Nancy L. Conyers has an MFA from Antioch University in Los Angeles and lived in Shanghai from 2004-2009. She has been published in Lunch Ticket, The Manifest-Station, Role Reboot, The Citron Review, Alluvium, Tiferet, and Hupdaditty, and contributed the last chapter to Unconditional: A Guide to Loving and Supporting Your LGBTQ Child, by Telaina Eriksen. Honey Lou is adapted from a novel she is writing entitled A Walk in the Mist. Her website is www.nancylconyers.com
Honey Lou Parker was a native Texan with tumbleweed flowing through her veins. Honey had bottled blond hair, a ballsy laugh, and she truly believed in the Texas truism, the higher the hair, the closer to God. She was big, in all manner and form: her hair was big, her mouth was big, and her body took up the whole width of a Shanghai sidewalk. When she walked, her enormous breasts and generous backside undulated in opposite directions, giving her the effect of a human tsunami. Honey’s calling card, though, was her beautiful, flawless skin. It was porcelain white with nary a pore or wrinkle and no matter where Honey went, people complimented her on her perfect skin. They kept their eyes on her face, as much as they kept their eyes on her substantial girth.
When Lisa first arrived in Shanghai, the first thing Honey said to her was, “Lisa, darlin,’ it’s not real important to learn the language.” Honey had been in Shanghai for almost three years and she’d only managed to learn to say hello, goodbye and thank you in Mandarin, all with a bad accent. When she said xie xie, thank you, Honey, in all her Texan splendor, would say shay shay, shay shay and she was damn proud of her self for it.
“They oughta learn how to speak English,” Lisa heard Honey say one day to the posse Honey always travelled with when she passed by as they were sitting outside of Starbucks, the only store foreigners recognized at what passed for a mall in Jin Qiao. “They oughta learn how to speak English. I mean I’m not having my taxes pay for some wetback to fill up a seat in our school system, and then you’re going to tell me they don’t have to speak English? Not on my nickel, they’re not.” She was talking about the Mexicans in Texas.
“Honey Lou, when you’re right, you’re right, and, sweetheart, you are right on this one, right girls?” said Sheralee Watson. The posse nodded in unison. The posse were all tai tais from Texas—housewives of the Texas oil barons who believed they were lording over Shanghai, all of whom hated Shanghai for what it wasn’t, and couldn’t see Shanghai for what it was. Like Chinese women who travelled together and linked arms to create their friendspace, the posse always travelled in a pack. Instead of linking arms, the posse was armed with iPhones covered by bejeweled cases of the Texas flag that Honey had gotten made for them in Yu Yuan.
“So, ladies, how much Chinese have y’all learned?” Lisa asked as she walked past their table. The question was out of her mouth before her mind could tell herself not to start something. Honey whipped her head around and fixed Lisa with her Texas stink eye.
“Well, Lisa Downey, I’ll be.”
“Hey, Honey. Ladies.” Lisa nodded in their direction.
“How much Chinese have we learned? Now, Linda darlin’, that’s a whole different story, a whole different ballgame,” Honey sputtered.
“Why’s that, Honey?”
“It’s just different, is all.”
“Why? I don’t understand what you mean.”
“Well, well,” Honey was flustered. She wasn’t used to people challenging her. In the three years Lisa had known her, she’d never seen Honey Lou flustered. She ran the posse and she ran the Expat Women’s Club like a Chinese warlord—often wrong, never in doubt. She was enjoying seeing Honey Lou scramble. Most people, when they’re flustered, get red in the face and splotchy necks, but Honey’s skin became brighter and glowed like a Texas click beetle.
“We’re in China, Honey, so if I follow your logic, then shouldn’t we learn to speak Chinese?”
“We are not here illegally, Lisa Downey, we are rightfully here.” Honey had quickly gotten her footing back. “And, furthermore, we do not want to live here, we’re here because our husbands have come here for work. Legally, I might add. And we are here giving people jobs, not taking jobs away from them, for God’s sake! We are putting food on their tables, not taking food away from them.”
“Honey, how is someone in Dallas who speaks Spanish taking food off your table, other than clearing off your large plates?” Every single one of the posse were tapping away on their iPhones, pretending like they weren’t listening.
“Oh for God’s sake, Lisa, it was just an expression. Let’s not spoil our morning with this. It’s just not the same situation, is all.” Just then a bell tinkled.
“Well, I’ll be, saved by the bell,” Honey Lou looked at her iPhone and tapped the screen with her long, fake fingernail. “That’s my signal, girls. I’ve got to go get my facial.” Her large body rippled wildly as she stood up. She winked at Lisa and said, “The good Lord works in mysterious and wondrous ways, wouldn’t you say, darlin’?”
Because Honey had never learned how to speak Mandarin, she never learned that there are no secrets in China, and Honey had a dirty little secret she was sure nobody knew about. The secret to Honey’s facials, the secret to her beautiful skin was that she ate soup. Placenta soup. Human placenta soup. Placenta soup that came from aborted babies. Aborted girl babies.
Before Honey arrived in Shanghai she believed in the sanctity of two things—the flag of Texas and the goodness of her God. Now, she also believed in the power of those girl babies’ placentas. She told herself it was better for that soup to slide down her throat than for those babies to be strewn on the side of the road somewhere, no better than a stray dog.
Yes, the good Lord did work in mysterious and wondrous ways. He gave Honey the ability to cast her born again eyes downward when the weekly delivery of special treasure soup was delivered to her kitchen door, and the ability to cast her eyes upward in a heavenly thanks as the luscious liquid continued to work its wonders on Honey’s luminescent skin.
The good Lord also gave Honey’s housekeeper a big mouth. Honey’s housekeeper told every other housekeeper in Honey’s neighborhood about the soup and those housekeepers told other housekeepers, who told the drivers, who told the security guards, who told their wives. Some of the housekeepers who worked for Mandarin speaking foreign women told the expat women and those women told their friends. It didn’t take long before the only secret about Honey’s facials was that Honey was the only one who thought nobody knew.
A few weeks after Lisa saw Honey at Starbucks, she heard Honey in Yu Yuan buying embroidered pictures. She turned around and watched from a distance as Honey repeated shay shay, shay shay, and she listened and laughed to herself as the other people in the small stall shrieked, Waah, na ge laowai hen pang! “Wow, that foreigner is really fat!” Honey just kept smiling at them, and nodding her head. Shay shay, shay shay.
Lisa walked over to the stall where Honey was transacting her purchase.
“Lisa darlin’, good to see you,” Honey said and gave her an air kiss on each cheek. “Look at these gorgeous embroideries I just bought.”
“They are gorgeous, Honey. How much did you pay for them?”
“Oh lord, they were a steal, 500rmb.”
“You ought to learn how to speak Mandarin, Honey,” Lisa told her.
“Why would you say that?”
“Because you’ll get a better price if you bargain in Mandarin.”
“I’ve never heard such a thing.”
“It’s true. Have you ever tried to bargain in Mandarin?”
“Lisa, are you going to start this all over again? I thought we finished with all that.”
“Honey, darlin’, I’m trying to help you. Those pictures you just bought…guess what? I got them for 100 rmb each.”
“You did not!”
“Yes I did and it’s because I bargained in Mandarin. If you do that they’ll give you a better price.”
“Oh for God’s sake.”
“It’s true.” Lisa turned around to the shopkeepers and said, Ru guo ta hui shuo Putonghua, ni men hui gei ta hen hao de jia qian, dui ma? “If she spoke Mandarin you would give her a good price, right?”
“Dui de!” Right, they all yelled.
“Ni men pian le ta,” Lisa told them. You cheated her.
Hahaha. They gave Lisa that sick bu hao yisi smile.
The shopkeepers weren’t the only ones who were cheating Honey. Her husband, Harlan, was too. What a cliché he was, a balding, pot-bellied, white foreigner with a bad comb over and a beautiful, young Chinese girlfriend.
Lisa watched one night as a couple of stunning girls went up to Harlan and his friends in Xintiandi. Soon the waitress was pulling another table up, serving drinks and before you know it, Harlan was walking off hand-in-hand with one of the girls. If Honey were a real friend, Lisa would have told her what she’d seen, but she wasn’t a true friend and there was something in her that enjoyed watching the whole situation unfold, something base in her that took perverse pleasure in knowing that Harlan had his girl in an apartment in the same apartment complex Lisa and Sheila lived in, away from the expat compound, and in knowing that Harlan knew Lisa knew. Lisa wondered if Honey knew and if that were the reason why Harlan and Honey quickly left Shanghai the following fall. She also wondered where in the goodness of God’s good Texas Honey was going to buy her girl baby placenta soup.