by Yuan Changming
He doesn’t know how curiosity can kill a cat, but he’s acutely aware of how it’s killing himself. Ever since she first asked him What do you like me about? when they fell in love again after they’d lost each other for nearly half a century, he’s been haunted by this question. Without getting an answer, he feels he just cannot live peacefully. Indeed, for him, the answer means not merely an emotional statement but an intellectual discovery, which can help him to gain a better understanding of himself. After all, knowing himself is a major task he has to fulfill in this lifetime, something becoming increasingly urgent for him as a retiree with so many health problems.
Everything about you! he replied, firmly in tone, but far less accurately in content than he’d hoped.
Your answer’s too general, too vague, she commented.
True, he agreed. This answer did sound like a handy or lazy catch-phrase. He had to come up with something more articulate, more specific.
What do you like me most about? she narrowed down her question a bit later.
Well, depends on the time! When he first saw her during a high school meeting, he recognized her as the prettiest girl in town. A year after, when he had a chance to look at her more closely on a forest farm where they labored together as ‘re-educated” Red Guards, he realized that if viewed separately, her eyes, eyebrows, nose, mouth or ears might not necessarily be beautiful, but put together, her facial features looked perfectly attractive. Coupled with her fair, soft, smooth, and immaculate skin as well as her slender and shapely figure, her physical appearance was simply stunning.
But I know I’m never as good-looking as you describe, she said.
Her response is certainly understandable: if she’d stood side by side with his wife when they were all in their early twenties, she might not have looked as beautiful as his wife to most people, even including himself; yes, he’s sure of that. But somehow, he enjoys gazing at her more than any other woman in the world. Is it really because absence makes the heart grow fonder? Or perhaps because every time he sees her, he finds her even better-looking than before? For instance, when he reencountered her at a dinner party in early October 2019, he found her wearing her years so well she seemed to belong to a younger generation. It probably had to do with her gracious manners. In other words, it must be her personality that’s contributed significantly to her good looks.
Still, I know my looks aren’t really so good, she stressed.
But they are to me! he reiterated. After doing a lot more thinking, he realized that she was most attractive to him for two reasons. One is, she looks not only pretty but warm and tender at the same time. Probably because she often smiles like a flower blooming from her innermost being, the very sight of her makes him feel happy. That’s why he gazes at her via iPad until she’s too tired to hold her cell phone in her hand every time they meet online. In particular, he finds something unique in her facial expression. As in the case of Mona Lisa’s mysterious smile, she always looks genuinely interested. This interestedness undoubtedly adds greatly to her attraction.
If you say so, she said.
Despite her response, he continued to say he’s finally decoded her beauty in his eyes. For one thing, he enjoys listening to her voice. Her accent sounds familiar and soothing because it carries with it a distinct note of everything good about their common hometown. Even her breathing makes him feel comforted like an infant listening to its mother’s heartbeats in her arms. He often imagines smelling the unique natural fragrance from her body, which only he can discern with his exceptionally sharp nose. Even an offline touch would send him right to heaven.
Most amazingly, from their occasional sex talks, he’s learned that she still functions perfectly well though her periods stopped fifteen years ago.
So, you like my looks or sexuality most? she asked, coyly, still not really satisfied with his explication.
Of cuz, that’s the starting point for me, just as for any male in the animal world, he replied half-jokingly.
Then what exactly do you like me about? she persisted another time.
He believes he’s found a good enough answer, but as he does more thinking along the line, he feels sheepish that the answer is still hidden even from himself, though he’s been trying hard to come up with the right one over the past months. Sometimes, he wants to give up the effort, but he’s born with a strong sense of curiosity. He must continue his pursuit.
As he keeps writing and publishing more love poetry inspired by her, he’s come to see her not only as his Muse but his true soulmate he’s been looking for during the past few decades. Recalling how he always enjoys talking with her, about anything, ranging from art, literature, and aesthetics to job, money, and gossip, especially sex and love, he finds there’s nothing they cannot talk about now online, nor will there be anything they cannot do together once they meet offline.
I love you most as the perfect nest for me as a bird, he replies.
You get me lost. What’s that supposed to mean? she wonders aloud.
However far my body travels in this world, however high my soul soars in the spiritual space, my body has to return to you with my soul. Just as your personality is the home to my selfhood, your intact vagina is the nest for my dick to perch for the night…
Watch your mouth! she says, coquettishly.
Okey-dokey! I’ll keep trying to find the answer about my nest, but for now, what do you like me about?
Shhh, listen, they are playing Home sweet home,
In our cradle tongue?
About the Author:
Yuan Changming grew up in rural China and has published 15 poetry collections in English. Early this year, Yuan began to write fiction, with short stories appearing in Aloka (UK) and Kolkata Arts (India) or forthcoming in Lincoln Review (UK), Word For/Word (US), StylusLit (Australia) and Nashwaak Review (Canada), among others. Currently, Yuan is working on his trilogy.