’t resist loudly calling out who they were, where they lived, what their jobs were.
The magic of the dream was completely shattered. After waking, no matter how hard they tried, neither could recall the other’s name.
And so she stood before the bathroom mirror, weeping for a very long time. Her husband – they now slept in separate beds – was a weary, depressed middle-aged man, and all day long her brain throbbed as she tried to stretch the household budget. Her son and daughter, entering their rebellious years, treated her like a stranger.
A little later, the two individuals who shared a dream from separate beds met at the breakfast table. In an awful mood from losing the dream, they got into a vicious argument, and ended up deciding to divorce. By noon, they were standing in front of a registrar’s counter, each thinking the same thing: ‘When I finally have my freedom back, no matter what happens, I have to track down that person from my dreams.’