Proofreaders: Lee, Kai, m@o, Marcia
Till Death Do Us Part chapter 24
The other man appeared to be asleep when Ch’in Ching awoke. He paused and studied the man’s face for a moment before grumbling, “Quit acting.” And as expected, Shen Liangsheng’s lips twitched; he was already awake.
They had not shut the windows last night, and the curtains were billowing in the morning breeze. Since it was summer, they had been replaced by a set with cooler tones, a pale green that appeared bleached by sunlight mixed with beige undertones. The section bulging out from the wind looked like a fat, round goldfish. Ch’in Ching stared at this for some time and then spoke abruptly, “How about we don’t go anywhere?”
“I’m fine with whatever. You just think about it some more, all right?” Shen Liangsheng had an appointment that morning, so he did not stay in bed with Ch’in Ching. He replied in a casual tone as he dressed himself, not appearing glad at all as though he did not care the slightest what Ch’in Ching’s decision was.
Shen Liangsheng asked Ch’in Ching to think about it, but the latter did not need to because he knew life in Shanpei would be arduous. Most people were like this; they may be fine with anything themselves but could not bear it if their object of affection were to suffer through the same.
Accordingly, he laid out his previous plans before Shen Liangsheng when the other man came home that night. “And that’s why I can’t make you come with me. Let’s just stay here, yeah?”
Shen Liangsheng merely nodded. He brought the other man into his arms and planted a kiss on his forehead.
Shen Liangsheng knew the schoolmaster had his ideals and aspirations and also agreed that loving someone meant helping them fulfill those. However, the particular risks involved were more than he could handle.
If the man were dead – this had once crossed his mind, but now that he thought about this again, he realized it was not entirely impossible for him to live on without the man.
Life would merely become a process of waiting – caught in the prison that is life waiting for a spirit that may not even come for a visit at the darkest hours of the night.
He loved the man and wanted to spend the rest of his life with him. He could not fulfill the man’s ideals, so he wanted to find a compromise and to do what he could for the man.
The first thing Shen Liangsheng did when he went into the office the next morning was ring Kobayakawa and tell him about his intention to sell the factory.
For the past two years, the Shigekawa faction had been walking all over Kobayakawa preventing him from accomplishing much. His father had not been satisfied with him and was planning on transferring him back to Peip’ing for further instructions. Shen Liangsheng notifying him first was his attempt to do one last favour for the Japanese man in order to clear the books.
Acquiring the Shen factory would count as a small achievement, so Kobayakawa was more than willing. Of course, he pushed the price lower on account of the damage during the flood. Shen Liangsheng did not want to waste time haggling but was also wary of raising suspicion by being too eager to consent. After several days of bartering, they finally reached a mutually agreeable sum. They drafted the documents and closed the deal with signatures and stamps from both parties.
After seeing Kobayakawa out, Chou followed his boss back into the office. Locking the door behind him, the secretary lingered by the couch apparently in deliberation whether to speak or not. The company was largely founded in order to manage the factory, and now that the factory was sold, there was no longer any need for its existence. Shen Liangsheng thought the secretary was worried about his job, so he spoke first. “Rest assured. I’ve spoken with the Japanese, and they need a Chinese manager who’s familiar with the facilities. It’s a great opportunity, so I recommended you for the managerial–”
“Sir.” Unexpectedly, Chou interrupted his boss before continuing in a tentative tone, “I understand what you mean…. And that’s what I wanted to speak with you about. I’m not too thrilled about taking that job.”
“Lao-Chou,” Shen Liangsheng started humorously. “You’ve been working for me for all these years. There’s no need to be polite with me.”
He knew the secretary was a glib and unctuous man and thought he was using this opportunity to save his boss’s face by feigning loyalty. With that said, Shen Liangsheng sincerely wanted to give the man one last assist considering the man had served him for eight years.
“No, sir….” Chou chuckled weakly. “I’m not being polite.”
“Then what is it? If there’s a problem, you can tell me.” Shen Liangsheng thought he had a good eye for people. He not only knew that Chou was smooth-tongued but also that deep down this man, like himself, only had profits in mind. All these years of loyalty were largely because working for Shen Liangsheng proved very lucrative. He strongly doubted that the secretary had no interest in the incredible opportunity being offered now. He guessed there must have been some concern stopping the man, so he wanted an honest answer in order to solve the problem and get this over with.
“I know how you look at me, sir,” Chou began speaking more firmly. “I beg your pardon for saying this, but you probably look down on me. And to be totally honest, I kind of look down on myself, as well….”
“Don’t say that, Lao-Chou.” Shen Liangsheng frowned at the secretary’s confession as he left his seat and walked to face the man. At the same time, he lit a cigarette and then passed another to Chou. He did think of this man as a clever minor character in the background who was involved in dubious dealings behind his back. However, it was plain to see that it was all for his family, so Shen Liangsheng turned a blind eye to the secretary’s shady business as long as it was reasonable. Rather than saying he looked down on Chou, it would be more accurate to say he never even looked at the man as an equal.
“What I’m trying to say is I’ve been working for you, and I do what you do, sir. Now that you’re quitting, I’m quitting, too.” Chou’s expression had been full of doubt a few minutes ago but now appeared determined. “Please don’t laugh at this almost forty-year-old man only now trying to find his backbone. At the end of the day I am Chinese, so I won’t be taking the job.”
Shen Liangsheng was slightly taken aback, and the two men stood in silence. After finishing their smoke, Shen Liangsheng patted his shoulder and said, “All right then. We’ll figure the rest out in time.”
Shen Liangsheng had listened to many Buddhist lectures with his father and knew of the Buddhist enlightenment, but he did not believe in the Buddha and thus did not believe in the Buddhist ways. However, on this day it was as though he opened his eyes and observed –
perhaps not enlightenment but more the simple fact that, after experiencing empathetic pain during the flood, the veils over his eyes had been drawn back one by one
– and having observed, he saw himself, saw the others, saw his country, his home.
That night at home, Shen Liangsheng told Ch’in Ching about having signed the papers and sold the factory. Just to be on the safe side, he had to refrain from touching the money from the sale, but he had several offshore accounts that he had prepared in anticipation of emigrating. He was considering donating some of these funds using a front as an overseas Chinese if there existed a discreet way to arrange the transaction.
“Shen Liangsheng….” Ch’in Ching had just finished their bedroom exercise and was lying there panting when the other man began talking about the serious topic. He wasn’t sure what to say. “If it’s ‘cause of me…just know you don’t have to….”
“When will you stop having such a wild imagination?” Shen Liangsheng joked as he pulled the man into his arms. He then proceeded to tell the man about Chou and what he thought of it.
Ch’in Ching stayed silent even after Shen Liangsheng finished. Then he abruptly announced his discovery, “You’ve never talked to me like that before.”
And it was a valid one. Shen Liangsheng was a distrustful spirit, and even when the two had been at the best point of their relationship, he had been careful and restrained with his words for the most part. But now he said whatever was on his mind and was so frank that Ch’in Ching had a little trouble adjusting.
“That was before. It’s different now.” Shen Liangsheng understood what the other man was implying. He flashed a mischievous look at Ch’in Ching before leaning into his ear and teasing him. It took Ch’in Ching quite a while to process and retort, “Who said? I never agreed to that.”
“Whether you agree or not…that’s the way it’ll be….” Shen Liangsheng suddenly shifted over and spread the man’s legs apart sinking his renewed erection back into the entrance that was still slick. He aimed his thrusts at the sensitive nub inside and watched as Ch’in Ching’s member jolted to attention. He then brought the man’s hand to the place where they were connected and asked in his ear, “Do you really not agree? Can you live without it?”
Ch’in Ching let out a wanton moan and rocked his hips so that the man could get deeper inside. He fondled with the man’s sac before looking him right in the eyes. “It’s you I can’t live without.”
Shen Liangsheng stopped what he was doing and planted a kiss on his eye, his tongue sliding along the lashes until it lapped lovingly at the rouge dot by his eye.
– Of course it was different.
He loved him and wanted to spend the rest of his life with him.
At the end of September, Ch’in Ching brought Shen Liangsheng to a secret meeting with Lao-Wu. After the three discussed the main matters, Shen Liangsheng spoke up again after glancing at Ch’in Ching. “Mr. Wu, I’ve another favour I would like to ask of you.”
Due to the flood in Tientsin, Lao-Wu had not had the chance to bring up the subject to Ch’in Ching about moving out in the fall. But just because the vice principal did not bring it up did not mean Ch’in Ching should pretend the problem didn’t exist. He had to inform the older man that he had no plans to leave, but he felt so guilty he didn’t know how to start.
Knowing this, Shen Liangsheng wanted to take this opportunity to do it for him. “I’ll be honest with you, sir. Hsiao-Ch’in and I are actually distant relatives, and he should really be calling me piaoke accordingly. My aunt asked me to take care of him before she passed away, but he never remembers to discuss things with me before deciding. Regarding what you’d discussed with him previously, I’m earnestly too concerned to let him be so far away from home. There is no wine here, but please allow me to ask for forgiveness with tea instead.”
Ch’in Ching had mentioned to Lao-Wu only that Shen Liangsheng was a trustworthy friend, so he was surprised to hear the young master lie so blatantly. He had to keep calm, so he just kept his head down and drank his tea.
On the other hand, Lao-Wu did not react negatively and actually said to Ch’in Ching after a round of politesse with Shen Liangsheng, “Hsiao-Ch’in, our school is looking to expand some more. It’d be good if you stayed. You can work with me and make our school bigger and better. When this generation grows up, they’ll become the new lifeblood of our country.”
“You hear that?” Shen Liangsheng shot another look at the schoolmaster. “You wouldn’t listen to me, but you have to listen to your principal, right?”
Meanwhile, Ch’in Ching was sitting there like a cat on hot bricks because he feared that the vice principal smelled something fishy. He knew that despite Lao-Wu’s open and cheerful attitude with the staff, the older man had a deadly sharp eye for things from all his years working underground. Afraid to even breathe too loudly, he mumbled an affirmation.
“My mom asked you to take care of me? You have some guts to say that.” Only when they were on the way back to Cambridge Road did Ch’in Ching start to jokingly scold Shen Liangsheng. “If my mom found out about you, she’d beat you like there was no tomorrow!”
“No, she wouldn’t,” Shen Liangsheng replied calmly. “Isn’t there a saying that goes, ‘the more a woman looks at her son-in-law, the more she takes a liking to him?’ ”
When he got no response, he looked over to find the schoolmaster laughing silently.
“What’re you laughing at?”
“Oh, piaoke, stop bickering and watch the road. You missed the turn!”
The lie was of course a lie, but Shen Liangsheng really did want to take care of him. Having sold the factory, he didn’t want to dabble in light industry anymore because he undoubtedly would come into contact with the Japanese were he to get anywhere near those areas. Shen Liangsheng discussed this with Chou and decided to start some type of everyday business such as department stores, the target not being to make a profit but to have something to do.
And since he decided to leave the limelight and lead a stable life, he found the manor on Cambridge Road to be too conspicuous. He wanted to move to Maoken with Ch’in Ching. The ownership of the properties there had not been transferred when they broke up previously and still belonged to Ch’in Ching. After two whole years, there were probably several layers of dust on the white sheets covering the furniture. Shen Liangsheng took Ch’in Ching over one day. As expected, when they opened the door the air was so stale and musty that it made both of them cough.
Shen Liangsheng stepped in first, heading towards the windows to open them. The floor was covered in dust too, and he left tracks with every step he took. Ch’in Ching followed suit, and as he faced the other way to shut the door, he heard the other man.
“I’ll find someone to knock down the walls between the two units. That way we’ll have more space.”
“Fine.” Ch’in Ching answered as he joined Shen Liangsheng in opening all the windows that could be opened. He came upon a short shelf and hesitantly lifted the sheet over it. He rubbed his fingertips on the carved borders.
“Now, now. You’re getting your hands all dirty,” Shen Liangsheng walked over and reminded him like he would a child while patting the dust off from the man’s hand.
“I remember we picked this together,” Ch’in Ching laughed. “But I haven’t even seen it inside the house.”
Shen Liangsheng fell quiet. He was suddenly aware of the distance they had covered to arrive at the place they now were. He interlocked their fingers tightly and teased softly, “Well, I planned for this to be our honeymoon suite…so how about we put up a few ‘Just Married’ banners?”
“Oh, stop it already,” Ch’in Ching grumbled but pulled the taller man’s head down and planted a gentle kiss.
The brisk late October wind gushed in through the wide-open windows blowing the dust up into the air. As the cold air and dust danced around them, they were locked in a silent kiss with their eyes closed. When their eyes opened again, it was still the two of them, but the floors were sparkling clean and a porcelain vase stood on the short shelf. Ch’in Ching was wiping at it with a cloth, and when he finished, he wiped the shelf as well. Shen Liangsheng had come out from the study to get a cup of water when he spotted the other man wiping at the shelf meticulously and found it amusing. He wrapped an arm around the man and kissed him.
“The Chous are our friends. They’ve come over for dinner more times than I can count. Must you always clean the house whenever someone comes over? You’re usually not this diligent.”
“If you’re not going to help me, fine, but at least don’t get in my way,” Ch’in Ching chided. He was already frustrated with the shelf – it was Baroque. Dust loved to settle in the corners and edges and once settled in it became difficult to get back out. “Go get your water in the kitchen. And while you’re there, check if the tungku are ready, and if they are, put them in the strainer.”
It was now the summer of Year Thirty of the Republic. The road outside was overhung with the luxuriant green boughs of trees full of noisy cicadas taking turns singing.
Since Shen Liangsheng ended his former business operations, he had stopped interacting with most of the friends he had met through the vanity fair. At first, some still had memories of the old glory of the Shen house and spoke pitifully of Shen Sr.’s misfortunes. The man had two sons, but both were useless. One died, and the other lost his estate. However, once enough time passed, there was no one left who still remembered the Shen house that was no more.
In the last two years, Shen Liangsheng and Chou joined hands and opened two average sized restaurants. He provided the funding, and Chou was responsible for running them. It was nothing grand because they were simply looking for stability. No matter what happened, people had to eat and drink. Additionally, he began importing some foreign goods with an American friend residing in China, mainly as a diversion.
Chou had always been aware of his relationship with Ch’in Ching, and now even Mrs. Chou knew. She was brought up in a fairly affluent family and later married Chou. She had never been through much hardship and still kept a few girlish traits at the age of forty. She listened to her husband tell the story, and because of his colourful and exaggerated depiction, she had the impression that it was somewhat a legend. When she first met Ch’in Ching, she looked up to the man with complete awe, observing the two men as though they were two characters in a story. She even told her husband that looking at them was unreal, like watching a play.
Unfortunately, as the two families became closer the actors came off the stage, and her awe became admiration. Every time they visited the men she would complain to her husband, “Look at Mr. Shen. See how good he is to Mr. Ch’in? You need to start treating me better.”
“What do you mean?” Chou would always retort unhappily. “Mr. Shen doesn’t help out at home at all, but I at least do the dishes.”
In reality, Chou was stretching the truth. In the beginning, Shen Liangsheng had not wished to have an extra person in the house since the property was not that spacious and only kept the tight-lipped Russian woman. She would clean the house a few times a week but did not live with them. Nearly a year had passed when the woman quit. Shen Liangsheng did not hire another worker and willingly helped Ch’in Ching with the chores – tidying the house, buying groceries, washing the dishes. They lived as any other couple would, and he did not feel the difficulty of easing into a life without servants.
However, they were two men after all, a taboo relationship. This completely restricted their social circle, and they only had regular interaction with the Lius and the Chous.
Hsiao-Liu had married early in the previous year and brought a baby Liu to this world a few months ago. Ch’in Ching and Shen Liangsheng became the boy’s godfathers, and the latter gave a hefty sum as the boy’s Hundredth Day present. Hsiao-Liu kept saying he couldn’t take it but accepted it after Shen Liangsheng convinced him in his usual cool tone. “It’s for the boy. Don’t be polite with me now.”
Later, the new father asked his childhood friend in privacy, “If you two go on like this…well, I know you, but what ‘bout him? You going to watch his bloodline end like that?”
Ch’in Ching had not answered, but that did not mean the matter did not remain on his mind. On the one hand, he couldn’t bear the thought of Shen Liangsheng not having children to inherit his name and really wanted to ask the man if he had any thoughts. On the other hand, he had no idea how to bring this subject up.
“Watch the knife. Don’t cut yourself.”
Because the Chous were coming over for dinner today, Shen Liangsheng joined Ch’in Ching in the kitchen.
He usually did not cook, but Ch’in Ching’s culinary skills only went so far. Shen Liangsheng did not complain, but he would sometimes play around with the recipe books and then ask for tips and tricks from the chefs at the restaurants. The result was that now he could cook better than Ch’in Ching. Thus, whenever they had guests over, Ch’in Ching would just prepare the ingredients and then let Shen Liangsheng take over.
Ch’in Ching had finished cutting the stems off of the tungku, so he began watching the man slice the ham. Shen Liangsheng neatly covered the lean meat with shallow criss-crosses before adding Shaohing wine and water into the tray and placing the entire thing in the steamer. Ch’in Ching heaved an exaggerated sigh – Shen Liangsheng’s ham and tungku was delicious, but the man just didn’t bother making it for him regularly.
“What? It’s not going to cook faster just because you stare at it,” Shen Liangsheng teased after seeing the other man’s intent gaze on the steamer.
“Nothing. I was just thinking the man upstairs isn’t being fair letting me get all the good things in life.” Ch’in Ching quickly began to suck up to Shen Liangsheng to ensure tasty food in his near future. “Not only is our Ah-Liang handsome, he’s smart and picks everything up without breaking a sweat. Oh, how brilliant.”
Shen Liangsheng glanced at the man from the corner of his eye, and unwilling to encourage this behaviour, he decided to turn back to the counter to prepare the sauce for braised fish.
“What are you rolling your eyes at me for? I speak the truth.” Ch’in Ching was almost thirty years old now, but because he had been doted on by Shen Liangsheng for the past two years, he acted childish with the other man even more so than before. He flanked the man from behind and hugged him around the waist, speaking into the man’s ear, “Tell me, is there anything you can’t do?”
The taller man let the spoiled rascal wreck mischief behind him as he finished mixing the sauce. He took a small spoonful and stuck it in Ch’in Ching’s mouth. “Too salty?”
“No, just right,” Ch’in Ching answered with the spoon still in his mouth. Seeing Shen Liangsheng turn around to face him, he couldn’t stop his fearless self from leaning forward and poking the man’s face with the spoon handle.
“You’re right. There’s nothing I can’t do.” Shen Liangsheng took the spoon out of his mouth and leaned in for a kiss. Then he joked, “But I can’t have babies, so I was counting on you for that.”
Now that Shen Liangsheng broached it, Ch’in Ching was reminded of what his friend had said to him. He fell silent and decided this was a good chance to discuss it with the man. He started tentatively, “Speaking of which, look at our godson. He’s already crawling. Haven’t you thought about….”
“About what?” Shen Liangsheng slapped his butt lightly and continued to tease him while keeping a straight face himself. “Don’t tell me you want to have my babies. Is that even possible?”
“I’m being serious here,” Ch’in Ching mumbled with his head down.
“Save it, you.” Shen Liangsheng didn’t know what Hsiao-Liu had said, but he could tell it was troubling Ch’in Ching. He added more sternly, “Don’t worry about things you don’t need to worry about. You’ll just end up tiring yourself out.”
Seeing Ch’in Ching quiet with his head down, Shen Liangsheng patted his head lightly.
“And you know I don’t like children. Noisy little things don’t leave you any peace and quiet. Plus, I have enough on my hands taking care of you. I don’t have it in me for another child in the family.”
“Oh, that’s the ham.” Shen Liangsheng made a seemingly careless remark after sniffing the air, but Ch’in Ching felt tears welling up. He stuck his face in the taller man’s neck and asked in a muffled voice, “When’ll it be ready?”
“Hmm, when, you ask?” Shen Liangsheng caught the heavy nasal tones in the man’s voice and brought him into his embrace as though he really were cheering a child up. He brushed his hair while rattling on about nothing in particular. “It has to steam for an hour…then you add the tungku soup and steam for another hour…and then….”
Ch’in Ching listened to the man’s low, soothing voice explaining to him how to make the dish, and very soon his tears broke free. He found it embarrassing that he was acting like this at his age, but he was simply filled with so much joy that he couldn’t care less about the waterworks.
He really felt that he had received everything good the world had to offer.
And it all was contained in these four words:
They met each other.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Chinese family tree!
SLS being Shen Liangsheng, the green circles are cousins who would call him "piaoke" if he were the elder, and the orange circle is the relation he claims to have with Ch'in's mother.
On the "Just Married" banner
It is tradition to put up red paper cut out in the shape of 囍 which is made up of two 喜, the character that means joy or delight. This resembles the joy that both families involved in the wedding will experience.
I swapped this with the close English equivalent in the dialogue to allow for a smooth interaction.
For more information:
Hundredth Day celebration
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
ayszhang: I honestly cried a little 'cause it was so sweet... TuT
Note: I couldn't find any pictures online of the dish Shen made, but instructions in Chinese are available. It is called 火方冬菇 (huo fang dong gu), literally ham squares shiitake.
Till Death Do Us Part - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.