Till Death Do Us Part (Ch.1) BY Tangstory [ENG TRANS] BY ayszhang
So that in thirty years our ten digits may intertwine even more tightly
So that in seven decades our fantasies may bloom with even more intensity
–Lin Xi, Yam Bak
The chill still lingered in early March, but daylight stretched on longer. At six o'clock, twilight had only just begun to set in after the showing. The tickets to the T'ienkung Cinemas were cheap, and the seats were seven-, if not eight-, tenths full on regular days. Furthermore, it was the one year anniversary of the death of a Shanghainese actress named Juan,1 so despite Tientsin being far up north, the major cinemas all dug out copies of the belle's films in time for reruns and sold-out showings.
T'ienkung was showing Wild Flowers which was first screened when Shen Liangsheng was still studying in England. He had seen a few photographs of the cast in a local Chinese-run newspaper. Now, the flower girl on the screen whose voice was more beautiful than that of a nightingale had long become mere ash, and the story of star-crossed lovers reaching a happy ending had become a joke.
After the screening, the place was swarming with people all clambering towards the exit. However, since Sun Ch'uanfang had been assassinated at the Chüshihlin, all the warlords situated in Tientsin, despite their different backgrounds, had become cautious. Even Shen Liangsheng was forced by Shen Sr. to bring bodyguards along whenever he left the house, and therefore it did not matter to him how crowded it was. With a bodyguard on each side clearing the path for him, Shen Liangsheng was not unlike Moses crossing the Red Sea.
He was nearing the entrance when a commotion from behind caught his attention. Someone barked in the local tongue, “If yer in such a rush, why don'tcha just go to hell while yer at it!”
Shen Liangsheng looked over his shoulders to see that someone had lost something and was bent at the waist searching while being swept back and forth by the others. If he were to trip and fall, a stampede or something of its kind would surely ensue.
Finding the man quite pitiful, Shen Liangsheng found it in his heart after a moment's hesitation to help, taking several steps back with his bodyguards to fence off a space of peace and quiet for him.
“If you could move out of the way… Um, sir, your foot…” The man kept his back and head bent while mumbling on in what was actually proper, unaccented standard speech. Sure enough, when he found what he was looking for and straightened himself, he had the look of a well-mannered and educated person. A young man judging from the face, he was tall and thin, clad in a blue traditional lined robe and carrying a natural smile about his lips.
“Thank you very much,” the man spoke first, expressing his gratitude and cracking a joke while he was at it. “I figure we could cook up some sardine stew with people squashed in like this.”
“You're welcome.” Shen Liangsheng nodded coolly noticing the thing in his hand: a pair of black-framed glasses. A lens was shattered and a temple was missing. Although recovered, they would no longer be of use.
“Ch'in-hsiung,where did you disappear off to? I only lost sight of you for a second there.”
The crowd had begun to disperse by now. A round-faced young man pushed his way over as he called out, but his steps faltered when he spotted the men across from his friend.
“I'm fine, Hsiao-Liu,” the man first answered his friend before bidding Shen Liangsheng farewell. “Mister…” He probably did not know how to address him but he did not inquire either, only nodding with a smile. “Hope to see you again.”
“Enjoy your evening,” Shen Liangsheng replied, and the two went their separate ways. Curiously, Shen Liangsheng stopped in his tracks and looked back after taking ten or so steps from the theatre entrance.
The street lights had just come to life for the night. Shops lined the congested Twenty-First Avenue, yet he was able to spot with one look the back of that person from earlier. His slender figure fitted in a thin lined robe was taller than the more sturdy-shaped companion beside him by at least two heads and was bent slightly to listen to his friend’s words while walking. The figure that looked grey in the twilight merged in with the crowd to gradually disappear from sight.
“Did you know that man, Ch'in-hsiung?”
The topic of discussion was none other than the man behind them who had halted and turned to look. The curious Hsiao-Liu followed with another question: “Then did you ask for his name?”
“You can tell from his dress that he’s not the same as us. Cottoning up to people just isn't what I do.”
“Quit being a smart aleck, Ch'in Ching,” Hsiao-Liu joked and continued with an excited expression. “Well, I think I saw him on the Tientsin Commercial Gazette. He looked something like the second son of Shen K'echen.”
Since the fall of the Peiyang government, retired warlords who holed up in Tientsin were as plentiful as salmon during the run. Some still clung on with hope, believing that Tientsin was not a great deal off from Peip'ing, and they could still have the chance to rise again if the opportunity presented itself. Others had given up their political careers for commercial ones, and Shen K’echen would count as the top dog amongst them.
“You must've gotten the wrong man. If he really was Mr. Shen, he would be over at the Hsiaopailou. Why would he be running around Ch'üanyeh Bazaar anyway?”
“Well, P'ingan's always had its nose in the air and never screens home made films. You never know, maybe Mr. Shen was Ms. Juan's fan and came specially to commemorate the lady.”
Ch'in Ching did not continue the banter and instead, with a depressed expression that spelled “darling, I'm so sorry,” focused on his glasses that had a missing face and a missing leg.
“My goodness, could you please look at where you're going?” Hsiao-Liu grabbed onto his sleeve so that he wouldn't lose the man again in the blink of an eye.
Indeed, Ch'in Ching's eyes were not that great, and he constantly squinted to see clearly. Without the frame, the vermillion mole by his eye that had been there since birth became even more apparent.
On the subject of this mole, Ch'in Ching had been teased by a good friend in his class when he was still in school at Peip'ing Normal University: "This mole of yours is truly distinctive, and it's here out of all places. It's obvious that you were a lady in your last life, and your lover made a mark with rouge so he could find you to continue your love after reincarnation."
Ch'in Ching may not have had good vision, but his temperament was superb, and he loved jokes. Upon hearing this, he was not offended at all and only said with a straight face, "Believing in superstition just isn't what I do." He then drew close to his friend and exclaimed with passion, "Yet I couldn't help but believe it e'er I met you. My dear sir, dost thou know how many years I have awaited thee?" This made the friend jump away in fright and wave his hands dismissively while laughing. "This most difficult to return the favours of a beauty. Twould be best if thou forgetest me!"
Shen Liangsheng had stopped for so long that the bodyguards could not help feeling uneasy, suspecting that trouble was upon them. Their hands reached underneath their coats for their guns.
"Nothing. Let's go."
When they came to the parked car, one person jumped in the front while the other stood by the car and waited until Shen Liangsheng had entered before joining him in the back.
Shen Liangsheng used to drive a Chevrolet, but ever since the incident with Sun Ch'uanfang, Shen Sr. forced him to change to a Dodge that had been remodelled with bulletproof steel. One could easily see how much he cared for his younger son.
However, the reason behind this was inseparable from a bit of unpleasant history. Shen Liangsheng's mother was half-Portuguese, and her job was not exactly proper – a high-class prostitute when it really came down to it. Shen K'echen recognized her son but he couldn't marry her because he could not afford to anger his in-laws. Therefore, he resorted to keeping her elsewhere. At first he provided some allowance money, but when she became addicted to opium he didn't bother with her anymore fearing that her spending would become a black hole.
The woman, who had become frail and bony from the addiction, came to the Shen household every now and then to cause some trouble. She kept yelping Mrs. Shen's name and something about ‘I'll never let this go! Ah-Liang, if you still think of me as your mom, promise me you'll never let her off easy!'
Out of regard for his past feelings, Shen K'echen merely had her removed each time. At one point, she came so many times that Shen Liangsheng had a hard time in the house. He was sent off to England at the age of fourteen. They called it studying abroad, but it was really the same as banishment. The family paid the tuition for the first two years, and the rest he had to pay for himself through working part-time. He returned after completing his education, not to go back to his roots and ancestry and not to avenge his mother. Honestly, he didn't feel much towards his birth mother, towards Shen Sr. or towards his home country. It was rather because, after evaluating the situation, he found that he would have more opportunities back home rather than struggling by himself in a foreign land which might not even prove fruitful.
Especially after the downfall of the Peiyang government and, consequently, the once untouchable in-laws of Mrs. Shen, Mrs. Shen could no longer act high and mighty in front of Shen K'echen and left this world depressed before Shen Liangsheng returned home. The widowed Shen K'echen resided in Tientsin at the age of sixty, and his eldest son was a bit of a disappointment. He would dream in the darkest hours of the night about the woman he had loved and feel apologetic towards his younger son. When Shen Liangsheng wanted to come back, he welcomed him with open arms.
Having been through much hardship abroad, Shen Liangsheng held himself perfectly as a young master back in his homeland, but inside was actually a person who would do whatever it takes. He came back at this time with the plan to make as much money as he could before leaving for good. The world was a big place, and it didn't matter where he was.
He never thought of any place as home, so every place was foreign.Thus he didn't have any ties.
Shen Liangsheng's elder brother was originally "a bit of a disappointment" and felt more or less threatened when Shen Liangsheng returned. The two brothers got along just fine on the surface, but the elder brother was utterly defeated in the shadow games. The tiny bit of will that sprang to life was doused in water, and he grew more and more depressed spending most of his days at the racing track. Later on, he became addicted to gambling, specifically pelota tournaments, and every time he went home it was to ask for money. In the end, "a bit of a disappointment" became "a complete disappointment." Shen K'echen's health declined by the year, and Shen Liangsheng had over half of the business and investments of the Shen family under his control by his fourth year back. To leave or not to leave, and when to do so, was all up to the situation at hand.
This was an embarrassing bit, but there were the occasional few who knew the inside scoop. When they discussed it amongst themselves, their comments on the second son of Shen never strayed far from "great barkers are no biters."
It was not that Shen Liangsheng did not know about this gossip, but he simply didn't take it to heart – and it was arguable whether he even had a heart. Even he thought sometimes that his name was really befitting.
He definitely led a cold life.
The streets became quieter after the car turned out of Twenty-Fifth Avenue. Shen Liangsheng had a business dinner at Kiessling's11 at eight o'clock and told the driver to pick up the speed so he could go home for a change of clothes. However, before they even made it past the second intersection, he shouted out, "Slow down."
The bodyguard in the driver's seat had great aim but was not too great in the chauffeur department, so he slammed the brakes when he heard the command. The
momentum jerked Shen Liangsheng forward, but he was not angered and only remarked, "It's fine. Keep going."
The car continued along its path. Shen Liangsheng sat in the leather seat with his head propped on one hand. His face showed no signs of disturbance, but it was quite a different story inside.
For a split second just now, he had spotted a tall, skinny figure on the roadside through the window and blurted out, "Slow down." When he actually saw the person, however, it was not whom he had in mind.
What should have been an unplanned episode in the programme of some stranger he had never met was instead so unforgettable. This surprised Shen Liangsheng himself.
He closed his eyes and repainted that man's face in his head. The picture turned out as clear as an engraving, as if every stroke were cut out with a knife.
The man stood before him tall, skinny and quiet with a light smile about his lips. His eyes were slightly squinting, probably because he was used to wearing glasses, and the peach-coloured mole by his eyes made his expression look tender with love.
And in that moment, as though the brakes were slammed on while going full speed, Shen Liangsheng's heart dropped down, then swung back up, and he felt a dizzying spell, as though an invisible hand shoved his heart down.
Shen Liangsheng overdrank, something he rarely did, at the dinner that night. He drifted to sleep with a light alcohol buzz after falling onto his bed and had a dream as real as any.
He dreamt that he was on top of a warm body, a man's or woman's he couldn't tell, nor could he see their face. All he remembered was that he had personally dotted that bright red mole by the person's eye.
It was only a dream, but the sensual pleasure was strong, stronger than that of any sex he had ever had. His heart was pounding wildly even after he came back to reality from the climax in his dream.
The curtains were tightly shut. The thick silk blocked out the light from outside and seemed to separate this room where a four-poster bed stood from rest of the foul world.
Everything about the room was just right, and it was dark enough for the heat to brew. Recalling the naked body from his dream, Shen Liangsheng began to get aroused.
This irrational desire was truly strange, so strange that the possibility that the person in the dream could be a man that he had only seen once wasn't even that important anymore.
The years abroad aside, he had seen all sorts of debauched acts at business parties after returning. Buying an actor and messing around with men were actually considered innocent. Dwelling in concessions, countries within a country, in this age of glamour and chaos, one began to forget about morals and about right and wrong. All that was left to life was the crazy pursuit of fun and pleasure.
Shen Liangsheng watched unenthusiastically and felt he was a bystander most of the time, someone who could simply leave any time. However, there were times when he felt that he had already succumbed to it and was no different than any of the others looking for a good time.
For instance now, lying on his bed with his once-again hard member in hand, he travelled back to the intersection yesterday, watching the grey figure recede into the crowd. His heart felt oddly empty, and he regretted not taking the gentleman's name.
His hand moved more and more quickly, and the regret seemed to ferment and expand, its properties gradually changing into a carnal desire to conquer. The wickedness in his bones became restless and eager. It didn't matter if he had to wait for the prey to come to him or search through a haystack for that needle, he would only rest when he got what he wanted.
English Translation from: BLtranslation
0Yam Bak is short for Yam Kim-fai and Bak Sheut-sin,two famous opera actresses who were most famous for working with one another. Yam plays the male role while Bak plays the female role in traditional Chinese opera.
1 Ruan Lingyu. For more information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruan_Lingyu
2 A warlord nicknamed the "Nanking Warlord." For more information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Chuanfang
3 Chüshihlin was a type of Buddhist organization that originated in Shanghai in the 1910s and spread to other major cities. The name literally means "householder's forest." For definition of householder: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Householder_(Buddhism)
4 A double layered robe with no filling in between the two layers.
5 A suffix conveying the younger age of the speaker and respect and familiarity towards the addressee. This could be seen as the more formal,more outdated version of "ge".
6 A prefix conveying the older age of the speaker and familiarity towards the addressee.
7 Xiaobailou,one of the four traditional commercial district in Tianjin symbolized by the "little white building" (the literal name of the district in Chinese) that is the Tianjin Concert Hall. This took up the southern end of the English concession and the north edge of the German concession.
8 The Quanye Bazaar is a perhaps the most famous shopping district in Tianjin,originally designed by a Frenchman in the 1920s. For more information: http://www.chinatravel.com/tianjin-attraction/tianjin-quanye-bazaar/
9 The old name of the concert hall which used to be a movie theatre.
9.5 A mole by the eye is said to be a symbol of love and makes the person more susceptible to romance and lust. More information here (note Ch'in's mole is likely #19) http://www.chinesefortunecalendar.com/FaceMoleReading.htm
10 "Liang" means "cool" and "sheng" means life.
11 A German patisserie founded by Albert Kiessling.
12 Traditionally,all opera actors were male.