Seasons Change

Melissa Ren

“Seasons Change” is the Third Place winner for Room’s 2023 Fiction Contest. Of this piece, judge Heather O’Neill writes: “This story was so elegant and perfect. There was not a spare word. In this small story, a relationship between a man and woman is explored in a shattered time frame. The reader is confronted with the breakup of a relationship, followed by the infidelity that caused it and then the touching meeting of future spouses. It leaves you altered by the ways in which we lose love. And how although it cannot be helped, we toss our most precious people away, always looking for freedom. It is so non-judgemental, it seems observed by an angel.”

Content warning: mention of death, fractured relationships, infidelity


冬天 • Winter 

Hàorán Wong was in the winter of his life, living in a cookie-cutter room painted in buttercream and outfitted with standard-issued furnishings for ease of efficient turn over. His only belonging was a carry-on suitcase, which stood upright in the wardrobe, still filled with a few clothes he never bothered to unpack. 

Children’s giggles echoed in the hallway, causing his chest to ache. Another grandparent’s birthday, he assumed. Or maybe it was the weekend when visitors came in troves. If he had the energy to get up from the armchair, he would have closed the door. Instead, he turned off his hearing aids and stared out the window. 

The parking lot wasn’t much of a view, but it was the only view that mattered to him. He hoped for the day he’d glimpse his daughter among a sea of cars. 

Ming-Yue was a grown woman now, barely recognizable, married with children of her own. Two, the last he saw, though it’d been six years since they’d seen one another at his wife’s wake. He still called Wen his wife, having never signed the divorce papers in hopes she’d find her way back to him.

She never did. 

All of Wen’s closest friends, friends he didn’t recognize, attended her funeral ceremony. There, Hàorán met his two grandsons for the first time. He never got their ages, but assumed two and four from their size. The eldest looked just like him: a narrow face with sharp eyes. Named after his grandmother, Warren stood tall by his mother’s side as she clutched her youngest in her arms. Warren bowed three times without prompting, to pay his respect to Wen. As he stepped away from the altar, the boy flicked his gaze to meet his grandfather’s eyes and smiled. 

As if they knew one another. 

On one of the saddest days of Hàorán’s life, his heart was finally full. 


秋天 • Autumn

During the Mid-Autumn Festival, when most celebrated a fruitful harvest under the full moon with their loved ones, Hàorán spent the evening with a woman nearly half his age, someone he’d met one night while drinking báijiǔ at a bar. Her thin, yet shapely figure first drew him in. But then she spoke, her sultry voice lingered in the air. Smooth, like jazz music. Sexy and full of want. She leaned in, clasping the stem of her glass as her knee brushed against his. A sensation effervesced within him. She smiled with teasing eyes. And that’s all it took. 

When they were together, he’d felt as young as her. Stronger. Desirous. The man he should have been. Not a husband to a nagging wife. When did he lose sight of who he was?

She’d massage his shoulders in bed like a dà lǎo, a big shot, and he started to believe it. They dined at fancy restaurants he’d never taken Wen. Splurged on jewellery he’d never given Wen. Sipped on cocktails at jazz clubs while Wen and Ming-Yue were sleeping. 

That night, as lanterns filled the sky and families gazed at the moon, Hàorán hand-fed his lover the mooncakes he bought for his daughter for the Mid-Autumn Festival. After all, Ming-Yue’s name meant ‘bright moon’ after the auspicious celebration. She was turning eleven in a few days. He’d replace them tomorrow, he thought. 

On the cusp of the morning hour, Hàorán left his woman’s apartment in the city as he so often did, taking the longer route back to the suburbs. As he drew closer to his home, a heaviness filled his chest. The warmth he’d felt only hours ago evaporated into the crisp night. 

The lights to his house were on, brightening the entire street. His heart thrummed against his ribs as he pulled in. 

Wen had waited up for him. 

The night was long from over. For a moment, he considered turning around, but he’d have to face Wen, eventually. 

He took a breath before opening the door. All was quiet inside. Wen wasn’t sitting on the couch as he expected. 

She wasn’t sound asleep in their bed either. 

And neither was their daughter. Their closets had emptied. Suitcases with it. 

Wen and Ming-Yue were gone. 

She’d finally left him.


夏天 • Summer 

Only days into the season and the summer mugginess flooded the house, suffocating Hàorán and clouding his chest. Everything stuck to his body: the newspaper to his forearm, his thighs to the vinyl chair, the hairs to the back of his neck, the skin-to-skin of his underarms. 

His muscles tensed as he glared at the monthly bills scattered across the kitchen table. He dropped his head into his palms and groaned. Hadn’t he just paid the bills? Where did the time go between months? 

He opened up the cheque book and scribbled the date, amount, signature. Date, amount, signature. Over and over.

When did life become so cyclical? So monotonous? Working a job he hated, paying a mortgage for a house he didn’t want, living in a neighbourhood too far from the city, married to a woman he wasn’t sure he loved, preparing for a family he didn’t have.

Did he even want children? He was in the prime of his life, and yet, responsibilities had aged him. Was this all there was to living? Eat, shit, sleep, repeat. 




Not that long ago, Hàorán had dreams of travelling the world and discovering new cuisines. He wanted to read more books, watch foreign films, listen to jazz music. Maybe grow his hair long and take up surfing or cycling. 

He yearned to just be

Marriage had changed him, that much he knew, and the truth made his insides rot. 

Wen entered the kitchen, a small smile touching her lips. She placed a cardboard bakery box knotted with a red string on the table. Inside were six perfectly round mooncakes, its shape a symbol of family unity. He hated those things. 

She slid a hand over her belly, her cheeks shaded rose. With wistful eyes, she whispered, “You’re going to be a father.”


春天 • Spring

Spring blossomed the city with buds, colouring the trees with peas and gardens with confetti. Hàorán cut across the quad to enter the campus bookstore to collect reading materials for his last semester. He was passing through the English Literature aisles when a girl caught his eye.

Long black hair, a gentle face, a smile that lit up the entire room. She stood by herself, leaning against the bookshelf as she laughed while reading. Hàorán’s chest warmed. He watched her from the gap between two aisles. She flipped the page and giggled once more. The corner of Hàorán’s mouth ticked up.


She snapped the book closed and met Hàorán’s eyes. He snatched the first book at arm’s length and pretended to read the back cover. He could feel her watching him. His heart rattled in his chest as he counted the passing seconds. Once he hit thirty, he chanced a glimpse. 

The girl wiggled her fingers in a wave. 

Heat rushed to his cheeks. Hàorán contemplated waving back, but he couldn’t feel his arms. Or his legs. 

She pulled her backpack over her shoulder and walked straight toward him. A lump in his throat prevented him from speaking. Instead, he managed an awkward grimace. The girl smiled, bright and innocent.

He’d made her smile. And that knowledge sent a thrill through him. He wanted to do it again.

“Do you always come in here and pretend to read so you can stare at girls?” She smelled like a strawberry milkshake. 

His eyes rounded. 

“I’m just teasing.” She tucked her hair behind her ear with a graceful hand. “I’ve never seen you in this aisle before. I’m usually the only one.” 

She’d noticed him, too. 

With a sudden confidence, he said, “I’m Hàorán. And I wasn’t staring at all the girls. Only one.”

She bit her lower lip, blushing. “Together, our names could be summer.”

Hàorán tilted his head. 

“My name is Wen.” Warm

His name meant ‘overwhelming’ and in that moment, he wanted nothing more but to spend a summer with her. And every summer after. 

Hàorán’s entire life was ahead of him.

Melissa Ren is a Chinese-Canadian writer whose narratives tend to explore the intersection between belonging and becoming. She is an editor at Tales & Feathers, the winner of the WriteHive Sponsored Writer Award, and a grant recipient of the Canada Council for the Arts. For more information, visit or follow @melisfluous on Twitter and Instagram.

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