【五四遺事】英文版
STALEMATES-AShortStorySetintheTimeWhenLoveCametoChina

Twomenandtwogirlsinaboatsatfacingeachotheronwhickerseatsundertheflatblueawning.Cupsofteastoodonthelowtablebetweenthem.Theywereeatingling,waterchestnutsaboutthesizeandshapeofaCupid’s-bowmouth.Theshellsweredarkpurplishredandthekernelswhite-

issChouisverystylishtoday,”oneofthemensaid.Itwasalsostylishtoaddressgirlsas“Miss.”

MissChouglaredathimthroughhernewspectaclesandthrewalingshellathim.Herglasseshadroundblackrimsandperfectlyflatlenses,asshewasnotnear-sighted.Theyearwas1924,wheneyeglasseswerefashionable.Societygirlsworethem.Evenstreet-walkersaffectedglassesordertolooklikegirlstudents.

Eachofthemensatwithhisowngirlbecausethelittleboatbalancedbetterthiswaythanifthetwogirlssatsidebyside.Thepalegreenwaterlookedthickandjustalittlescummy,andyethadasuggestionoflingeringfragrancelikeabasinofwaterinwhichafamouscourtesanhadwashedherpaintedface.

Thegirlswerearoundtwenty-youngforhighschoolinthosedayswhenprogressivewomenofallagesflockedtotheprimaryschools.MissChouwasmuchadmiredforherviva-cityandboldnessasbeingtypicaloftheNewWoman,whileMissFan’swasthebeautyofastilllife.

Shesatsmilingalittle,herfaceaslimpointedoval,herlonghairdoneintworoundglossyblacksideknobs.Sheworelittlemake-upandnoornamentsexceptagoldfountainpentuckedinherlightmauvetunic.Hertrumpetsleevesendedflaringjustundertheelbow.

TheyoungmenwereLoandWen.Lowastallandthin.Hispaleturquoiselonggownhungwellonhiminamoreliteralsensethanwhenthephrasewasappliedtowesterner’sclothes.HetaughtinthesameschoolasWen.TheybothownedlandintheirhomevillageandtaughtschoolinHangchowmerelyasanexcusetolivebytheWestLake,whereeveryscenicspotwasassociatedwiththememoryofsomepoetorreigningbeauty.

Thefourhadbeenmeetingalmostdailyformorethanayear.Theywouldgooutonthelake,havedinneratoneoftherestaurantsalongthestore,andgoboatingagainiftherewasamoon.SomebodywouldreadShelleyaloudandthegirlsheldhandswitheachotherwhentheywerefourofthem,sometimessixbutnevertwo.Themenwerealreadymarried-auniversalpredicament.Practicallyeverybodywasmarriedandhadchildrenbeforeeverhearingoflove.WenandLohadtobecontentwithdiscussingthegirlsinterminablybetweenthemselves,showingeachotherthegirls’carefullytheircalligraphy,analyzingtheirpersonalitiesfromthehand-writing.LovewassuchanewexperienceinChinathatalittleofitwentalongway.

Thesailedintoapatchofyellowinglotusleaves,thelargegreenplatescrunchingnoisilyagainsttheboat.Thentherewassilence.Theboatmanandhislittledaughterwererestingontheiroars,lettingtheboatdrift.Nowandthenthewatermadeasmallswallowingsoundasifithadapieceofcandyinitsmouth-

oinghomethisweekend?”MissFanasked-

supposeIcan’tgetoutofitthistime,”Loansweredsmiling.“Mymotherhasbeencomplaining.”

Shesmiled.Thementionofhismotherdidnotalterthefactthathewasgoingbacktohiswife.

LatelyLohadbeenfellingincreasinglyguiltyaboutgoinghome,whileMissFanhadallowedherresentmenttobecomemoremanifestbeforeandaftereachvisit-

havemadeadecision,”hesaidinalowvoice,lookingather.Then,whenshedidnotaskhimwhatitwas,hesaid,“MissFan,willyouwaitforme?Itmighttakeyears.”

Shehadturnedaway,herheadbent.Herhandsplayedwiththelowerleftcornerofherslittedblouse,furlingandunfurlingit.

Actuallyshedidnotagreetohisgettingadivorceuntildayslater.Butthatevening,whenthefourofthemdinedatarestaurantfamousforitslakefish,Loalreadyfeltpledgedanddedicated.Allthewinehedranktastedlikethelastcupbeforesettingoutonalonghardjourneyonacoldnight.

TherestaurantwascalledtheHouseBeyondHouse.Itleanedoverthelakeonthreesides.Despitetheviewanditspoeticnameitwasanonchalantlyuglyplacewithgreasyoldfurniture.Thewaitershoutedorderstothekitcheninasingsongchant.Whentheglassdomewasliftedfromtheplateofliveshrimp,someoftheshrimpjumpedacrossthetable,inandoutofthesaucedish,andlandedonMissFan,tailingsoyasaucedownthefrontofherblouse.MissChousquealed.InthedingyyellowelectriclightMissFanlookedflushedandhappyanddidnotseemtomindatall.

LodidnotgohomeuntiltheSaturdayafterthat.Thejourneytooktwohoursbytrainandwheelbarrow.Hiswifelookedsheepishashermother-in-lawloudlyandostentatiouslyexcusedherfromvariousdutiesbecauseherhusbandwashome.Shewaswearingashortblueoverallwiththeredsatinbindingofasilktunicshowingunderneathit.Shehadnotbeensurethathewouldbecoming.

Hespoketoherthatnightaboutdivorce.Shecriedallnight.Itwasterrible,almostasifajudgeweretosleepinthesamebedwithacondemnedman.Saywhathemight,heknewhewasconsigninghertodishonorablewidowhoodfortherestofherlife.

Hismotherflewintoarageonbeingtold.Shewouldnothearofit.LowentbacktoHangchowandstoppedcominghomealtogether.HismothergothisuncletogouptoHangchowandtalkhimoutofhisfoolishness.Heinturnmanagedtopersuadeacousintogoandtalktohisfamily.Ittookinfernallylongtonegotiatethroughrelativeswhowere,furthermore,unreliabletransmittersofharshwords,beingpeacemakersatheart,especiallywherematrimonywasconcerned.Tobreakupamarriageisacardinalsinthatautomaticallytakestenyearsoffaman’sgivenlifespan.

Logotalawyertowritehiswifeanalarminglywordedrequestfordivorce.Hiswife’sfamily,theChangs,boiledoverwithrage.Didhethinkhiswifewasanorphan?NotalltheChangsweredead.True,theycouldnotrevengethemselvesonthefaithlessmanunlesshiswifeweretohangherselfonhislintel.Thatwouldplacehislifeandpropertyentirelyattheirmercy.Butitwasnotforthemtorecommendsuchasteptoher.

TheheadoftheLoclanwasmovedtospeak.TheoldmanthreatenedtoinvitetheFamilyLawoutofitsnicheandbeattheyoungrascalintheancestraltemple.“FamilyLaw”wasaeuphemismfortheplankusedforflogging.

MissFanandLocontinuedtoseeeachotherinthecompanyofWenandMissChou.Theirfriendsweredelightedandexhilaratedbythecourageofthisundertaking-thoughitdidputWeninadifficultposition,evenifMissChouwasneveropenlyreproachful.Itnowappearedasthoughthewistfulnessthatwaspartofthebeautyoftheirrelationshipwasnotoneofthosethingsthatcouldn’tbehelped.

Lowasonlyhomeonceintwoyears.Theyweredifficultyearsforboththemotheranddaughter-in-law.Theybegantogetoneachother’snerves.Therewasanunwrittenlawthatawifecouldneverbedivorcedonceshehadwornmorningwhiteandtheramiescarfofmourningforaparent-in-law.Sotheoldladygottheideathatherdaughter-in-lawwishedforherdeath.Itwouldcertainlysettlethedivorceproblem.Buttheoldladysworeshewouldseetheyoungerwomanoutofthehouseverticallybeforeshemadeherownexithorizontally.

Outwardlythedivorcenegotiationshadnotgainedmuchgroundinsixyears.MissFan’sfamilyneverdidapprove.Nowtheykeptremindingherthatattwenty-sixshewasbecominganoldmaid.Soonshewouldnotevenqualifyfort’ien-fang-roomfiller,awifetofillupawidower’semptyroom.ItseemedtoherfamilythatLowasonlywaitingtohaveheronhisownterms.Itwasdoubtfulwhetherhewasseriouslytryingtogetadivorce.Possiblyalimonywasthestumblingblock.Therewerethosewhosaidhewasactuallyquitepoor.Whatlittlehehadmusthavedwindledawaythroughhislongabsencefromhome,withhisestateleftinthehandsofanestrangedwife.Therehadbeensomeunpleasantnessoverthedivorcequestionattheschoolwherehewasteaching.Ifhedidn’tdependonhisjobforaliving,whydidn’theresign?

MissChoutoldWenconfidentiallythatMissFanhadbeenouttodinnerwithapawnbroker,chaperonedbymembersofherfamilyandaladymatchmaker.WenwasnottotellLo.

InhisindignationWentoldLoanyway,thoughofcourseheadded,“It’sallherfamily’sdoing.”-

heydidn’ttieherupwitharopeanddraghertotherestaurant,didthey?”Losaidsardonically.Hepromisednottotakeupthematterwithherimmediatelyasthatwouldbetraythesourceofhisinformation.

ButthateveningLodranktoomuchricewinewhentheydinedattheHouseBeyondHouseswhichhadthelakeonthethreesides.“Congratulations,MissFan!”hesaid.“Ihearyouaregoingtoinviteustoyourweddingfeast.”Hedrainedhiscupandstrodeoffangrily.

MissFanrefusedtojointhemthenextday.Lo’sletterswerereturnedunopened.AweeklaterMissChoureportedthatMissFanhadagainbeendiningwiththepawnbroker.Everythingwassettled;themanhadgivenherabigdiamondengagementring.

Lo’sdivorceactionhadreachedthepointwhereitbegantomovethroughitsownmomentum.Thereweresignsthathiswife’ssidewasnowmorereadytolistentoreason.Hewouldbealaughingstockfortherestofhislifeifheweretoreturntohiswifeatthisstage.Sohewentaheadwiththedivorce,givinghiswifeageneroussettlementashehadpromised.AssoonasthedecreewasfinalhegotaprofessionalmatchmakertoapproachtheWongsofthedyeworksonhisbehalf.TheeldestWonggirlwasreportedtobetheprettiestgirlintown.

Afteranexchangeofphotographsanddueinvestigation,theWongsacceptedhim.LosoldagreatpartofhislandandboughtMissWongadiamondringevenbiggerthantheoneMissFanwassaidtohavegot.Hewasmarriedafterthreemonths.

ForsomereasonsMissFan’smatchdidnotcomeoff.MaybethepawnbrokerhadhisdoubtsaboutmoderngirlsandhadheardsomethingofMissFan’slongattachmenttoLo.AccordingtotheFansitwasbecausetheyhadfoundoutthatthepawnbrokerhadfalsifiedhisage.Somemalicioustongueshaditthatitwastheotherwayaround.

InthenaturalcourseofthingsLowouldhaverunintoMissFansoonerorlater,livinginthesametown.Buttheirfriendswerenotcontenttoleaveittochance.Somehowtheyfeltitwasimportantforthemtomeetagain.ItcouldnotbethattheywantedLotosavorfullyhisrevenge;theyhaddisapprovedofthewayhehadhitbackatherattheexpenseofhisownideals.Maybetheywantedhimtorealizethemistakehehadmadeandfeelsorry.Butperhapsthemostlikelyexplanationwouldbethattheyjustthoughtitwouldbesadandbeautiful-andthereforeagoodthing-forthetwotomeetonceagainonthelakeunderthemoon.

Itwasarrangedwithouttheknowledgeofeitherofthem.OnenightLowasoutonaboatwithWen-MissChouwasnowmarriedandnotseeingthemanymore.Somepeopleshoutedatthemfromanotherboat.Itwasacoupletheyusedtoknow.MissFanwaswiththem.

Whenthetwoboatsdrewnear,Wensteppedovertotheotherboat,urgingLotocomewithhim.LofoundhimselfsittingacrossthesmalltablefromMissFan.Theteainthecupsshonefaintly,ineachcupafloatingsilverdiskswayingslightlywiththemovementoftheboat.Herfaceandwhit-cladshoulderswereblue-rimmedwithmoonlight.Itstunnedhimhowshecouldlookjustthesamewhensomuchhadhappened.

Theywentthroughtheamenitiesasiftherewerenothingamiss,butwithoutdirectlyaddressingasingleremarktoeachother.NoreferencewasmadetoLo’snewmarriage.Thetalkwasmostlyaboutthegovernment-sponsoredWestLakeExhibitionanditsuglymemorialthatdominatedthevistaalongthebank-

t’saneyesore.Spoilseverything,”Losaid.“Itwillneverbethesameagain.”

Hereyesmethis,waveredalittle,andlookedaway.

Aftergoingroundthelaketheylandedandseparated.Thedayafter,LoreceivedaletteraddressedtohiminMissFan’shandwriting.Hetoreitopen,hisheartpounding,andfoundasheetofblankpaperinside.Heknewinstantlywhatshemeant.Shehadwantedtowritehimbutwhatcouldshesay?

Soonitwasnosecretamongtheirfriendsthattheywereagainseeingalotofeachother.Loagainstarteddivorceproceedings.Thistimehehadveryfewsympathizers.Henowlikedlikeascoundrelwherehehadoncebeenapioneer.Itwasanotherlongstruggle.OnherpartMissFanwasalsoengagedinastruggle.Herswasagainsttheforcesoftheyears,againstmen’sverynaturewhichtiressoeasily.AndinherstruggleshehadnobodytostandbyhersideasshestoodbyLo.Sheremainedquietlypretty.Hercoiffureandclothesweremaster-piecesofsubtlecompromisebetweenfashionandmemory.Heneverwantedhertolikeanydifferentfromthewayshedidwhenhehadfirstknownher.Yethewouldhavebeendistressedifithadsuddenlyoccurredtohimthatshelookeddated.Shefellinwithallhismoodswithoutbeingmonotonouslypliant.ShereadallthebookshegaveherandwasdevotedtoShelley.

Hefinallyhadtofightitoutinthecourtswithhiswife’sfamily.TheWongswereadamantagainstdivorce.Lawsuitswereexpensive,especiallywhenjudgesprovedtobetractable.Logothisdivorceattheendoffiveyears.Thoughinreducedcircumstances,hehadbuiltasmallwhitehouseexactlythewayMissFanandhehadplannedit,onasitetheyhadchosenlongage.Hehadcloseddownhisoldhouseinthecountryafterhismother’sdeath.Theirnewhomewasonstilts,leaningoutofthegreenhillsrightoverthelake.Climbingrosesandwisteriatrailedoverthemoonwindow.

Thenewlywedspaidroutinevisitstorelatives.Theywereusuallypressedtostayfordinnerandplaymah-jongg.Lohadneverknownhertobefondofthegame.Hetoldhiswifeitwasgoodofhertocomplybuttherewasnoneedtokeepitupallnightandpromisetocomebackformorethenextday.Sheansweredthatpeopleteasedherintoit,sayingshecouldnotbeartobeawayfromherbridegroomasingleminute.

Shecomplainedoflivingsofarout.Whenshecamebacklatefromhermahjonggpartiessheoftenhaddifficultyfindingarick-shapullerwillingtotakeherhome.Whenshewasnotoutplayingmah-jonggsheloungedaboutinsoiledoldgownswithtornslitsandfrayedfrogs.Halfthetimeshelayinbedcrackingwatermelonseeds,spittingtheshellsoverthebed-clothesandintoherslippersonthefloor.Hishintsattakingmoreinterestinherappearancewereatfirstignored.Thensheflaredupandsaidhisfussinesswasunmanly.“Nowonderyounevergetanywhere.”

Lodidhisbesttokeepupagoodfront.Stillhesupposedthatnewsoftheirquarrelsgotabout,becauseonedayarelativementionedcasuallytohimthatMissWonghadnotyetremarried.“Whydon’tyouaskhertocomeback?”

Loshookhisheadsadly.Heneededsomepersuasion,butofcourseheknowthattheWongswouldagreethatthiswasthebestwayout,muchastheyhatedhim.Thefamily’sgoodnamewouldsufferiftheirdaughtertookasecondhusband.

Hiswife,theformerMissFan,didnothearofthematteruntilallarrangementshadbeenmade.Despitescenesandthreatsofsuicide,thedayMissWongreturnedtohimescortedbymembersoftheWongfamilyshewastheretoreceivethemandplayhostessatthesmallinformalcelebration.SheaddressedMissWong’sbrotherandsister-in-lawas“Brother”and“Sister-in-law”.Sheapologizedforthedinner.“It’sdifficultforustogetagoodcook,livingsofarawayfromthemarket.Terriblyinconvenient.ElseIwouldhavemadehimfetchbackyouryoungladylongago.Ofcoursesheoughttocomeandlivehere.Onecan’tbestayingwithparentsallthetime.”MissWongdidnotspeak,sinceshewasalmostabride.

Noagreementhadbeenreachedastothemodeofaddressbetweenthetwowomen,whowereunderstoodtobeofequalstatus.Theyweremerelyreferredtoas“ThatoftheHouseofFan”and“ThatofthehouseofWong”behindeachother’sback.

NotlongafterwardanelderofLo’sclanspoketohim.“Iseenoreasonwhyyoushouldn’taskyourfirstwifetocomeback.Itwouldonlybefair.”

Locouldnotthinkofanyvalidobjectioneither.Hewentdowntothecountrywhereshewaslivingwithherfamily,andbroughtherbacktotherose-coveredlittlehousebythelake.

Bothofhisex-wivesweremuchricherthanhewasafterthedivorcesettlements.Buttheyneverhelpedhimout,nomatterwhatstraitshegotintofromprovidingforthreewomenandtheirchildren.Hecouldnotreallyblamethem,takingeverythingintoconsideration.Hewouldnothavemindeditsomuchif“ThatoftheHouseofFan”didnottaunthimcontinuallyabouttheothers’lackoffeelingforhim.

Andnowthathehadliveddownthescandalandridicule,peopleenviedhimhisYengfu,glamorousblessings-extraordinaryinanagethatwasatleastnominallymonogamous,foritwasalready1936-livingwiththreewivesinarose-coveredlittlehousebythelake.Ontherareoccasionswhenhetriedtotellsomebodyhewasunhappy,thelistenerwouldguffaw.“Anyhow,”thefriendwouldsay,“therearefourofyou-justrightforanicegameofmah-jongg.”

THEEND