Let Her Go   |  Short Stories   |   Summer 

Let her go
(This story won the second runner-up place in The Standard-RTHK Short Story Competition in 2005; also published inThe Standard.)

On Christmas Eve, 24th December 2004, she did not get the pink Vivienne Westwood handbag he had promised, but she said it was all right. In the hotel room, after ejaculation, he was combing her long black hair with his fingers and she was scratching her left forearm. It was winter and yet, strangely, mosquitoes bit. They remembered that more Christmas songs were sung before the handover. Now people sang the National hymn.

He switched the television off. They only needed it for about half an hour, to cover the noises they made which were at first gentle and then deep, intense. He said he loved the smell of the hair under her arms. He said her eyes were of the shape of almonds. He said it felt comfortable to hold her small body. He said many things.

The bedclothes had Japanese characters on them. She tried to read the characters but it was difficult. Then she began to make up sounds to cope with the eccentric shapes. It was better than counting sheep to sleep.

        The door was open. He could see her naked body clearly. She did not know she should be shy. He did not do it on purpose. Her hair was at last tamed by the water from the nozzle. Who didn't make mistakes?

        That year he was eighteen and she was six.

The next morning they both woke up early. She drew the curtains apart and when she looked down she could see some crazy people swimming in the oval swimming pool, wearing bikinis. The industrial buildings in the background were giving out black smoke as early as half past six in the morning. Tsuen Wan was one of the abandoned city roses planted by the government and the Panda Hotel was one of the cheapest yet decent hotels he could afford. He was in his black boxer shorts now. His legs were bony. His big toes were round like marbles that children played with. From the windows she walked back to him; she climbed on the bed and rested her head on his shins. Her hair covered half of her face; the strands stirred a little with her breathing. They lay on the bed just like that for about fifteen minutes until he had a strong urge to pee.

When she woke up again she saw a room without him. She got out of bed and looked at herself in the mirror instincitively. She was happy, if tears and messy hair were happy. A week later it would be the end of the year. The year of Rooster was coming. He would become thirty-nine and she twenty-seven.

        He bought her a black dress once. There was a silver Earth on the front. America, Canada, Africa, Germany… She was wearing that dress when he brought her to the cinema. They watched a movie about giant monkeys. Was it Congo? After the movie, it was rather late, and they ate in a small Western restaurant. He taught her which spoon to use for soup and which spoon to use for ice cream. He showed her how to use a knife and fork to cut steak. He ordered lemon tea for her. When she smiled, he knew he was not treating her as his niece. She was innocent. No one should know about this growing, peevish love.

She stayed in the hotel room until it was time to check out. It was Christmas Day, a Saturday. But despite the 'red' on the calendar he had to work. Suppose he was not needed at work, what would they do? She would like to watch Possession, or any other thing that had to do with the notions of love or history. She buttoned her brown shirt. He had forgotten his watch. It was on a small table next to the bed, together with two empty glasses and an unlit, fake, broken, Victorian lamp. A sense of helplessness ate her up. It had been so long but he was using the same watch as yesterday, yesteryear... She picked up the watch and put it in her palm. The watch said it was a quarter to twelve.

        He had moved away with her grandparents and aunts. She saw him less and less. Sometimes she looked at the pictures that they drew together. One was a picture of an ocean. The ocean was sea blue. There were lots of fish in it. There were also some starfish and seashells and long seaweed at the bottom. The fish had different patterns and colours: spotted, checked, horizontal stripes, vertical stripes, plain … Then the boys at school made her forget all about him, but the pictures were kept tidily in a wooden trunk under the bed.

        It was 1999. On Christmas she went to a Christmas party with some friends she met in university. For the occasion she wore a low-cut white woollen top, a purple leather miniskirt and a pair of long tight boots that reached the knees. It was well after midnight when her friends drove her home. When she got out of the car she saw him sitting on one of the stone benches in the small park of the mansion, alone. She knew he was waiting for her.

Her phone rang. It was not him but Marco. How could it be him? Every time after some secret and passionate sexual exploration, he had to keep himself away from her for at least two days. In those two days or more, she was always worried that he was with someone else, or worse, that he would rther be on his own. Last week when they were together, he told her a dreadful story he read in the paper aabout a single mother who had cancer and died. Her children had to live on the streets. "Why is life full of misery and suffering?" he asked. "Poverty, hunger, all kinds of sicknesses... " She clutched his arm, and they gently kissed. The bleak outside world was distant, not immedate. Now she could not help but think that falling in love, especially love that did not have a future, was miserable. "This relationship isn't going anywhere." she thought. To speak and think of relationships in terms of journeys was to reduce the two grown humans involved to two ants.

        He said he had been thinking of her all of the time. He said he knew she liked him, and she did not need to be convinced otherwise. He said now she was old enough to make decisions. He said no one should know about this growing, peevish love. He said many things. That night she took out the pictures from the old trunk.

        A few weeks later. This was how the first time they gave pleasure and pain to the other. She was on her back, naked and shy, her legs would not part no matter what. When he mounted her, their bodies blurred. He did not break her on that night, but the contact of his chest and her breast was enough to make him crazy. Her tender middle was caressed by where he sprang. Was it shame? She cried and cried afterwards, even though no real harm was actually done. But by all means, he saw her body with a triangle of dense fur that was not there when he last saw her.

Marco was her boyfriend, known to her friends and family. Marco wanted to have Christmas dinner with her. She said yes. Love was with her but so was guilt.

       He fell in love with her when her youth was excessively dominant and her sexual attractiveness was blissfully praised by the gaze of walkers-by.

For a fleeting moment she thought of calling Marco back and cancelling the date. But she did not want him to think her flighty. She left the hotel and got on a bus to Causeway Bay. She bought some new clothes in Apple Mall which she frequently visited and after that she rushed back home to have a shower and wash her hair. Going out with Marco was different. The hair had to be right and cosmetics should be appropriately put on the face. She enjoyed this lack of casualness that kindled the coyness and nervousness in her.

        He put a hand on her face. Without lipstick, her lips were so pale, almost white. She breathed softly. He thought her nose was too big for the rest of her features. Now he could not believe he possessed her. How stupid of him to think that she would stay young forever and her heart would never turn to others. He wept, and touched her fair breasts again. From his sister, he knew her plan to go to San Francisco with Marco, her boyfriend. Perhaps he wanted to place his hand over her nose and mouth until he could not feel any moist warmth. And then he would stab himself with a knife -- right into the heart -- and let the blood run on and dissolve into the red Turkish carpet. He did not want to lose her to someone else. But it was selfish of him not to let her go. She liked stealing the sheets and winding herself into them tightly. It was about four in the morning; he rolled over and began to make love to her. She purred when she came. Two hours later, they woke up. When he stretched his arm to pull some sheets to his side, she got out of the bed and walked to the windows.

When she first told Marco about him, Marco was very angry. But Marco was more sympathetic when he knew her more. Marco asked her to leave her uncle and follow him to a new place to start a new life. She said yes to this request. It was not too difficult to utter that one syllable, was it? Why, Marco, why do you forgive me? she asked. "I like Amelie, and watching inferior movies is shameful and intolerable" was Marco's reply. She did not understand. 

        Ann you are lovely inside and out. He murmured when once again she was asleep with a placid smile. I will hear your giggles and sometimes see your pursed lips. You will be always in my mind even though I know I will be soon forgotten. But I really hope many years later you will still remember we kissed in the bathtub; we were engulfed in water, my legs on top of yours. You told me you would never forget that. If I have enough courage to tell the world about you, I will not consign you to another man. Ann… He said no more. His eyes were flooded with tears when he imagined himself saying goodbye to her and Marco at the airport. Marco would smile so triumphantly, "Goodbye, Peter." And he would say goodbye to Marco, consoling himself by thinking that Marco the idiot knew so little, and that Ann can depart the Tseun Wan polluted sky, and breathe some fresh air. Somewhere.