Clare and Chris
She couldn’t forget, couldn’t let go.
May, the sunny and warm weather already felt like summer. After eating lunch, she still had half an hour worth of break time. Sheng Xia ran to a corner of the school near the fence and bought a popsicle from a vendor outside. She sneakily took two bites, afraid of being seen by a classmate or teacher, and hid behind a tree to concentrate on eating.
As valuable as a treasure, the popsicle emitted a white mist. Through the cold air, she saw a man and woman share a light kiss and bid farewell across the street. The woman hurriedly crossed the road. She had a delicate and pretty face, eyebrows like willow leaves, almond eyes, thin and straight legs, and an overall graceful appearance.
Sheng Xia grasped onto two iron railings, almost squeezing her face through the gap.
“I saw Miss Doctor kiss her boyfriend.”
At the dinner table, Sheng Xia chatted about all the trivial matters of the day as usual but when this sentence suddenly popped up, Mother Chen didn’t process it immediately, “What?”
“I saw Miss Doctor kiss her boyfriend.”
This time she heard clearly. Mother Chen’s first instinct was to ask how she knew about kissing at her age, but she thought for while before realizing something didn’t seem right: “What doctor?”
That night, Chen Yuan encountered a violent storm when she got home. Mrs. Fan Shuzhen was angry as hell, thinking that Chen Yuan treated her own daughter as a lunatic, even sending her to see a doctor, but as she spoke, she became sad: “There’s obviously nothing wrong with her, why’d you take her to see a doctor?”
Chen Yuan thought that rather than saying she was angry, she was afraid. If Sheng Xia really was sick, she feared that she’d be the first one to break down, so why not deny this possibility in the beginning.
Chen Yuan stood there, receiving her criticism, just like when she was caught forging her parent’s signature on a test sheet when she got a bad grade as a child. Only when she grew tired of speaking did she sit beside her and gently wrap her arms around her shoulders. All the anger in Mother Chen’s body suddenly dissipated in an instinct, and the two sat in silence for a while.
Mother Chen turned her head, and after a while, raised her hands to wipe her eyes. “If anything happens, don’t carry it all yourself, family comes in handy at times like these. It’d be so tiring to rely on yourself for everything.”
“I know.” Chen Yuan patted her back in reassurance.
To give the two women room to talk, Father Chen took Sheng Xia out for a drive. When they left the house it was already almost nine. In the car, Sheng Xia once again chirped: “Today I saw Miss Doctor kiss her boyfriend.”
Chen Yuan asked: “Where?”
“You left school?”
“No, I saw through the fence.” Sheng Xia sucked on her finger and was slapped by Chen Yuan. Cowering, she put her hands in her pockets and could help but say: “Mom, Miss Doctor is so skinny.”
Facing a red light, Chen Yuan stopped and turned to look at her: “Do you envy Miss Doctor?”
“Hm—” Sheng Xia took a while to “hm”, and the traffic in front of them surged again.
That night, before sleeping, the two exchanged good nights, and Sheng Xia suddenly ran to her room saying she wanted to sleep together. Turning off the lights, the little girl muttered: “Saying I didn’t envy her was a lie, I definitely envy her for being pretty, but I’m already pretty good. Even though I’m not that pretty, I’m pretty cute.”
Chen Yuan didn’t think she could be so opinionated, even praising herself for being cute. Although she also thought her daughter was pretty cute, she was very surprised that Sheng Xia was so satisfied with herself. She hugged her, and Sheng Xia hugged back, joyfully giving her three kisses.
The child fell asleep quickly and her breaths evened out. Chen Yuan hugged her as if she was hugging a small animal, a treasure.
This child wasn’t connected to her by blood. It was Sheng Xiyuan who pushed them together to be each other’s closest comrades. Before, she never expected that raising a child would give her such a sense of accomplishment and joy. Now, she understood a little, just a little, just enough to make her thank fate a hundred thousand times.
Chen Yuan’s outburst of motherly love lasted for a week, until Sheng Xia couldn’t take it anymore and seriously waved her hand to reject her mother’s invitation to “sleep together” for the eighth day in a row: “I’m a big kid now, how can I keep sleeping with you, we need to give each other space!”
After saying this, she fled for her life and jumped into her own bed.
Chen Yuan didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but this was fine, she would also have time to tend to her own matters. The room became calm in an instant, and she opened her mailbox. She kept avoiding that email that came a week ago, as if opening that email would be like opening Pandora’s box, but whether or not she opened it, when she opened it, it would still be there.
I’m still the same as ever. Chris is getting married within the next two years but doesn’t plan on returning to Hong Kong or China. The wedding will be in Vancouver. Please come if you have time, and bring your wife and Sheng Xia.
Of course I still remember the house on Qishan street, are there any problems with the paperwork lately? I should have transferred everything properly when I left the country. That counts as marital property. We left it all to you when we got divorced.
If you have any problems, send me an email, I’ll ask a lawyer.
2017 May 16
Chen Yuan suddenly let out a sigh of relief.
Her hunch was right, Clare really was Xiyuan’s ex-wife. Strangely, she didn’t seem to be very concerned about Sheng Xia, and Sheng Xiyuan’s friends only knew this person existed, yet didn’t know that she was the woman Sheng Xiyuan married back then, Sheng Xia’s birth mother. The house on Qishan street was even stranger. According to her, this house should have been left under Sheng Xiyuan’s name, but Chen Yuan knew nothing about it. The people who lived there also didn’t seem to know Sheng Xiyuan. Nothing made sense.
She told the Deng Fei couple about Clare, and they were both surprised. Once she said that Sheng Xiyuan had another property, Deng Fei’s expression became a bit strange.
Deng Fei already had a whole story in her head: Sheng Xiyuan married a rich woman for money. Although he got a daughter, at least he got a house, so he wasn’t losing out. The only loser was Chen Yuan, the one forced to accept everything without her knowledge, now still kept in the dark like a fool.
Chen Yuan saw the changes in her expression, appearing contemptuous for a moment and sympathetic in the next, wanting to throw hands and denounce Sheng Xiyuan for being inhuman, but advising her not to throw away the child. (Chen Yuan) tried not to laugh.
Deng Fei grasped her hand and seriously said: “ Xiao Yuan……”
“He’s already gone……”
Chen Yuan knew she was going to advise her to put down the past, but didn’t expect her to say this. She couldn’t hold it any longer and laughed.
“You can still laugh, your heart sure is big.” Deng Fei was a bit angry.
“You might not believe it,” Chen Yuan didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, “But I never suspected Sheng Xiyuan of being unloyal.”
“Of course he couldn’t have been unloyal, I meant that he really is inhuman, hiding so much from you.”
“Yes, he never mentioned any of this to me.” Chen Yuan was so calm that she surprised herself.
“Then aren’t you angry?”
If Sheng Xiyuan was still alive, she might have sulked for a while, but Sheng Xiyuan was already dead. Her emotions were like smoke with no place to land, after turning in the air a couple times, they’d scatter clean, leaving only an endless emptiness and sadness.
He always treated her well—actually, he treated everyone well, otherwise Mrs. Fan Shuzhen wouldn’t have surrendered so quickly—Chen Yuan didn’t know if there was a difference, but she was sure of one point: Sheng Xiyuan truly loved her.
Deng Fei always said he was a good person, always said she shouldn’t be so proud of catching a good person, but Chen Yuan always remembered that they walked together, walked to the sports field at Xin University, and Sheng Xiyuan—pointed out to her: We used to always play basketball here…I liked the green tea biscuits the canteen sold in the morning. In college, bus 26 was my favorite, it followed Yangong causeway all the way up the hill. Boring right? He laughed, appearing a bit embarrassed, but I wanted to let you know. What about you? Tell me, ok?
Thinking back now, Chen Yuan thought those five years were too good, so good that she wouldn’t forget for a lifetime, so good that even though she found out Sheng Xiyuan left behind a lot of shit, she couldn’t feel even the slightest bit of resentment towards him, only regret.
Back then, she thought his past didn’t matter because they would share their future. But once Sheng Xiyuan died, all the promises made of a future together would never be realized. Only now did she learn that that Sheng Xiyuan she had, appeared to only be a small fraction of his whole person. She was greedier than she thought.
So full of remorse, a remorse she could do nothing about.
These thoughts were complexly interlocked, impossible to express in words. Chen Yuan had a terrible headache and couldn’t be bothered to explain, so after a few quick excuses about having to pick up the kid, she left first.
On the way home, Sheng Xia appeared tired from a day of play and fell asleep in the passenger’s seat. For some reason, the road was terribly congested that day, the traffic stopping every few seconds, and Chen Yuan felt her solar plexus throb. The light at the intersection ahead flashed red, and the big red tail lights of the row of cars in front of her lit up. Chen Yuyan suddenly felt a sourness in her mouth, and in an instant, vomit spurted out from deep in her throat. Her first thought was that this would stink up her car and be hard to clean, and she wanted to stick her upper body outside to throw up, but just as she opened the car door, she lost all consciousness.
She woke up to the white ceiling of the hospital right before her eyes.. Mother was at her bedside grasping her hand, and someone walked out to call a doctor. She asked where Sheng Xia was, and mother said your father took her home, she refused to leave, so your father carried her away.
Xie Jiayang and Deng Fei brought the on duty doctor over and said some words that Chen Yuan couldn’t hear clearly. She only heard that she got acute gastroenteritis. Mother Chen persuaded Deng Fei to leave, and only the mother and daughter were left in the sick ward. Fan ShuZhen saw her daughter’s sickly pale face and felt a sourness in her heart before crying. Chen Yuan hoarsely said: “Don’t cry.”
“My heart aches,” Mother Chen’s tears fell unceasingly, “Why must my own daughter suffer such hardships?”
“Did Deng Fei tell you something?”
“Deng Fei didn’t tell me anything, but I’m your mother!” Mother Chen cried as she poured water for her, “When you lift your ass, I know exactly what you’re going to fart!”
(t/n: Colloquial stuff is hard)
Chen Yuan was both heartbroken and amused, but her whole body felt so sore that she had no energy to laugh. She only had the strength to slightly raise the corners of her lips, but she was still glared at by her mother: “You still laugh!”
“I won’t laugh.” She surrendered, lifted a corner of her blanket, and motioned for her mother to lie down. Then she hugged her mother’s arm like when she was little, like those countless nights as a little girl, at the age when she still whispered heartfelt words with mother.
Mrs. Fan Shuzhen hadn’t been hugged by her daughter like this in a long time. As the two lay in silence, peace descended on the sick ward.
“Are you too tired?”
Chen Yuan heard her mother say.
“When you and Xiyuan were dating, I was worried. My daughter was still a child, how could she get married and live on her own, would you be ok, you’d even instantly become a mom after passing through that door. Back then your father and I cursed that Deng Fei every night, cursed her to death.”
Mother Chen’s voice was soft, yet her temper was explosive. It was rare for her to be so soft-spoken.
“Then we met Xiao Sheng. When I first saw him, I thought that kid was pretty suave, if he wasn’t a divorcee then you wouldn’t have got him. He was good at cooking, hardworking too, with this and that, he had everything arranged properly. I saw that with him, you lived better than when you were alone. Your father and I thought he would know how to treat his wife so we let you marry him. You wouldn’t enjoy the greatest fortunes, but you wouldn’t have to endure much hardship. And you wouldn’t have to get pregnant to have kids, you got a big fat daughter for free.”
“I never thought Xiyuan would have his accident. If I knew he would, I would never let you marry him even if I was beaten to death.” She spoke quietly as if sighing, “But what can be done, you two’s fate is too shallow. The two of you were destined for five years, five years of living a happy life, used up, God took it back.”
“Xiao Yuan, this is all God’s will.”
Chen Yuan pillowed half her face on her mother’s arm, large teardrops rolling down.
Sheng Xiyuan was like a tumor growing on her heart , drawing out all her happiness and vitality as nutrients, growing bigger and bigger, how could she not know. But she couldn’t forget, couldn’t let go.
“I know, mom.” Chen Yuan softly said, “I know.”
Even a child licking ice cream off her finger is illegal?! I’m thirty and I still lick ice cream off my fingers stunned