They left the room and went to the hotel bar. They chose a quiet corner and sipped coffee. He was holding his pipe. After a short silence, he began to speak, saying, "What do you think of me?"
She said, "I respect you very much. Like so many people, I admire your movie A Beautiful Life. Like me, a great many people hold your talent in high regard. In our editors' office, you're often the topic of discussion. We"
He interrupted her and said, "Are you going to talk to me in this sort of tone all night? Are you? Tell me."
She shook her head and then nodded. She'd wanted to restrain her excitement in this way. She already found herself liking to be with him very much.
Then he said, out of the blue, "You stood apart from the crowd at the conference, naïve but also seeming to have a mind of your own. I saw at a glance that you were the person that God sent to keep an eye on me. I can't lie to you; I want to tell you everything. I . . . I . . . I . . . " He puffed on his pipe. "Do you know that what I wrote you was what was on my mind? I had never written to a woman, never. But I couldn't help it after I saw you. I am well aware of my talent and gifts, and I am also well aware that they're far from being fully developed. I will be much more famous than I am now. The day will come. Just wait and see. I also want to talk about my attitude towards women; I simply don't reject any women who approach me. Most women want me for my fame, maybe my money, too. Of course, some don't want anything from me, just want to devote themselves to me. They are especially pathetic, because in many respects . . . I am actually very dirtyI hope I am not frightening you with my words."
His words did frighten her quite a bit. All exposed things are frightening, and why would he treat her to such an exposed view of himself? She felt sorry for him because of that "dirtiness." She'd thought what she was going to hear would be much more romantic than this. Just exactly what kind of man was he? What did he want from her? Tiao was puzzled but knew well she didn't have the ability to take the initiative in their conversation. She was passive; she had been passive from the very start, and she could have no idea that the passivity would later produce something evil in her.
"Therefore . . . " He took another puff of his pipe and said, "Therefore, I don't deserve you. It looks like I'm pursuing you now, but how could I possess you? You're a woman who can't be possessedby anyone. But I'll be with you sooner or later."
She finally spoke. She asked, "What leads you to such a conclusion?" His directness made her heart race.
But he ignored her question completely; he just continued, "You and I will be together sooner or later. But I want to tell you that even though someday I will be madly in love with you, I will still have many other women. And I will certainly not hide that from you. I'll tell you everything: who they are, how it happened . . . I'll let you judge me, punish me, because you're the woman I love the most. Only you deserve me to be so frank, so truthful, and so weak. You're my goddess, and I need a goddess. Just remember what I say. Maybe you're too young now, but you'll understand me, you definitely will. Ordinary people might think I'm talking like a hooligan. Well, maybe I am and maybe I'm not."
Hearing such words from Fang Jing, Tiao didn't want to label them the language of a hooligan. But what was it exactly? Should a married man with a successful career say those things to an innocent girl? But Tiao was lost then in the labyrinth created by his nonsense, as if under a spell. She strained to understand his philosophy and rise to the state of consciousness he had attained. A strange charisma came from the arrogance he projected and his domineering manner. The hints of coldness that occasionally strayed from his passionate eyes also drew her deeply in. She couldn't help beginning to question herself just to keep up with his thinking: What kind of person was she? What kind of person might she become? What was her attraction to this celebrity anyway? . . .
Excerpted from The Bathing Women by Tie Ning. Copyright © 2012 by Tie Ning. Excerpted by permission of Scribner. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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