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Mei knows she has tapeworms because she’s felt them squirming, slithering, shimmying in her belly since she swam here from Shenzhen, or maybe it’s just one long tapeworm longer than a fresh-water eel longer than the straw mat she sleeps on longer than the last smile her mother will ever give her, but that smile was before she started swimming, and she thought she was swimming only from the new Communist China into Hong Kong she thought she was swimming only four kilometres but the truth nobody told her is that you will still be swimming even after you crawl up on those docks drenched down to your bone marrow you will still be swimming when you find a place to stay in a sooty shanty town that clings to the edge of Kowloon by the fingertips you will still be swimming when your own fingertips are bloodied from picking over rags for cotton waste, six days of work for a pound of cotton, because the truth nobody tells you is that you are trapped in somebody’s bowels and you will never stop swimming, swimming, swimming and whenever Mei thinks of that, she feels a little sorry for her tapeworms and doesn’t tell anyone for just one more day.
Kristen Loesch is an Asian-American writer living in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and children. She placed runner-up in the 2019 Mslexia Short Story Competition and the Funny Pearls Short Story Competition 2020. Her flash fiction has been shortlisted for the SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction and the Flash 500, and received Honorable Mention in the Anton Chekhov Prize for Very Short Fiction and Highly Commended in the Lunate 500. Most recently her stories have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly and Timeworn Literary Journal. She is currently at work on her first novel and is represented by Zeitgeist Agency. Twitter: @KShaoling
Postcard of Hong Kong, circa 1950, via private collection.