Maybe she shouldn't tell her.
The taxi brought Tiao to the Happy Millions Supermarket. She bought food enough for a week and then took the taxi home.
The heat in her apartment wasn't on, so the rooms felt shadowy and cold. It was different from a winter chill, none of that dense stiffness filling the space; it was uncertain, bearing faint traces of loneliness. On such an evening of such a season, Tiao liked to turn on all the lights, first the hallway, then the kitchen, the study, the living room, the bedroom, and the bathroom, all the lights, ceiling light, wall light, desk light, floor light, mirror light, and bedside light . . . her hands took turns clicking the switches; only the owner of the place could be so practiced and precise. Tiao was the master of the house, and she greeted her apartment by turning the lights on. She lit her home with all these lights, but it seemed as if the lights lit themselves to welcome Tiao back. So lights illuminated every piece of furniture, and every bit of dim haziness in the shadows contributed to her sense of security and substance. She walked through every room this way until she finally came to a small corner: to that blue-gray satin brocade armchair, which seemed to be her favorite corner when she was not sleeping. Every time she came home, returning from work or a business trip, she would sit in this small armchair, staring blankly for a while, drinking a cup of hot water, and refreshing herself until both her body and mind felt rested and relaxed. She never sat on the sofa. Even when Chen Zai held her in his arms and asked to move onto the more comfortable sofa, she remained uncooperative. Then, in a desperate moment, finally feeling she couldn't refuse anymore, she simply said, "Let's go to bed."
For Chen Zai, that was an unforgettable sentence because they had never gone to bed before, even though they had known each other for decades. Later, when they sometimes teased back and forth about who seduced whom first, Chen Zai would quote this sentence of Tiao's, "Let's go to bed." It was so straightforward and innocent and it caught him so off guard that he almost missed the erotic implications. It made Chen Zai think again and again that this lithe woman he held in his arms was his true love, and always had been. It was also because of this sentence that they didn't do anything that first night.
Chen Zai was not home tonight. He had gone to the south on a business trip. Tiao ate dinner, sat back in the armchair, and read a manuscript for a while. Then she took a shower and got into bed. She preferred to slip into her quilt nest early; she preferred to wait for Chen Zai's phone call in there. She especially liked the words "slip into her quilt nest," a little unsophisticatedpoor and unworldly-sounding. She just liked the words "slip," "quilt," "nest." She never got used to hotels and the way foreigners sleptthe blanket tucked in at the foot of the bed, stretched tight over the mattress. Once you stuck your legs and feet into the blanket, you felt disconnected, with nothing to touch. She also didn't like quilts made of down, or artificial cotton. The way they floated lightly over your body made you more restless. She always used quilts made of real cotton; she liked everything about a quilt nest folded with a cotton quilt, the tender, swaddled feeling of the light weight distributed over her whole body, the different temperatures that hid in the little creases of the quilt nest. When she couldn't sleep because of the heat, she would use her feet to look for the cool spots in the soft creases under the quilt. When she needed to curl up, the quilt nest would come along with her, clinging to her body. So unlike those bedclothes pinned down by the mattress, where you wouldn't dream of moving, but would have to yield to the tyranny, forced into an approved sleeping postureby what right? Tiao thought. Every time she went on a business trip or traveled abroad, she would intentionally mess up those blankets. Cotton quilts always made Tiao sleep well. But unpleasant thoughts pressed in on her after she woke up in the middle of the night. When she turned on the table lamp, tottered to the bathroom to pee, and returned, when she lay back in her bed and turned off the light, at that moment she would feel the intense loneliness and boredom. She began to think about things in a confused way, and the things that people tend to think, awakening after midnight, are often unpleasant. How she hated waking up in the middle of the night! Only after she truly had Chen Zai did she lose the fear. Then she was no longer by herself.
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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