Today's Reading

As he drifted into the next lane, she told him to keep his eyes on the road. He gripped the steering wheel and told her his plan: he wanted to send her and their unborn child halfway around the world to Perfume Bay, five-star accommodations located outside of Los Angeles. After she delivered, staff would file for a Social Security card, birth certificate, and passport for the baby. Their son—his sex recently confirmed—would give them a foothold in America.

"Eventually he could sponsor our green cards," Scarlett had responded. "For now, you'll get rid of me. Clever plan, Boss Yeung."

At the factory, she called him Boss Yeung, and she kept it up in private, too, a reminder that she was a deputy manager, and not a xiaojie—a mistress, a gold digger from a disco or a hostess bar. They passed factories covered in grimy white tile, built on land that had been fields when she arrived here as a teenager. People from around the country had moved to the Pearl River Delta, just across the border from Hong Kong, to make their fortunes, and the factory girl you snubbed might someday become your manager.

Boss Yeung reached into the glove box for a brand-new U.S. atlas that he must have hand-carried from Hong Kong. Hope unfurled in her chest. She always navigated on their weekend drives, and with this gift, she pictured them traveling across America together.

"Whatever hospital you'd deliver in would be top-class," he said.

"The hospitals are good in Hong Kong, too," she said. Unlike in China, the government wouldn't hassle her there for being an unwed mother, wouldn't fine her or force her to terminate her pregnancy. Women there could have as many children as they wanted.

Boss Yeung frowned. Hong Kong was also home to his wife and three daughters.

"It doesn't matter how good the hospitals are in America, if I end up in jail," she said.

She had conceived even though Boss Yeung had pulled out, evidently not soon enough. For once, the method had failed them. Her periods had never been regular, and she'd been into her second trimester before realizing her nausea wasn't the stomach flu and her heartburn wasn't from the stress of trying to meet production goals.

On the radio, a newscaster announced that the U.S. embassy was evacuating American tourists from Egypt. Boss Yeung stabbed his finger at the radio dial. "The U.S. would save our son."

"From Egypt? Why would I—why would he go to Egypt?"

"From anywhere. The U.S. would get him out of trouble anywhere." That was when Scarlett had realized just how much his son meant to Boss Yeung, reviving the dream that had died with the birth of his daughters: an heir to carry on his legacy. He had never shared this dream with her, for a boy in his image, a prince of the family. He was almost sixty, she was thirty-six. If Scarlett carried a girl, would Boss Yeung have sent her to Perfume Bay? No. He'd waited to book her stay until he knew she was having a boy, but objecting to such a preference would have been like objecting to gravity.

He sped up, picking off tractor trailers and buses, which still gave her a thrill. Faster and faster they went, getting so far ahead it seemed they might have the road's end to themselves. With him behind the wheel, she might go anywhere. He put his hand on top of hers, lacing their fingers together, and she tucked her head against his shoulder. She never felt more complete than when nestled against him. If she didn't have this baby, she might never have one, not with Boss Yeung or with anyone else.

***

On her own, Scarlett could have expected deference and attention. One pregnant woman gets a seat on the bus, the front of the line at the bathroom, and good wishes from strangers who pat your bump, ask how far along you are, and guess if you are carrying a boy or a girl. At the sight of a fertile belly, the most hardened can't help but hope for the future, can't help but long for their past.

A dozen pregnant women are a different matter.

You quarrel over who gets the most comfortable seat at dinner, who eats the last of the tofu stew, and whose aches are the most deserving of sympathy.

Deep into her eighth month of pregnancy, she had thought the other guests at Perfume Bay would lose interest, but they wouldn't stop picking on her. Now she found herself squeezed into the corner of the couch by an equally round Lady Yu. Their feud had started over Scarlett's accommodations at Perfume Bay, where she had the most luxurious quarters. Lady Yu had demanded the room, which had a view of the foothills, a massage chair, and a marble Jacuzzi, but apparently, Boss Yeung had more guanxi here.
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