Published in StoryBytes January1999
This is the saddest day of my life for I'm leaving Chen Li. Perhaps I should leave a note. The details I haven't decided on. "Dear Chen Li, I'm leaving... take care of yourself. Love John." From now on each evening I'll watch TV and sleep in the bed with the down feathers, or if I can't sleep, I'll make an excuse and lie on the floor.
This then could be our last afternoon. Why? Duty? Because I should? I wish for river banks, banana leaves and making love in the mud, but now we're here by a creek. She lies dozing on the Chinese blanket we brought back from one of our trips, the shadow from a willow tree throws a mask across her face with the smile that's there, even in sleep, like some inner mystery. Her shirt is still open from when I'd unbuttoned it earlier, down to the Mexican souvenir between her breasts.
"Chen Li's smile--it's put on," my wife, Paula says.
"If this is true, why does Chen Li look this way even when asleep?"--is the reply I want to give, but my lips remain taut.
Two years ago my boss sent me to China; I drank too much wine in a cool restaurant with a girl with a saucy smile. Since then Chen Li found work near my home. Something about the arch in her back, the length of her neck, the way she fell asleep during lovemaking made a part of her I could never reach.
"Sometimes I feel like you only accept me as a receptacle," I tell her.
"Yes, something like that."
Paula fled on the one occasion she found herself marooned in a room with Chen Li at a party, gave a whimper and ran past the Newell posts wound with red velvet garlands, past the glittering tree with the white angel with the wand on top, through the door to the street where snow was beginning.
"That was a cruel thing to do," I said.
"Not as cruel as stealing my husband."
"That wasn't what she was doing."
"Well, what do you call it, some new spiritual chemistry?"
"Please, Paula, people are looking out their windows."
Though, in fact, "Oh, Little Town Of Bethlehem" rolled out over the tall windows into the snowy sidewalks.
"Put on your coat."
"I can leave town, but I'm damned if I'll take the children out of school before the end of the session."
I squeezed her plump thigh; even through her winter tweeds, she looked so pale and tense. "She should take off a few pounds," I thought.
"You're hard on me, John," she said.
I hate deception, but that night I slept with her.
I think how to tell Chen Li.
"You mean--you mean you're going back?" she says flatly.
"You mean do I want to? Well, I just think I should."
I put on my shirt. I take out my keys. I take a few steps away. A wind sweeps through the willows. It strengthens me. Go. You must go.