SOONER OR LATER by Xuan Juliana Wang

Not so long ago, they were light-hearted. He felt their hearts were like those green nubs held between leaves that would soon be flowers. Now their hearts were like kettle bells, car batteries. There were sticks, dried-up blood, dust balls, and pieces of dung wedged in the creases from being kicked around filthy garage floors. Their dirty hearts had become things that he'd rather not think about, much less touch.

It used to be that he felt like a conveyer belt, and his girlfriend some kind of consumer appliance up for inspection. "What is this?" he'd say, "Is this up to speed?" tapping a finger at her temple as she giggled. While she was brushing her teeth, he'd flip her over on her back, her hair fanned out on bathroom tiles, in order to inspect the bottom of her feet. "These are great," he said of them. "Very compact and efficient."

He really can't pinpoint when things got so heavy. Maybe it was the more conveniently located apartment. Or the type of shoes that his new job required. Or the winter days that made everyone mad, sad, and hungry. After work he started to put in more hours at the gym. Just for the extra time away from her. It had become pretty clear to him she'd developed an obsession with getting married. Her hair had to be grown out so "the stylist could do something with it." She was visiting possible venues on the weekends, tasting all kinds of cakes, and making multi-tabbed spreadsheets.

When he confronted her, "Hey, I didn't even ask yet!," she swiveled around in her office chair, her legs tucked under, apparently in shock. "Yeah, and who says I'll say yes?" She rolled her eyes extravagantly and induced in him instant devastation. "Don't just assume I'll marry you."

Which was infuriating. Like having an argument with a cat.

Or about a cat.

About their cat.

"Why is the cat getting lighter?" he asked her while they were getting ready for bed.

"I don't know what you're trying to get at," his girlfriend replied coldly.

"Just look at him!" he yelled, jabbing his toothbrush toward their fat Siamese, scaring the thing so it dove under the storage closet. "The cat is changing color."

"He's perfectly fine," she said. Both of them stared at the closet.

Yet as days passed he noticed the black cat turning lighter and lighter in color. When the three of them had just moved in together the cat looked like a little lump of coal, but now he was almost the color of a grocery bag.

Was the cat depressed or anxious? He wondered. Could cats feel confused? Was he getting proper nutrition and enough sunlight?

The following month the cat's black ears turned gray. Another month after that, its black paws lightened to the color of beach sand. Its sooty little face looked as if it had been dipped in flour. In the spring, watching him sleep on white sheets, his tail nearly disappeared into the folds.

"Sooner or later that cat will turn white, then what will we do?" he asked, but she just turned away from him, as if he should already know.


Xuan Juliana Wang was born in Heilongjiang but after age seven did most of her growing up in Los Angeles. Her fiction has been published by the Atlantic, Ploughshares, and The Pushcart Prize Anthology 2015. She lives in New York and online at

Art: A Pussy of Rare Intellect (2014) by Irena Jurek. Irena Jurek lives and works in Brooklyn.
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