The persistent. A short story

What happens when one gets sexually involved with women of the obsessive variety

There’s an old piece of lore that you can get your way with any woman by being persistent. “Just keep on trying” was the regular advice I received to help me along the Sisyphean task of getting female classmates in bed back in high school. In China they prosecute this advice more rigorously than we do, as I have learned from numerous encounters with Chinese women applying the same on me. It has to do, I believe, with the quantitative rather than qualitative mindset endemic to the culture: the more of something the better. We would call it banging your head against the wall. From their standpoint, the incessant bam, bam, bam works because people are softer than walls; they inevitably crumble if you wear them down long enough. It’s also understood that with such a huge population scrambling for fewer resources, hammering away at something is often the only way.

Grace never succeeded with me, a particularly hard-hearted and jaded foreign male, wiser in years or at least more resistant than most to pressure and therefore not the best candidate for this approach. But not for lack of trying. We met as fellow patients in a Beijing hospital. On evening walks around the grounds I began to notice, several weeks into my sojourn, the burning eyes of a woman walking past in the opposite direction, piercing me through the darkness like a cat’s. A few more nights later, we stopped and talked.

The next day after lunch she visited my hospital room bearing an elaborate platter of fresh fruit. She returned in the evening and sat down in the armchair at the side of my bed, while I sat up directly across from her. She had made herself up as a visitor rather than a patient, quite the elegant lady in a white blouse, business skirt and nylons and bunned-up hair. She took off her shoes. The armchair was close enough to the bed that we were able to wedge our feet under each other’s thighs. I could see she was breathing quickly. My elderly roommate had returned. If he was curious as to what I was up to, the height of the bed blocked our footsying from his view. I told her to come back again the next day after lunch, as he was regularly out at that time.

I was lying on the bed in hospital pajamas when she arrived. I asked her to come closer and massage me. She gave my chest one or two swipes of her hand before reaching for my cock. She took it out and was about to put it in her mouth when she noticed the medicine window that opened onto the hallway—and the sharp eyes of any nurse who might be passing by. Not that what we were doing was in violation of any rules—decorum, to be sure, but as for rules and laws, they don’t exist in China unless there is a need to apply them. A nurse who happened to catch sight of us would likely have left it alone and saved the gossip for later. We moved into the room’s toilet and locked the door. She straddled me on the seat, which I discovered to serve more than adequately as a lovemaking device. We soon finished and were back in place.

She was discharged a few days before me and at once set about finalizing divorce proceedings she claimed she had begun before her hospitalization. I hoped the process wasn’t being sped up for my sake, a scenario guaranteed to set off alarm bells, no matter how gorgeous the woman. Grace was not exactly gorgeous but passable enough on closer inspection—shimmering black hair, smooth swarthy complexion, big cuddly eyes but a figure rather too dainty for my tastes; mid thirties with a job in a bank, from Anhui Province.

Now, when I hear “Anhui” I think: countryside (credit Deng Xiaoping for the stereotype after singling out the penurious province for poster treatment), with more than its share of females clawing their way out of the economic barrel. I think: prostitute, which while she clearly wasn’t, some of the finest whores, the most creatively entrepreneurial whores I ever met, have hailed from Anhui. Nor did she seem to be a gold digger. I was confident she was financially secure, even middle class, suppressing any open propensity to materialistic gain amidst her country’s current paroxysm of greed, for the telltale reason her month-long hospital stay hadn’t gotten her fired from her job. It was simply a matter of her being into me, I suppose, whom she hardly knew of course, but sheer hormonal compatibility is always its own justification. I was attracted enough to sleep with her once or twice.

I succumbed to her pleas and let her come over for a final mercy fuck. A week later, she announced with excitement she was now divorced. She invited me over to the new home she had just bought in the suburbs. Expecting the usual gloomy Spartan interior, bare cement floor and tacky furnishings of so many Chinese homes, I was pleasantly surprised. The residential complex appeared and felt solid looking, and the apartment small but clean and judiciously decorated, with plush brown bedding covering a modest queen-sized bed (kings being preferred by the tasteless). And much to her credit, there were no blown-up framed studio portraits of herself on the walls, plastic china in the cabinets or stuffed animals and other clutter.

Still, it wasn’t going to work. She was a normal person, her life organized around the television set; I was an eccentric and intellectual, my life structured around the book. We were not even of different species; we were of different orders. We consume them. TV people in their harlequin frippery are stuck in the books book people read. After settling down together, we could only ever be implacable enemies.

As soon as I forgot about her, she sprang into action. When I ignored her messages, she called nonstop, before notifying me in a highly annoying text message one night that she was on her way over.

Now, nobody invites oneself over without the host’s assent. It’s a question of politeness of the most momentous sort, and it must be framed thus, in the form of an interrogative or a hedge: “When will you be free?” or “Can I visit you tonight?” I told her it was impossible to see her that night. I didn’t mention, as a matter of principle, that I happened to be with a female guest.

“I want to see you, and I’m coming over.”

“No, not tonight!”

“I’ve already left my apartment and I’m heading for the subway. I’ll be there in an hour and a half.”

This was crossing the line. My blood began to boil. She would be the latest addition to the list—referring to the string of female nutcases I had the talent of accumulating over the years in China. They fell into different categories, and I wasn’t yet sure where to place Grace. She didn’t belong to the basket-case variety, like the bipolar Lulu, who in one of her lighter moments had squeezed herself into a cupboard while I was out and attached post-it notes all over my apartment with clues to finding her; in a darker moment had copied the addresses of a mass email I had sent out to my circle of predominantly female friends to warn them to stay away from me.

Nor was she schizophrenic, like Angela, mild and gentle as a lamb but soon to wind up back in the psychiatric ward, texting me fragmented messages like “here,” “birthday,” “I’m,” and “there was.” Her parents even contacted me asking if I could visit her there and do something, anything to help. (If you’re wondering about the English names, they’re adopted by the Chinese as pseudonyms of a sort.)

“Only five more stops to Wukesong,” Grace texted me again, referring to my subway station.

There was Sylvia, whose nervousness—labeled “hysteria” in an earlier era—became apparent on Day Two after sex, when she followed me after work and refused to release me from our first “serious” talk lasting hours out on the street, during the course of which she tugged and yanked all the tape off her bicycle handlebar. Following turned into stalking, and to extend our stays whenever I granted her some time, she would pretend to faint and collapse, again making a scene out in public and leaving me with little choice but to come to her rescue.

There was Kathy, whose advanced case of virginity complex at thirty—she couldn’t relax her vaginal muscles to let a penis inside—compelled her to adopt, appropriately enough, the persona of a six-year old, in her one-piece lace dresses, white socks, and ribbons in her hair. She too was a stalker, peering through the curtains outside my first-floor bedroom window at night, until I had to have her removed by campus security.

“I’m getting out of the subway and will catch a pedicab to your apartment. See you in ten minutes.”

And then we have the painful intensity of unmarried women in their later thirties or forties, normally kept in check by what should be a growing capacity for dignity and poise, unless you do something to upset it. Nicky, introduced to me by a friend who wanted to get her off his hands, initially seemed to be of the saner brand, until I made a cultural gaffe. It all took place during our first date. She mentioned a penchant for socializing in bathhouses with her female friends. This fired me up and I invited her to one nearby after dinner. We gave each other massages in a rented room and slipped embarrassingly into sex. I also hadn’t planned on the extra expense, and the next morning I asked if she’d be willing to split the tab. While at first she didn’t protest, her disappointment at my losing her face grew apparent when days later she unleashed a hate-filled diarrheic invective on my telephone answering machine that went on for weeks. Thank god she didn’t know my address. The messages were so incoherent—involving Nazis and the eye on the pyramid on the US dollar bill—I didn’t see how anyone could go on like that without winding up in a straitjacket. A friend suggested that if it was only about money I should just deposit the bathhouse fee into her bank account to restore her face. Sure enough, it worked and I never heard from her again.

By now you might suspect something about my own personality is to blame or I emit some kind of radio frequency all these women are tuning into. Perhaps. Yet foreign men in this country do tend to attract the psychos of the female population, who have nobody else to turn to after their stern reception by the parents of vulnerable Chinese males. This is not necessarily a bad thing; I’ve long found the most intriguing people are the mildly unhinged. Grace was one of these minor psychos, even-keeled and adept at keeping her cool. She never once showed the slightest sign of anger or impatience with me, nor resorted to the tiresome feminine wiles of deception and obfuscation in devising love traps. She was unequivocal in her intentions and refreshingly straightforward.

“I’m now in the elevator on the way up.”

I told my companion I had some momentary business and dashed out to meet Grace in the corridor before she could get to my door. She put up no resistance when I grabbed her by the arm—which I came very close to twisting out of its socket—and escorted her back down to the street and the fifteen-minute walk to the subway station. She left but her text messages thereafter increased geometrically, virally, with hundreds following over the next several days. Once again another trip to the China Mobile office to change my cellphone number.

Cut to four years later. The English Department where I was now teaching informed me one day that a woman had left her contact information for me. The secretary had confirmed to her I was indeed employed there and gave her my number, which they were not allowed to do. But she was new and didn’t know the rules, while Grace had found out about my new job from my previous school. The secretary also revealed where I lived—the foreign guesthouse on campus. The receptionists there confirmed as well that a woman fitting Grace’s description had come looking for me, except that she was not slim but fat and seemingly pregnant.

By now the phone calls and text messages started rolling in and, ever transparent, she told me her new story. She had gotten involved with a man from her home province over the past two years who had promised the world only to abandon her after knocking her up, whereupon she came up with the bright idea of marrying me and bringing up “our” baby back in America in a nice lovely family. I wasn’t enamored of this fairy tale and told her I now had a girlfriend and we were in fact engaged. She said she didn’t believe me and would be on her way over again in the evening.

I warned the receptionists the woman was due back at seven o’clock and not to let her in; she was a mental case and stalker who had been abandoned by another man and it had nothing to do with me. For their part they now had their juiciest gossip in years, and the woman they had to assume I had gotten pregnant would be back for the denouement in a few hours.

When my girlfriend (who thankfully believed my account) and I arrived back at the guesthouse after dinner, Grace was waiting in the lobby. I glanced at her, now indeed in late-stage pregnancy. We ignored her. Not being allowed into my apartment, she eventually left. Hundreds of text messages followed, including demands I wire a certain sum of funds into her bank account. Days later I got a frantic message from her that she was in labor and needed help getting to the hospital. A week later, she delivered a gift for me while I was out—a Tissot Swiss watch. I had had enough and took the step of contacting the district police, a measure I knew would have zero effect: they must hear thousands of such complaints everyday and we’re all so much tiresome static.

One day after several weeks of hopeful silence, the receptionists informed me that Grace had paid a visit and had left a huoji for me. The word was out of place and failed to register. “A what?”

Huo ji,” they reiterated, placing a styrofoam box on the counter. I lifted the lid and saw a dark mass of rustling feathers inside.

“Get it out of here!” I shouted and stepped back in disgust. “I have no use for a live chicken. Do anything you want with it but get it out of my sight!”

 *     *     *

exact

Like this story? Buy the book (see contents):
The Exact Unknown and Other Tales of Modern China

Advertisements