She Is a Battleground by Nancy Au

Twelve-year-old butter boys face the old Chinese woman they call Baboochka. Imagine: the eighty-year-old woman on their apartment’s shared front stoop, the silver moon caught in her tousled hair, her yellow sweater vest, her milky-white Velcro E-Z Steppers. She jostles grocery bags from one hip to the other as she digs in her pockets for keys. She grumbles about the checker at the vegetable market pocketing her change, about her arthritic fingers too weak to open jars but too strong for the wet lettuce bag, about the bus driver that did not hear her call out for a stop. And now, the butter boys on her stoop who whistle for sesame candy, beg to see inside her bags, throw dirty leaves in her hair when she refuses.

The old woman knows that in two years the boys will become teenage fools: lanky legs, smelling, soiled underpants, an erection when someone taps their shoulder or sloshes in a puddle or fires a gun. It doesn’t take much. The fools will come home from school and find the old woman weaving long green blades of grass into her house slippers like laces, her purse filled with acorns, resting against her stockinged feet. The fools will laugh and point their sticky fingers at Baboochka, some so close they leave fingerprints on her eyeglasses.

And the old woman will choose to fight back. In her own true myth, she is not a corny grandmother, soft like a pillow. She is not Mother Dear. She is not Lady Khorosho, just waiting to become a ghost. She does not weep and cry and mumble. No.

She is a battleground. Lui yun is her real name, she will tell the fools, Go and puk gai. She is a person. She is sex. She is useful poison. She is a survivor of wars. She is a dream. She is a sarcastic beast. She is the skeleton key who understands little criminals. She will yank the fools’ earlobes with joy, grab handfuls of shirt and rip them a new hemline.

And the arrogant snots will call her mad, crazy, a shithead, a starry buttock, a whore. But the old woman will laugh and laugh, howl like a bolshy dame. The sound, quick, scratching, the sweetest noise you’ve ever heard. Like an ancient drug, with chipped teeth like tin bells, a tongue like a rake, a fighting drive to live, a horror heart in woolly slippers.


Nancy Au is a queer bisexual writer, artist, and teacher living in Oakland, California. Her writing appears or is forthcoming in Pithead ChapelThe PinchBeloit Fiction JournalHermeneutic Chaos JournalSmokeLong QuarterlyThe Journal of Compressed Creative ArtsWord RiotLiminal StoriesFoglifterForge Literary Magazine, and Midnight Breakfast, among others.