Chinese Stories in English
Lust, Caution and Fancy Rings*
A strong lamp shown down on the mahjong table even in the daytime, and rays of light shot out from their diamond rings as they shuffled the tiles. A white tablecloth was tied to the table legs at the corners and stretched tight. It was so white that it dazzled the eyes with its snowy brightness. The intense light and shadows set off the hills and valleys of Manila's chest, but her face could withstand the ruthless light shining directly on it. Her forehead was a bit too narrow and her hair was scraggly, but somehow that added a bit of exquisiteness to her pretty, hexagonal face.
She wore only a little makeup, but her painted, delicately sculpted lips glistened a soft, alluring pink. Her thick, fluffy hair was swept upwards in front and fell even with her shoulders in the back. Her arms were bare. She wore a knee-length, satin cheongsam with an electric blue pattern. The collar was only half an inch high and had small, rounded corners, like a foreign dress. A diamond pin at her neckline, inlaid with sapphires, matched her "button" earrings.
The two ladies to her left and right were wearing black wool cloaks with heavy gold chains showing out from under the lapels. Since Shanghai was isolated from the outside world during the war with Japan, homegrown fashions flourished, and these chains were pulled across and fastened at the neckline in the local style. Gold was so abnormally expensive in areas occupied by the enemy that the value of such thick gold chains couldn’t even be estimated, but they were being used to replace buttons on the women’s overcoats. This was urbane and impressive enough to wear while parading oneself ostentatiously about town, and therefore had become a uniform for wives of officials under Wang Jingwei’s puppet regime in Shanghai. Perhaps it was also influenced by Chongqing, the temporary capital of the legitimate Chinese government, where black overcoats were considered stylishly dignified.
Across from Manila was Mrs. Yi. She was in her own home and wasn’t wearing her traditional Chinese bell robe, but was still sitting “upright as a bell”, as the saying goes. She and Manila had met in Hong Kong two years previously. She’d put on some weight now, a sign of her prosperity. Back then she and her husband had followed Wang Jingwei out of Chongqing and were stopping over in Hong Kong. Another of Wang's followers, Zeng Zhongming, had been assassinated in Hanoi, so they’d been living in seclusion in Hong Kong.
Mrs. Yi, though, couldn’t resist shopping for more things. The occupied areas and places behind the front lines in the Anti-Japanese War were short of commodities, so, like the Treasure Mountain District of Shanghai, you couldn’t go to that shoppers’ paradise and leave empty-handed. She went shopping accompanied by Mrs. Mai, who’d been introduced to her as a person with inside information about local conditions. In Hong Kong you can haggle over the price even in big companies, so anyone who doesn’t know how to speak Cantonese will lose out. Mrs. Mai’s husband was an importer/exporter, and businessmen like to make friends with government officials, so she’d done everything she could to treat Mrs. Yi well. Mrs. Yi was very grateful.
When Hong Kong fell to the enemy after the Pearl Harbor Incident, Mr. Mai’s business dried up. To cover living expenses, Manila had gone on her own and bought some watches, Western medicines, perfume and silk stockings to smuggle to Shanghai to sell. Mrs. Yi insisted she stay with her and her husband when she came to Shanghai.
“We went to the White Butterfly yesterday – Mrs. Mai hadn’t been there before,"** Mrs. Yi told one of the black coated ladies.
“It was great!”
“Mrs. Ma, it’s been several days since you came to our game, I think,” the other black-cloaked lady said.
The first lady, Mrs. Ma, just mumbled under the clicking of the mahjong tiles, “I have a relative who had something going on."
Mrs. Yi smiled and said: "She agreed to be the hostess but couldn't afford it and ducked out."
Manila suspected that Mrs. Ma was jealous because Mrs. Yi had been acting like everything was centered on her since she’d got there.
“Mrs. Liao treated us at the White Butterfly,” Mrs. Yi said to Mrs. Ma. “She’s been the only winner the last two days. I ran into Young Li and his wife and asked them to join us. He said he’d invited some people but they hadn’t arrived yet. I told him, ‘It’s so rare for Mrs. Liao to treat anyone, would you feel right if you didn’t do her the honor of attending?’ Most of his guests happened to show up right then, enough to fill up a big table. There weren’t enough chairs so we added some, but they still couldn’t all squeeze in. Mrs. Liao sat behind me like she was going to wait on us. I said, ‘I’ve got the prettiest serving girl behind me.’
“She said ‘I may be getting older, but people still like what I serve up.’ I told her what she serves gets spicier with age.
“Boy, did everyone laugh! They laughed so much that even her pockmarks turned red."
“I had to go to my aunt’s birthday yesterday,” Mrs. Ma said, “but that’s not to say it was like the old story, Birthday Greetings from the Longevity Goddess!”.
Mr. Yi came into the room while Mrs. Yi was still telling Mrs. Ma what had been going on over the last couple of days. He nodded to greet the three women guests.
“Hello to you all – You all look dazzling!”
He stood behind his wife and looked at her hand. A thick woolen curtain was hung over the entire wall on that side of the room. It was yellow with an especially large pattern printed on it, a brick-red, phoenix-tail fern with oblique fronds as tall as a person. Zhou Fohai, the second-in-command in Wang Jingwei’s puppet regime, had one in his home, so they had one as well. These curtains were for the fake floor-to-ceiling windows that had recently become popular in the West. Materials for the curtains came in by boat and were in short supply in wartime Shanghai, so using an entire lot of fabric like this, especially with a fancy pattern, was absolutely extravagant.
Contrasting Mr. Yi’s image against that stately phoenix-tail fern made him look short. He was wearing a light gray, Western-style suit, new and exquisite. A receding hairline had left an unusually long leaf-point down the middle. His nose was quite long, a bit like a "rat’s muzzle", which is said to be masterful and noble.
“Mrs. Ma, how many carats is that ring of yours – three?” Mrs. Yi asked. “Some more came into the Tasteful Air the day before yesterday. They’re five carats, but they don’t shine as brilliantly as yours."
"Everyone says the Tasteful Air sells better things than the other stores!"
"The Brokerage delivers,” Mrs. Yi said, “but convenience is the thing. You can keep the thing for a couple of days to see how you like it. Sometimes the Tasteful Air has things that the other stores don’t, though. Last time they had fire diamonds, but he wouldn’t buy one for me." She looked at Mr. Yi and rolled her eyes as she said that. "How much might one cost now? A fire diamond with no defects, up to twenty ounces of gold or more a carat. Tasteful Air even said that fire diamonds and pink diamonds are priceless."
"That fire diamond you wanted was ten-plus carats, about as heavy as a pigeon egg,” Mr. Yi smiled and said. Diamonds, they’re just rocks. If you wear too many on your hands while you play mahjong, you won’t be able to move the tiles.”
“This table is indeed a showcase for rings,” Manila thought. She was the only one not wearing a diamond. All she ever wore was a jadeite ring. She’d long known that the others laughed at her for not having a diamond – they could look right at her and not see her.
"You didn't buy me one, and I still have to listen to you say such things!" Mrs. Yi said, playing a five of cylinders tile as she spoke. The black-cloaked woman opposite Mrs. Ma immediately plopped down her tiles and, smiling and sighing at once, abruptly interrupted their conversation.
Everyone counted their losing tiles. Mr. Yi took advantage of the confusion to gesture to Manila, moving his chin slightly towards the door.
She glanced at the two black-cloaked women right away. Good thing, it didn’t seem like either of them had noticed. She paid her losses, picked up her teacup and took a sip. "Damn my memory!” she blurted. “I completely forgot I have a business appointment at three o’clock. Now what can I do! Mr. Yi can sit in for me for a couple of rounds. I’ll be right back."
Mrs. Yi spoke right up. "That won’t do! Who does that kind of thing? You didn’t say anything about it beforehand, so you can’t leave now."
“Mahjong with three people changes the game!” the black-cloaked woman who’d just laid down a winning hand whined.
“I’ll have to get hold of Mrs. Liao. I’ll go call her." Mrs. Yi said. Then she told Manila, "Wait for her to get here before you leave.”
“Chief Yi will play for me." Manila looked at her watch. "I’m already late. I have an appointment for coffee at the Brokerage.”
“I have things to do,” Mr. Yi said. “I can’t spend the whole night playing mahjong."
“In that case, Malila Wong,” – Mrs. Yi liked too much to call the younger woman by her full name, as though they were classmates of the same age – “this time we’ll have to fine you. You’ll treat us tonight. You’ll treat us!"
“How can you have your guest buy you dinner?" Mrs. Ma asked. " Mrs. Mai is a guest here in Shanghai.”
“Mrs. Yi, she’s under your wing!" The other black-cloaked woman said.
They had to be circumspect in their teasing. Although Mrs. Yi was more than old enough to be Manila’s mother, they never said anything to identify Manila as a younger woman. There really is a certain vacillation in women of Mrs. Yi’s age. On the one hand they’re old ladies who enjoy having young and beautiful women attend them, like stars flattering the moon, but on the other hand, they’re jealous of them, too.
“I will be the hostess this evening," Manila said. "but Mr. Yi, you’ll have to play for me. Otherwise I won’t include you on the guest list.”
“Yes, help us out, Chief Yi, help us out! Being one short is a pain and just isn’t right. Sit in for now, while Mrs. Ma phones around for a replacement.”
"I really do have things to do" At the mention of his official duties, Mr. Yi lowered his voice and mumbled. “Wait a while and someone will come.”
“Officials like Mr. Yi are always so busy," said Mrs. Ma.
Manila wondered if there was some hidden meaning in what Mrs. Ma said, but maybe she was anxious and being overly sensitive. From the way he smiled, even if Mrs. Ma’s words carried an air of sycophancy, it looked like he was aware people knew and even wanted them to make fun of him. It’s hard to say it, but people even deeper than him sometimes lose their sense of propriety.
“This is too dangerous. If I don’t succeed today and have to stretch it out, Mrs. Yi will catch on.”
She was still going back and forth with Mrs. Yi after he left. She had to exhaust all her arguments before she could extricate herself. She went to her bedroom but didn’t change clothes, just hastily tidied up a bit. The maid had already come back to tell her that the car was waiting at the door. She left in the Yi’s car and told the driver to take her to the coffee shop. When she got out of the car, she sent him back.
It was still early and the coffee shop was empty. Several pairs of wall lamps under apricot pink and white shades had been lit. It was a large place filled with small round tables that were covered by fine white linen tablecloths with dark flowers – a conservative restaurant appearance. She went to the counter to make a phone call and hung up after it had rung four times. Fearing that the attendant would think that was strange, she murmured, "Could I have dialed the wrong number?"
It was the agreed secret code. This time someone answered.
“Yes. Eminent Talent.”
Good. It was Abundance Kuang’s voice. Even now she was still a little wary of Extra Day Liang, even though he was quite tactful and had a friendly way about him.
"Brother Talent," she said in Cantonese, "how’s the family these days?”
“On the whole everyone’s fine. And you?”
“I’ll be going shopping soon, but the time hasn’t been set.”
“No big deal. We’ll wait for you no matter what. Where are you now?”
“I’m in San Two.”
“That’s the way it goes!"
There was silence for a moment.
“Anything to tell me?” Her hands were frozen, but she felt a touch of warmth and attachment to the sound of the voice from her hometown.”
“I’ll get going soon, then.”
“No problem. No need to rush. We’ll see you in a while.”
She hung up and went out to call a rickshaw.
“If I don’t succeed today,” she thought, “I really can’t live with the Yi’s anymore. Those ladies are always around, glaring at me like tigers watching their prey. Maybe I should’ve talked to him about finding some excuse for me to move out. He could’ve got an apartment for me to live in. The last two times I met him were in apartments, two different places. They both belonged to Brits or Americans who’re in concentration camps. On the other hand, that might’ve made it harder to do the deed. Would I have known when he was coming over? If he wanted to come over, it would’ve been all of a sudden. Or if he did arrange it in advance, something might’ve come up so he couldn’t make it. And it’s hard to phone him, since his wife keeps such a close eye on him. She probably has eyes and ears in several of his offices. Even if she didn’t, it would only take one person finding out for things to go bad. There’re too many people willing to drop a dime to get in good with the old lady. And if I didn't go after him, he might not have come over even once. They say things like that have happened, where the man considers the apartment a parting gift. He really has too many temptations, more than he can handle.”
Once out of sight, she’d have been out of mind. If she wanted to nail him down, she had to be able to take her tits in hand and wave them around in front of him.
“Your breasts are fuller than they were before,” he’d whispered as he hugged and kissed her.
His head had been nestled against her chest and he hadn’t seen her face turn red.
Even after all this time, she still felt like she’d been stuck with a needle whenever she thought about it. The hateful looks and knowing smiles of those people taking her measure would flash before her. Even Abundance Kuang was like that.
Extra Day Liang was the only one who feigned distraction, pretending not to notice that her breasts had gotten bigger and bigger over the past two years. He’d played that little scene more than once, and she would immediately send him away as soon as he appeared before her.
It was some distance to the public areas of the foreign concessions. She called for the rickshaw boy to stop when they arrived at a small coffee shop at the corner of Jing'an Temple Road and Seymour Road. She took a look around the curbsides on the off chance that he’d arrived first, but all she saw was a charcoal-colored car parked a little way up the road.
The shop was primarily a to-go outlet with limited seating. The place was dark, but the atmosphere wasn’t dark at all. A glass cooler just inside the door displayed various western pastries. A dazzling light lit a narrow corridor to the interior and shown unevenly on the bottom half of the wall, which was painted coffee brown. A white uniform jacket hung beside a small refrigerator. Higher up, near the ceiling, a row of long woolen tunics hung as if in a second-hand clothing shop. They looked like cast-offs of so-called “galley slaves”, people who were enamored with Western things
She’d heard him say that the place was operated by a greaseball from Tianjin who fawned over everything Western. Presumably he’d chosen the place so that they wouldn’t run into anyone he knew, and because it was close to a main road. It really wouldn’t matter if they did run into someone here, since it seemed that people who came to such an incomparably out-of-the-way place would all be keeping their own secrets.
The cup of coffee in front of her had already gotten cold and his car hadn’t yet arrived. He’d also kept her waiting in an apartment for almost an hour the last time he’d hooked up with her. It’s said that punctuality doesn’t mean anything to the Chinese, especially when they’ve reached the heights of the bureaucracy. If she had to wait around like this much longer before they went shopping, the store would be closed before they got there.
He himself had said: “Today’s a day worth commemorating for us.” It’d had been the first time they’d seen each other outside the Yi residence. “I’ll buy you a ring, one you pick yourself. It’s late, or I’d go with you to pick it out.”
To be kept waiting a second time was even more provoking, but she wouldn’t mention it. She wouldn’t let it slide, either, of course. But if he didn’t remember his promise today, and she had to remind him in a round-about way, wouldn’t that be too much of a loss of status? How would that look? If it were any other man, that’s for sure how she’d feel.
Such a slippery old scoundrel, he’d absolutely never believe that a mistress as young as her would see anything in a forty or fifty-year-old shrimp. If she wasn’t after money, he’d be suspicious. Besides, jewelry has always been a weakness for ladies. She’d been making business trips on her own, hadn’t she, so it was reasonable to scrape up a little extra on the side. He was a special agent himself, and smart enough to have a Plan B even if he hadn’t become suspicious. It could make one’s head spin for sure. She’d needed to win his trust, because so far they’d always met at a place chosen by him, but now she wanted him to go with her to a place she’d picked.
Last time, when the car came to pick her up, it had been on time. Since she was kept waiting for so long today, he must be picking her up himself. That was good, though. If they’d met in an apartment instead, once they were together there, it would’ve been hard to get him to leave. Even if he’d planned from the start to have dinner there, he’d want to fool around until the middle of the night before leaving – but they hadn’t eaten dinner together even the first time. Naturally he’d want to tarry a while, and not come back once they’d left. She’d have worried that the shops would be closed, but couldn’t tell him to hurry it up, like a prostitute would.
She took out her compact, took a look in the mirror and daubed on a little more face powder. Being late was not necessarily his fault. He didn’t treat her as a commodity, after all. But if she wasn’t successful today, she might never get another chance.
She took another look at her watch. She felt a chilly premonition of failure, kind of like a run in her silk stockings creeping up her leg.
A man dressed in Chinese clothes sat in a seat diagonally opposite from hers and seemed to be watching her closely. Someone else was there, too, reading a newspaper. They’d both arrived earlier than her and thus couldn’t have been following her – they couldn’t have guessed what road she’d take to get there, could they? Was that man wondering if the jewelry she had on was real? She didn’t look like a taxi dancer. If he thought she was a screen or stage actress, she wasn’t a familiar one.
She had acted in plays, though, and even now was still working herself to death on a stage of sorts. But no one knew, and she wouldn’t get famous doing it.
She’d acted in impassioned, patriotic historical dramas in school. Lingnan University moved to Hong Kong before Guangzhou fell to the Japanese, and she’d performed publicly there once as well. To her surprise, she found being the star was pretty nice. She was too excited to relax when she got off the stage, and no one would split until they’d all gone out for a late-night snack. She didn’t want to go home even then, so she took a joyride on a double-decker bus with two co-eds. Passengers were scarce on the upper deck. As the bus swayed down the middle of the wide streets, the neon lights in the darkness outside the window were as intoxicating as a cool breeze after one has been drinking.
Lingnan University borrowed classrooms from the University of Hong Kong. It was so crowded they had to squeeze their way through people to get to and from class. It took a long time to get through and was very inconvenient, and many of the guest students inevitably felt boxed in. The indifference of most Hong Kongers to national affairs was also infuriating. Most of her classmates were from the provincial capital, which was nearby, but they still felt like students roaming in a faraway place. A few of the most like-minded ones formed a small group. Then Wang Jingwei and his entourage came to Hong Kong – he and his wife were both Cantonese, along with Chen Gongbo and others.
There was a deputy named Chief Yi who was from the same town as Abundance Kuang. Abundance went to see him and got a lot of information once he’d sucked up to the guy. Everyone had a different opinion when he came back and told them about it. They agreed on a plan to have a beautiful woman cozy up to the guy. The woman would first approach Mrs. Yi without revealing she was a student, because most students were activists and the Yi’s would be wary. The young mistress of a businessman would be about right, especially one from Hong Kong with no thoughts about the nation. This role would of course be played by a young female from the school’s drama department, one who was both vivacious and able to take care of business.
Rocky Huang was the only one among them who’s family had money, so he ran around getting funding. They rented a house, borrowed a car and borrowed some clothing. Only Rocky knew how to drive, so he took on the role of chauffeur.
Literary Ouyang acted as Mr. Mai. Abundance Kuang was a cousin accompanying Manila. The first time, an adjutant took them to get Mrs. Yi to go shopping. Abundance didn’t get out of the car, though. The driver first took him and the adjutant to their respective homes – the adjutant sat in the front seat – and then drove the ladies to Central Shopping District.
Manila saw Mr. Yi several times, never doing more than nod her head in greeting. Then one day they sat at the same table for the first time playing mahjong. He was aloof, but she knew it wasn’t because he hadn't noticed her; he just didn’t dare to take liberties. She’d had men pursuing her since the age of twelve or thirteen and knew about such things. Although he was entirely circumspect during this period, he was also really awkward. He was lonely and bored, with too much on his mind that he couldn’t get rid of. He didn’t even dare take a drink in case Wang Jingwei might want to see him about something. The two couples worked together and also rented an old place together, mostly so they could close the door and play some penny-ante mahjong.
At the mahjong table with Manila, Mr. Yi mentioned that his wife had bought him enough material for several Western-style suits, and he was going to have two suits made for now. Manila told him about their regular tailor. "But it’s his busy season, with all those tourists, and it might be a few months before he can get to it. How about this? When Mr. Yi has some free time, Mrs. Yi can phone me and I’ll take him there. Since I’m a regular customer, he’d be embarrassed not to accommodate me." She jotted down her phone number as she was about to leave and knew he’d take the opportunity to copy it while his wife escorted her to the door. After a couple of days, he’d find an excuse to call her and sound her out. It would be during office hours, sometime when Mr. Mai wouldn’t be home.
It was drizzling that evening. Rocky Huang drove over to pick her up and they went upstairs together. Everyone was waiting for news. After her unprecedentedly successful performance, she’d left the stage but wasn’t yet out of costume. She felt that she was in the spotlight, with everyone looking at her. She couldn’t bear for them to leave but also couldn’t wait to get back on stage. It was already the middle of the night. She wanted to go dancing, but Abundance and the others didn’t dance, so they’d just look for a 24-hour restaurant. Having some three-meat porridge would be good, too. They could walk all the way back in the drizzle and party until dawn.
But after thinking things over a bit, everyone quieted down. A couple of them mumbled a few words in low voices now or then, or sometimes scoffed about something.
The scoffing was rather familiar. It wasn’t a sometime thing. She knew they’d long been talking about her behind her back.
“Going by what they say, Extra Day Liang is the only one of the bunch who’s had any sexual experience,” Refined Lai had told her. Besides Manila, Refined was the only other woman in the group.
Extra Liang. It would have to be him, of course. He was the only one who’d ever gone with a hooker.
Even though he was ready to sacrifice his life, she couldn’t deny that she was willing to take advantage of him.
That evening, bathed in the afterglow of the stage lighting as she was, Extra didn’t seem completely disgusting to her. Everyone seemed to see it and slipped away one by one, until only Extra was left. And so the play continued to unfold.
And it wasn’t only that night. But after several days, Mr. Yi still hadn’t phoned her. She called Mrs. Yi, but the older woman was feeling rather listless. She said she’d been busy the last couple of days and didn’t want to go shopping. She told Manila to call her back in a day or so.
Was she suspicious? Had she found out that Old Yi had her phone number? Or had she got some bad news, maybe about the Japanese side? She’d spent two weeks worrying about it when Mrs. Yi called her in a very good mood to say goodbye. She apologized for leaving in such a rush that she’d had no time to get together and invited Manila and her husband to come to Shanghai for a visit. They could stay as long as they liked, and she’d take them on a tour to Nanjing as well. Presumably the plan to return to Nanjing to set up a government had run aground and recently been abandoned.
Rocky Huang had defaulted on a shit-pot of debts. His family heard that he’d rented a room with a taxi dancer in Hong Kong and was living with her. He was at the end of his rope.
Things between her and Extra were already on the rocks. Everyone knew she regretted being with him. They stayed away from her, and when they had to meet to discuss something they didn’t look at her.
“It’s my own fault for going with Extra. I was stupid," she said to herself.
Even when they’d badgered her to set out on this campaign, some of them had had ulterior motives.
She was not only wary of Extra, but also kept her distance from the whole group. She’d always felt they regarded her with undue curiosity. After Pearl Harbor, the lines of communication switched over to Shanghai. Shanghai was enemy-occupied area, like Hong Kong, but it still had things to offer. She didn’t go to Shanghai with the others, nor did she communicate with them in Shanghai.
There was a long time that she couldn’t even be sure she hadn’t contracted a venereal disease.
However, when the group got to Shanghai, they did make contact with a worker for the underground, a guy whose surname was Wu – presumably not his real surname. Once they knew they had such a valuable path, they were of course strongly encouraged to carry on. They’d have to come to her eventually and, from a sense of duty, she wouldn’t be able to turn them down.
Truth be told, every time she was around Old Yi, it was like she’d taken a hot bath and washed away all her pent-up frustrations, because there was a purpose in everything she did.
Now, at the entrance to this cafe, there was presumably someone standing lookout for her. When they saw him in the car, they’d go inform everyone to get ready. When she’d come to the cafe just then, she hadn’t seen anyone loitering nearby, but the Peace Theater cater-cornered across the street was ideal. Shadows under the pillars at the entrance provided cover, and there was nothing remarkable about people standing around the entrance. The area in front of the door was too spacious, though, and it was so far away they wouldn’t be able to see anyone in the car clearly.
A delivery bicycle was parked by the entry to a foreign-operated leather goods store next door. It seemed to be broken and someone was looking it over to repair it, an ordinary fellow with a shaved head, about thirty years old. He was looking down and she couldn’t see him clearly, but he was obviously no one she knew. She didn't think the bike could’ve been sent there as her emergency back-up. Some things had been planned that they hadn't told her and she hadn't asked, but it sounded like the group was still just the original people – with that guy Wu to help out and maybe even provide a car. The business-use car that was still parked there, maybe it was the back-up and the driver was Rocky Huang. It had been facing away from her when she got there, so she couldn’t see the driver.
Wu probably didn't trust them very much yet. He’d be afraid they were too inexperienced and would screw things up, getting him involved. He wasn’t likely on his own in Shanghai, but all through this he’d been the only one in contact with Abundance Kuang.
Maybe he was recruiting them into the organization. This was probably a test.
“Our guys will almost be shooting point-blank. Not at all like a movie where you can shoot from a distance." Abundance had once told her that with a smile."
He’d probably said that just to give her some peace of mind, meaning that they wouldn’t fire wildly and put innocent bystanders in danger. The guy would be disabled even if he didn’t die. Dying would be better.
Now that the time had almost come, it wasn’t an appetizing thought.
Jitters before a performance. It’d be OK once she got on stage.
Waiting was the hardest part. Men could smoke, but she could only float around, grabbing at nothing. She was simply at sixes and sevens. She opened her tote bag and took out a bottle of perfume. The stopper had a small glass rod attached, which was dipped in the perfume for daubing behind the ear. It felt cool, and it had a lip which was the only part that touched her even if she was distracted. Just one swipe behind the ear and she’d smell of gardenias half the afternoon.
She took off her coat and dabbed a little perfume on the crook of her elbow as well. Before she’d had time to put her coat back on, she looked through the layers of a white, wooden model of a three-tier wedding cake in the display window and saw that a car was approaching. She knew at a glance that it was his car, without the inelegant, burnt-charcoal-gray crate on the back.
She collected her coat and bag and walked out with them on her arm. The driver had already gotten out and opened the door for her. Mr. Yi was sitting on the far side.
[Footnotes on page 2]
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