In Ai Jiang’s “I Walked the Dogs”, this week’s entry to our New Voices catalog, find the telling signs of a strained marriage. “Visiting parents” eight times in a year, which wouldn’t be strange—if Gunen didn’t hate his parents. Or the clipped, sharp conversations that Jiang employs between our narrator and her husband Jine. “I Walked the Dogs” is stripped only to the most essential parts, avoiding, as its characters do, any moment that isn’t necessary, but still finds those salient points of pressure.
Divorce isn’t an option—not for us, not for our culture. Our parents would never allow it: the scandal it would cause, the whispers among our relatives. Our un-marriage would be a temporary break, and then we would be okay again. We have to be.
Married women have a strange attractiveness, like the glow of pregnant women, or the blossoming blush of a young woman new to relationships.
Or maybe it is all only an excuse. Maybe it makes these hidden desires a little less terrible, a little more logical, rational, in something that has no explanation.
And what authority do I have to speak in such ways about married women other than being one myself? To speak for the entire collective of those bearing wedding bands on their ring fingers and thin tans when they take them off for whatever reason. Like the metal bond of matrimony makes any difference to what a woman—and man—may decide to do, where they might decide to sleep, who they desire in their minds.
“Gunen is visiting his parents, again. Eighth time this year.” Linny stirs her coffee after opening a sixth packet of sugar. We meet every few days at a coffee shop halfway between our two homes.
It wouldn’t have been strange if not for the fact Gunen hates his parents. It wouldn’t have been strange if not for the fact his parents live in Malaysia but he recently checked into a hotel in Dubai, having somehow forgotten he and Linny share an email.
“You have the evidence, why don’t you call him out for it?” I ask. My words are half-hearted. Linny never listens to my advice.
“I could, but he’s the kids’ favorite.” She sighs.
Right. Custody. I forget because I only have dogs.
I nod. “Maybe when they’re older.”
Linny gives me the side eye. “Oh yes. Just ten more years, right? It’ll fly right by.” She ties her hair up in a bun, swiping at the fine baby hairs draping the side of her face. “I wish Gunen is more like Jine. I see him walking the dogs outside every day, you know. 7 p.m. Without fail. Every. Day. After work.”
And how does she know when she lives so far from me? Maybe I’m thinking too much.
“Yeah.” I look at the young waitress fumbling with change by the cash and the way her short skirt hiked up the back—on purpose or not, it drew the eyes of men and women alike.
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