There she blows! A short story

A seductress accumulates victims in the cafés of Beijing and Shanghai

A burst of energy reverberated. My wife stiffened and leaned close. Others in the café did the same. There she blows! She who had entered dropped her coat at a table across from us and went to buy a drink. An eternity of waiting before she came back and got settled in her seat.

“Look at that fat pig,” my wife whispered. “Don’t look at her!”

“How can I not look at her when she’s sitting right in front of us?”

The woman might as well have carelessly splashed some coffee on my wife; such was the glare she received. She stared back with blank nonchalance, as if to say, Your husband is a flaming red pimple. Every minute you’re with him is preventing me from popping it. Go on, off with you two, beat a hasty retreat, so that he can find an excuse to sneak back alone to see if I’m still here, and I will be. I’ve got the whole afternoon.

She’d be considered overweight by today’s anorexic standards, yet filled out her qipao nicely. A stylish striped cheongsam, the kind that’s hard to find in shops and you only see in movies like Maggie Cheung wore in In the Mood for Love. Substantial hips offset the obnoxious bralessness hanging from her chest. Electroshocked hair. The kind of robust angled eyebrows that made her look naturally angry, though that wasn’t quite the way to describe her.

While we’re on the subject, lady, I happen to have something you don’t: big beautiful eyes. The result of snapping my face onto this great body of mine is that men are very attracted to me. Bold women like me blow their mind. They’re sitting ducks, each and every one of them. No matter how faithful he has been to you, his lies start with me.

She was known to have other weapons in her arsenal besides the qipao. There was the bra a size too large in a low-cut top. Walk by her table at the right parallax and see her nipples in full bloom. There was the bra a size too small worn beneath a sheer blouse. The bouncing of her breasts on the way to the café caused them to pop out. She adroitly tucked one back and allowed the other to appear to have escaped by accident, until repeated glances of incredulous customers coerced the wayward tit back into its cup.

There was her famous vulvar cleft. You see, guys, I’m endowed with a high mons veneris, large labia majora and small labia minora, the combined effect of which is to exaggerate the size and shape of my pussy, so that the tight jeans I’m wearing fit around it like a glove, sucking the inner seam into the vagina and leaving a luscious gap you’re just dying to slink your finger through.

“Do you want to sleep with her?” my wife asked, relinquishing the fort.

“Yes.”

“She’s all yours. Go for it. I’m taking off. See you later.”

I had to make the first move, as men always do. I complimented her on her qipao. She invited me to sit down. Her name was Aiyou, from Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, now an economics professor at a university in Beijing that she would not disclose.

“That’s a lovely name.”

“And a rare one.”

“Do you dress like this for your classes?” I asked, genuinely curious.

“I do, with a few small adjustments.”

Aiyou was relaxed and had a ready smile. I had to keep the conversation going, however. My next question was awkward, possibly putting her on the spot, but it had the benefit of laying all the cards on the table. As an intellectual laborer she might be expected to produce a spread of them. Now, we shouldn’t have to ask what someone’s hobbies or interests are, as the topic typically arises of its own accord. But China is a special case. Many Chinese actually don’t have hobbies, at least in the usual sense of the term. That tendency is nipped in the bud at the outset by parents, who regard any minute not spent on frantic exam preparation as rebellious and intolerable. Even something as reasonable as the reading of literature for pleasure must be carried out in secrecy if the child doesn’t want his book torn to pieces and thrown out. Parents themselves don’t have hobbies, as their generation was forbidden from engaging in such bourgeois incitements, which by definition was anything delaying the making of revolution. Now that communism has been replaced by capitalism, men are too busy making money to afford a hobby, while women consider their husband or boyfriend to be their chief hobby, along with everyone’s favorite pet hobby, jealousy.

“What are your hobbies?”

“I like to be humiliated.”

I considered this for a moment, then reached over and ripped open her qipao at the seam all the way to her naked hip. She didn’t flinch. Our small table would not have shielded her from the gaze of other customers.

She invited me to her place a few days later. But there was a problem. She had lined up so many dates with other men that the only way she could fit me in was to double up with another man also going on his first visit. You’ve got to be kidding, I thought.

The three of us met at the light rail station near her residential complex. My partner turned out to be a good-looking younger guy, and I wondered how I would match up. Aiyou’s apartment was large and tastefully furnished, with tall bookshelves lining the walls, a dedicated tea ceremony room, and stacks of hundreds of DVDs. We had sex with her in the tearoom. My poor mate got stage fright and wilted; luckily I didn’t and was able to satisfy her, though who knows how much.

“He needn’t come back with you next time,” she whispered to me.

It seemed there would be no next time for me or for any of us. The entire cast of her victims haunted the cafés of Beijing and Shanghai in the hope someone would make a sighting. Through them I was able to piece together some of her story.

Not that our wives and girlfriends had much to fear. Aiyou had little interest in being the so-called “third person,” or femme fatale as it is called in the West, coming to wreck the family hearth. She never slept with any man more than once. There was no narcissistic or self-congratulatory motive here, some female counterpart of the wealthy hunter who adorns his hall with a handsome array of moose heads and animal mounts. If she “collected” men, rather, it was to share with them her knowledge of the sexual rites.

You can never attain the searing intensity of initial lust with someone a second time. It’s all downhill after that, even when you’re in love. Second sex is only 50% as satisfying as first sex, third sex only 50% as satisfying as second sex, and so on. Each desperate attempt to recapture the first starburst quickly deflates our store of desire in a matter of days in the best cases, and in the worstwell, we’ve all made the mistake of getting into bed with someone we weren’t that attracted to in the first place.

That’s why traditional cultures prohibit sex before marriage and require that the bride be a virgin. Only by starting from the highest point, on the wedding night, can the inexorable shriveling of passion be delayed for as long as possible. It’s amazing that couples who sleep together before marriage manage to carry through with the marriage at all, considering their sexual attraction by that time can’t be more than a shell of what it formerly was. Like the bee that stings only once, it all collapses after the brief but powerful first unveiling. Thereafter, indeed starting from the very next day, you are using each other’s body for mutual masturbation. That too wears off, as you soon find your partner gets in the way and it’s easier to fantasize about other bodies when attending to yourself privately.

You wish you could see me again, just one more time, you beg, and you’ll be content. But I can assure you a second encounter would not be as good as the first. It would be a pale imitation, a simulacrum, a going-through-the-motions. The mystery behind the veil, the veil itself would be gone. To keep it mysterious, we must never see each other again. That is the only way to preserve the rites and maintain their potency. As with all fertility rites, they have to be reenacted and renewed again and again. Celebrating them is not for show, like the old Yangge dance you see retired women do out on the street at night swaying in their gaudy costumes and fans. No, it’s for the sake of the production of mystery, the capacity to reproduce mystery. There is no time, no room in our lives for anything less.

Aiyou encountered a growing logistical problem, however. The more victims she sacrificed to the rites, the more likely she might encounter one of them again in the cafés she frequented. An awkward scene resulted whenever this happened, requiring her to pretend she didn’t know the poor chap, to be rude to him or to get up and leave. For fresh territory she expanded her haunts throughout the city and in Shanghai as well. With hundreds of coffeehouses in both cities, she was able, at least for a time, to find new victims without being recognized by previous ones. Or they wisely kept to themselves, eager simply to witness the sacrificing of her latest victim, reassure themselves of her existence once again and pass the rumor on to the others.

A handful of us were regulars at the same few establishments, on the theory she would eventually recycle through these cafés and come back. The last confirmation of a sighting of Aiyou—by no less than two of us who were present—was at a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf shop in Shanghai’s French Concession. But that was already four months ago, and her sightings were becoming so infrequent as to have ceased altogether. One rumor had it a stalker was giving her trouble and she now dragged her prey to hotels. Another rumor was that she herself became a victim and fell in love or was killed.

 *     *     *

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The Exact Unknown and Other Tales of Modern China

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