The Lonely Heart
A retelling of the Chinese story “The Painted Skin”.
It was towards mid-afternoon that Chen became aware of the girl. She stood before Chen’s stall, watching the fake-jade effigies of the Buddha and the coloured incense sticks, her eyes wide in the sunlight — she was no more than thirteen or fourteen, with the gangly unease of that age. To her left, children shrieked as they passed the Bridge of Impossibility, holding each other’s hands, and went into the temple complex.
The girl’s hand reached towards a small statue of a demon, touched it — setting off a coloured lightstrobe which illuminated the statue from within.
Normally, Chen should have snatched the statue away, and pointed out to her, in a firm voice, that you didn’t touch the wares unless you paid. But the girl was so young: skeletally thin, her skin taut over high cheekbones, her eyes wide with fear.