Two Saturdays ago in a corridor he had overheard his language teacher Mrs. Ch’en speak to fat Mrs. Hsieh, the Chinese history teacher, that of all the boys she thought Wangqi the most beautiful. Dumpy Mrs. Hsieh giggled and covered her mouth. He could have sworn the word was beautiful even though much of their whispered Mandarin eluded him. At home he stripped in front of his mirror. Twisting and turning to examine his reflection from all angles, including his genitals, he agreed: yes, it was true, he was beautiful. Mrs. Ch’en who loved beautiful vases and jade said so. He washed his long black hair with perfumed shampoo before going out for the evening.
At the sound of a siren careening down de la Gauchetière, the main avenue through Montreal’s Chinatown, Wangqi raised his head from his calligraphy exercise and stared out the window streaked by sunlight trying to burn through the city grime. The heat would rise this Saturday and some of his friends planned to splash about in a community pool, then hang out for a while in the park while he, for the next six hours, would painstakingly brush ink on rice paper, or carry on artificial conversations in his still faulty Mandarin. Mrs. Ch’en was a dragon when it came to the enunciation of vowels and tones. Other equally distracted students drew the teacher’s attention and she cracked her desk with a pointer, demanding they return to their work. He didn’t understand the purpose of writing with a brush as if he were painting when he could write the characters more easily with a pencil and erase a wrong stroke. Outside of school exercises he never wrote in Chinese anyway. Half the time he forgot which way to begin a character.
Mrs. Ch’en was always demanding in that musically high-pitched voice of hers and Wangqi wondered if she sounded the same way at home as she did in class. Did she crack a pointer over a bowls of noodles or steamed rice when her two children acted up around the dinner table? Carefully he brushed in the characters depicting a beautiful bird in flight. He imagined Mrs. Ch’en as a beautiful bird even if she did have two children. Flying away with her and perching in a tree like cooing doves: how sweet would that be?
Before the class began this Saturday morning he saw her kiss her two little children good-bye, a boy and a girl, before their father drove them away in his black sedan. Grey-haired Mr. Ch’en looked like a old merchant who spent too much time counting beads on his abacus. Wangqi knew he used a computer like all business men, except for a few ancient traditionalists selling goods in overstuffed shops on the side streets of Chinatown where his mother bought medicines not available at the white pharmacies. White, she called them, as if the buildings themselves were coated in white wash. It didn’t matter if the pharmacist was Chinese and spoke her language, the medicines were not.
When Mrs. Ch’en arrived, Wangqi was standing in a group of fellow students, all in white shirts or blouses and black slacks or skirts, the required uniform. The silky cloth of Mrs. Ch’en’s blue sheath, peony-patterned dress clung to the curves of her slender body when she leaned over. A great blossom spread over her buttocks.
Last week in class she had leaned over his shoulder and examined his work book where he had copied rules of Hanyu pin yin regarding the use of demonstrative pronouns which Mrs. Ch’en had listed on the black board. He resisted learning the system for romanizing Chinese words because in real life, his life outside of home and school, he spoke and wrote both English and French. Her perfume spilled over him like a waterfall cascading down rocks in a garden, washing among the supple crevices of his brain, leaving him almost gasping for air like a gold fish,. His urgent groin stirred. Ah, if only she would touch him, let him swim in the sensation of her moist presence and seductive fragrance, let him raise her dress above her thighs.
Turning to the student sitting next to him, she displayed her backside within touching distance. Wangqi pressed his thighs together to control sudden tumescence which he tried to soften by picking up his brush and concentrating on Chinese characters, but with a trembling hand the strokes of that bird in flight thickened over this pond, ink spread and accuracy perished. His fingers sweat. She thought he was beautiful.
This week he would have to stand in class and recite fifty lines of a poem in Mandarin. He had spent all week trying to memorize it, but faltered over the unfamiliar imagery and allusions. His father admonished that he do everything right; that he work on his accent; that he pay attention at home and listen to his parents; that he stop playing soccer or paint ball with the white boys of Montreal who called him Willy; that he not see his white girl friend; that he speak Mandarin as well as Cantonese, be a master of both dialects and write correct Chinese script.
Despite his parents efforts, he had grown up resisting linguistic perfection, and what he did speak was so compromised with impurities from French and English that his father could barely carry on a conversation with him, although his mother had no trouble understanding her son. Now after five years of regular attendance, he read the characters easily, pronounced accurately, and he was learning the fine art of calligraphy. Mrs. Ch’en noticed him. Beauty need not speak its desires, for already he understood how he enticed, even fat Mrs. Hsieh who tousled his hair in history class.
Tonight he was taking his girl friend to a movie and planned to caress and probe until Michelle, always resisting, would yield once again. His parents disapproved of her, and his father had cautioned him against pursuing the relationship. Her father disliked him because he was Chinese and because his daughter was too young to have a steady boy friend. Her mother, who looked hot in black slacks and red curly hair, always shook his hand and smiled. Madame St. Denis asked him questions about paintballing and once touched his arm. He answered in his colloquial French which she thought très charmant, his body reflected in her eyes.
He’d have sex with Michelle the way he wanted, the way Miss Ch’en, now writing on the black board, her hem rising up one side of her leg, made him want to. If she called him this very instant to stand up and recite, the entire class would see how much she aroused him. He would flame and explode like a fireworks celebrating the Chinese New Year until he fizzled out in full view of his laughing class mates.
After a shower and before dressing to go out with Michelle, he lay down and thought of Mrs.Ch’en and the fine silk of her dress riding above her thighs. How sweet the sensations flowing through his fine and slender body, especially when he took himself in hand and dreamed of his teacher floating in the sky on effortless wings as he kept company with her, stroke after stroke in the aromatic air. Ah, the brush of fingers on her thigh, the characters his tongue traced on her skin. Could she feel him express on the delicacy of her flesh how beautiful she was like a bird in flight, like a wild swan? The tip of his tongue brushed in her flight. So insistent his body, but patience, patience, patience, she always insisted upon patience, the tonalities would come, the inflexion would come, the perfect stroke would come. He felt big, huge and hard, ponderous with the yearning between his legs.
Michelle just grabbed and lurched and almost wrestled him, repeating Willy, Willy, Willy, do it to me, until he lost control and the joy was over before it really began. After only a month of dating she wanted him to give her a ring to prove they were going steady. And she phoned every night which caused his mother to frown. The sex was fun and always better the second time after Michelle calmed down, but he sometimes felt bored and suffocated.
He didn’t believe Mrs. Ch’en would be frantic like his girl friend. Patience, patience, he could almost hear the teacherly voice instructing him, pulling him on top of her resplendent, perfumed, mature body until the heavy thrilling heat burgeoned into light, but ah, easy, refrain, perfect the tone, he gasped, he held back. Her leg wrapped over his back as he guided himself in, guided himself between the luscious lips he yearned to lick as he licked his girl friend, lips surrounded by hair soft as down, quivering, swelling, moist lips, quivering — a word he recited in a Chinese poem — her most intimate lips quivering as he began to sink gently and most certainly inside the receptive and aromatic body of Mrs. Ch’en.
Erupting over his fist with a groan and enjoying the sudden warmth slipping among his fingers, he paused to catch his breath, then stirred as if doused with cold water and felt the absence of Mrs. Ch’en. He got off the bed and showered again. In the mirror his taut body glistened with wet beauty as he slowly dried himself, brushed his luxuriant hair, and ran his tongue over his exquisitely shaped lips.
Later in his friend’s bedroom and fully clothed, Michelle and he necked for half an hour, but he kept thinking of Mrs. Che’en and also Madame St. Denis while he nibbled on his girl friend’s ear lobe. Jean-Guy, whose parents were vacationing in Florida, had promised to stay out at least until eleven or so when it was time to leave. All he saw when he closed his eyes was Mrs. Ch’en’s silky dress riding up her backside. Instead of arousing him, the image deflated his intentions. The more insistent Michelle became, the more indifference spread through Wangqi like a cold virus. He wished Jean-Guy would walk in and take over because he knew his friend wanted a piece.
“What’s the matter? Don’t you love me?”
He kissed rather than answered and immediately imagined her mother’s lips on his, deliciously surprised by the picture of Madame St. Denis’ vibrant red hair spilling over his chest. He fondled Michelle’s little breasts until her tongue invaded his mouth and he was overtaken by nausea. He pushed her back, at which point Jean-Guy drunkenly barged into the room and Michelle got so upset when he made a grab for her that Wangqi said it was better to go home as it was late anyway. On the metro train, Michelle sulked like a child which bothered him to no end. He had to admit she was little more than a child and not all that interesting, so he kept his eyes and imagined both Mrs. Ch’en and Mrs. St. Denis beckoning him. He tried to make up for Michelle’s disappointment by kissing her long and hard on the porch before Madame opened the door.
On Sunday afternoon his father sent him a message by way of his mother: “your father wishes to speak to you in the library.” This time he noted tears in his mother’s dark eyes. “Please do not offend your father,” she whispered. One always knocked on the door before entering. His father spent most evenings working in his library. Here he discussed business matters after dinner with his clients, mostly Hong Kong entrepreneurs seeking opportunities in Canada, emerging precisely at eleven at night to prepare for bed. Wangqi often heard him pause outside his son’s door and the boy would stop clicking messages on his computer to his friends, or quickly exit whatever forbidden website his was perusing, lest his father enter, see, and criticize.
Sure enough, father sat in his brass-studded, wine-red leather arm chair, reading a Chinese newspaper. Wangqi stood, waiting for his father to acknowledge his presence. His eyes roamed the dark room, heavily shelved with history books, philosophy and encyclopaediae he had himself never opened, gathering all his facts quickly off the Internet. The monitors of his father’s two computers flickered on the enormous black-lacquered desk imported all the way from Shanghai.
“You are still seeing that white girl?”
His father looked directly at him, the light from the one lamp reflected in the old man’s rimless glasses. The question was rhetorical. Wangqi blushed, ill-prepared to meet his father’s objection which he had known would, must, occur.
“You will no longer do so.”
“But father …”
“There is no room for dispute. We have spoken about your bad behaviour before. Now we end the discussion. Know this: if you see the white girl again, you will not be permitted entry into your father’s house. Your family or the white girl. You have one year left of high school before university and your work is suffering. You will lose any chance for scholarships. You must devote yourself to your studies or perish. Do not bring shame to your family. Now, you may leave.”
The next Saturday at Chinese school, he concentrated on his calligraphy and pronunciation, only allowing himself to be distracted occasionally by Mrs. Ch’en’s black and gold silk dress that rustled like breath in his ear which sent shivers right to his groin. She praised his work. He had not returned Michelle’s calls the past few days. This morning his teacher had arrived at the school by taxi and he wondered if there was trouble at home. Why would her husband not have driven her as he usually did? His cell phone buzzed in his pocket. Surreptitiously checking it, he saw again that it was Michelle. During recess he phoned and Madame St. Denis answered.
“I’m sorry, Madame, I thought Michelle would answer her phone.”
“That’s quite alright, Weelee, I have to answer because Michelle’s expecting a call and she’s in the shower now.”
Saturday afternoon and she was in the shower? Was Michelle expecting his call?
“Ah, how are you, Weelee?”
“I am fine, Madame St. Denis, you?”
He enjoyed the sound of his anglicized name the way this French woman pronounced it.
“Fine also, we miss you, mon cher. We haven’t seen you all week. What a pity I said to Michelle. Weelee’s such a handsome boy, and so courteous, any girl would be lucky to have him.”
He turned away from the various students lounging about the yard and faced the school wall as if to prevent his French conversation from being overheard because school policy forbade the speaking of any language except Chinese on school grounds.
“Well … thank you.”
“I would love to see you again, Weelee.”
“Michelle is going out a bit later and will spend the weekend with friends. My husband is out of town. Pauvre moi, I shall be alone. Come for dinner. I am a fabulous cook. Just the two of us. No one will know. Listen, I have to hang up now because Michelle’s call is waiting. Phone me on my own cell, Weelee. Do you have a pen?”
“I have a great memory, Madame St. Denis. I can’t promise to come for dinner, but I promise to call.”
She gave him the number which he committed to memory. Pausing first to regain control of his nerves, he followed the other students into the building to resume class. Remembering Madame St. Denis’ caress of his arm, Wangqi carried on a half-hearted debate about why he should or should not accept her invitation. She was most definitely not a girl. He’d hardly ignore his studies for a married woman and take her to the movies. Secret arrangements could be made. No one would know. Half way during the class devoted to writing according to the rules of pinyin, he caught Mrs. Ch’en staring at him and he blushed. Married women, the very thought, unsettled his concentration on syntax.
After school he showered and perfumed his body which glowed in his mirror. His father had flown to Vancouver on business. What his father did not know would not hurt him. Delighted by the perfect mark he had received for an exercise from Mrs. Ch’en, his mother did not mind his going out, not with Michelle, he had assured her. Waiting for the subway train with a bouquet of flowers, he dreamed of driving his very own jaguar. His beautiful face was reflected in the train windows and fire stirred in his body.
Michelle’s mother opened the door. For a moment Wangqi confused her with Mrs. Che’en because of her red Chinese dress with a Mandarin collar, incandescent with gold birds and flowers, fitting her body so tightly it outlined the pattern of her bra. She reached for his arm. With a broad smile, he offered her the carnations and daisies he had bought at a local market, then crossed the threshold.
KENNETH RADU’S most recent collection of short fiction, his fourth, is called Sex in Russia: New & Selected Stories, published this year by DC Books Canada. Some of the stories take place either in the Russia of reality or a Russia of imagination. There is sex, both real and imaginary, as well.