Chapter 33: Grass Carp in Pickled Vegetable Stew
Translated by Karcessel of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Zhao XueMei was absolutely determined to see Old Man Yang, and refused to leave without doing so. The family of three sat at a table in front of the restaurant and waited. Yang Xiao stared blankly into space with a face painted in desperation, Zhao XueMei broke down into quiet sobs every once in a while, and Yang JianGuo’s ceaseless smoking filled the air with murky smoke.
With these three firmly situated beside the restaurant, any customers who came looking for a meal were scared away before they even reached the front door. Lin ShuYi decided he wanted nothing to do with this, so he simply flipped the ‘Open’ sign over to ‘Closed,’ and walked inside with Shen Fu. Out of sight and out of mind.
Lin ShuYi wasn’t an altruistic enough person to extend his sympathies to absolutely anyone in need, so he wasn’t curious about what happened to Yang Xiao’s family at all. Every single slight this family had ever exerted against Old Man Yang was clear in his memories. He knew what Yang Xiao’s personality and morals, or lack thereof, were like, and he had long since learned the lesson of being bitten by the dog he fed. Thus now, in this world, as long as something didn’t involve him or the people he cared about, he had but one principle: not his problem.
So Lin ShuYi wasn’t curious at all. He was, however, a little bit worried that this matter would get Old Man Yang involved.
They waited as Yang JianGuo’s pile of cigarette butts grew ever more similar to a miniature model of a mountain, before Old Man Yang finally returned.
Old Man Yang stepped off the bus holding a bucket, laughing and chatting with Xiao Wan’s grandma, happily carefree, but that all came to an abrupt halt the moment he looked up. His eyes paused at the ‘Closed’ sign in front of the XiQin Restaurant for a moment, before glancing over to spot the three people sitting outside.
“Why are you here?” Old Man Yang put the bucket in his hands on the ground as he spoke. A few fish were swimming around inside.
Xiao Wan’s grandma followed behind Old Man Yang, and the smile on her face vanished as well the moment she spotted Yang JianGuo and his family. She was never one to put a filter on her thoughts, so as she looked at Yang JianGuo, she quipped, “Oh, how rare. Let me guess, the three of you are here visiting out of the kindness of familial duty?”
When Lin ShuYi and Shen Fu heard voices outside, they came looking. Seeing Old Man Yang and Xiao Wan’s grandma, they greeted them, and walked to their side.
Xiao Wan’s grandma didn’t notice the strangeness of Yang JianGuo’s and his family’s appearances, and certainly had no idea what just happened to them. All she knew was that she didn’t like Zhao XueMei’s domineering personality or Yang JianGuo’s useless one, so upon this rare occurrence meeting them in person, she was determined to give them a piece of her mind. However, with Lin ShuYi and the other youngsters here, she inexplicably found it difficult to say the words in her throat, so instead she turned the cold shoulder on them and refused to acknowledge their presence.
“Xiao Yi, come and help carry these fish in. They’re real fresh, so we’re planning on cooking them in a pickled vegetable stew for lunch.”
Lin ShuYi went to pick up the fish, but Shen Fu casually took the bucket from his hand, throwing him a grin. “Let me.”
“Be careful, those fish are lively. One jumped out of the bucket on the way back.”
The family of three were left neglected on the sidelines as this exchange went on. Zhao XueMei grit her teeth, coals burning in her eyes.
Old Man Yang watched as Lin ShuYi and Shen Fu walked back inside, carrying the bucket. Only after they disappeared behind the door did he turn back to face Yang JianGuo. “Alright, say it. What do you want this time?”
Yang JianGuo opened his mouth, then closed his mouth, then opened his mouth again, but the words just wouldn’t come out.
“If you’re not going to say anything, then I will.” Zhao XueMei snapped, her patience growing thin, as Yang JianGuo continued on in silence. She pushed Yang JianGuo to the side, walking up to face Old Man Yang. “Dad. This time, truly, only you can help us.”
“Help you?” Xiao Wan’s grandma laughed bitterly. “Since when have you shown him a single thread of respect that reciprocated help?”
Xiao Wan’s grandma glared at Zhao XueMei, brimming with scorn. With these two up against each other, neither one a person to mince their words, one wrong look would be all it took to escalate the situation into an uproar.
Old Man Yang know that Xiao Wan’s grandma was expressing such outrage on his behalf, and his heart was grateful, but this was still his family’s problem. Defending him like this would cause her to be the center of malicious gossip later. Reaching out a hand, he gently pulled Xiao Wan’s grandma behind him, and met Zhao XueMei’s menacing gaze head on. “XueMei, if you have something to say, just say it. I’m not going to decide whether or not I can help you yet.”
Old Man Yang’s expression was calm, his gaze peaceful. Zhao XueMei and her family’s expressions however, have darkened since the beginning of this conversation.
Zhao XueMei was apprehensive. Could it be that hers and Yang Xiao’s previous words had somehow reached Old Man Yang’s ears? Did those two troublesome brats say something to him? How come Old Man Yang suddenly had such a tranquil, omniscient presence?
All these thoughts flashing rapidly through Zhao XueMei’s mind were but a few seconds of time. Abruptly, she grabbed Yang Xiao and pulled him down with her, both of them suddenly kneeling on the ground. Zhao XueMei’s face was a rainstorm and the tears began to flow. “Dad, please, you have to save Yang Xiao.”
Yang Xiao had originally been standing silently, staring blankly into space, and even tugged by Zhao XueMei, he didn’t react immediately—but whether it was the pain or the overwhelming fear, the moment his knees slammed against the ground, so did the dam burst. The fat teardrops rolling down his face became a waterfall, and he began to sob along with his mother.
The remaining three people, Yang JianGuo included, were stunned.
Though Yang JianGuo was well aware of the urgency of the situation, he had expected that with Zhao XueMei’s temper, she’d have a much more hamfisted approach. He had been prepared to stop her when the time came. This uncharacteristic plan was absolutely bewildering to him.
Old Man Yang and Xiao Wan’s grandma stood across from mother and son still on the ground, glancing at each other in dismay. They were unsure whether this was another kind of trick. The desperation, the kneeling, Zhao XueMei pulling Yang Xiao down with her, and Yang Xiao’s definitely bruised knees. It certainly seemed sincere.
Old Man Yang pursed his lips, but did not reach out to help them up. He stood there just watching them and said, “What are you doing? If you have something to say, than speak properly. Don’t make a scene.”
According to Zhao XueMei’s calculations, she predicted that with Old Man Yang’s soft-hearted personality, he should have been moved by their display and helped them up before continuing the conversation. But things did not play out according to her plan, and she was left at a loss for what to do. Old Man Yang was still standing there watching them, Yang Xiao was a snotty mess, still bawling his eyes out, and Yang JianGuo just stood at her side, looking at her like he was watching a movie. Zhao XueMei suddenly found herself in a very awkward situation.
“What are you doing just standing there, quickly, tell dad what happened!” Shame morphing into anger, she shouted at Yang JianGuo to save a little bit of face while standing up. With this, her previous display of pulling Yang Xiao down to kneel with her began to seem more and more like an intentional show.
The peace on Old Man Yang’s face was starting to fade, replaced by exhaustion. He looked at Yang JianGuo, already knowing in his heart the reason they came. Of course, other than for the house, why else would this family come to see him?
Though Yang JianGuo couldn’t read Old Man Yang’s thoughts, he had a heavy feeling in his heart. If he said those words out loud, the words Zhao XueMei wanted him to say, then he was sure his relationship with his father would be irreparably changed.
Therefore, he didn’t listen to Zhao XueMei. In the end, he just stayed silent, not looking at Zhao XueMei, not looking at Old Man Yang, not looking at anything or anyone.
Yang JianGuo could sense Zhao XueMei’s growing impatience, and finally, with a sigh, he said, “Forget it, let’s just go back. We’ll sell our house and see how much we can get for it. Xiao Xiao, let’s go home.”
“Go home?!” Zhao XueMei’s voice was suddenly hysterical. “If you want to go home, than go home alone! I’m not going back! And let me tell you, I own half of that house, so just you try and sell it! You son of a bitch, even now, you still have no fucking guts! Fine then! I’ll say it!” Zhao XueMei turned to Old Man Yang. “Dad, Xiao Xiao went out and gambled all our money away, and now he owes someone one million in debt. They said if he doesn’t get the money in ten days, he’ll be thrown in the river as fish food. Dad, you know this, our entire family depends on Yang JianGuo alone. Forget one million, even half a million is beyond our capabilities. Dad, I know you care about Xiao Xiao the most. He’s your only grandson, you definitely won’t stand back and watch him suffer, right? Please, you’re our only hope…”
Old Man Yang looked at Xiao Wan’s grandma again. They both shared a knowing look. Old Man Yang cleared his throat, not surprised by this news at all. “One million. This old house is worth nowhere near one million…”
Yang JianGuo immediately knew something wasn’t right. Old Man Yang’s voice didn’t hold the slightest hint of worry or concern, and actually seemed a bit sarcastic. Zhao XueMei did not notice this, and what a shame, because her mind was a distraught mess and she interpreted this answer as Old Man Yang understanding her meaning. She nodded quickly. “That’s alright, however much we get for it is however much we get. Isn’t there also the restaurant? Last time I was here, business looked so good that it could definitely sell for some money…”
As Zhao XueMei went on, Xiao Wan’s grandma’s lips drew up in a sneer. She spat, “I’ve really never seen such a shameless bitch as you. You disrespect your father-in-law, harass him ceaselessly, and now you’re pulling some guilt trip trying to trick him out of his house? And you want the restaurant too? Keep dreaming.” She looked up at Yang JianGuo next. “Yang JianGuo, I watched you grow up. I always thought that though you were weak willed and unable to make your own decisions, you didn’t have a bad heart. Now I know, you might not have a bad heart, but you don’t have a conscience either. You father shed blood, sweat, and tears raising you, and this is how you repay him?”
Old Man Yang just sighed. Perhaps he had been disappointed too many times already, he just felt numb from this one. “You should leave. From tonight onwards, I no longer have a son. Xiao Xiao is already twenty-three, what kind of role models are you being to him? What path will he walk in the future? This is your burden to carry.”
After speaking, Old Man Yang walked quietly into the restaurant and to the kitchen in the back.
Everyone was in shock at these words from Old Man Yang. Even Xiao Wan’s grandma was stunned. For someone like Old Man Yang, someone as forgiving, as tender, and as kind as him, to say something like this—it really spoke volumes of the amount of damage this family had wrought on his heart. Xiao Wan’s grandma threw them one last glance, sighed, and followed Old Man Yang in.
Zhao XueMei stood frozen in place for a long while. Eventually she said to Yang JianGuo, voice quiet, “Your father, what did he mean by that?”
Yang JianGuo was also still. Not moving a single inch, he stared at the closed door, face twisted in shock.
“I’m asking you a question! What did your father mean?!”
Things were spiraling out of Zhao XueMei’s control, and her voice rose instinctively, but Yang JianGuo seemed as if he had been struck dumb. No matter how she screamed or shouted, he didn’t react.
It took another long while for Yang JianGuo to slowly regain his senses. He slowly twisted his head to stare at Zhao XueMei. For the first time in his life, all he could feel was pure, boiling rage. Veins swelled on his forehead. A frightening expression overtook his face. “What he meant? Why are you asking me?! Are you happy now?! Are you fucking satisfied?! Does watching me be forsaken by the only family I had left fill you with bloody fucking joy?!”
Truthfully, Yang JianGuo knew deep down that Zhao XueMei only took half the blame here. A good, heaping half, but half nonetheless. The most important blame was still on himself. It was because he was so weak and useless, everything Zhao XueMei wanted was law, he never did anything to stop her. The unimaginable amount of disappointment Old Man Yang must have felt to disown his only son, who knew how much he had hurt his father, which he was he didn’t dare step inside to ask a single question.
After Lin ShuYi and Shen Fu went inside the kitchen, they never came out again, but through such thin walls how could they not overhear?
When Old Man Yang said those words, the two glanced at each other, and looked at Old Man Yang walking inside, but neither said anything. Internally, Lin ShuYi thought that there wasn’t anything wrong with what Old Man Yang did.
After all, a son who does not care for his parents is worthless as a person, a son who does not respect his parents is worthless as a son. In Lin ShuYi’s opinion, Yang JianGuo was nothing like a son, so between having him as a son versus not having him as a son made no difference.
Xiao Wan’s grandma looked at Old Man Yang and wanted to say something, but couldn’t. She feared that he was too depressed and hurt right now that her words might do more harm than good.
“What are you all looking at me for? I’m fine. I’m just ashamed that I’ve let his mother down, raising her son and grandson into people like this. When the time comes for me to pass on, I don’t know how I’m going to face her.”
Suddenly, Yang Xiao’s shouting could once again be heard outside. “Grandpa! Grandpa! You have to save me! You must save me! If I don’t have the money than I’ll really die! Grandpa!”
Objectively speaking, Old Man Yang could not be blamed for his misunderstanding. Zhao XueMei had always been a cold and calculating person, plus how persistently she had been hounding him for this house recently, it was not a stretch that she would pull something like this to trick him out of his house. Old Man Yang could also not be blamed for the anger and disappointment he felt in believing this to be a performance Zhao XueMei had set up. And as for Yang JianGuo, he knew how much this house meant to Old Man Yang, yet he still followed Zhao XueMei, trying to trick him, could could Old Man Yang’s heart not feel cold? This was why he said those words, disowning his son. In all these years having a son, it was no different from not having a son at all, so why not make it explicit. At worst, after he died he wouldn’t be able to face his wife out of shame, but that was still better than giving his house to a son like this.
Zhao XueMei had wrought this upon herself. She took Old Man Yang’s familial affections for Yang JianGuo and Yang Xiao and used it as a bargaining chip over the years, demanding Old Man Yang to give her this and give her that, it was only karma that it would cease to work at such a critical time.
Old Man Yang turned a deaf ear to his grandson’s shouts outside.
Zhao XueMei’s desperation and anxiety were skyrocketing. “Dad, dad, you have to listen to me dad! You have to save Xiao Xiao, you have to save Xiao Xiao, dad! I was wrong, I was wrong! I’ll treat you properly from now on, dad!” On the outside, Zhao XueMei was pitiful, sobbing her eyes out as she crumpled in front of the restaurant’s door, banging her fists against it.
On the inside, how much of this display was genuine regret, only Zhao XueMei knew.
After a while, Old Man Yang sighed again, and said one last time, “Go home, I will not sell the house. And I’ve already given this restaurant to someone.”
With no tears left to shed, all that was left on Zhao XueMei’s face was cold emptiness. She looked up, and opened her mouth to start cursing, but was dragged away by Yang JianGuo before she had even managed a few sentences.
In the end, Yang Xiao called out a few last desperate line at the closed door. Seeing that Old Man Yang still didn’t respond, he slowly followed his parents away, sluggish and soulless.
When the exterior of the restaurant was finally quiet again, Old Man Yang silently went outside, reorganized the overturned tables and chairs, and went home without a word. Xiao Wan’s grandma originally tried to follow after him, but she was stopped by Shen Fu. “Let grandpa have some peace and quiet. He needs the time alone.”
Xiao Wan’s grandma thought about it for a moment, and agreed. She went home instead.
Lin ShuYi also didn’t say anything through this process, calmly setting up the restaurant and waiting for customers to return.
Shen Fu walked up to him and threw an arm around his shoulders. “Don’t worry now, there’s still us, isn’t there?”
Lin ShuYi crooked his head to the side. “You? And how long will you still stay here?”
Shen Fu blinked. “Huh?”
Lin ShuYi glanced down, regarding his fingertips in great detail. “You have to leave eventually.”
Shen Fu’s face was blank for a second. Then he smiled, reaching out a hand to ruffle Lin ShuYi’s hair. “Even if I have to go, it’s not like I’ll never return. What are you so afraid of?”
Shen Fu’s intentionally haughty tone finally cracked Lin ShuYi’s calm exterior and he rolled his couldn’t help but roll his eyes. “I’m afraid that when the time comes, you’ll end up whipped black and blue again.”
With this change of topic, reminiscing on their second meeting, the tension in the atmosphere finally relaxed a bit. Shen Fu thought to himself, after this situation was dealt with, it was time to finally solve his own affairs. He just hoped that Lin ShuYi’s prediction wouldn’t come true.
Old Man Yang went home alone. Stepping in the front door, he faced the empty house, and suddenly felt very, very old. “My love, I’ve done you wrong. I’ve chased our son away.”