She faced the mirror, her cheeks aflame. She tidied her forelocks with her comb, then flung it down with a clatter, grabbed the flowers and stuck them into her hair. What would her first man be like? She didn't dare turn around. Mangy? Crippled? One-eyed? Hare- lipped? As she started to smile, the door pushed open with a creak.
Quietly, he stepped in.
Fusang saw him in the mirror. She bit her lip so hard she swallowed some rouge.
He didn't even smile. He just stood there in the doorway, watching her get up from her stool. He stared at her with disbelief.
Fusang quickly sized him up. He wasn't much shorter than she was, the top of his head coming up to her ears, but the contours of his face were still childlike, so he seemed shorter and smaller.
She didn't know that countless times this boy had hidden in the shadows of walls and trees to watch her. She was the strangest thing he'd ever seen. Her every movement made him bite his thumb to the point of pain.
She didn't know that he used a little round mirror to savor every part of her. He had learned as a child to use this mirror to capture any scene in the world as his own, however momentary, private possession.
As far as Fusang was concerned, he was just a boy, another little white devil not much different from Doughface's johns. Still, she made up her mind to give him good service.
She took off the padded jacket that must have consumed ten catties of silk floss. This was the only such jacket in the whole brothel, given to each girl to wear with her first customer.
Chris, the boy said. My name is Christopher. Call me Chris. He forced his voice to sound rough and low to make himself seem an old hand at this.
Fusang said with a curtsy, My name is Fusang.
He had found out her name a long time ago.
Fusang went on to say, Please have a seat, have some tea, will you be staying the night, sir? She knew a total of twenty words in English.
His eyes wide with wonder, Chris took in the furnishings of the room.
The curling incense smoke made their shabbiness seem appropriate.
She brought over a pot of freshly brewed tea and a plate of roasted watermelon seeds dyed the color of blood. These were the usual refreshments. They rarely served alcohol because it led to violence and the woman was left beaten to a pulp and useless.
The table was covered with a tablecloth. The two bamboo chairs, one on each side, had embroidered cushions on their seats, gray cotton stuffing showing through the worn corners. Across from the table was a bamboo bed, above which hung a pink bed curtain, though the wrinkled parts were no longer pink but stained a yellowish gray by incense smoke. The walls were also painted pink and they too were smoke-stained. Chris could not conceal the curiosity in his eyes--that invasive curiosity of twelve- year-old boys.
Fusang poured the tea. The glugging sound made the boy turn to look at her.
She tilted her head as she poured and her earrings ducked and trembled as if afflicted with a painful itch. As she turned to smile at him, the tea missed the cup. The silvery smoke made her seem very faraway.
Fusang sat down, adjusted her skirt, and propped one tiny pointed red foot on top of the other.
Chris had no trouble keeping his eyes on those feet. All the legends about them were now proven, right before his very eyes. Such deformed yet beautiful things really did exist!
Still in shock, he sat down and lifted his cup. He just kept looking at her.
Twisting open the button loop at her collar, Fusang asked him again if he was staying the night.
He said he wasn't. He was looking at the opening in her worn silk blouse. Such delicate skin. Her hand continued on down, undoing buttons. Suddenly she stopped, seeing him pulling back his tongue, scalded by the tea. She reached over to take the cup and began to blow on the tea.
From The Lost Daughter of Happiness, copyright (c) 2001, Hyperion Press. Reproduced with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
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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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