Holly Williams is a country singer. Her lineage is hard to deny: the daughter of Hank Williams Jr., half-sister of Hank Williams III, and the granddaughter of country legend, Hank Williams Sr. (she never met him, as he died long before she was born).
She sings three songs. “Drinkin'” which is very country. “Railroads” rocks a bit more and has an interesting sounding chorus. But it’s “Waitin’ on June,” a story song about her grandparents (not on the Williams side) that is beautiful and touching (although I really don’t like the way she sings the word “June,” but that’s just me).
[READ: February 18, 2016] “The House Behind a Weeping Cherry”
This story is about a young Chinese man, Wanren, who has set out for New York to try to benefit his family. He is shocked to find that he is working in a sweatshop (he left China for this?) pressing clothes.
He has been living in the upstairs apartment of a house owned by Mrs Chen. But his roommate has just left because he couldn’t handle the fact that the women who lived down the hall were prostitutes (who paid Mrs Chen).
When the roommate moves out Wanren is afraid Mrs Chen will raise the rent. But instead, she asks if he will drive the girls to their appointments at local hotels. Mrs Chen assures him that he wont get in trouble with the police and he reluctantly agrees.
The rest of the story unfolds with the narrator becoming more friendly with the three girls.
Lili is the meanest of the three. She speaks the best English and answers the phone. Nana is friendly, but it’s Huong who is the best cook and the prettiest of the three. Wanren likes her the best. Lili suggests that he should buy one of them for the night since he has no girlfriend, but he knows not get involved. He doesn’t want to play favorites even though he has one.
The two of them wind up eating dinner together and sharing their living space a lot more.
He desperately wishes the girls could stop their life and do something legal, but all three of them have serious debts to pay. Huong owes a Coyote $2000 a month for the expense of getting her to the US.
He learns about the johns and what type of people they are. Some are married looking for something different. Some are widows just looking for advice. For the most part the girls aren’t ever treated that badly. Sometimes the johns go too far–one bit Huong very hard once, and another client turned out to be two men who were both so rough with her so that she couldn’t walk the next day.
One night when a client wouldn’t leave (some made house calls) Wanren stepped in to help. And now the women like him even more.
This story is something a of a “hooker with a heart of gold” story, but the added details of their illegal status, their trying to raise money to go home and their having to pay off other men puts an interesting twist on it
Finally, the narrator finds them some honest work, but it will never pay enough. They go to the coyote to see about changing the terms of her payment but he more or less says that if they try plaything he knows where they live.
The story is hopeless. But somehow the ending adds a slight ray of hope, as unbelievable as it may be.
In writing about the story it seems less good than when I was reading it, but I really enjoyed the characters, especially Wanren, and seeing how his mind worked. Even if some parts were rather cliched.