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Thread: Em Gai' Thuong. Hai?

  1. #1
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    Em Gai' Thuong. Hai?

    1) ENCOUNTER WITH MY LOVER

    My name is Nikki but my friends all call Coco after Coco Chanel, a French lady who lived to be almost 90. She's my idol, after Henry Miller. Every morning when I open my eyes I wonder waht I can do to make myself famous. It's become my ambition, almost my raison d'etre, to burst upon the city like fireworks.

    This has a lot to do with the fact that I live in Shanghai. A mystical fog envelops the city, mixed with continual rumors and an air of superity, a hangover from the time of the shili yangchang, the foreign concessions. This hint of smugness affects me: I both love it and hate it.

    Anyway, I'm just 25, and a year ago i published a collection of short stories that didn't make any money but got me attention. (Male readers sent me letters enclosing erotic photos.) 3 months ago I left my job as a magazine journalist, and now I'm a bare-legged, miniskirted waitress at a joint called the Green Stalk Cafe'.

    There was a tall, handsome young man, a regular at the Green Stalk, who would stay for hours drinking coffee and reading his book. I liked to watch his changes of expression, his every move. He seemed to know I was watching him, but he never said a word.

    Until, that is, the day he gave me a note that said "I love you," along with his name and address.

    Born in the Year of the Rabbit, and a year younger than me, this man enchanted me. It's hard to put a finger on what made him so good looking in my eyes, but it had something to do with his air of world-weariness and his thirst for love.

    On the surface we're two utterly different types. I'm full of energy and ambition and see the world as a ripe fruit just waiting to be eaten. He is introspective and romantic, and for him life is a cake laced with arsenic-every bite poisons him a little more. But our differences only increased our mutual attraction, like the inseparable north and south magnetic poles. We rapidly fell in love.

    Not long after we met, he told me a family secret. His mother was living in a small town in Spain, with a local man, running a Chinese restaurant. It seems you can make a lot of money in Spain by selling lobster and wonton.

    His father had died young, suddenly, out there, less than a month after going to Spain to visit his mother. The death certificate said "myocardial infarction," and his ashes were flown home in a McDonnell Douglas jet. Tian still remembered that sunny day, and how his tiny grandmother, his father's mother, cried, tears streaming down her wrinkled face like water dripping off a wet rag.

    "Grandmother was convinced it was murder. My dad didn't have any history of heart desease; she said my mother killed him. That she had another man over there, and they plotted it together."

    Staring at me with a strange look in his eyes, Tian said, "Can you believe it? I still can't work it out. May be Grandmother was right. But whatever-Mother sends me a lot of $ every year to live on."

    He watched me in silence. His strange story grabbed me immediately, because I'm drawn to tragedy and intrigue. When I was studying Chinese at Fudan University in Shanghai, I'd wanted to become a writer of really exciting thrillers: evil omen, conspriacy, dagger, lust, poison, madness, and moonlight were all words that sprang readily to my mind. Looking tenderly into his fragile, beautiful face, I understood the root of Tian sadness.

    "Death's shadow only fades little by little as time passes. There will never be more than a thin glass barrier between your present and the wreckage of your past," I told him.

    His eyes grew wet, and he clenched his hands tightly. "But I've found you and decided to put my faith in you, "he said. "Don't stay with me just out of curiousity, but don't leave me straight-away."
    Last edited by erik; 01-12-2003 at 11:42 PM.
    ...Nắng chia nửa bãi chiều rồi...
    Nắng chia luôn cả tim tôi cho người.

  2. #2
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    I moved into Tian’s place, a big 3 bedroom apartment on the western outskirts of the city. He had decorated the living room simply and comfortably, with a sectional fabric sofa from Ikea along one wall and a Strauss piano. Above the piano hung his self-portrait, in which his head looked as if he’d just surfaced from a pool.

    To be honest, I didn’t much like the area. Almost all the roads were full of potholes and were lined on both sides with cramped, shabby houses, peeling billboards, and reeking piles of rubbish. There was a public phone box that leaked like the Titanic whenever it rained. Looking out of the window, I couldn’t see a single green tree or smartly dressed person or a clear patch of sky. It was not a place where I was able to see the future.

    Tian always said that the future is a trap set right in the middle your brain.

    For a while after his father died, Tian lost the power of speech. Then he dropped out of high school in his first year. His lonely childhood had already turned him into a nihilist. His aversion to the outside world meant he spent half his life in bed: reading, watching videos, smoking, musing on the pros and cons of life versus death, the spirit versus flesh, calling premium phone lines, playing computer games, and sleeping. The rest of the time he painted, walked with me, ate, shopped, browsed in the book and record shops, sat in café, or went to the bank. When he needed money, he would go to the post office and send letters in beautiful blue envelopes to his mother.

    He seldom visited his grandmother. He had moved out of her house when it became a nightmare. She had sunk into a permanent state of delirium,fixated on the “murder” in Spain. Her heart was broken, her face ravaged and her spirit gone, but she wouldn’t die. She still lives in a western-style house in the city now, fuming with anger, cursing her destiny and her daughter-in-law.

    Sattuday. Clear weather. Pleasant indoor temperature. At exactly 8:30A.M. I wake up, and beside me, Tian opens his eyes. We look at each other for a second, then begin to kiss silently. Our early morning kisses are tender, affectionate, smooth as little fishes wriggling in water. This is the compulsory start to our day-and the sole channel of sexual expression between us.

    Tian just couldn’t handle sex. I’m not sure if it was related to the tragedy that had caused his mental problems, but I remember the first time I held him in bed. When I discovered he was impotent, I was devastated, so much so that I didn’t know if I could stay with him. Ever since college I had seen sex as a basic necessity (although I’ve since changed my mind about this).
    ...Nắng chia nửa bãi chiều rồi...
    Nắng chia luôn cả tim tôi cho người.

  3. #3
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    Unable to enter me, he stared at me, speechless, his whole body in cold sweat. It was his first time with a woman in all his 24 years.

    In the male world, bieng able to perform sex normally is as life itself, and any shortcoming causes unbearable pain. He cried, and so did I. For the rest of the night we kissed, touched, and murmured to 1 another. I soon came to adore his sweet kiss and gentle touch. Kissing with the tip of the tongue feels like ice cream melting. It was he who taught me that a kiss has a soul and colors all its own.

    He was kind, loving, and trusting as a dolphin. His temperament was what captured my wild heart. What he couldn't give me-sharp cries or exlosive pleasure, sexual pride or orgasm-lost signigicance.

    In the Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera gives a classic definition of love: "Making love with a woman and sleeping with a woman r 2 separate passions, not merely different but opposite. Love does not make itself felt in the desire for copulation (a desire that extends to an infinite number of women) but in the desire for shared sleep (a desire limited to 1 woman)."

    At the begining of my time with Tian, I had no idea that I would experience this for myself, until a series of events and the appearance of another man gave me the chance to understand it.

    At 9 o'clock we got up, and he got into the huge bathtub while I smoked my 1st Mild Seven cigarette. In the tiny kitchen I made corn congee, eggs, and milk. With the golden sunlight dripping outside the window like melted honey, wummer morning always seemed poetic. I felt totally relaxed, listening to the sound of water gushing in the bathroom.

    "Will you ocme to the Green Stalk Cafe with me?" I asked, taking a big glass of milk into the steam-swirled bathroom. Tian's eyes were closed, and he gave a long yawn, looking like a fish.

    "Coco, I've got an idea," he said in a low voice.

    "What idea?" I brought the mild right to him, but he didn't take it in his hand, just leaned forward and sipped a little.

    "Why don't u give up your job at the cafe?"

    "Then wat should I do?"

    "We've enough $ not to have to work all the time. You could write your novel."

    It turned out he had been brewing his idea for some time, that he wanted me to write a novel taht would take the literary world by storm. "There's nothing worth reading in the bookshops these days, just empty stories," he said.

    "Okay," I said, "but not right now. I want to work a bit longer. You sometimes meet interesting people in a cafe"

    "Whatever," he mumbled. This was his pet phrase, meaning he had heard and taken in the comment but had no response.

    We ate breakfast together, the I dressed and put on my makeup and wandered elegantly around the room until I finally found my favorite leopard-spotted handbag. Sitting on the sofa, book in hand, he glanced up as I left. "I'll call you," he said.

    This is city at rught hour: All sorts of vehicles and pedestrians, all their invisible desires and countless secrets, merge with the flow like rapids plunging through a deep gorge. The sun shines down on the street, hemmed in on both sides by skyscrapers-the mad creations of humans-towering between sky and earth. The petty details of daily life are like dust suspended in the air. They are a monotonous theme of our materialistic age.
    ...Nắng chia nửa bãi chiều rồi...
    Nắng chia luôn cả tim tôi cho người.

  4. #4
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    Post tiếp phần sau đi mà erik.
    Vấp ngã hoài cũng chưa đủ để học khôn

  5. #5
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    2) Modern Metropolis

    It was3:30 in the afternoon, and the Green Stalk Café was empty. A sunbeam filtered in through the leaves of the parasol tree, and particles of dust floated in it. An odd pall hung over the magazines and the jazz music from the stereo, as if they were survivals from the 1930s.

    I stood behind the bar with nothing to do. It’s always boring when there’s no business.

    Old Yang, the headwaiter, was taking a nap in the back room. He was a trusted relative of the boss and camped out there day and night, managing the $ and us.

    My co-worker, Spider, took advantage of the break to sneak off to the computer company on the corner in search of cheap parts. He was a problem teenager with only 1 thing on his mind. He wanted to be a superhacker. You could call him a half-graduate, because despite having an IQ of 150, he hadn’t completed his degree in computing at Fudan U. He was thrown out because he kept hacking into Shanghai Online to rip off account # and surf the web at their expense.

    There we were, a formerly promising journalist and a computer hit man with a reputation, both working in a café. It’s hard to deny life’s little ironies. Wrong place, wrong roles, but united in our commitment to life’s young dream. And yet, our bodies were already tarnished and our minds beyond help.

    I began to arrange the scented white lilies in a large jar of water. So delicate, that feeling when my fingers touched these seductive white petals. My love of flowers may be conventionally feminine, but I believe the day will come when I look in the mirror and compare my face to a poisonous plant. And my shocking best selling novel will reveal the truth about humankind: violence, style, lust, joy and then enigma, machines, power, and death.

    The old rotary-dial telephone rang piercingly. It was Tian. Almost everyday he would call about now, just as we were both getting tired of our respective surroundings. “Same time, same place-I’ll be waiting to have dinner with you,” he said urgently, as if it were important.

    At dust I took off my uniform miniskirt and short Chinese silk jacket and changed into a tight-fitting shirt and pants. Clutching my handbag, I walked light-footed out of the café’. The colorful street lanterns had just come on, and the fluorescent lights of the shops shimmered like shards of gold. I walked along the street, blending with the thousands of people and vehicles shuttling back and forth, like the Milky Way blazing right here on earth. The most exciting moment of the city’s day had arrived.

    The Cotton Club is at the corner of Huaihai and Fuxing Roads, the equivalent of New York’s Fifth Avenue or the Chmaps-Elysee’s in Paris. From a distance, the 2-story French building has an air of distinction. Those who come here are either laowai-forerigners-with a lewd look in their eyes, or slim, foxy Asian belles. Its shimmering blue sign looks just the way Henry Miller described a syphilitic sore. It’s because we enjoyed this metaphor that Tian and I used to go there. (In addition to writing Tropic of Cancer, Miller lived to 89 and married 5 times, and I’ve always seen him as my spiritual father)

    I pushed open the door, looked around, and saw Tian waving to me from a corner. But what surprised me was that next to him sat a fashionable woman wearing what was obviously a wig, but s striking 1, and a halter top in shiny black. Her tiny face was dusted with gold and silver powder, as if she’d just landed from some planet incredibly far away.

    “This is Madonna; we were at elementary school together,” said Tian. Perhaps thinking that inadequate, he added: “She’s also been my only friend in Shanghai lately.” Then he introduced me to her. “This is Nikki, my girlfriend,” he said, and quite unself-consciously took my hand and held it on his lap.

    We nodded and smiled, because the fact we were both friends of Tian, who is as wholesome as a tiny butterfly, instantly disposed us to like and trust each other. But her first words startled me.

    “Tian has talked about you so often on the phone. He always goes on for hours. He adores you so much it makes me jealous. “She laughed, low and husky, like an actress in one of those old Hollywood movies.

    I glanced at Tian who was trying to look as though he’d done no such thing. “He likes chatting on the phone. You could buy a 31 inch television with the money he spends on the monthly phone bill, “ I added thoughtlessly, and immediately I realized how tacky it was to see everything in terms of money.

    “I hear you’re a writer,” said Madonna.
    “Well, it’s been a while since I wrote anything, and actually…I can’t really call myself a write. “I felt a bit ashamed: Just wanting to be a writer isn’t enough.

    Tian interrupted. “Oh, Coco’s already published a collection of stories. It’s cool. She’s so observant. She’s going to be very successful, “he said calmly, not a hint of flattery on this face.

    “I’m working as a waitress just now,” I said matter-of-factly. “And you? You look like an actress.”
    “Didn’t Tian tell you?” She looked briefly quizzical, as if she were trying to guess how I’d react. “I was a mami [a madam] in Guangzhou. I got married, then my old man kicked the bucket and left me a bundle of $, so now I enjoy myself.”

    I nodded, outwardly calm while an exclamation mark popped up in my mind. Right in front of me was a bona fide rich widow! And now I know where those courtesan airs came from, and those alarmingly sharp eyes, which automatically made me think of an errant heroine.
    We stopped talking for a moment, as the food Tian had ordered arrived, one dish after the other-all my Shanghai favorites. “If you’d rather have something else, just order it, “he told Madonna.

    She nodded. “Actually, I have a very small stomach, “she said, cupping her hands to make a fist-size shape. “The evening is the start of my day, so most people’s dinner is my breakfast. I don’t eat a lot. My screwed-up life has turned my body into a garbage dump.”

    “I like your garbage,” said Tian.

    I watched her while I ate. She had the sort of face that only a woman whose life has been full of stories could have.

    “Come over to my place when you have time. You’ll find singing, dancing, card games, drinking, and all sorts of weird people. I’ve just redecorated my apartment. I spent half a million Hong Kong dollars on the lighting and sound system alone.

    More f..ing awesome than some Shanghai nightclubs” she said, without a trace of smugness.
    ...Nắng chia nửa bãi chiều rồi...
    Nắng chia luôn cả tim tôi cho người.

  6. #6
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    Her mobile phone rang. She took it out of her bag and switched to a grainy, sexy voice.”Where? I’ll bet you’re at old Wu’s place. One day you’ll die at a mahjong table. I’m eating with friends right now. Let’s talk again at midnight,” teased Madonna, eyes sparkling.

    “That was my new beau”-putting down the phone-“he’s a crazy painter. I’ll introduce you next time we meet. Guys today really know how to sweet-talk a woman. He just swore he die in my bed. “She started laughing again. “True or not, it’s enough to keep me happy.”

    Tian was reading the Xinmin Evening News and ignored her. This paper, which he read to remind himself that he still lives here, is the only thing that links him to the everyday side of Shanghai. And I was beginning to feel a bit inhibited the face of the wild-talking Madonna.

    “You’re really cute,” Madonna said, looking straight at me” You’re not just pretty in a delicate way. You’ve got an aloofness, too, that turns men on. Too bad I’ve washed my hands of the business, or I could make you the hottest property around.”

    Before I could react, she was laughing so hard she could hardly catch her breath. “Sorry, sorry-just kidding.” I could see her eyes darting back and forth all the time, avid with neurotic enthusiasm. She had the air of all practiced flirts, past and present, Chinese and foreign, who can mix well with any company but really get excited only when new faces appear.

    “Watch what you say; I getting jealous,” said Tian, looking up amorously from his paper and slipping his arm around my waist. We always sat that way, like Siamese twins, even if it was a bit inappropriate of some places.

    Smiling faintly, I looked at Madonna. “You’re very beautiful, too. In a linglei [unconventional] sort of way; not fake linglei, but the real thing.”

    When we parted at the door of the Cotton Club, she hugged my. “My dear, I’ve stories I’d love to tell you-if your really want to write that best-seller of yours, that is.”

    Madonna hugged Tian close, too. “My little good-for-nothing,” she said. “Take good care of your love. Love’s the most powerful thing on earth. It can make you fly and forget everything else. A child like you would be ruined in no time without love-you’ve no immunity against life. I’ll call you.”

    She blew us a kiss, slipped into a white VW Santana 2000 at the curb, and sped off.

    I thought about what she’d said. Buried in her words were fragments of philosophy, sparkling brighter than the lights, truer than truth. And the scent of her kiss lingered in the air.

    “She’s a crazy woman,” said Tian happily. “But she’s really something, isn’t she? She used to stop me from doing anything stupid when I’d been alone in my room too long, by taking me for a midnight spin on 1 of those raised highway. We’d drink a lot, smoke dope, and wander around on a high until sunrise.

    “Then I met you. It was all predestined,” he went on. “You’re not really like Madonna and me. We’re different types. You’re ambitious and full of faith in the future. You and your drive are what give me a reason to live. Do you believe me? I never lie.”

    “Idiot,” I said pinching his bottom.
    “You’re a crazy woman, too!” He yelped in pain.

    For Tian, anyone who falls outside the bounds of normality, specially anyone in a mental hospital, is to be admired. In his opinion, crazy people are considered mad by the rest of society only because their intelligence isn’t understood. He thinks that beauty is reliable only when it’s linked to death or hopelessness, even to evil. Like epiliepic Dostoevsky, ear-slicing Van Gosh, impotent Dali’, homosexual Allen Ginberg, or movie starled Frances Farmer, who was thrown into a asylum and lobotomized during the McCarthy witch hunts. Or Irish singer Gavin Friday, who wore thick layers of brightly colored makeup all his life. Or Henry Miller, who, at his poorest, would pace up and down in front of a restaurant to scrounge a scrap of steak, and wander the streets begging for a dime to take the subway. To Tian, these people are like wildflowers, bursting with vigor and living and dying alone.

    The night colors were soft. Pressing close together, Tian and I strolled along Huainhai Road. The lights, tree shadows, and gothic roof of the Paris Printemps department store, and the people in autumn grab meandering among them, all seem adrift peacefully among the night colors. An atmosphere unique to Shanghai, lighthearted but refined, hung over the city.

    I am forever absorbing the atmosphere, as if it were a magic potion of jade or rubies that would rid me of the contempt the young have for convention and help me get deep into the guts of the city, like an insect boring into an apple.

    Thoughts like that cheer me up. I grabbed Tian, my lover, and whirled him into a dance on the pavement.

    “You’re a capricious romantic, like an attack of appendicitis,” he said softly.
    “This is called ‘Lazy Step to Paris,’ my favorite foxtrot, “I said earnestly.

    As usual, we strolled slowly over to the Bund. At night, it becomes a place of heavenly quite. We went up to the top floor of the Peace Hotel, where we’d discovered a secret passageway to the roof-through a narrow window in the women’s restroom and up the fire escape. We climbed up there often and were never caught.

    Standing on the roof, we looked at the silhouettes of the building lit up by the streetlights on both sides of the Huanpu River, specially the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, Asia’s tallest. It’s long, long steel column pierces the sky, proof of the city’s phallic worship. The ferries, the waves, the night-dark grass, the dazzling neon lights, and incredible structures-all these signs of material prosperity are aphrodisiacs the city uses to intoxicate itself. They have nothing to do with us, the people who live among them. A car accident or a disease can kill us, but the city’s prosperous, invincible silhouette is like a planet, in perpetual motion, eternal.

    When I though about, I felt as insighficant as an ant on the ground.

    But the thought didn’t affect our mood as we stood on top of the historic building. As the sound of the hotel’s septuagenarian jazz band came and went, we surveyed the city yet distanced ourselves from it with love talk. I liked to undress right down to my bra and panties the moist breeze from the Huangpu. Maybe I have a complex about underwear, or I’m a narcissist or an exhibitionist or something, but I hoped this would somehow stimulate Tian’s desire.

    “Don’t do that,” said Tian painfully, turning his head away.

    But I kept on undressing, like a stripper. A tiny blue flower began to burn my skin, and that odd sensation made me blind to my beauty, myself, my identity. Everything I did was designed to create a strange new fairly tale, a fairy tale meant just for me and the man I adored.

    The man sat entranced against the railing, sad but grateful, watching the woman dance in the moonlight. Her body was smooth as a swan’s yet powerful as a leopard’s. To him, every feline crouch, leap, and turn was elegant yet madly seductive.

    “Please try. Come into my body like a real lover, my darling-try.”
    “No, I can’t,” he said, curling himself into a ball.

    “Well then, I’ll jump off the roof,” said the woman, laughing and grabbing the rail as if to climb over it. He caught her and kissed her. But broken desire couldn’t find a way. Love was a miracle the flesh couldn’t copy, and the ghosts defeated us…Dust covered us, closing my throat and my love’s.

    3 A.M. Curled up on the big comfortable bed, I watched Tian. He was already asleep, or pretending to be, and the room was strangely silent. His self-portrait hung above the piano. Who could help loving a flawless face like his?

    Lying beside my move, again and again I used my slim fingers to masturbate, making myself fly, fly into the mire of orgasm. And in my mind’s eye, I saw both crime and punishment.
    ...Nắng chia nửa bãi chiều rồi...
    Nắng chia luôn cả tim tôi cho người.

  7. #7
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    3) I HAVE A DREAM
    (And the good girls go to Heave, but the bad girls to everywhere.)

    What sort of person am I? To my mother and father, I’m an evil little thing devoid of conscience. (By 5 I’d learned how to stomp out, haughtily clutching my lollipop.) To my teachers or ex-boss and colleagues at the magazine, I’m smart but hardheaded, skilled professional with an unpredictable temperament who can guess how any film or a story will end from way it begins, To most men, I qualify as a little beauty, as pleasing as spring light on a lake’s rippling surface, with a pair of oversize eyes right out of a Japanese cartoon and a long Coco Chanel neck. But in my own eyes, I’m just an ordinary woman, even if I become famous 1 of these days.

    When my paternal great-grandmother was alive, she often said: “A person’s fate is like a kite string. One end is here on the earth, and the other is in the heavens. There’s nowhere to hide from fate.” Or: “Which part of life is the part worth living for?”

    This old lady with snow-white hair and a tiny frame would sit all day, like a ball of white wool, in her rocking chair. Many people believed she had second sight. She correctly predicted the 1987 Shanghai earthquake which registered 3.0 on the Richter scale, and told her relatives of her impending death 3 days before it happened. Her photograph still hang on the wall of my parents’ house, and they believe that she continues to protect them. In fact, it was my grandmother who predicted that I would be a writer. With a literary star shining down on me and a belly full of ink, I would, she said, make my mark 1 day.

    At the university I often used to write letters to boys I was secretly in love with, rich in expression and affection, almost guaranteeing conquest. At the magazine, the interviews and stories I wrote were like something out of a novel, with their twisted plots and rarefied language, so that the real seemed false, and vice versa.

    When I finally realized that everything I had done until then was just a waste of my talent, I gave up my highly paid job at the magazine. My parents despaired of me once again, because my father had had to pull a lot of strings to get me the job in the 1st place.

    “Child, are you really my daughter? Why does your head grow horns and your feet grow thorns?” said Mother. “Tell me, why all these wasted efforts?” Mother is a pretty, frail woman who has spent her life ironing shirts for her husband and seeking the right road for her daughter’s happiness. She can’t accept the idea of sex before marriage and absolutely cannot bear the shape of a girl’s nipples when she wears a tight T-shirt and no bra.

    “The day will come when you realize that a steady, down-to-earth life is the most important thing. Even Eileen Chang says that human life needs a stable foundation, “said Daddy. He knows I admire this famous author. Daddy is a slightly chubby history professor who likes cigars and heart-to-heart talks with young people. A well-mannered man, he spoiled me from the start. By the time I was 3, he had trained me to appreciate operas such as La Bhohe`me. He always worried that when I grew up I’d lose my body and soul to a sex maniac. I’m his most precious baby, he says, and I should treat men cautiously and never shed tears over them.
    “The way we think is just too different. We’re separated by a 100 generation gaps. We’d best respect 1 another rather than argue our cases, “I said. “Anyway, it’s a waste of time. I’m 25, and I want to be a writer. Even though the profession’s totally passe’, I’m going to make writing up-to-date again.”

    When I met Tian and decided to move out, there was an uproar in my family fit to roil the Pacific Ocean.

    “I don’t know what to do about you. We’ll just have to wait and see how you’ll turn out. I might as well pretend I didn’t raise you,” said Mother, almost shouting. She looked as if she had been struck hard on the face.

    “You’ve hurt your mother’s feelings,” said Daddy. “And I’m disappointed, too. A girl like you is bound to be taken advantage of. You say that boy’s family is odd. His father died in a strange circumstances. Is he normal himself? Is he reliable?”

    “Believe me, I know what I’m doing,” I said. I grabbed my toothbrush, some clothes, CDs, and a box of books, and left.



    Amber sunlight poured over the floor in front of the sound system, like spilled Scotch. After a group of immaculately dressed Americans left, the café was peaceful again. Old Yang was in his office-cum-bedroom talking up a storm on the phone. Spider lazed against the window, snacking on a customer’s leftover chocolate waffle. (He was forever doing this to prove his animal like survival instincts.) Outside the window, sycamore trees lined the street. The city’s summer colors shone fresh and green, like the mood in a European film.

    “Coco, what do you do when you’re bored?” asked Spider vacantly.
    “Being bored is when you haven’t got anything to do, so what would you be doing?” I said. “Like right now.”

    “Last night I was bored, so I went online to chat. Chatting with 10 people at a time is great. “I noticed those 2 oblong black eyes of his, sitting deep in his face as though imprinted there with a spoon. “I met someone called Enchantress, and it doesn’t seem like 1 of those guys pretending to be a girl. She said she’s very pretty and still a virgin.”

    “Nowadays, virgins are after something, too, didn’t you know?” I teased. “And any girl who could say that sounds shameless.”

    “I think what Enchantress says is cool, “he said, without smiling. “Our ideals are amazingly similar. We both dream of earning a pile of $ in 1 savage swoop, and then traveling the world.”

    “Sounds like that pair in Natural Born Killers,” I said, curious. “So how will you make your $?”

    “Open a store, rob a bank, be a whore or a gigolo. Whatever,” he said, half serious. “I’ve got a plan right now.” He leaned his head down and spoke a few sentences softly into my ear, which knocked me off my feet.

    “No, you can’t do that-you’re out of your mind!” I said, shaking my head furiously.

    The creep wanted me to go along with him in stealing $ from the café. He had noticed that Old Yang stuffed the taking into a small safe every night, then went to the bank once a month to deposit the $. Spider had a friend who specialized in safecracking. His plan was to hire this robber, and then, with help from us on the inside, grab the # and take off. Of course, afterward we would have to say that an unknown thief had sneaked in and robbed the place.

    The date was already set. The following Tuesday was Spider’s birthday, and by chance we would both be on the night shift. He planned to use his birthday celebration as an excuse to offer Old Yang a drink. He’d get him plastered, and that would be that.

    Spider’s words made me nervous. I even felt a mild bout of cramps coming on. “Stop dreaming! Forget it. Think of something else. Wait a minute…this wouldn’t be Enchantress’s idea, would it?”

    “Shhh!” Spider signaled that Old Yang had finished his phone call and was approaching. I shut my mouth, terrified I might reveal a hint of Spider’s plot.

    The café door opened and Tian came in. I felt a wave of warmth in my stomach. Wearing a gray shirt and black corduroy trousers, he had a book in his hands. His hair was a bit long and disheveled, and his eyes a bit nearsighted and moist. Those lips of his, faintly smiling but cool, too-more or less my sweet love’s standard look.

    “Hubby’s come and she’s oh so happy,” teased Old Yang in Shanghainese, with an accent 1 hears in Suzhou ballads, Actually, Old Yang is good and kind, if a bit simple.

    Greeted like that, Tian looked ill at ease. I brought him a cappuccino and squeezed his hand lightly. “There’s still 45 minutes to go,” he said quietly, looking at his watch. “ I’ll wait for you to finish.”



    “Spider must have gone crazy thinking about $,” I said later, disturbed. On the opposite wall, the exaggerated movements of my arms made shadow plays. A candle was burning on the small round table where Tian and I were playing 5-in-a-row on a Chinese chessboard.

    “When bright people get it into their heads to commit a crime, it’s worse than catching rabies,” I said. “They’ll use computers to rob banks, let off bombs to destroy planes and ships, use invisible knives to kill people, even manufacture plagues and tragedies. If 1999 is the apocalypse, it’ll be caused by weirdos like that.”

    “You’re going to lose-I’m about to get four in a row,” said Tian, pointing to the chess board to get my attention.

    “Intelligence is a gift and madness is an instinct, but if you exploit them for material gain, that’s not right.” By now, my passion for debating was beginning to kick in. “In the end, a genius can get into a worse mess than an idiot. Lately I’ve felt the Green Stalk Café is too peaceful. You can almost hear yourself blink. It’s because there’s a murder plot or something. I’ve got a worrisome premonition.”

    “Then leave the place and come home and write,” said Tian simply.

    When he said home, it always sounded so natural. This residence of 3 bedrooms plus a living room, filled with the scent of fermenting fruits, cigarette butts, French perfume, and alcohol, filled with books and music and limitless space of fantasizing, was tightly wrapped around our bodies like a bank of clouds from enchanted forests. You could try to wave them away, but they stayed put. Actually, our apartment was a block of space that felt more predestined, and more genuine, than just a home.

    Let’s go home. Now must be the time to cut to the heart of things. Start writing; set off on this journey of writing using your dreams and your love. Use flawless prose to complete beautiful novels, one after the other. Use wit and passion to handle the story’s opening suspense, climax and conclusion, like the world’s most fantastic singer standing on Everest, singing at the top of her lungs.

    A hand grabbed this idea and wrote it in my mind. Tian wanted me to promise him that I’d call Old Yang tomorrow and leave my job.

    “Okay,” I said. Quit a job, leave someone, throw something away. To a woman like me, abandoning something was almost instinctive, as easy as the flip of a hand. Drift from 1 goal to another, push oneself to the limit, and keep moving.

    “From the moment I 1st saw you at the Green Stalk, I just felt you were cut out to be a writer,” Tian went on, to flatter my vanity more. “Your eyes are deep and your voice carries real emotion. You never stop watching your customers. And I’ve even heard you discussing existentialism and voodoo with Spider.”

    I hugged him gently. His words were a caress that brought me a joy no other man had ever come near doing. Often, hearing his voice and looking at his eyes and lips, my sex would suddenly feel like a warm torrent and be soaked in an instant. “What else? Go on. I like hearing this,” I begged him, kissing his earlobe.

    “Plus…you never let people see through you. Maybe born writers all have split personalities. I mean, they’re a bit unreliable.”

    “What are you worrying about?” I asked, confused, moving my lips away from his ear.

    Tian shook his head. “I love you,” he said. He put his hands lightly around my waist and rested his head on my shoulder. I could feel his eyelashes quivering against my neck, triggering a burst of velvet tenderness in my heart. One pair of hands reached my tummy while another pair made contact with his buttocks. We stood face to face and saw ourselves in the mirror-our reflection in the water.



    Later, he had fallen asleep in a S shape on the bed, and I held him from behind, in a daze. Indeed, all along his stubbornness and his fragility had been a mystery to me. For no good reason, I felt responsible for him-and also a sense of remorse.



    In fact, nothing happened at the Green Stalk Café on Spider birthday: No professional thief appeared, no safe disappeared, and there was no plot- not even a fly disturbed things. As usual, Old Yang was comfortable and worry free, counting his $ ,supervising the staff, working the phone, and napping. When she got down to work, the new waitress was no worse than me, and soon afterward, Spider left with his wicked schemes, evaporating without a trace like a bubble.



    My attention turned to writing. I had no time to spare for anything else. My priority was to set up a hotline to my soul and await the stealthy arrival of plot and characters amidst a mad.-houselike silence. Tian watched over me like a slave driver, pushing me to use my magical power to write a genuine book of enchantment. This became the core of his life.

    He discovered a passion for shopping in supermarkets. Like our parents generation, we pushed our shopping cart in Tops Supermarket, conscientiously buying food and daily necessities. Health experts says, “Don’t get hooked on foods like chocolate and popcorn,” but those were just the things we liked.

    At home, I spread out my snow-white manuscript-to-be and occasionally looked at my reflection in a small mirror, to check whether my face now had the wisdom and rarefied air of a writer. Tian trod softly in the apartment, poured Suntory soda for me, prepared fruit salad with Mother’s Choice salad dressing for me, gave me Dove chocolate bars for inspiration, chose CDs that were stimulating but not distracting, and adjusted the level of the air conditioning. On the huge desk stood dozens of cartons of Mild Seven cigarettes stacked neatly like a brick wall, books and a thick ream of manuscript paper. I didn’t know how to use a computer and didn’t plan to learn.
    I had already thought up a long string of book titles. My ideal literary work would have profound intellectual content and a best-selling, sexy cover.

    My instinct told me that I should write about turn-on-the-century Shanghai. This fun-loving city: the bubbles of happiness that rise from it, the new generation it has nurtured, and the vulgar, sentimental, and mysterious atmosphere to be found in its back streets and alleys. This is a unique Asian city. Since the 1930s it has preserved a culture where China and the West met intimately and evolved together, and now it had entered it’s second wave of westernization. Tian once used the English term post-colonial to describe it. The customers in the Green Stalk Café, speaking all sorts of languages, reminded me of the days when old-fashioned salons with their florid talk were in vogue; but time and place had altered, and now it was just like any international scence.

    When I had written what I thought was a good passage, I would read it out to Tian, full of feeling.

    “My darling Coco, you’ve got what it takes. You can use your pen to create a separate reality, more real than the one we live in. Here…” He grabbed my hand and put it on the left side of his chest. I could feel the rhythm of his heart. “I guarantee this will bring you unlimited inspiration,” he said.

    He would buy totally unexpected gifts, as if spending $ on beautiful but useless knickknacks was his sole pleasure.

    But I’d rather have had him. How could I wait until the day when he would give me his body?
    The deeper the love, the sharper the flesh aches.

    Late 1 night, I had an erotic dream. In it, I became entangled, naked, with a man wearing dark glasses. Both sets of four limbs entangled like a octopus, embracing and dancing, the man’s golden body hair glistening so provocatively that my body itched all over. When my favorite acid jazz music ended, I woke up.

    I felt a twinge of guilt about this dream, but then a question occurred to me: Just what was it that was preoccupying Tian? He was more focused on my writing than I was, to the point of being almost fixated; perhaps writing really could function as an aphrodisiac, cultivating the inexplicable but imperfect love between us? Did it come with a mission, and with divine blessing…or just the opposite? Who knows?

    I though and thought and then turned and hugged Tian. He woke immediately. He could sense the moisture on my face, and without asking or saying a word, he gently caressed my body. No 1 had taught him how, but he had the gift of making me fly. Don’t cry, don’t spreak of separation. I just want to fly to the other side of the night.

    Our lives are short and bitter, and romantic dreams leave no trace.
    ...Nắng chia nửa bãi chiều rồi...
    Nắng chia luôn cả tim tôi cho người.

  8. #8
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    4) THE SEDUCER

    Madonna invited us to a retro theme party called Return to Avenue Joffre on the top floor of the high-rise at the corner of Huaihai and Yangdang Roads. Avenue Joffre in the 1930s, Huaihai Road today, the boulevard has long symbolized Shanghai’s old dreams. In today’s fin-desie`cle, post-colonial mindset, this boulevard-and the bygone era of the revealing traditional dress, the qipao, calendar-girl posters, rickshaws, and jazz bands-is fashionable again, like a bow knotted over Shanghai’s nostalgic heart.

    Tian wasn’t in a good mood, but he still came with me. As I said, we’re often inseparable, shadowing each other like Siamese twins.

    In my tailored qipao and Tian’s traditional changshan, we walked into the elevalor. “Please wait a minute,” said a voice from somewhere. Tian pressed his hand between the closing doors, and a tall Western man strode in, bringing with him the scent of CK cologne.

    A pale purplish light shone on our heads. With men to my left and right, and the indicator lights flashing the floor numbers in order as we climbed, I lost my sense of gravity for a moment. Then I caught a glimpse of the tall foreigner’s expression; absentminded yet sensual, the hallmark of confirmed playboy.

    When the elevator door opened, a wave of noise mixed with smells of tobacco and bodies assailed me, and the tall man smiled to indicate that I should go first. Tian and I walked past a polystyrene Avenue Joffre street sign and lifted back the heavy velvet curtain. A sea of faces dancing to yesterday’s decadent music appeared before us.

    Madonna’s effervescent face looked like a phosphorescent deep-sea creature as she walked toward us, radiating a 1000 watt glow.

    “My dears, you’re here at last. Oh, God, Mark, how are you?” She struck a sexy pose for the benefit of the tall man behind us. “Come on over. Let me introduce you. This is Mark from Berlin, and these are Tian and Coco, my good friends. Coco’s an author no less.”

    Mark politely extended his hand. “Hello.” His hand, warm and dry, was comfortable to the touch. Tian had wandered off on his own and was sitting on a soft sofa smoking, his eyes fixed on the distance.

    Madonna admired my black satin qipao (custom-made at a Suzhou silk factory, with a lovely but rather imposing peony embroidered on the bosom). And she praised as ku,-cool-the antique Western-style suit Mark was wearing, with a tight-fitting collar and 3 buttonholes. He said he’d bought it for a high price from the heir of a Shanghainese capitalist, a though it had faded a bit, it still had an aristocratic air.

    Some other guests walked our way. “This is my boyfriend Ah Dick. Here are Number Five and Cissy,” said Madonna, introducing us to them.
    The long-haired guy named Ah Dick didn’t even look 18, but he’s actually fairly well known is Shanghai as an avant-garde painter. The cartoon characters he draws aren’t bad, and it was his gilt of a pile of cartoons that had first touched Madonna, with their hodgepodge of talent, off-color language, and childishness that aroused her maternal instinct.
    Number Five is a go-cart ace. He and his cross-dressing girlfriend Cissy, in suit and tie, looked cut out for 1 another-a pair of odd-looking bunnies.
    Mark’s eyes scanned in my direction, and after an instant’s hesitation he walked over. “Would you like to dance?”
    I glanced at the sofa in the corner. Head down, Tian was rolling a joint. In his hand was a plastic bag containing several ounces of marijuana. He always smoked lots of marijuana in the buildup to 1 of his reclusive periods.
    I sighted. “Let’s,” I said.
    A vinyl record on the turntable reproduced the golden voice of Zhou Xuan singing “Four Seasons.” Despite the crackling and distortion, the singing surprisingly made my heart flutter. Mark seemed to be enjoying himself, his eyes half closed. I saw Tian close his eyes, too, curled up on that roomy sofa. Drinking red wine and smoking dope always makes you drowsy, and I was sure that he had already fallen asleep. He often found it easier to go to sleep amid noisy voices and phantom shadows.
    “Your mind’s elsewhere,” said Mark suddenly, in English with a thick German accent.
    “Oh, really?” I looked vacantly at him. His eyes were shining in the darkness, like those of an animal lurking in the shrubbery. I was surprised by the feeling those eyes gave me. His clothing was crisply ironed and neat from top to bottom, and he’d applied lots of hair gel, too, so he looked like a branch-new, furled umbrella. Those eyes of his seemed like the epicenter of his body, and all his energy emanated from there. A white man’s eyes.
    “I’m looking at my boyfriend,” I said.
    “Looks like he’s fallen asleep.” He smiled slightly.
    His smile aroused my curiosity. “Do you find that droll?” I asked, using the French word.
    “Are you a perfectionist?” he asked, changing the subject.
    “I don’t know. I don’t understand myself all the time. Why do you ask?”
    “I get the feeling from the way you dance,” he said. He seemed a sensitive, confident type. A smile with a slight sneer to it edged across my face.
    The music switched to jazz, and we began to do the foxtrot. All around me was a neoclassical, hazy universe woven from velvet, silk, calico, and indigo cloth. Gradually, it spun itself into a lightheaded happiness.
    When the music ended and people drifted away, including Mark, I discovered that the sofa was empty. Tian wasn’t anywhere to be seen, nor was Madonna. I asked Number Five, who said Madonna and Ah Dick had just left but Tian had been on the sofa a moment ago.
    Then Mark came out of the men’s room to report, let’s say, not entirely bad news: Tian was slumped down next to the urinal but he hadn’t thrown up or cut himself. He must have fallen asleep suddenly in the washroom. Mark helped me get him downstairs and out to the street, then hailed a taxi.
    “I’ll go with you,” said Mark. “You can’t do this by yourself.” I glanced at Tian, who was cold. He might be thin, but once he had passed out, he was as heavy as a baby elephant.
    The taxi sped along the street at 2 o’clock in the morning. Outside the window were skyscrapers, shop windows, neon lights, advertising billboards, and 1 or 2 people stumbling along. In this city that never sleeps, there is always something secret happening.
    The smell of alcohol came and went in bursts, and a subtle but persistent scent of CK cologne floated, now and then, deep into my lungs. My mind was vacant. One of the men next to me was out cold, the other silent. In the silence, I could sense the shadows stuck to the pavement and a strange man’s surreptitious gaze upon me in the dark.
    The car soon arrived at our place, and Mark and I carried Tian up the stairs into the apartment. We laid him on the bed, and I covered him with a blanket.
    Mark pointed at the desk. “Is this where you work?”
    I nodded. “I don’t know how to use a PC. Anyway, some people say it causes skin disease, and others say it makes you pessimistic, obsessive-compulsive, unwilling to leave your house. Anyway…” I suddenly realized that Mark was coming toward me, with that distant but extremely sensual smile of his.
    “Very pleased to meet you. I hope I may see you again.” He kissed me lightly on both cheeks in the French style, said good night, and left.
    In my hand was his business card. On it were the address and phone number of his firm, a German-owned multinational investment consultancy on Huashan Road.
    ...Nắng chia nửa bãi chiều rồi...
    Nắng chia luôn cả tim tôi cho người.

  9. #9
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    5) UNRELIABLE MAN

    My admiration for tall men is partly because of vanity, but mostly because of my loathing for a pint-size ex-boyfriend of mine.

    He was less than 5 and ½ feet tall, had a plain face, wore a pair of cheap glasses, and was a fake Christian convert. (Later events proved he was really a believer in something like Manichaeism or Zoroastrianism.)
    I don’t quite remember why I fell for him. Perhaps it was his erudition of his ability to recite a famous Shakespearean works in Oxford English. Or when he sat with me behind Mao’s statue on the lawn, right in the middle of Fudan U, going on for 3 days without stopping about Jesus Christ’s birth in a stable and how it signified truth.
    The grass was like a furred tongue clicking my thighs through my skirt, ticking me. A light wind brushed against our faces. He went on and on, as if under a spell, and I, mesmerized by the same spell, couldn’t stop listening to him. It seemed we could have sat there for 7 days and 7 nights until we reached glorious nirvana.

    And so I turned a blind eye to his disappointing shortness and threw myself into the arms of his learned, eloquent soul. (Maybe all the men I ever become infatuated with will, first and foremost, be widely learned, highly talented, and passionately eloquent, with crenellated brains. I can't imagine myself falling for a man who can't cite at least ten proverbs, 5 philosophical allusions, and the names of 3 composers.) Naturally, I very soon realized that I had thrown myself into a slimy green pond instead.
    He wasn't just a religious fanatic; he was also a sex maniac and enjoyed using my body to try out all sorts of positions from porn videos. He fantasized about sitting in the dark corner of a sofa, voyeur to my rape by a crude carpenter or plumber. Even when we took a bus to visit his parents, he wouldn't miss the opportunity to open his fly, grab my hand, and put it inside. That thing of his, dripping like a lit candle and hidden behind a big newspaper, could hardly contain its excitement. It all made me feel sad and utterly hopeless, like a terrifying scene out of Boogie Nights.
    When I discovered he was a congenital liar (even going to a kiosk for a newspaper became meeting a friend for tea) and a money-grubbing clown (he plagiarized large sections of articles by other writers, wrote them up in a massive work, and had it published in Shenzhen), my patience ran out-especially because the source of all this nasty behavior was a plain man under 5 and 1/2 feet tall. I felt deceived; my eyes had been befuddled by my imagination. Humiliated, I left him.
    "You can't leave just like that!" he blurted out at my back from the door of his dormitory.
    “You disgust me,” I retorted. Mother always warn their daughters, as they leave on their 1st date, not to trust men. But in daughters’ ears, those words are just so much hot air. Only when women look at men and their half of the world with truly mature eyes can they clearly see their own position in it and realize the true order of things.
    He called my dormitory, and the voice of the old lady from Ningbo in the porter’s office came over the loudspeaker again and again: “Nikki, phone call for you. Phone call for you, Nikki.” Later on, every weekend I spent at my parents’ place became another part of the nightmare. He would call me there relentlessly, unwilling to admit defeat before he located me. It go to the point where the phone would right like a prank call at 3 o’clock in the morning, until the phone # was changed. During that phase Mother totally lost faith in me and didn’t want to see me. She saw the fact that I had attracted such scum as entirely my fault. I had chosen unwisely, failed to distinguish between a flower and a weed. And erring in one’s choice of boyfriend is a woman’s greatest humiliation.
    My ex-boyfriend’s craziest behavior was to stalk me at school, on the road, and in the subway and then unexpectedly call out my name in the midst of a crowd. Wearing a pair of tacky sunglasses, his bulging face quivering, he would hurriedly duck behind a nearby tree or into a shop just as I whipped my head around, like a stunt actor in a cheap action movie.
    During that stage, I longed for a man in a police uniform to walk down the street with his arm wrapped around my waist. My heartbeat was like an SOS call. Not long after I began working at the magazine I used my contacts to find a friend in the administrative affairs office of the city government and then, via a local police station, finally delivered a warning to my ex. Because he wasn’t crazy enough to seek confrontation with a government department, he gave up chasing me.
    Afterward I went to visit a friend, David Wu, who was a psychologist at a youth center. “From now on, I’ll never go for a short boyfriend again,” I said, sitting in a chair that seemed to have a hypnotic effect. “Guys like that shouldn’t even think of coming through the door. I’ve had enough. I’m a bad girl, through and through, at least in the eyes of my mother. She gets provoked so easily. I’ve never done anything for her-just hurt her feelings.”
    He told me that clash between my natures as a female and as a writer doomed me to chaos. Artists have a decided tendency toward weakness, dependence, contradiction, naivete’, masochism, narcissism, Oedipal complex, and so forth. My ex just happened to cater to several of those split dispositions, from dependence to masochism to narcissism, and my need to atone to my mother for my sins would be an emotional theme throughout my life.
    “As to a person’s height,” said David, clearing his throat, “I do believe that it can have a certain impact on their adult behavior, particularly for a man. Shorter men often express themselves more intensely than those of normal height. For instance, they study harder, make greater efforts to earn $, have a stronger desire to defeat their competitors, and further, prefer to pursue beautiful women as some sort of proof of their manhood.
    “Sean Penn is rather short, isn’t he? But he’s 1 of Hollywood’s great actors and was once loved by Madonna, even if he was always tying the worlds’ sexiest starlet to a chair like a turkey and torturing her. One can cite many men like that. They are extremely memorable.”
    He sat in this soft-lit room immersed in myriad thoughts. Because he often acted as if he were God’s spokesman to his patients, his face didn’t look all that real. His body shifted back and forth in his leather chair, which occasionally emitted a muffled fart. Despite the room’s stale air, a few potted pao-ferro trees and tortoiseshell bamboo grew luxuriantly green all year round.
    “Okay,” I said “Of course a person’s ability to love can’t be judged by his height, but anyway, I want to forget it all. A lot of life can be consigned to oblivion, and as far as I’m concerned. The more unpleasant one’s experiences, the faster they’re forgotten.”
    “That’s why you’ll be a good writer. A writer buries the past with her words,” said David kindly.
    ...Nắng chia nửa bãi chiều rồi...
    Nắng chia luôn cả tim tôi cho người.

  10. #10
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    ........ hình như chỉ có tui và ông hát bài "Lặng lẽ noi này" thôi ...

    tiếp đi, tui đọc

  11. #11
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    6) PERFUMED NIGHT
    The weather grew cooler, and the city seemed to turn into a huge block of clear glass. Autumn in the south is clean and bright and conducive to romance.

    1 uneventful afternoon I got a call from Mark. When a German-accented greeting sounded in my ear, my 1st reaction was: “Here comes a tall Western man!”
    We exchanged our ni hao, ni hao, commenting on the marvelously comfortable weather, and how Berlin was even cooler than Shanghai at this season, though summer had been good too…
    Both of us were a bit distracted. I knew Tian was on the bed listening to me with his eyes closed, and I also knew why the German on the other end of the line was calling. This sort of delicate situation is like a hash brownie; a taste is no big thing, and even a bit more is no big thing, but when you take that 3rd bite, something unpleasant yet liberating takes place. And maybe I’m the kind of woman who, deep down, is itching for that to happen.
    “Next Friday there’s a show of avant-garde German art at the Shanghai Exhibition Center,” said Mark in closing. “If you and your boyfriend want to come, I’ll send you invitations.”
    “That would be great. Thank you.”
    “Okay, see you next week.”
    Tian’s eyes closed, seemingly in sleep. I turned the TV down-it’s on 20 hours a day. Recently we’d taken to scarlet backdrop of Quentin Tarantino’s violent films, falling asleep in concert with Uma Thruman’s moaning and John Travolta’s gunfire.
    I lit a cigarette, sat down on the sofa, and thought about the phone conversation, bout that man with his tall, tall body steeped in fragrance from head to toe, and his wicked smile, I thought and thought and suddenly felt very irritated. He was flagrantly attempting to seduce a woman who already had a boyfriend, knowing she wouldn’t leave that boyfriend. And all this might lead to nothing more than a purely sexual diversion.
    I went over to my desk and, as I did daily, put down on paper the latest chapter in my emerging novel. I wrote about the randomness of Mark’s appearance on the scene and the inevitability of certain events in my life. Various premonitions of mine were lying in wait within my novel and, 1 by 1, were realized and resolved with every step forward.
    That night Madonna and Ah Dick showed up uninvited. I could hear Madonna’s voice in the stairwell a few floors down. Shining a flashlight, they were calling as they came up the stairs-they’d forgotten which floor we lived on. Both of them were wearing tiny sunglass in the darkness and feeling their way clumsily.
    “God, no wonder I kept feeling there wasn’t enough light. I almost hit somebody’s bike when I was driving a minute ago,” Madonna said with a laugh as she took hers off. “How could I have forgotten I had these on?”
    Looking pale but attractive in an Esprit black wool sweater, Ah Dick had a few cans of Coke and beer in his hands. Their entrance shattered the room’s tranquility, and Tian had no choice but to put down his English magazine, famous for its’ countless brain twisters. (His favorites were math and crossword puzzles.)
    “We were just going for a drive, but we ended up driving past here, so we came up. I’ve got a video in my bag, but no guarantee it’s a good movie.” She scanned the room. “Want to play mahjong? Four people makes a full table.”
    “We don’t have nay mahjong tiles,” said Tian quickly.
    “But I do, in my car,” said Madonna, narrowing her eyes and smiling at Ah Dick. “Ah Dick could go and get them.”
    “Forget it-let’s just hangout,” said Ah Dick, looking a touch irritable as he stretched his slender fingers and ran them through his hair. “We wouldn’t be interfering with your writing, would we?” he asked, looking at me.
    “No problem.” I put a record on, and a sultry woman’s voice gradually emerged from a background sound like them music of a vintage French movie. The sofa was quite comfy, the lighting pleasant, and red wine and sausage were laid out in the kitchen. Little by little everyone took to this atmosphere, and the conversation zigzagged between well-founded and baseless rumors and ambiguous opinions.
    “This city is so claustrophobic. Just a handful of people are on the circuit,” said Madonna. The circuit she meant is composed of artists, real and phony, foreigners, vagabonds, greater and lesser performers, private entrepreneurs of industries that are currently fashionable, true and fake linglei, and Generation X types. Members of this circle move in and out of the public eye, now visible, then hidden, but ultimately dominating most of the city’s trend-setting scene. They are like beautiful insects whose bellies give off a blue light, existing secretly and subsisting on desire.
    “Once, I ran into the same faces in different places 3 nights in a row, but I never did get their names,” I said.
    Madonna butted in. “Yesterday I came across Mark at Paulaner’s Brauhaus. He said next week there’s going to be a German painting exhibition.”
    I looked at her out of the corner of my eye and then glanced at Tian. “He already phoned,” I said matter-of-factly, “and said he’d send us invitations.”
    “Same old MO, same old faces,” said Ah Dick. “They’re all party animals.” His face grew paler the more he drank
    “I’m not into that,” said Tian, putting hash into a pipe. “Those people are flashy and superficial. In the end, most of them just disappear like bubbles.”
    “That’s not true,” said Madonna.
    “Shanghai is a city obsessed with pleasure,” I said.
    “Is that the theme of your novel?” asked Ah Dick.
    “Coco, go ahead and read from your writing,” said Tian, his eyes sparkling as he gazed at me. This was the moment when he felt doubly reassured and content. Once my writing had become part of our shared life, it was no longer purely an act of writing. It became associated with our passion and fidelity, and with our unbearable lightness of being, too.
    Everybody looked merry as a hash-filled pipe, a few bottles of wine, and a stack of manuscript paper passed from 1 hand to another.
    The ferries, the waves, the night-dark grass, the dazzling neon lights and incredible structures-all these signs of material prosperity are aphrodisiacs the city uses to intoxicate itself. They have nothing to do with us, the people who live among them. A car accident or a disease can kill us, but the city’s prosperous, invincible silhouette is like a planet in perpetual motion.
    When I thought about that, I felt as insignificant as an ant on the ground…A tiny blue flower began to burn my skin, and that odd sensation made me blind to my beauty, my self, my identity. Everything I did was designed to create a strange new fairy tale, a fairy tale meant just for me and the man I adored.
    The man sat entranced against the railing, sad but grateful, watching the woman dance in the moonlight. Her body was smooth as a swan’s yet powerful as a leopard’s. To him, every feline crouch, leap, and turn was elegant yet madly seductive..
    We longed for those carnival-like poetry happenings of the 1960s in the West. Allen Ginsberg won fame by appearing in more than 40 consecutive poetry salons where words and pot were shared. Our impromptu get-together that night unwittingly brought me a kind of lyrical joy brought on by alcohol, innocence, and love. I basked in the influence of their gaze and associated it all with God: With Vivaldi’s Four Seasons playing in the background, water and meadows stretched out endlessly. We were like lambs lying in a big book-not the Bible, but my naïve and presumptuous novel, every sentence of which was tattooed on my pale skin.
    The wall clock struck midnight. Everyone was hungry, but when I brought out another platter of sausage, Madonna asked: “Don’t you have anything else?”
    “We’ve eaten everything.” I shook my head apologetically.
    “We could order in,” said Tian. “Little Sichuan stays open very late. Give them a call and they’ll deliver, no problem.”
    “Darling, you’re so clever,” said Madonna happily as she put her arm around Ah Dick’s slim, muscular waist, and she gave Tian a peck, too. She’s one of those women who are easily excited, and once excited, she become sexy and flirtatious.
    A restaurant employee delivered 4 cartons of food and rice. I thanked him and gave him a small tip. At first he wouldn’t take it, but eventually he accepted the $, red-faced. His shyness made me curious. When I asked, he said his family name was Ding, that he had just come from the country and had been working in the restaurant for only a few days. I nodded, knowing that newcomers are often sent here and there on small errands.
    We finished the food off and then kept drinking, and we didn’t give up until we were ready to fall asleep. Madonna and Ah Dick spent the night in the spare room. Because it was furnished with a bed and air conditioning, we had originally set it aside just in case one day Tian and I had an argument and needed to be apart. But so far, we hadn’t.
    It must have been around 2 or 3 in the morning. Something hazy and soft was there in the black night. Then I saw it clearly-a thread of moonlight glancing in through a chink in the blinds, which hadn’t been pulled quite shut. I stared at this thread of light for a good ½ hour. It looked feeble and frigid, like a small snake hibernating in a crevice. I stretched the tip of my foot straight out, pointing my toes as if I were ballet dancing, slowly moving it under the ray of light, slowly wiggling it along the path of the beam. I could hear the faint breathing of the man next to my body and the muffled sound of the pair of lovers thumping against the mattress in the guest room next door.
    I heard my own heartbeat, the sound of blood in motion, a northern European man’s sensual moaning, and the tick-tock of the electric clock. Fingers furtively rubbed the swollen spot between my legs. Orgasm came suddenly and rippled from my lower abdomen throughout my entire body. Drenched, the fingers withdrew from the spasming crotch and slid, fatigued, into my mouth. My tongue tasted a sweet yet raw and melancholic flavor, the true flavor of my flesh.
    The moonlight on the sheet had disappeared and that little snake had vanished in a puff of smoke.
    ...Nắng chia nửa bãi chiều rồi...
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  12. #12
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    7) A DAY IN OUR LIFE

    There was only sunlight, no leaves on the trees. We stayed in our room all day, not giving more than a glance out of the window. The washing machine in the bathroom was stuffed with stiff socks and dirty sheets. Tian was against hiring a daily or a maid to do the housework, because he didn’t want a stranger in his personal space, touching his underwear, ashtrays, or slippers. But we were getting lazier and lazier. Ideally, we would even do without 3 meals a day.
    “All we have to do is take in 2,790 calories, 1,214 IUs of vitamin A, and 1,094 milligrams of calcium each day,” said Tian, waving several bottles of green, white, and pale yellow pills in his hands. He reckoned these provided the required nourishment for the human body. “To make them more palatable, you can dissolve them in fruit juice, yogurt, and so on, and take them that way,” he said earnestly.
    I believed every word he said, but you would probably eat your way to neurosis and depression like that. I’d rather get take-out from Little Sichuan everyday.
    Tian, like an overseer, urged me on with my writing. Meanwhile, he was in the other room painting without pause, doing little leopards, contorted faces, goldfish bowls. He bought a lot of Yi Er Schuang undergarments from the supermarket and painted directly on them with acrylics. After our meal, we each displayed our works of art for the other’s benefit. I read out an excerpt from my novel, and a section that I later deleted made him burst out laughing. It was “Dialogue between Female Patient and Male Psychologist”:
    “My husband disgusts me. He’s a pig.”
    “In bed or out of it?”
    “He’s got no brain. He just likes to screw. He wouldn’t pass up the change to do it with a goat. Someday I’m going to lose it and castrate him, just like Lorena Bobbitt in that case in Virginia seven years ago.”
    “Are you really considering that?”
    “God, men all think they’re in the right! What are women in your eyes? Pretty, passive playings?” It looks like even an analyst can’t solve this problem. I’m wasting my $ on a blithering idiot.”
    “What do you mean?”
    “Can you provide any genuine insight? I can’t bear to be manipulated anymore!”
    “If you don’t have faith in me, then you’re free to leave! And please close the door on your way out.”
    “Oh, I can’t take anymore. You’re all pigs!” she screamed as she ran out.
    “That’s so vulgar, like something out of a farce,” chucked Tian. But it’s funny.”
    I tried on one of the white T-shirts that Tian had painted with a large cartoonish cat face. It looked great. Much of the underwear featured line drawings of the moon, lips eyes, the sun, and beautiful women. The sofa was piled high with several dozen hand-painted pieces. “We could find a place to sell these,” I said.
    “Do you think people will like them?”
    “Let’s give it a try. Anyway, it’ll be interesting, and if we can’t sell them, we can give them to friends.”
    Fearing embarrassment, Tian was unwilling to hawk his wares on the street, so we chose the nearby campus of East China Normal University, which has a nice feel to it, refreshing, very green, well kept. It always gives one a sense of being cut off from the outside world.
    Of course that’s a misconception; even ivory towers have a window open to the world.
    Next to the sports grounds, on the side of a road lined with little shops selling sundries, we selected a spot to set shop. It was dinnertime, and students were carrying their empty food trays to the cafeteria. They looked curiously at us as they passed by, and some of them knelt down, gave our goods the once-over, and asked about the prices. I handled everything. Tian kept silent throughout.
    “T-shirts are sixty RMB; underwear forty.”
    “Too much!” they said, and proceeded to haggle mercilessly. I stood my ground, because too low a price meant a lack of respect for Tian’s artistic labors. The sky grew dark, students rode their bikes to nighttime study halls, and there was no one left playing ball on the field.
    “I’m starving,” said Tian quietly. “How about we call it a day and go home?”
    “Wait a bit.” I took a piece of chocolate out of my pocket for him and lit up a cigarette. “Let’s give it another ten minutes.”
    Just then a handsome, dark-skinned man walked over, with his arm around the waist of a white woman with glasses. “Hello there,” I greeted him in English. “Hand-painted underwear on the cheap.” With someone as shy as Tian next to me, I had to be bold and confident, even though when I was little just going to the bakery to buy bread for my mother would make me so nervous my hand would sweat as it held the money.
    “Did you paint these yourselves?” inquired the white girl, smiling as she eyed our goods. “They’re really cute.” Her mellow voice was pleasing, and there was something smart in those eyes. “They were painted by my boyfriend,” I said, pointing at Tian.
    “He paints very well. Looks a bit like Modigliani, or perhaps Matisse,” she added.
    Tian looked at her happily. “Thank you,” he said, and then whispered to me: “Sell her some stuff at a discount. This laowai woman’s nice.” I pretended I hadn’t heard, and smiled sweetly at the black and white student lovers.
    “Moya, what do you think? I’d like to buy them all,” said the girl, beginning to reach for her wallet. The dark-skinned man named Moya had the dignified air of a chieftain and might have been from somewhere in Africa. He hugged the girl thoughtfully. “Let me,” he said, pulling out a wad of 100-RMB notes, too. But the white girl insisted on paying herself. “Thank you. Looking forward to seeing you again,” she said, smiling, as they left.
    We had just earned nearly 1,000 RMB. Tian jumped about, then hugged and kissed my. “I can earn my own $ after all! I never knew that,” he said, surprised but pleased.
    “That’s right. You’re a remarkable person. As long as you want to, you can be a success at lots of things,” I said to encouraged him.
    We ate dinner at a nearby restaurant. Our appetites were unusually good, and we even sang love songs in a private karaoke lounge with a miserable sound system. “My dear, if you lose your way, I’ll be there by your side. My dear, if you’re hurt or afraid, I’ll be there by your side…”went the old Scottish folk song.
    ...Nắng chia nửa bãi chiều rồi...
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  13. #13
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    8) MY DIVORCED COUSIN

    My parents both phoned me. They had surrendered. Chinese parents give up easily to keep in contact with their children.
    Over the phone, they tried very hard to come across a warm while standing by their principles. They asked how I was doing and if I'd been having any problems. When they learned that there was no one to do the housework, Mother even offered to come over and help out.
    "Take better care of yourselves. You should get out more," I urged them. I wished they could be more selfish and worry less about me.
    Mother also broke a piece of news to me. My cousin Zhu Sha had gotten divorced. Having moved out of her old place and temporarily unable to find a suitable new one, she was staying with them, because my bed was empty. On top of that, she wasn’t happy with her job, so her mood wasn’t too good lately. If I had time, I should hand out and chat with her.
    I was slightly taken aback. Zhu Sha divorced?
    Zhu Sha was a ladylike young woman, four years older than me. She married a classmate after graduating with a degree in German from the Foreign Languages Institute, and currently worked in a German-run trading firm. She always disliked the way people call her independent attitude, and even her, despite the fact that our temperaments and ambitions differed.
    When I was small, my parents were forever encouraging me to be like Zhu Sha. Even when very young she cut a brilliant figure: a class leader’s triple stripes on her sleeve, the top exam results in the entire school, and talented at singing and dancing and reciting. A photo capturing her innocent smile was even blown up huge and mounted in the display window of Shanghai Photo Studio on Nanjing Road, and many of her friends and classmates went to take a look.
    Back then I really envied her. Once, during the June first International Children’s Festival celebrations, I secretly dripped ink from my blue fountain pen onto her while georgette skirt. As a result, she made an utter fool of herself performing Five Little Flowers in the school auditorium and burst into tears as soon as she got offstage. No one realized it was my doing. At first I wanted to laugh when I saw how upset she was, but afterward I felt bad about it, because in fact she was normally kind to me, taught me arithmetic, shared her lollipops with me, and always took me by the hand when crossing the street.
    As we grew up, we saw each other less and less frequently. I was still at Fudan U. when she marred. At first it was a bright, sunny day, but when the videotaping of the newlyweds began on the lawn at Dingxiang Lilac Gardens, heavy rain suddenly bucketed down. The sight of Zhu Sha in her drenched wedding veil is etched on my memory. The shrouded smile on her face, her wet black curled hair, and her white gauze gown soaked to the point of indecency- it all had an odd, fragile beauty which is hard to put into words.
    Her husband, Li Ming-Wei, had been chairman of the department’s student council. Large, tall, fair-skinned, and wearing a pair of silver-rimmed glasses, he served briefly as a translator at the German Consulate, and by the time they married, he was editor of a financial newsletter for the German Chamber of Commerce. He wasn’t a good communicator, but he was quite a gentleman and he always sported a calm, cool smile. I once thought that though a man with a smile like that might not be suitable as a lover, he would be a very suitable husband.
    I never imagined that she would divorce him.
    I got through to Zhu Sha on her mobile. She sounded clearly depressed, and because the connection wasn’t very good, it sounded as if cold rain was pitter-pattering in the background. I asked where she was. In a taxi, she said. In a minute she would arrive at the Windsor Castle, a popular women’s health club.
    “Would you like to come?” she asked me. “We could exercise together.”
    I gave it some thought. “No, I don’t work out. But we could chat.”
    I crossed a walkway and found a room full of older women wearing leotards, performing an amateur version of Swan Lake under the instruction of a Russian coach. In another room I found my cousin amid a mass of equipment, sweating heavily as she jogged on the treadmill.
    Her figure had always been very good, but now she was verging on skinny. "Hi," she said, waving at me.
    "Come here everyday?" I asked.
    "Yeah, especially lately," she said, running as she spoke.
    "Be careful not to overexercise. Your whole body'll become rock-hard. That's worse than divorce," I joked.
    She said nothing, running quickly, her face wet.
    "Take a break," I said. "Stop bouncing back and forth. I'm getting dizzy just watching you."
    She gave me a bottle of water and opened one for herself. Sitting on the stairs, she gave me the once-over. "You're getting prettier and prettier. All ugly girls grow up to be pretty," she said, trying to be witty.
    "Girls in love are the good-looking ones," I said. "What happened between you and Li Ming-Wei, anyway?"
    She grew silent, as if she didn't wan to dredge up the past. But then she briefly told me what had happened.
    For a long time after they got married, their life seemed harmonious and trouble free. They mixed in a social circle of similar professional couples, where parties and shalong-salons-were regular held. The couples traveled, holidayed, chatted, dined went to plays together, and generally complemented one another. She and her husband both liked athletic activities like tennis and swimming and enjoyed the same operas and books. It was an uneventful life, leisurely yet not boring, with an adequate but not enormous income.
    Behind the glossy facade of this life, however, lay a problem. She and her husband had had virtually no sex life since their wedding night, when she had screamed in agony during her first sexual experience. They were both still virgins, each the first and last object of the other's love. As a result, their marriage became slightly monotonous.
    They didn't attach a lot of importance to sex, however, and gradually began to sleep in a separate rooms. But early every morning her husband would knock on her door carrying breakfast, kiss her, and call her his princess. Whenever she coughed, he would prepare cough syrup for her, and with the monthly arrival of her period, he would break out in an anxious sweat. He went with her to the traditional Chinese herbal doctor, and browsed with her in department stores. She spoke, and he listened attentively. In a word, they were a model couple in their modern white-collar circle, sex aside.
    At the time, the film Titanic was all the rage. They went to see it hand in hand. I don’t know what there was about it that got to Zhu Sha . Perhaps the heroin’s final choice, her refusal of a doting yet tiresome fiance’ in favor of a short-lived romance with a passionate man. She used up a whole pack of tissues wiping her tears, and she suddenly realized that she herself had never loved. And a woman nearing thirty who had never loved is a pathetic thing.
    That night her husband wanted to spend the night with her. He asked if she wanted a child. She said no. Her mind was in chaos and she needed some time to sort out her thoughts. Adding a child to a loveless marriage would be an utter mess. Her husband was angry. She was angry, too, and told him that when she said she didn’t want a child, she meant it.
    A rift opened between them. Her husband began to suspect she was having an affair. One evening he asked her why she had reversed her stockings; it turned out that in the morning he had noticed a trace of red nail polish on her left leg that was now on her right. Another time a friend called very late at night, and when she picked up the phone she heard the click of another extension being picked up, too.
    The loving breakfasts delivered to the door had long since ceased, and once when she forgot her key he let her knock at the door for an hour…without opening it.
    “It’s horrifying when you really think of it. It’s like the whole world had been turned upside down when the man you thought you knew so well can treat you like that. You’ve lived together five years, and suddenly you drop down to earth. In the blink of an eye he becomes a stranger-or even more horrible than a stranger, because he understands you and knows the most unbearable ways to torture you…That’s men for you. “Zhu Sha spoke softly, her eyes red, shuddering at the painful memory.
    I nodded. “It’s frightening.” A gentle, cultivated, thoughtful, and good man becomes a woman-torturing master of evil overnight. Truly frightening.
    “Why is it that when a woman wants to leave a man, he assumes it must be because she’s having an affair? Can’t a woman make that choice based just on her own feelings? Do they actually believe that a woman can’t exist without them?” asked Zhu Sha emphatically.
    “They’re just a bunch of self-deceiving idiots!” I consoled her as if I were president of the Association for Women’s Rights.
    ...Nắng chia nửa bãi chiều rồi...
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  14. #14
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    9) WHO’S KNOCKING AT THE DOOR?
    Someone was knocking at the door. The stereo was playing Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty at high volume, but I could still hear the knocking. Tian looked at me. “Who is it?”
    “Wouldn’t be Madonna, would it?” I said. We didn’t have many friends. This was both our weakness and our charm.
    I walked to the door and looked through the peephole. It was a stranger. I opened the door a crack and asked who he was looking for. “If you’re interested and have a moment, I’d like to introduce our firm’s newly developed vacuum cleaner.” His face filled with a warm smile while his hand adjusted the tie beneath his Adam’s apple. It seemed all I had to say was yes, and he would instantly launch into a speech.
    “Well…” I didn’t know how to handle this. You probably have to be thick-skinned to dismiss a man rudely who is neither unattractive nor threatening. The fact that he could wear a cheap Western-style suit as neatly as he did conveyed his wholesomeness. One shouldn’t deflate that kind of self-esteem. Anyway, I had nothing to do.
    Tian watched in disbelief as I led the stranger inside. He took out a business card and presented it graciously to Tian, then proceeded to open the large bad he was carrying and take out a shiny vacuum cleaner.
    “What’s he going to do?” whispered Tian.
    “Let him do his demo. I was too embarrassed to refuse him,” I whispered back
    “If he demonstrates it and you don’t by it, you’ll be even more embarrassed.”
    “But he’s already started,” I said halfheartedly.
    This was the first time I’d come across this sort of thing since moving into the apartment. The early ‘90s brought a tsunami of door to door sales to the city, a new phenomenon of the market oriented economy, which has since gradually subsided. Today’s event was strictly random.
    Back bent, vacuum cleaner in hand, the stranger vigorously and repeatedly swept the carpet. The vacuum cleaner emitted a good deal of noise. Tian hid in the other room.
    “This machine features particularly strong suction. It can even vacuum up mites from your carpet,” the man said loudly.
    I was taken aback. “Mites?”
    When he had finished vacuuming, he poured a pile of dirty stuff onto a newspaper. I was unwilling to look closely, afraid I’d see insects wriggling about. “How much?” I inquired.
    “3,500.00 RMB,” he said.
    That seemed very expensive to me, though I admit I’m ignorant bout the prices of things.
    “But it represents good value. Wait until you have children then its handiness will be even more obvious. It helps maintain a sanitary household environment.”
    My face dropped when he mentioned children. “Sorry-I don’t want to buy 1.”
    “I can give you 20% off,” he continued, unfazed. “Guaranteed for 1 year. We’re a large, reputable firm.”
    “Thanks. I’ve wasted your time.” I opened the door.
    Without batting an eyelid, he put all his things away and left calmly. “You have my card,” he said, turning around. “If you change your mind, feel free to contact me.
    “Coco, you like to experiment with everything. You’re always making trouble for yourself,” said Tian.
    “What trouble? At least he cleaned the carpet.” I sighed and sat down at the table. I really didn’t know what Tian was getting at with “you like to experiment with everything.”
    The sound of knocking door came again, and I grabbed the door and opened it. This time it was the fat woman from next door. In her hand was a pile of water, electricity, gas, and phone bills that had piled up in the mailbox downstairs, plus two letters. I remembered it had been ages since we had checked the mailbox. I thanked her, and she left chuckling.
    Everyone in that district shares a warm heartedness unique to the older Shanghainese. Almost none of them have any $ to speak of. These laid-off housewives arrange their daily lives meticulously. Small, air-dried fish and pickled turnips hang from kitchen windows, and smoke from a coal stove drifts over from time to time. Kids in green school uniforms and red bandannas play ever-popular war games. Old people gather in a corner of the small park playing Big Ghost (a card game played between 2 teams of 3), the wind occasionally ruffling their snowy beards.
    To the majority of older Shanghainese, this kind of neighborhood is what they know best, and it has a nostalgic air. To the new generation, it’s a place that’s been rejected and will eventually be replaced, a lowly corner devoid of hope. But when you’ve lived here for awhile, you can appreciate its simplicity and vigor.
    One of the letters was from Spain. “It’s from your mother,” I said. Just then, Tian was lying on the bed. I tossed the letter into his hand.
    He tore it open and read a few lines. “She’s getting married…and she mentions you.”
    Curious, I moved closer. “May I read it?” He nodded and I jumped onto the bed. He hugged m from behind, holding the letter up with both hands for me too see.
    “My son, how have you been lately? In your last letter you mentioned that you’re living with a girl now, but you didn’t describe her in detail. (Your letters are always so disappointingly brief.) I am guessing that you really love her. I understand you. You don’t easily get close to someone. That’s very nice. At last you have someone to be your partner.
    “The first of next month I will be getting married, to Juan, of course. We’ve been living together for a long time now, and I’m confident we can be happy together long term. Our Chinese restaurant here is still going well. We are considering opening a Spanish restaurant. I long for the day when I’ll see you again. I’ve never understood why you wouldn’t come to Spain-it seems you have never trusted me, as if something bad has kept us apart-but time has passed so quickly. 10 years have gone by and you have already grown up. But no matter what, you are my most beloved son.”
    “If that’s so, you and your mother can see one another.” I put the letter down. “For 10 years she never came to Shanghai to see you, and you never went there to see her. Pretty weird.” I looked at Tian, who didn’t look pleased. “So I can’t imagine what it will be like when mother and son reunite.”
    “I don’t want her to come to Shanghai,” said Tian, his body leaning backward and falling into his thick, fluffy pillow. He opened his eyes wide and looked up at the ceiling. The term mother had taken on a bizarre, unfathomable aspect in the tale Tian had told me. Clearly, it still carried with it the shadow of his father’s death.
    “My mother looked like a fairy with her long, long hair. She spoke very delicately and always wore perfume,” Tian told the ceiling. “Her hands were very soft, very white, and she could knit all sorts of pretty sweaters…That’s how she was when I saw her 10 years ago. She sent me some photos later, but I threw them all away.”
    “What does she look like now?” I was filled with curiosity about this woman in Spain.
    “I don’t know the woman in the picture.” He rolled over, turning his back to me, annoyed. He was willing to send letters or postcards to keep in touch, but he couldn’t imagine that one day she would stand before him in the flesh. That wouldn’t do. If that happened, his defenses would crumble. There are many mothers and sons in the world, but few like Tian and his mother. A barrier of suspicion lay between them, and neither tenderness nor instinctive, blood-based affinity could overcome it. Their battle of love and hate will last to the end of this story.
    The other letter was from Mark to me. Inside were 2 invitations and a brief not. “You left a deep impression on me at that party. Hoping to see you again.”
    I waved the invitations at Tian. “Let’s go to the painting exhibition. That German guy Mark actually kept his word.”
    “I’m not going. You go by yourself.” Tian closed his eyes, looking unhappy.
    “Hey, you always like exhibitions,” I said in disbelief. It was true. Camera on his shoulder, he would often go to all sorts of art, painting, film, book, sculpture, furniture, calligraphy, flower, and car shows, even exhibitions of industrial machinery, lingering contentedly amid a mass of mind-boggling products. He was an out-and-out exhibitions freak. They were a window through which he could secretly view the true face of the world. According to my psychoanalyst, David Wu, reclusive people are often also dedicated Peeping Toms.
    “I don’t want to go.” Suddenly looking into my eyes, Tian said, “Is that German guy always so attentive to other people’s girlfriends?”
    “Oh, is that what you think?” I shot back. This sort of situation was very rate. When Tian’s eyes became suspicious, they turned cold as snails. It made me uncomfortable. But perhaps the reason I hit back so crudely was my own psychological weakness, as if sensitive Tian had scratched open a hidden wound inside me.
    Tian clammed up and walked mutely into the other room. His back seemed to be telling me, Don’t take me for an idiot. You danced the night away with him cheek to cheek, and then he came with us into our room here. I closed my mouth, too, speechless.

    10) TAKE ME YOUR PLACE
    I went to the exhibition by myself. Liu Haisu Art Museum was a sea of heads, every sort of human effluvium thriving under the lights. You could smell that there were rich and poor people here, sick and healthy, artist and wannabes, Chinese and foreigners.
    In front of a painting entitled U-Shaped Transformation I saw Mark, with his golden crown, towering in front of me. “Hi, Coco!” He put one hand on my back and gave me a French-style kiss on both cheeks and an Italian-style hug. He looked happy. “Your boyfriend didn’t make it?”
    I smiled, shaking my head, and pretended to concentrate on the paintings.
    He stood constantly by my side, shadowing me as I moved through the gallery, his whole body diffusing a scent from another land. There was something disquieting in his casualness, almost like the restrain of a hunter confronting his longed-for prey. Most of my attention was focused on him, the paintings before me becoming a mass of chaotic colors and random lines.
    The crowd wriggled forward slowly, and as we were crushed together, at some point his hand fastened onto my waist.
    Two familiar faces suddenly out from the crowd gathered in front of the third painting to my left, were Madonna and Ah Dick, dress to kill. They both wore trendy thin-framed glasses and heads of painstakingly disheveled hair. Startled, I hastily worked my was back into the crowd and moved in another direction. Mark and his questionable intentions stuck close to me, his hand on my waist like a pair of tongs, searing and dangerous.
    The appearance of that sex couple gave me a sudden urge to behave badly. Perhaps I’d been prepared to do the unthinkable from the very beginning. “I just saw Madonna and her boyfriend,” said Mark, with his dubious but enchanting smile.
    “I see them, too, so let’s get out of here,” I said, acknowledging what was on our minds. No sooner had the words escaped me than Mark seized me like a bank robber, allowing no argument, and dragged me out of the gallery in a flash, depositing me in his BMW. Basking in masochistic joy, my mind went kaput.
    At that instant, all I needed was an ounce of self-control. I should have walked away from him right then, and none of what followed would ever have happened. But I wasn’t the least bit cautious and didn’t want to be; I was 25 and had never longed for security. “A person can do anything, including those things that should be done, and those that ought not.” Dali’ put it something like that.

    Later, when I opened my eyes wide and saw him lowering his body toward me, I noticed that the huge room we were in was bottle green, spacious and silent, and filled with the smell of a stranger and a stranger’s furniture.
    He kissed my lips, then suddenly lifted his head and laughed. “Want a drink?”
    I nodded vigorously, like a child. My body was cold and my lips icy. Maybe a drink would do me good. With a drink, I’d become a hot woman.
    I watched his naked body get out of bed and walk toward the glittering bartop. He took out a bottle of rum and poured 2 glasses.
    Next to the bar was a sound system, and he slid a CD into it. Surprisingly, the music was a ballad in the Suzhou dialect. An unfamiliar woman’s voice sang out something like yee yee ah ah. I couldn’t clearly hear the soothing Suzhou lyrics, but the effect was unique.
    He walked over. “Do you like Suzhou pingtan?” I asked, to make conversation.
    “It’s the best music to make love to,” said Mark. I drank some rum and coughed a bit. With a faint smile, he patted me on the back.
    Yet another kiss, long and leisurely. This was the first time that I realized kissing before lovemaking could be so comfortable, steady, unhurried, enhancing my desire. His golden body hairs were like fine rays of sunlight, zealously and intimately nibbling at my body. The tip of his rum-soaked tongue teased my nipples, then moved slowly downward. He penetrated my protective labia with deadly accuracy and located my budding clitoris. The coolness of the rum mingled with the warmth of his tongue and made me feel faint. I could feel a rush of liquid flow out of my uterus, and then he went inside. His huge organ made me feel swollen. “No,” I began to cry out. “No way!”
    But he showed no pity, never stopping for a second. The pain burst into a kind of apoplexy. I opened my eyes wide and looked at him, half in love, halt in hate. I was aroused by his naked white body, only faintly colored from the sun.
    I imagined what he would be like in high boots and a leather coat, and what kind of cruelty would show in those Teutonic blue eyes. These thoughts increased my excitement. “Every woman adores a Fascist/The boot in the face, the brute/Brute heart of a brute like you…” wrote Sylvia Plath. I closed my eyes and listened to him moan a sentence or two in indistinct German, sounds from my dreams that struck the most sensitive part of my womb. I thought I could die and he would keep right on going, but then I climaxed with a sharp cry.
    He lay at my side, his head cushioning a few strands of my hair. We wrapped our naked bodies in the bed sheets and smoked. Just in time, smoke clouds filled the void before our eyes, and we didn’t need to speak. Sometimes you don’t want to utter a sound; instead, you slip into a silent film, your mind at rest.
    The his voice seemed to rise above the mist, faint and light. “How do you feel?” He held me from behind, his big hands on my breasts, and we lay stacked against on another on our sides, 2 silver spoons shining a cool, metallic light.
    “I’m going back,” I said listlessly. He kissed me behind the ear.
    “Okay, I’ll take you.”
    “No nee; I’ll go by myself.” My tone was weak but definite. When I sat up to get dressed, I was draped in depression. The passion and orgasm had passed. When the film is over and the filmgoer leave en masse, all you hear is the bang of seats returning to their upright positions, the sound of footsteps, throat clearing: The characters, the story, and the music have all gone. But Tian’s face just wouldn’t stop moving back and forth in my brain.
    I dressed quickly, not even glancing at the man at my side. All men are uglier when they dress than when they undress; no doubt many women are, too.
    This was the first and last time, I told myself disingenuously. The thought was temporarily effective, and I pulled myself together and marched out of that lovely apartment, I got into a taxi, and Mark mimed that he’d call me. I smiled vaguely. Who knows? I mimed back. The car pulled away, as if escaping from him.
    I didn’t have a mirror in my bag, so I could only look at myself in the window. All I could see was a blurred phantom. I tried to think what my first words should be when I met Tian. “The exhibition wasn’t bad. I ran into several people I knew, and of course, Mark was there…” WOMEN ARE BORN LIARS, ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY TRAFFIC BETWEEN MEN. The more complex the situation, the more resourceful they are. From the moment they can speak, they know how to lie. Once, when I was very young, I broke a priceless antique vase and said the family cat had done it.
    But I wasn’t used to lying to Tian and to his eyes, where black was so distinct from white. But how could I avoid it?
    As I walked into the dark hallway, I smelled spring onions, oil, and fried meat: our neighbors were cooking dinner. I opened our door and switched the light on. But Tian wasn’t in his room and there wasn’t even a note on the desk.
    I sat on the sofa for a moment, looking at the black leggings wrapped around my thin legs. A very short golden hair was stuck to my left knee. Mark’s. Under the lamplight, it shone pale. I recalled the way Mark’s head had moved downward from my chest… I burned that strand of hair until it frizzed to nothing. Then an uncontrollable fatigue engulfed me. I lay flat on the sofa, place my hands on my chest like a corpse at peace, and quickly fell asleep.
    ...Nắng chia nửa bãi chiều rồi...
    Nắng chia luôn cả tim tôi cho người.

  15. #15
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    11) I WANT TO SUCCEED
    Novelists who long for the past always write something like “I want to sleep forever and never wake up.” Psychoanalysts are endlessly digging up dreams from under pillows. When I was little my mother would wake me up every morning, make my breakfast, and hand me my satchel, and my head would be filled with the bubble like remains of my dreams. I was a dream-loving child. What makes me feel most liberated about my life now is that I can sleep just as long as I please. Occasionally, arguing neighbors, a noisy TV, or a shrill phone wake me up, but I can still bury my head under the covers and return to my interrupted dream. Sometimes, of course, I can’t get back to it. When I can’t resume my romance with that unknown man, I feel so frustrated I could cry.
    My life with Tian was a bit like a dream right from the start. I like that kind of dream-pure colors, intuitive and unburdened by loneliness.
    Mark was perhaps one of the things that, like the sound of arguing or a phone ringing, could interrupt my dream. Of course, even if I hadn’t met Mark I might have met someone else who would seduced me. My life with Tian had too many fine cracks that we couldn’t mend on our own, so there was always the threat that an external force would make its way inside.
    I woke in the middle of the night and realized that Tian was back. He was sitting on the arm of the sofa, looking intently at my face and cradling a black-and-white cat. The cat was staring at me, too. I saw myself in its liquid green eyes. Startled, I jolted upright, and the cat jumped down from Tian’s arms, darting across the wooden floor and out of the room.
    “Where have you been?” I asked, taking the initiative.
    “I went to see my grandmother. She kept me for dinner,” said Tian softly. “It’s been a long time since I went. Her cat had a new litter and she gave me a kitten. She’s called Fur Ball.” His face was tender as he caressed my hair, my cheeks, my jaw, and my slender neck. His hand was a little cold, but gentle.
    My eyes widened at a sudden fear that he meant to strangle me, but the idea fled as fast as it came. A feeling of extraordinary remorse made me open my mouth, and I wanted to tell him everything that had happened. But Tian plugged my mouth with a kiss. His tongue tasted bitter, and a scent like rain-soaked leaves spread through the room as we kissed. His hands were cascading over every inch of my skin, and I felt sure that he knew everything, that his fingers could detect a stranger’s secretions and particles on my skin. Tian was so sensitive that one touch could set him off, almost like a madman.
    “Maybe I should go to a doctor,” he said, after a moment of silence.
    “What?” I looked at him sadly. Everything that had happened and was about to happen wasn’t my wish. At that instant, we were utterly alone, and neither he nor I could leave.
    “I love you.” I held him and closed my eyes. It sounded too much like a line out of a film. Even when you’re sad it still makes you feel awkward to talk like that. My mind was filled with flickering shadows, like those made by a candle. Then a shower of sparks glittered before my eyes. My novel-my novel would explode like firework and give meaning to our existence.
    Deng, the editor of my short-story collection, phoned me. She’s a middle-aged woman who lives alone with her middle-school aged daughter while her husband studies in Japan. She has all the characteristics of a middle-aged Shanghainese woman: the pale complexion of a neurotic, her hair always up in a bun, wearing leather pumps and narrow, midi-length polycotton skirts. She has a passion for ice cream and gossip of all sorts.
    With her help I had published Shriek of the Butterfly, which provoked such curious reactions. Everyone was whispering about this risqué book, and rumor had it that I was a bisexual with a predilection for violence. Students were caught stealing my book from bookstores.
    I got letters, with erotic photos enclosed, from men via my editor, wanting to know what my relationship was with the heroine of the book. They hoped for a dinner date with me at Saigon Restaurant on Hengshan Road, dressed up as one of my romantic characters. Alternatively, they offered to take me for a ride in a white VW Santana 2000 GSI and make love to me in the care when we got to Yangpu Bridge. It was all like something out of a tabloid.
    But to get to the point, I didn’t earn much money from it, because after the first printing of a few 1000 had sold out, there was no second printing. When I asked Deng why, she said the publishing company had recently had some management problems and I should bring the matter up a bit later. I’d been waiting ever since.
    My boyfriend at the time, Ye Qian, said what I wrote wasn’t suitable for young readers; I’d gone too far, and that was it for that book. And once the book had run its course, so had my brief relationship with him.
    He was a bit of a lad with a devil-may-care attitude who worked for a big advertising house. I met him when I was interviewing the firm’s English boss. He looked intelligent, sharp, and pretty laid-back. I don’t know what it was that made him hit on me, because at the time I was still suffering from a bout of man phobia, thanks to that pint-size ex-boyfriend of mine, and preferred to find friends among women.
    But he very patiently chatted me up, and having listened to my story of a failed romance, stood up and announced: “See how tall I am? And I haven’t any bad intentions. I just want to get to know you better, that’s all.”
    That very night he successfully improved his knowledge of me, from my breasts down to my toes, from my heavy breathing to my loud cries. He was tall and handsome, and his balls were warm and clean. When I held them in my mouth, I got that sense of unquestioning trust that the act of sex bestows upon one’s partner. His penis moved into me like a corkscrew. His straightforward lovemaking healed my gray memories and restored my healthy attitude to sex. He patiently taught me how to distinguish between clitoral and vaginal orgasms, and often made me climax both ways at once.
    In the end, he made me believe that I’m luckier than many women. The statistics say some 70% of Chinese women have some sort of problem with sex, and 10% have never had an orgasm.
    My relationship with Ye Qian lasted several months, coinciding with the publication of my book. My impulsive state at the time brought him, and the sex he brought with him, into my life. When Shriek of the Butterfly had sold out and I still couldn’t hear the sound of money jingling in my pocket, we parted without argument or ill will, rationally and harmlessly.
    Tian was from a different species than my earlier men. He was a fetus soaking in formaldehyde who owed his life to unadulterated love, and his death was inextricable linked to that love. He couldn’t give me a complete sexual experience, and I couldn’t keep my body unsullied for him like a piece of jade. Everything was unfathomable. Perhaps my love grew from how greatly I was needed; however much he needed, that was how much I provided. Tian needed my existence like he needed oxygen and water, and our love was a grotesque crystal formed by the oppressive atmosphere that surrounded us.
    It was early autumn, and the air had the dry, cool smell of tobacco or gasoline. My editor called to ask, “How are things going with your novel?”
    “Okay,” I said. “I might be needing an agent.”
    “What kind of an agent?” she asked.
    “Someone who could help me realize my dream and avoid the problems I had with my last book,” I explained.
    “Tell me more.”
    “My dream is one that any smart young woman would have, and that’s the kind of person I’m writing for. There should be a road show with parties throughout China to promote the book. I’d wear a backless black dress and a grotesque mask. The floor would be littered with confetti made from my book, and everyone would be dancing madly on it.”
    “My God,” she said, and laughed. “You’re crazy.”
    “But it’s doable,” I said, taking exception to her laugh. “All we need to make it happen is the cash and the brains.”
    “All right,” said Deng. “There are a few authors holding a literary event in Shanghai. One of them’s a young woman bit older than you. Ever since she married a famous critic, she’s been dying to find inspiration from every hair that falls from his head. You should meet them. It might be useful.” She named a restaurant on Xinle Road and said she would be there, too.
    I asked Tian if he’d like to go with me, but he pretended not to hear. He had a low opinion of most other authors.
    I agonized for a long time over what to wear. My wardrobe is divided into two distinct styles: one is androgynous, loose-fitting, and of quiet colors and makes me look like something out of a medieval painting; the other is tight-fitting, foxy clothing, like some cat woman. I tossed a coin and went for the latter. I chose the 1960s retro look from the West-purple lipstick and eyes shadow, and my leopard-spotted handbag-very chic in Shanghai just then.
    The taxi made me dizzy racing around in circles. The cabby was new, on the job for just a few days, and without realizing it he brought us back to our starting point. I’ve no sense of direction to speak of and just kept yelling at him, so we ended up driving one another mad. I saw the meter ticking away and threatened, “I’m going to make a formal complaint.” He said nothing. “Because you’re not acting in the best interest of your customer,” I added for effect.
    “Okay, okay. What’s the big deal? I won’t charge you.”
    “Hey. Just stop here,” I said, seeing a familiar light and large glass window with lots of blond heads moving about behind it. “That’s right. I want to get out here.” I had changed my mind and decided to forget bout meeting up with Deng’s authors. Why not look for a bit of fun here at YY’s Bar, run by Kenny?
    YY’s has two floors. The lower one, down a long staircase, houses the dance floor. The atmosphere in the room was joyous, full of alcohol, perfume, money, saliva, and hormones.
    I saw my favorite DJ on the stand, Christophe Lee from Hong Kong. When he noticed I was there, he made a face at me. They were playing house in hip-hop, both totally cool, like a raging blind fire. The more you danced, the happier and more unfettered you felt, until you were vaporized out of existence and your right and left ear lobes were both quaking-then you knew you’d reached the peak.
    There were plenty of fair-haired foreigners, and lots of Chinese women, their tiny waistlines and silky black hair their selling points. They all had a sluttish, self-promoting expression on their faces, but in fact a good many of them worked for multinational companies. Most were college graduates from good families; some had studied abroad and owned their own cars. They were the crème de la crème of Shanghai’s eight million women, but when they were dancing they looked tarty. God knew what was going on in their minds.
    Of course, some were also prostitutes who specialized in the international market. They often wear their hair incredibly long (the better for the foreign devil to admire his Asian woman’s magical hair when she’s pressed close beneath him and he’s in sexual ecstasy). Most can speak basic English (“A hundred for a hand job, two for a blow job, three for a quickie, five for an all nighter”) and like to focus on their targets, licking their lips sensually in slow motion. You could shoot a film called Chinese Lips just describing the amorous adventures of foreigners at hundreds of bars in Shanghai. It would begin with lip-licking, all sorts of lips: generous ones and thin ones, black lips, silver lips, red lips, purple lips, lips with cheap lipstick, lips with Lanco^me or Christian Dior lipstick. Chinese Lips, starring all the seductive women of Shanghai, would be more successful than the Hollywood blockbuster China box.
    When I dance, my mind fills with fantasies and inspiration gushes forth, as I lose all inhibitions. I should have a laptop toting secretary glued to my every move, especially when I’m dancing to techno music, to take down all my hallucinations. That’d be a thousand times better than anything I write at my desk.
    I’d already forgotten where I was. The smell of marijuana (or cigar?) found a nerve center in my right nostril. I figured I’d already attracted the eyes of plenty of men with my dancing-like a princess in a Middle Eastern harem, and a bewitching female who will eat them alive, like a black widow spider.
    I looked down at my silver navel ring, shimmering madly under the lights, like a poisonous flower on my body. A hand from behind suddenly hugged my naked waist. I didn’t know who it was and didn’t much care, but when I turned around, smiling, I saw it was Mark. He lowered his face toward mine, exhaling a hot breath, smelling of a James Bond martini. His voice was low, but I could still hear him saying he wanted me, here and now. Muddleheaded, I asked: “Here? Now?”
    We were pressed up against each other in the grubby women’s restroom on the second floor. The music seemed far away. I was getting cold and I could hardly keep my eyes open, but I kept Mark’s hand at bay. “What are we doing here?” I asked.
    “Making love,” he said, glibly using the phrase without insincerity. But his blue eyes were anything but cold. Waves of tenderness radiated from them. No one could ever understand how pure desire could cause the seamless intimacy that we achieved by that smelly toilet!
    “I feel totally disgusting, like a criminal-and even more like I’m being tortured…” I murmured.
    “The police will never find us here. Trust me. Everyhing’s perfect.” He put on a film-gangster voice. He propped me up against the purple wall, lifted my skirt, nimbly slipped of my CK under pants, balled them up and stuck them in his hip pocket. Then he forcefully lifted me up and, without another word, rammed himself inside me. Sitting on his big red cock felt like sitting on a fire hose.
    “You bastard!” I screamed, unable to control my language. “Put me down right now. I feel like a specimen nailed to a wall!”
    He gazed at me, full of passion. We changed positions. With him sitting on the toilet, I sat on him. That way I could direct his movements to suit my sensitivity.
    Someone was knocking at the door, but the perverted couple inside the toilet wasn’t done yet.
    Orgasm approached amid my feelings of dread and awkwardness. We exploded there, and once again it was perfect, despite the uncomfortable position and the smell. Then he pushed me aside, pulled the cord attached to the suspended tank, and his semen disappeared with the swirling water.
    I began to cry. This was all so inexplicable. I was increasingly losing my self-confidence all suddenly felt even cheaper than the prostitutes dancing downstairs. At least they had professionalism and a certain coolness, while I was awkward and horribly torn between two personalities. I couldn’t stand the face I saw reflected in the grimy mirror. Something in my body had been lost, leaving a gaping hole.
    Mark hugged me. He kept apologizing, “Sorry, sorry,” holding me as tight as a dead baby, which only made me feel worse.
    I pushed him away and pulled my underwear out of his pocket, put them on, and straightened my skirt. “You didn’t rape me,” I said, low but harsh. “No one could. Don’t keep saying ‘Sorry, sorry’ It’s so rude. I’m crying because I look ugly. If I cry, I’ll feel a bit better, you know?” I said.
    “No, you’re not ugly,” said Mark, in that stern way of his.
    I smiled. “No, I mean the day will come when I’ll die ugly. Because I’m not a good girl, and God doesn’t like girls like me. Though I do like myself,” I said, beginning to cry again.
    “No, no, baby. You don’t know how much I care for you. Really, Coco.” His eyes were utterly tender, and in the washroom light that tenderness became sorrow.
    Someone was knocking at the door again, no doubt a woman who had come to the end of her patience. I was scared to death, but he signaled me not to speak and calmly kissed me. As the sound of footsteps receded, I pushed him gently away. “We can’t see each other again.”
    “But we’ll run into one another. Shanghai’s very small.”
    We left the washroom quickly. “I’m going,” I said as I walked out YY’s. He wanted to drive me home, but I insisted I didn’t want him to.
    “All right,” he said, waving for a taxi. He took a note from his wallet and put it in the cabby’s hand. I didn’t stop him. I sat down inside. “I still don’t feel good. I feel ashamed.” He leaned over and kissed me. Neither of us mentioned Tian.
    The taxi radio was tuned to “With You Till Dawn,” and the DJ was listening to a housewife pour out her heart. Her husband was having an affair, but she didn’t want to divorce him; she just hoped the other woman would disappear but didn’t know how to win back her husband’s heart. The cabby and I were silent. City dwellers are used to listening absentmindedly to the intimate details of other people’s lives. But we don’t sympathize, and we can’t help.
    As the cab drove up onto the bridge, I saw a sea of lights, magnificent and astonishing. I imagined all the stories that were happening in every corner of Shanghai, at the source of each of those lights’ so much noise, unrest, and fighting-and so much emptiness, indulgence, joy, and love, too.
    Tian was still up. He was lying on the sofa with his cat Fur Ball, holding a notepad and writing a long letter to his mother in far-off Spain. I sat down beside him and Fur Ball ran away. He turned abrupty and looked at me, and my heart jumped, afraid that once again he had sensed the smell of an unfamiliar male. I have to say that Mark had a slight odor to his body, an animal smell that I enjoyed.
    But Tian’s eyes were as cold as ice, and I couldn’t stand it I nervously got up and walked toward the bathroom. He lowered his head and kept writing.
    Hot water poured out of the tap and steam condensed on the mirror until I couldn’t see my face. I breathed a sigh of relief, lowered myself into the hot water, and relaxed. Whenever trouble looms, I hide away in a hot bath. The water is so hot. The mass of my black hair floats about like a water lily. All the memories I recall then are happy and lovely.
    Whenever I remember my childhood, I see myself sneaking off to Grandma’s attic. There’s a broken old leather chair on wheels, and a big read sandalwood chest covered in dust, with copper plated corners. When I open the chest, there are blue ceramic tiles with Salt written on them, scraps of fabric used to make a qipao, and other arcane objects. I used to sit all by myself on that broken leather chair, playing with those things as the sky darkened through the small window, bit by bit.
    “Nikki,” Grandma called me, but I pretended I hadn’t heard. Once again: “Nikki, I know where you are.” Then her plump silhouette climbed the stairs. I rushed to close the chest, but my hands and clothing were already dirty. “Don’t keep climbing about up here,” said Grandma, annoyed. “If you like these things so much, I’ll give them to you as your dowry.” But later, when the Shanghai city government built the subway, the old French-built block was condemned, and in the hustle and bustle of movings, those treasures of my youth were lost.
    With my feet poking out of the water, I thought how childhood events always seem so far away, as if they happened in a previous life. Except for that feeling of tenderness one relives so vividly, everything seems fake.
    Just then the bathroom door opened and Tian came in. His eyes were red, and he knelt down by the bath.
    “Finished writing?” I asked softly.
    “Yes,” Tian said, focusing silently on my eyes. “I told Mother to forget about coming to Shanghai to open a restaurant. When I went to Grandma’s I mentioned it to her, and Grandma said she’s be coming back just in time, because she still wants to square accounts with her before she dies…I don’t want Mother to come either. It’s better to get by on my own until I die…”His voice sounded dismal, and he started crying.
    “Coco, no matter what, don’t ever lie to me.” He fixed his eyes on mine, and an invisible chisel slashed my heart. A dense, terrifying silence seeped out like blood. The more hopelessly in love you are, the more you can get caught up in deceptions and murky nightmares.
    “I love you,” I said. I hugged him tight and closed my eyes. Our tears ran into the bath and the water grew hotter and hotter, darker and darker, and finally turned into boiling plasma, devouring our sobs and our fears. From that night on, I swore to myself that I wouldn’t reveal anything about Mark or our affair to Tian. Not one bit of it.
    ...Nắng chia nửa bãi chiều rồi...
    Nắng chia luôn cả tim tôi cho người.

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