The mistress. A short story

The joys of commanding more than one woman

A BMW pulled up to the front gate of Beijing’s Xiehe Hospital. Standing by the curb was a young woman in high-heeled boots, pleated miniskirt, and white suede moto jacket with a fat fox-fur collar like an Elizabethan ruff. She got in.

“You’re late,” she said, tossing some papers on the dashboard. “The receipts.”

“When is the car ready?”

“Not till next Monday. They have to get the part from a different distributor. They told me I could take a chance on one of theirs but they couldn’t guarantee the quality, and I don’t want to go through that again.”

“That’s odd. I was told this new dealer had reliable parts.”

“None of this would be happening if you had bought me a foreign car.”

“I’m sure you’re aware foreign manufacturers in China are not immune to fake parts entering the supply chain. And?”

“4,000.”

“For what?”

“They had to burn off all the growths. It was so painful. Naturally, you weren’t there.”

“4,000 for that? I thought they could just give you some cream to apply.”

“Oh, my god. You really don’t get it. I told you they have to do all these tests, DNA tests and this and that, and I have to go back.”

“How long do I have to wait?”

“At least six weeks.”

“You know, I told you I wasn’t responsible for your medical issues.”

“Well, you are for this! Do you know what this is? It’s cancer.”

“Cancer?”

“Yes, cancer. And you gave it to me.”

“You can’t give people cancer. You don’t have cancer.”

“Yes, you can. Do you want to go back and talk to the doctor yourself? He said there are abnormal cells and they may be precancerous. Do you know what happens if it’s cancer? They’ll rip out my womb. Do you understand? Rip out my womb! There will be more expenses after all the tests are done. They said the total could go up to ten or twenty thousand. And that’s not even if it’s cancer.”

“Listen, I had no idea about any of this. What is this disease? I don’t have any symptoms. How can you be so sure I gave it to you?”

“Oh, you gave it to me, all right. I haven’t had sex with anyone besides you in the past year. What about the other two? And your wife? Did you give them cancer too? How many girls have you given cancer to over the years?”

“They don’t have anything.”

“How can I even trust you? You always seem so unconcerned. If you had been with me today my iPad wouldn’t have gotten stolen.”

“Somebody stole the iPad?”

“While I was in the waiting room. It has not been a good day.”

“So I have to get you another one?”

“It’s the least you could do. And get me out of that awful apartment. Have you found a new place yet?”

“I can’t afford a more expensive apartment now. That’s what I was going to tell you. They’re raising the rent from 5,000 to 6,500.”

“6,500! Why so much?”

“They said it’s what the market can handle now. They were grossly undercharging us the past two years, they claim.”

“That’s outrageous.”

“We have no choice. To get a better apartment I’d have to pay at least 8,000. Or you could live in Tongzhou, like the others.”

“No way am I going to live out in Tongzhou. They have no right to raise the rent so much. You can’t give in. Anyway, you should find me a more decent place. You can afford it. Do you understand what kind of people are moving into this complex? Outsiders. And the crime is going up. There is no security. Anybody can walk into the building. You’ve seen the ads plastered all over the place. My door is covered with them and you can’t remove them, and they’re stamped all over the hall as well. A few days ago they whitewashed the walls with diluted paint so the ads still show right through, and they let the paint drip all over the floor. It now looks worse than before. I’m tired of this place. I’m tired of having call-girl cards stuck in my door everyday. I’m tired of being squashed against the dirty wall of the elevator by all these outsiders moving in. It’s only a matter of time before I get molested.”

“There is a solution to this, you know. I suggested it once before but you never responded. If the three of you moved in together I could afford a much nicer apartment.”

“No way. Absolutely not.”

“I could get you a nice large three-bedroom apartment with 24-hour security in a central location. What’s the problem? There’s no reason why you three couldn’t get along.”

“Yeah, and for that matter why don’t you just move them into my apartment and convert it into a dorm with bunk beds like the outsiders’ apartments? Then you could fit ten or twenty of us into it and really save some money, while we take turns in the master bedroom with you. How dare you suggest I live with those two! Why don’t you show for once that you’re not a hooligan but a gentleman who knows how to take care of a woman and earn my respect. What kind of sick person am I dealing with? Bastard!”

“After all I’ve done for you, you call me that? I know I can be insensitive at times—”

“It’s not a question of being insensitive. There’s something wrong with your head! You’re a phony, not a real person, a real man, just like the water you sell.”

“I’ve told you many times the water is not fake. H2O is H2O, no matter what you do with it. It’s real water. There is no such thing as fake water.”

“If that’s the case, then why do you have to add that artificial flavoring your company invented which mimics the taste of spring water?”

“Because if you take out the natural flavors it doesn’t taste right. You have to put the natural back in.”

“You’re selling a lie. Your water is neither natural nor spring.”

“We don’t claim it’s spring water. If you put ‘spring’ on the label it has to be spring. ‘Natural’ doesn’t have this legal requirement. We’re perfectly within our rights in calling it natural. Anything can be natural. Water is natural. We carefully treat our water, unlike most of the bottled water being sold, which is passed off as purified but is nothing other than tap water and full of bacteria and parasites.”

“Oh, come on. If people only knew where your water comes from!”

“Our reverse filtration process gets rid of everything we can chemically identify. Look, most water out there is crap. The worst is so-called distilled water, which everyone thinks is the purest. Do you know how bad distilled water is for you? The minerals have been extracted and it’s nothing but water molecules, and they want to bind with something. So they bind with toxins in the plastic bottle and suck up the good minerals in your body as well. It actually drinks you. Yet people see the word ‘pure’ and they’re reassured and buy it.”

“I’m talking about your water. Why is it you give it to me but you yourself won’t drink it? We’re all your guinea pigs. What’s going to happen when people start having two-headed babies and they trace it to you? What if this gets out?”

“That’s why I have to watch my expenses and plan for the future.”

“So I’m your insurance policy. I’m subsidizing your company’s future risk.”

“That’s what I wanted to talk about. The portfolio is fucked.”

“Whose portfolio?”

“Yours.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Your portfolio has problems.”

“Why?”

“Ding fucked up.”

“What do you mean, ‘fucked up’?”

“The loan. He’s gone.”

“I thought you said the portfolio.”

“No, the loan.”

“My God, don’t frighten me. The loan? That’s my money.”

“Sorry, I mean the portfolio.”

“What’s the matter with you? What are you talking about?”

“It’s gone.”

“What’s gone? My money? Are you telling me money is gone? No! Don’t you dare do anything with my money!”

“Stop shaking me! I’m driving. The shares are gone.”

“What the fuck are you talking about? The shares, the portfolio, or the loan? Answer me!”

“I can’t explain clearly now. I need to drive. Wait till we get home.”

“Home? What’s the matter with you? Are you talking about the shares or the loan? Answer me!”

“They’re both involved.”

“What about the portfolio?”

“Talk to Ding about that.”

“He’s gone. What’s going on with you? You already know he’s gone. He engineered it? Why are you acting like he’s still around?”

“Oh, my god, no.”

“Are you okay?”

“I can’t tell her. I just can’t. I’ve got to get home.”

“We’re going home. Something’s wrong with you. You don’t know where you are. Where were you coming from?”

“The hospital.”

“That was yesterday. What’s the matter with you?”

“We just came from there.”

“I think you need to go back. I’m driving you there.”

“No, I’ll be fine when we’re back home.”

“I’ve never seen you like this before. Your memory is messed up. Is it the medication?”

“I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not. We’re going to the hospital.”

“I just picked you up from there!”

“My god.”

The BMW parked at the front gate of Xiehe hospital. A woman in a tan trench coat got out. She helped the man out of the passenger seat and led him into emergency. At the nurses’ station she said, “There’s something wrong with him. He isn’t right. He can talk rationally with me and knows who I am but he doesn’t know where he is. He went missing for a day and I found him wandering down our street.”

“Who’s on duty tonight?” one of the nurses asked the others. “It could be a stroke. May I ask your relationship to him?”

“I’m his wife.”

“Okay, let’s get him into a room.”

 *     *     *

exact

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The Exact Unknown and Other Tales of Modern China

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