SIDE STORY 4.1
Six months after we got married, Li Chuan’s health became stable, so he started working again. We continued to live in Kunming; Li Chuan flew to Beijing to take care of business matters for CGP twice a week, but he mostly completed his sketches at home in Kunming. My workload also increased at the translation company; I did less written translations, and more verbal translations, which required me to travel more.
My coworkers thought that I would quit my job and become a full time housewife after getting married, but I could never get used to not working, and Li Chuan also respected my decision.
In July of that year, Li Chuan was invited to Sicily, Italy to attend an annual conference for architects. He had to go back to Switzerland to complete a commercial design project before that, while I was in the middle of a government funded traveling project, so we were separated for two months. Once the traveling project was over, I requested for two months of vacation to return to Switzerland. Li Chuan had already handed in his sketches and was in Sicily. He asked his dad’s driver, Fehn, to pick me up at the airport, and told me to wait four days at home for him before he flew back to reunite with me. He actually really wanted to sneak out of the meeting, but his presentation was scheduled on the very last day. Furthermore, after some of his past collaboration partners heard that he had “returned,” he was invited to dinners, so he couldn’t leave.
The Zurich airport hadn’t changed much.
The airplane arrived on time. I didn’t want to have to wait for my luggage at the airport, so I only brought my smallest sized suitcase; it carried my laptop, which contained my incomplete translation drafts and a few newly released novels that I could read to kill time. Everything was available at home, so I didn’t even bring any clothes to change into.
I crossed the border and started searching for Fehn among the crowd at the exit. I couldn’t see him anywhere. There were many Swiss people standing in front of me, and I couldn’t remember what Fehn looked like.
I suddenly spotted a Chinese looking face.
His eyes were calm, but he immediately grinned the moment he saw me.
It was Li Chuan!!
I sprinted towards him in surprise. He embraced me tightly and kissed my forehead. He looked at me from head to toe, “What tour were you on? You look so dark.”
“You shouldn’t use ‘dark,’ you should use tan-coloured (‘Mai Se’).”
“Okay, you look so tan (‘Mai’).”
“Mr. Wang, ‘tan’ is not used that way——” I teased.
He wore an all-black suit with a skinny silver-grey tie. His hair was neatly combed. It was probably because he had to attend the conference, so he was wearing his prosthetic leg and holding only a cane.
Didn’t he say he couldn’t be here? He actually arrived at Zurich before me.
“The conference ended?” I asked.
“Nope, I snuck out to pick you up. Come with me to Sicily, okay?” he pulled my hand, “There’s a big arcade room at the bottom of the hotel, you can play games there. Once I’m free, I’ll take you to see the volcano——an active volcano, one that has smokes coming out of it.”
I smiled bitterly as I watched him beg me like a kid.
Li Chuan was truly a workaholic; once he started a project, he would work day and night on it, and forget to eat normally. If he became too busy, he would end up eating only one thing: tuna sandwich. Under my supervision, he would work and rest more normally as I would tell him not to stay up too long at night. He really slimmed down a size without me accompanying him for these past two months.
Li Chuan knew that I didn’t like unfamiliar places, especially conferences, dinner parties, and other formal social events. I knew nothing of his work in Europe, and had only seen a couple of his architectural design sketches. CGP’s head office was in Zurich; Li Chuan hadn’t been back to work once after we got married, and I had only accompanied him to his company’s annual banquet once. Many people spoke to me in English articulately while I tailed after Li Chuan. I would be tired after socializing for a bit, so Li Chuan often took over the conversation.
I sighed, “You didn’t have to come get me. Wouldn’t it have been easier if you just bought me a transfer flight? When did you arrive?”
“I got here thirty-minutes before you,” he smiled, “I just made it to pick you up. I skipped this morning’s meeting.”
Li Chuan was very German-influenced; he was always well planned. But after recovering from his illness, he became more indecisive; he sometimes would do nonsensical things out of impulse. He must have had to rush this time and couldn’t spare a second. I suddenly felt troubled as I remembered last time when he had to cross the border; it was time consuming for disabled people, especially after the 911 incident in America. Even when Li Chuan had brought all the permits with him, he was still requested to take off his shoes like everyone else to check; taking off shoes for someone who had gone through amputation was very difficult. Li Chuan, who was rather sensitive, would always comment every time, “(English) This is so embarrassing.” The metal detector would obviously sound when he passed through it wearing his prosthetic leg; some security personnel would ask him to go into a room to take it off if they had a high suspicion. Li Chuan had already gotten used to this from travelling. Most airport staff members were nice, and he was understanding of those who suspected him of arming a bomb on his prosthetic leg. After all, bombs could be armed inside a body, let alone a prosthetic leg.
I looked around and asked, “Hey, where’s your luggage?”
“I didn’t bring any,” he patted his wallet, “and only brought my passport and wallet.”
He did indeed snuck out without any preparation; his forehead was full of sweat.
I touched his face while my heart ached, “Are you tired?”
“I’m alright,” he immediately took over my suitcase. I didn’t fight it over with him.
Li Chuan looked at his watch and tugged me to walk quickly to the terminal with him, “We must hurry, we have to get on the plane.”
When we arrived in Catania of Sicily, it was 2pm. The hotel was quiet. Li Chuan said that everyone was given free time off from the conference in the afternoon, so many went to tour around.
He opened his room with the card key. Li Chuan dropped my suitcase and pressed me against the back of the door.
He sealed my mouth with a deep kiss; he was a bit rough. My head twisted around and I struggled in his embrace as I almost suffocated. He let go of me to allow me to breathe, “Xiao Qiu, it’s been long since I’ve last seen you. You must be good.”
“No, I won’t be good! I want to challenge you!” I cried.
My words made him angry. He pressed my head down with his hand and bit my ear fiercely; he put my ear in his mouth and fiddled it with his tongue. It hurt and tickled at the same time. I tried to break free with force, but he grabbed my arms and wouldn’t let them move. He lowered his head and continued kissing me. I cooperated this time, locked hands with him, and kissed him without holding back. Our faces rubbed against each other, and our noses stroked together; he giggled from the tickling feeling, and let me take off his top and unbuckle his belt. His sweat carried a scent of almond. I caressed his waist and ran my fingers across his stomach. He straightened his back, and his stomach pushed towards me like a flower stem that was gradually standing up after being placed in water.
“The bed will be more comfortable.” Li Chuan shook his head. “How about the sofa then?” He shook his head again.
We fell to the hard floor. Li Chuan entered me gently. He pressed his forehead against mine with his eyes open and said, “Hardwood floor sure is hard.”
I didn’t feel the pain, but I panted softly under him, “Will we fracture our bones like this?”
“The sofa will be better. Let’s move to the sofa,” he said.
“Let go of me first then,” I said.
“……Maybe next time.”
Li Chuan always had a refreshing and elusive scent on him. He continued gently yet vigorously. The air conditioner blew out a cool breeze while the ceiling fan spun steadily. The room was permeated with the unique scent of Mediterranean olives. We rolled and twisted on the cherry hardwood floor like two opposing warriors. The floor creaked as our bones pressed against it. There were no special moves or techniques; we immersed ourselves in the most primal form of enjoyment like two wild animals. Our cool bodies became hot with sweat trickling down. Li Chuan embraced me as he gave his last effort. A flow like electricity filled my whole body. He let go and caressed my face while deep in thought.
I sniffed the smell of pine on his fingertips and said softly, “Li Chuan, I might get pregnant this time. It’s not my safe period.”
His body trembled from being startled.
After a moment of silence, he shook his head, “It’s not possible. I’ve had many radiotherapies, which affected my prostate gland. My sperm count and sperm activity have been reduced, so the chances of me fathering a child….is close to zero.”
Li Chuan had already told me about this before we got married, but I had continued hoping. It was just that because I brought it up again, I reminded him of his sadness.
“It’s okay, it’s okay, I don’t care,” I quickly said, “We don’t have to have a child, we can always adopt one!”
He lay on the floor and stared blankly at the ceiling without saying a word. I got up, went to his bedroom to fetch his cane, and turned on the water in the bathroom. After the tub was filled up, I went to Li Chuan, but he was still looking absent-minded while lying on his side by the wall with his pajamas spread on top of him.
“The tub is ready,” I hugged him and pressed my face on his chest.
“Xiao Qiu,” he suddenly spoke in a low voice, “I also want a baby.”
I covered his mouth, leaned downwards, and kissed the scars on his body; his leg was gone from below. His body became stiff and his muscles were tight as if he was on his defense; they relaxed after a few seconds and became limp.
“I’m sorry——” I murmured.
Besides his doctors and his father, Li Chuan had never shown anyone his sadness. In the year that he had the accident, he lost his mom, and then his leg, which was traumatizing to both his body and mind. He had to receive radiotherapy, causing him to lose his hair and appetite. He thought that his scars were frightening even till now. Other than me, he would not allow anyone else to see them.
“Xiao Qiu——” his voice became serious, “We need to talk.”
“Tell me, I’m listening.”
“Stop joking around,” he patted my head, “and sit on the sofa.”
“Am I joking around? This is called the life of a married couple.”
He couldn’t help but take a deep breath; he didn’t know where to put his hands as I provoked him. After a while, his body stopped shaking, but his back was still stiff. I stood up, wrapped my arms around him, and let his head rest on my shoulder.
“(English) Honey……” he wanted to say something, but stopped.
“I just want it, okay?”
“I want to talk to you about having a baby.”
“It’s not entirely impossible.”
My eyes were wide open.
“When I had my first chemotherapy at seventeen, thinking about the impacts to fertility, I accepted my doctor’s suggestion and stored my sperms. If you really want to have a baby, we can try IVF.”
“(English) In-vitro Fertilization, how do I say it in Chinese?”
“In-vitro fertilization.” I started calculating, “Your sperms from when you were seventeen? It’s been nineteen years then, can they still be used? Yogurts can’t even be eaten after a month.”
“Normally, if they’ve been kept well, sperms can live for thirty years.”
My heart began to pound, “Then……Hm……is quality also guaranteed?”
He rested on my shoulder and didn’t say a word. He said slowly after a while, “They shouldn’t be too bad. Think about it, if I was diagnosed with cancer when I was nine, we would really have no hope. But you shouldn’t get too hopeful either, the chance of success in using sperms from this kind of age is only thirty percent.”
I grinned and started to tease, “Ah……sperms from seventeen, that means they are from a seventeen year-old Li Chuan! Ah! Seventeen year-old Li Chuan must have been a very lively young man.” I would admit that I was drooling a bit. I had seen photos of Li Chuan playing tennis when he was young before; he was pretty and handsome, and glowing with confidence and pride. When Li Chuan was seventeen, he suffered from illness, so he never took full-body photos again. The photo we took together in Kunming was the one and only.
“Don’t get too excited,” he twisted my ear, “IVF is a tedious process and it’ll impact your mood greatly.”
His smile had a tint of sadness. He didn’t sound too passionate, and might have sounded rather cold.
Since he was able to answer me so professionally, he must have done a lot of research.
My heart shivered.
——Li Chuan didn’t want to have kids. Even though he had longed for having a complete family, for someone who didn’t know how long he could live, he didn’t want his kids to grow up without a father.
I smiled and didn’t continue.