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(Winner of the Fall 2019 Aura Estrada Short Story Contest)


Incantatory. Dream-like. Lyrical. Heady, like good red wine. A refreshing interpretation of the theme of allies. A poignant testament and exploration of “in-betweeness”, of living in and negotiating worlds within and without. It reads like a condensed novel. Looking forward to more stories from Li. —Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, Fall 2019 Aura Estrada Contest judge

THE CHINESE WECHAT MOTHERS were the first to tell me I was pregnant. They know my body better than I do. I’ve known about the Chinese WeChat mothers since I was born but have never met a single one of them. My mother was added to the group when she went back to Shanghai to visit my grandma. Without even asking, my mother downloaded WeChat onto my phone. “They need to know you exist”, she told me when she returned. “They will help you. They understand.” I don’t even know what the Chinese WeChat mothers look like. Their profile pictures are usually zoomed-in photos of their children’s faces. The Chinese WeChat mothers never go by their own names, only by their children’s, something like Meis_mother_828. The Chinese WeChat mothers are even hidden to themselves.

The Chinese WeChat mothers are there to make sure things go right. They exist to make sure mothering happens for little Chinese boys and girls the way mothering should—exact, methodical, constant. Legend has it that the Chinese WeChat mothers have always been a group, even before WeChat existed. Always waiting for a husband to come home, for a child to come back to them. Always looking forward to telling a new mother what can’t be done.

The night they tell me I’m pregnant, I’m in bed with my husband. We’ve been married for two years. I lie and tell people we’ve only been married for a month. They bring up the fact that he’s white less this way, certain the mistake will undo itself with time.

Every night before I go to sleep, I open up Snapchat and scroll until I get to the face swap filter. I only downloaded Snapchat for this filter. In the dead of night, I stretch out my right arm and hold my phone above our two heads. The phone screen lights up our faces and makes our skin look like shiny puddles of curdled milk. The first time it happened, I couldn’t help but let out a tiny scream. Sometimes I get Max’s eyes and he gets my nose. Other times, I get his thinner lips and he gets my thinner eyebrows. Each face swap is different—something newly stolen, newly returned. One time, the app didn’t even recognize my face and only recognized his. I kept tapping the screen, willing the phone to see me. The phone always sees my husband.

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About Boston Review

Allies is the first publication of Boston Review's newly inaugurated Arts in Society department. A radical revisioning of the magazine's poetry and fiction, the department unites them—along with cultural criticism and belles lettres—under a project that explores how the arts can speak directly to the most pressing political and civic concerns of our age, from growing inequality to racial and gender regimes, a disempowered electorate, and a collapsing natural world.