Chinese Stories in English
The Story Behind Their Love
by Song Ge
The two of them met online, but they lived in different cities very far apart. She liked him and liked his writing, and appreciated his way with words. They had gotten acquainted because of a story he wrote.
He had had a job that anyone would envy, making quite a bit of money, too. A year ago people started hearing that he'd quit suddenly, that he was staying home especially to write a novel. Then six months ago a friend of his borrowed almost all his savings, agreeing to pay it back in ten to fifteen days, but he hadn't returned any of it yet. It turned him into a pauper, but he didn't want to give up writing. All he could do was stick it out, one day at a time.
He hadn't expected her to come to the city where he was. It couldn't have been easy for her to find out where he lived. He hadn't anticipated it at all and was very pleasantly surprised, but also very embarrassed. He spread out his empty hands in apology. "I'm so poverty-stricken," he said. "Are you still willing to be with me?" But she didn't say anything, just fell into his arms and hugged him tightly.
They started living together. While he was out buying some necessities, he opened his wallet and counted the money. There was hardly any left.
"This is no good," he said. "You deserve better than this. I can borrow from friends. I should have money when I finish this book."
"Absolutely don't borrow any more money," she said. "Once you start borrowing you'll want to borrow more. I know you haven't had a job in a long time because you've been writing this novel." She told him "Don't worry, I've made it through tough times before," and "I don't want to be a burden on you."
Later, she was lying face down on the bed, starting to put their money together. She counted several times – they had only 321 Yuan. "It really isn't very much, but that's OK," she said. "You focus on your writing, and tomorrow I'll go look for work. I'll look for a job where I get paid every day."
He lay down beside her, very moved. He called her "my wife". She buried her head in his chest and didn't say anything. She knew his pride was really hurt.
"I love you, my wife!" he said fervently.
She took his hand and put it to her breast. "And I love you, too," she said from the heart. "We'll always be together."
They got up together in the morning. He watched her wash her face and brush her teeth. He watched her bustle around getting his breakfast, and the pleasant aroma made him feel the peacefulness of having a home. He sighed with satisfaction as he watched her go out to look for work, wearing a smile.
He waived to her, and kept watching as her silhouette disappeared at the end of the road. Then he turned around to start writing, but after putting down only a few words he couldn't write any more. He was thinking of her, and his mind was all confused. He stopped writing and busied himself with the laundry, and straightening up the room, mopping the floor, doing the dishes, wiping down the door and windows. The wind chime rang clearly in the window, ding, ding…dong…dong...doong…doong. He wiped the sweat from his brow and smiled as he watched the chime. True happiness is just this simple.
She came home when it was almost dark. He made their dinner – something he almost never did – a pot of rice porridge, with some bread and veggies that he'd bought. "Did you have lunch," he asked, concerned.
"Yes, I did. And I found a job." She said that excitedly, but her eyes looked a bit unfocused because in fact she hadn't eaten any lunch. She had found a job, though, but she couldn't tell him what kind of job. She told him just enough to put his mind at ease, knowing she could make money legally through her own efforts.
He didn't ask her the details. His happiness drowned out such trifles. At the moment all he wanted to do was hold her in his arms, to hold and kiss her rather plain face, or stand entwined with her, admiring the moonlight shining through the window. But she looked so tired when she finished eating that he put aside all thoughts of romance. He put her into bed and tucked her in.
During the days that followed, he stayed home during the daytime and worked on his writing in peace while she went out to work. When she got home, they spent the evening talking about literature and about his writing.
She wouldn't let him do housework. Every time she went out she would prepare a lunch for him. She also told him over and over to wait for her to come home in the evening so she could cook dinner for him. She was fairly single-minded and constantly worried over his every little heartache. She just wouldn't let him borrow any money.
So every evening when she got home and put a handful of small bills in his hand, he wasn't able to resist the urge to cry.
"I'm not the type to need a soft life," she said, "but I want us to be able to do anything we put our minds to. Like when I came here to your city, it was only for one reason, so we could share our love."
Days of happiness always go by quickly. Bit by bit, before they knew it, she had helped him pay back all the money he had borrowed.
The sky was beautiful the evening they paid the last of it off. It was filled with stars, and she was lying on the grass with her head on his thigh, counting them. "The sky is so beautiful," she said, "and our love is so beautiful."
"I'll recite a poem for you," he said. "Whose do you like? Um, maybe Qin Guan's Fairy at the Magpie Bridge. Or Su Shi's Song of Divination." Unconsciously he recited Riverside Town [about a man mourning for his deceased wife]. He bent down and kissed her forehead, saying "We'll never part."
Feeling blissfully happy, she softly sang [the words of an old song]: "When the mountain peaks are gone, and the sky has fallen to earth, only then will I be parted from my husband."
She always bought him something good for breakfast because she was afraid that otherwise he wouldn't eat. Once at 11:30 at night, when they were both asleep, she had a dream about a bunch of bakeries. After she woke up she remembered that she'd forgotten to buy his breakfast. She went out in her pajamas and he followed after her. "Why are you going out?" he asked. "Careful you don't fall."
"Sorry," she said, "I forgot to buy you breakfast."
He got a lump in his throat and wept. That night he had no qualms about kissing her in public, right there on the street. He kissed her so hard that she couldn't catch her breath.
One day at noon he bought some Old Wife Cakes. It was such a dear name that he couldn't eat them, and left them for that evening.
One evening she said, "Eggs were only one-forty a pound today, and a pound of greens only eighty cents."
He knew she could really pick eggs, and the ones she picked out were always fresh. It was really dirty in the outdoor market, but she would squeeze into the crowd of middle-aged women to pick through tea leaves and haggle over prices.
She made their dinner. She took a little bit of mushroom and put it into water that had already been brought to a boil, then mixed in an egg and watched it come back to a boil, and finally some green onion and chicken bouillon. It smelled great. The whole bowl of soup had only cost about eighty cents.
He liked spinach. It was very cheap, only a buck for a handful, and she knew many different ways to fix it. He would eat it up, whether boiled or steamed. The way he gobbled it up made her want to laugh.
Sometimes she'd make fried rice with egg. It was her specialty and he always told her it was great. She'd say proudly that she'd learned it from a cook who catered weddings and wakes in her hometown. First put in some oil, stir in the rice, and add a little salt. Then put it in a big bowl. Mix two or three eggs in a small bowl, adding flavorings like MSG and salt. Mix well. Put some more oil in the wok, add in the eggs and stir with chopsticks to disperse evenly through the oil. Don't overcook. Then put the rice in the wok together with the eggs and stir. Cover and let sit for a few minutes and it's ready to eat.
They always ate out of one big bowl with two spoons, head to head, smiling with joy. A bowl of clear mushroom soup and a big bowl of fried rice would make them very happy and very full. While he ate he'd tell her what he'd written in his novel that day, and how the plot was working out and how he wanted it to develop. His face would be radiant with delight as he spoke, and she would sit listening, enraptured.
She really did like him a lot. She liked to watch him while he wrote, liked to listen to the sound of him typing and flipping through the pages of books, liked doing things for him. They didn't have a TV, just a computer that he used constantly. She sat there and read while he worked, or helped him with research. She liked to hang their bedding out in the sun, because she liked to smell the sunshine when they went to bed at night. It smelled good, nice and warm, like their love.
He liked the smell of the sunshine, too, but more than that he liked to hold her in his arms and smell her scent. He said it was a wifely scent.
One day he was feeling at loose ends. His muse was gone, and he couldn't put down on paper the ideas that were roiling around in his brain. He went out for a walk in a gloomy mood. He drew near a bustling shopping mall without realizing it, and in the noisy crowd he suddenly heard that most familiar of voices, "Shine your shoes, sir? Shine your shoes, sir?" It was her, it really was her. She really was spending her days shining other people's shoes.
He was astounded. Suddenly he couldn't understand why this woman would want to come from so far away to be by his side. He wondered why she would willingly be doing filthy and exhausting work to support his writing, and why would she take such a humble job as shining shoes. He was hurt, deeply hurt.
He didn't have the courage to go up to her and ask these questions. Instead, after silently watching her for a long while, he went home.
That night he talked aimlessly with her about a lot of things, but he didn't know how to get around to what was really on his mind. Sometime after three in the morning he asked her why she liked him, why would she like such a penniless good-for-nothing. She insisted that it was because she loved him. He felt that was inconceivable and he couldn't believe it. He wanted her to tell him the truth. In the end she told him something. "The man who borrowed all your money is my brother. He never intended to pay you back, he just conned you out of it. Now he's in prison doing time…."
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