The village was home to three hundred people and thirty
pigs. Among those that were capable of stuffing food into their
mouths, Magnolia was the fattest. Magnolia only ate salads.
Yet, it was very difficult to describe how fat she was. It was as
difficult as describing the vastness of the sky and diligence of
the ants. Fat people can wear loose-fitting robes, but shoes can
be very difficult to come by. Magnolia had to go barefooted. In
the summer, Magnolia walked around barefooted. It was perfectly
okay, as the ground was warm and soft under the sun. But
in the winter, it was an entirely different story. The frozen
ground cut into her feet like blades, and Magnolia refused to
walk around. She lay in bed, eating, drinking and sleeping all
day. The legs of her bed groaned in pain all winter.
When spring came, a fortuneteller came to the village. He was an astrologer, geomancer, horoscoper, exorcist, and shaman,
all-in-one. He was especially good at putting an end to inappropriate
love affairs. He had an entourage of apprentices and
ethnographers who recorded and noted every word that he said.
When Magnolia’s father, Wang Cheng-tu learned of his arrival,
he dragged his daughter to the temple to meet the fortuneteller.
Many people went to see the fortuneteller, but few actually
had their fortunes told. Why? Because the fortuneteller wasn’t
human, he was an old dog. The crowds gathered in anticipation
of a good show. The dog was mixed breed, with traces of the
Dobermann, Pomeranian, Wolfdog, Chihuahua and Pekingese.
On a palette full of sunset colors, each color is beautiful on its
own; but when mixed together, the effect resembles a wad of
cotton saturated with dirty water from the gutter. The canine
fortuneteller, clothed in patchwork, squatted on a table with the
four treasures of the study—ink-stone, ink, brush and paper laid
out before him, and flanked by cans of dog food piled into the
shape of a pagoda. He barked away when people came to have
their fortunes told. Amidst the hustle and bustle, the canine fortuneteller
was the picture of serenity. Mistaking the canine fortuneteller
for a stuffed animal, a kid flung a stone at the dog.
“Little brat, who do you think you’re messing with? Are
you looking down on my master?” An infuriated apprentice
navigated through the crowds and tried to slap the boy.
“Bow-wow . . .” the canine fortuneteller howled, in a very
“Watch your manners, be polite.” A rather tall apprentice
who had his hands tucked away in his sleeves exclaimed, as he
humbly turned around to ask his master, the canine fortuneteller,
whether that was the accurate translation of his howl. The
canine fortuneteller yelped in an authentic dog-like manner. The angry apprentice’s hand froze in midair. And the slap that was
meant for the little boy came back in reversal to his own cheek
with a loud, reverberating clap that was no joke at all. A group
of kids who were playing at the fringes of the crowd started to
wrestle with each other, with the winners climbing on to the
backs of the losers for a round of horseback riding, slapping
their asses, crying, “Fart, fat ass!”
Magnolia approached the crowd. Her short and fat body
obstructed the view of many people. The eyes of the canine fortuneteller
gleamed, he opened his mouth and from his cavernous
mouth came a strange howl, “Bow-wow wow wow . . .” The
apprentices by his side sensed something different, and immediately
searched the translation code book, attempting to decipher
the meaning by decoding the frequencies and pauses in the
howls and yelps. The canine fortuneteller had no intention of
stopping as he barked away. The apprentices were at their wits’
end, and the crowd laughed their heads off.
Magnolia was surprised to discover that she could fully
understand the canine fortuneteller. The message was loud and
clear as a broadcast from loudspeakers. “A greasy mass of air
approaches, hey! There is a ghost in your tummy!” the canine
fortuneteller said to her. It was a scary message, but in the midst
of laughter and panic, no one comprehended it.
“Bow-wow.” Magnolia responded in a howl. Alarmed, she
ran back home.
Magnolia hid at home, too embarrassed to leave the house.
This was more horrible than accumulating a tub of fat on her
body. Magnolia knew that the canine fortuneteller had detected
her secret. She had no idea that her “how did you know?”
would be transformed into a canine howl. It all happened when
she was seven years old, when she realized a ghost had called her tummy home. It started when she saw a bowl of rice cake by
the side of the road, and burnt ghost money scattered by, fluttering
in the wind.
“That’s ghost money,” a kid said, “if gold foil isn’t pasted
on to the money, then it would be fake money, and the angry
ghosts would haunt us.”
Another kid said, “The food is offered to ghosts who died
in a traffic accident.” And pointing to the rice cake, he said,
“That’s ghost poop.”
“That’s a rice cake, it is food for human beings, it’s not
ghost poop, would you poop in a bowl?” Magnolia retorted.
“Of course it is rice cake, but after the ghost eats it, it
becomes ghost poop.” Magnolia’s pal responded with fire in his
Fueled by anger and full of guts, Magnolia said, “I’ll prove
that this is rice cake!” and scooped up a piece of rice cake with
her finger, sending it into her mouth. The moment the rice cake
touched her lips, her body hair stood up. It was as if an invisible
hand had reached out from icy water and touched her all over.
Since then, Magnolia sensed a hungry ghost residing in her
belly. It asked for food all day, and even drinking plain water
made her fat. Her belly started to swell, and in the night, she
could hear the skin on her belly crackle, and her stomach
growled in response, as if saying, “Go eat something,” “Go eat
something.” Magnolia climbed off her bed, dragging herself to
the kitchen. There was nothing edible there, only empty plates
and bowls. She drank some water from them. Water wasn’t
enough to satisfy her, and her belly was soon empty again. She
mixed ashes from the stove with the water and slurped away,....