Excerpt from Spider Love Song and Other Stories by Nancy Au, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Spider Love Song and Other Stories

by Nancy Au

Spider Love Song and Other Stories by Nancy Au X
Spider Love Song and Other Stories by Nancy Au
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    Oct 2019, 184 pages


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Elisabeth Cook
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May Zhou and her wife, Lai, ate lunch every Friday on a grassy corner of a city park two blocks from Oakland Community College, where they worked in the bursar's office as accountants. Today they'd met for an early lunch, an hour before noon, but the temperature was already boiling. A thin haze hung in the air, smothering May's appetite.

Lai peeled back the bread on her sandwich and sighed. "I wanted banana on my peanut butter."

"You already ate all the bananas."

May watched as her wife folded the sandwich in half and took a bite out of the center. Lai then lifted the sandwich up to her face and peered at May through the bread's oozing hole. May wondered how Lai, who had the spirited appetite of a teenage girl, and who would eat the horn off a rhino if she was hungry enough, remained so slender while May's own small frame had begun to widen the moment she'd turned thirty, so that she resembled a shrimp dumpling.

Lost in self-consciousness, May did not notice the approaching duck until Lai squealed.

"Oh my god! A duck! Look at it!" Lai's brown, almond-shaped eyes were wide with excitement; her long black hair spilled over her shoulders. She tossed her unfinished sandwich into their shared lunch cooler as she bent to get closer to the bird.

"It has one eye. And ... god. One toe. It's got one toe." May took a picture with her cell phone. She focused the camera on the scabby, bald patch of skin on the bird's head where only one iridescent green feather clung. She imagined the bloody, beak-cracking fights it must have been in. Was this duck the bully or the victim?

"Ducks don't have toes. That's web. I'm going to name her. Louise," Lai said. "Little Louise. Come. Come." Retrieving her sandwich, she tried to tempt the bird with it, giggling each time the duck inched toward her.

"Why would you want half a duck?"

"She's all healed."

"Its eye socket looks like a ... a peach pit!" May said. But Lai did not hear because the bird had walked into her outstretched arms.

"Oh my god. This is so amazing," Lai whispered loudly, trembling.

"Something is wrong with that duck, Lai. Can birds get rabies? Mange?"

"Nothing's wrong with her. She's perfect." "We don't have room for a duck."

"You said it: She's only half a duck."

"This is just crazy."

"She looks sad," said Lai.

"It's fine. It belongs out here ... in nature."

"This isn't nature," said Lai. "I've seen golf courses wilder than this. Besides, look. She only has one eye. She can't see cars coming from her left! Or dogs or cats or anything else that eats ducks, for that matter. Here." She tipped her chin at May's pocket. "Take a picture of us."

"How many lampposts have you walked into, little one?" Lai asked the bird as she stroked its bent feathers.

May rolled her eyes.

"And see how tame she is? So tame! I think she already loves me!"

"We can't take care of a wild animal. You understand, don't you?"

"Hey, little ducky bird," sang Lai. "Little duck bird is flapping her wings and singing a song for me, for me. Little duck bird is quacking a song and wagging her tail for me, for meeeee!"


Her wife cooed into the bird's face.


Lai carefully set the duck into the cooler, using the remainder of her peanut butter sandwich as a mattress for the animal. She tickled its back. "Hi, happiness. Hi, my birdy beast."

May frowned, even though she was secretly impressed by the way the duck responded to her wife by opening and closing its wings slowly and giving a timid squawk. Why was the bird so tame? Was it sick? Would it get Lai sick? How had Lai gotten this far in life acting like a child, always in awe of everything? Whereas May worked hard, squaring her sloping shoulders, deepening her voice, making steady eye contact, constantly fighting the urge to apologize for speaking assuredly or expressing her displeasure. Didn't Lai understand that her childish eagerness undermined all the effort May put into making people—their supervisor at the bursar's office, their families, the mechanic, their landlord—take them seriously?

Excerpted from Spider Love Song and Other Stories by Nancy Au. Copyright © 2019 by Nancy Au. Excerpted by permission of Acre Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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