You’re brought up by blue, Father said.
Cheap hands are like cheap cloths: they wrinkle easily because nobody bothers to take care of them. They are disposable.
Father owned a pair of those cheap hands, which dyed, washed, ironed, and folded cloths that ran thousands of kilometers long, longer than the Pearl River. The cloth looked infinite on the factory conveyor belt, as if the cracked hands were the processed, not the fabric. Father had gone to vocational school, which soon released his hands from stirring indigo in plastic barrels. Those hands went to handle guns. He fired potassium permanganate at lifeless indigo denim, which dangled from the swirling rack like dead birds in the deli. The oxidation of those dark purple crystals bleached the cloths, icing them with white, making them sellable jeans with characters. Decades later when clouds froze inside his lungs, he realized that what made a good gunman was not education but desperation. Those dark purple chemicals corrupted the skin, the mucosas, the alveoli, the veins. Young men nowadays are pussies, Father said, only men like my age still have the balls to take those guns. Men like me will take those guns so our daughters can sit at home, painting their nails.
He stole the dark purple crystals from the factory, throwing them into the basin for a dreamy fuchsia pool. He soaked his hands in it, saying that the crystals kill both the flesh and the germ, that if you wish to tame it, you’d have to pull out before it stripped you down to the bones. Sometimes he soaked his feet too. His were big, with long toes that clinched to the ground like tree roots. They steadied him for steering such a large spray gun. After he dried his hands in his towel, the one with a staring hole at the side and several smaller ones calling to it, his hands looked brighter and softer, the clefts pushed up by the water. Father never wasted cheap cloths even though he made them. He knew that their destiny was to be packaged and sold in fast-fashion stores, be bought and worn once, and then stop to fit or hold before being declared dead. But he didn’t keep the towel because he sympathized with the cloths; Father kept them because he saw no point in getting the good ones, just as he saw no point in using Band-Aids or vaseline for his hands. Why bother if people were born abusive?
He often told me textile-men stories, of people near and far. He wanted a listener. The denim factory where Father worked made both real and fake Levi’s, but it wasn’t his first job. Before that he worked in a cotton fabric factory, weaving strands from yarns into tall rolls of fabric, each weighing over a ton. One day he saw a roll of fresh white cotton fall from the rack, smashing a careless man’s skull. The next day he walked into that denim factory and stayed until he got retired. He found a new job in the denim factory because he needed another strong color to force the red of that night out of his head. He told me that textile-women only wore short hair unless they wanted to be dragged into the factory dryer and baked into crispy corpses. He always told those stories with no names and troubled tones. I asked him if he had made it all up, otherwise why did his stories never have names? He exhaled a wreath and said, people redact to tell the truth. He smoked two packs a day. After the crystals, he said, what do I have to lose? Mother couldn’t make him stop smoking, even when she was pregnant with me. Father made a compromise by retreating into the bathroom for his smoke, leaving the rest of the house clean. He soon developed constipation. Every day Mother bought pig lungs from the butcher to make soup with homemade tangerine peels sundried on our balcony. He ate what he needed.
There was a particular story Father loved to tell. Once the waters near us were colorless and clear. Then factories sprung up, their waste dyeing the rivers blue because of all the chemicals in it. Later the bosses put in more chemicals to de-color the wastewater. Father had traveled to many cities and tasted many waters. He said his tongue could tell the differences, even when his tongue failed to detect that the dinner was leftover, undated and cold.
He described the finest jeans the way men describe the finest women—they break men’s legs in thousands. Across the Pacific Ocean, he said, textile-men were standing along the shore day and night like a tireless wall. Wearing valuable raw jeans, they marched into the water and soaked their legs, and let the waves and time slowly gradate the dark denim into a softer blue. The fading would be so subtle, Father said, that even the pickiest quality controller wouldn’t be able to invent a fine. Is it why the oceans are blue? I asked. You’re brought up by blue, Father said. Now as I walk past shopping malls, I always stop and stare at those jeaned-leg mannequins without the upper body, wondering if those legs would feel the same salty waves, a flapping blue that feeds, a flapping blue that kills.