by Yu-Han Chao
It was the first time Lena was going to have unprotected sex in her life. No condoms cluttered hers or her husband’s backpacks, and she was officially off birth control. After all, they were not getting any younger, and Jon had been pestering her about having a baby ever since they got married.
Three hours ago they got off the Jing Shan 611 bus and walked down a small path in the drizzling rain. Their destination? A big sign that said “Golden Springs,” which Lena vaguely thought sounded like a euphemism for something dirty. The place was scenic enough: each unit was a little wooden hut with an enclosed yard containing a large hot tub lined with tile and surrounded with wood. If it were not for the chill of the steady rain, this would be the ideal romantic celebration of their one year anniversary. Soon after their arrival, the rain started coming down even harder, violently bouncing off the surface of the hot spring water in the pool, from which hot steam rose and the faint smell of sulpher and hardboiled eggs wafted.
“It’s too bad it’s raining so hard.” Lena peeled off her wet jeans in a decidedly unsexy manner and shivered herself into a terrycloth bathrobe. She had prepared lingerie, but it was too cold for that and too cold for sex.
“We can get in the hot spring later. Maybe the rain will die down,” Jon said, although he seemed visibly disappointed that Lena was hiding her body in a giant garment made out of towel material.
He changed into his pajamas and got in bed beside Lena, who had already ducked under the covers and rested her head sideways on a pillow. Jon turned on the television and flicked through a series of channels: the Taiwanese Eight O’clock News, Star Movies, an infomercial, finally settling on standup comedy on HBO.
Jon’s burst of laughter woke Lena up. Through a sleepy haze, she heard the comedian’s words.
“My five-year-old daughter has nothing important to say. Never. When you’re five years old, trust me, you have nothing important to say. I just tell her to zip it.”
Lena felt disturbed by the man’s dismissiveness of his own daughter.
“And people, if you have a choice, have boys. Boys just break a few things, no big deal. Girls—girls are a whole other matter. Girls are evil. They are manipulative, devious, and they will get inside your mind and drive you crazy. My five-year-old daughter, God bless her soul, is an absolute demon.”
Lena could not believe that Jon, sitting beside her, was chuckling at this gender-stereotyping, sexist joke. She was wide awake now.
“Not only are girls and boys different, men and women are different. A woman can stop having sex or lose interest in it any time. She’s distracted by something, and she kicks you out of bed. A guy, however, needs to finish. He can’t just stop and push an off button on sex. He has no control. If I was having sex with a hot young woman, and she turns around and chops my mother’s head off, I would think, that’s sick, but I would continue fucking her—”
Lena wondered with disgust if the comedian’s mother was watching this.
“My wife and I don’t have sex anymore. But I still enjoy looking at her, even if she hates being looked at now. She is beautiful, a real woman. You know those 22-year-old girls who walk around with lollipops and high heels and ponytails and talk like, like this, you know, like, yeah? Those are not women. Those are girls. Girls have tits. Women, real women like my wife, have dangly breasts and long, chewed-up nipples. Now that’s a woman. A girl does not become a woman until she’s had some people come out of her vagina, ruin her body and trample every single last one of her dreams.”
Jon laughed uproariously. Lena sat up.
“You actually think that is funny?” she asked, fuming.
Jon looked surprised. “Well, yes, I mean it’s exaggerated, but there’s an element of truth in it that makes it funny.” Jon shrugged.
“You think a woman’s body being ruined and her dreams trampled over because of getting married and having kids is funny? Chewed-up nipples are funny?” Lena asked.
“In the context it was funny, but I wouldn’t actually laugh at a woman’s body in real life.”
“Then why would you laugh at the joke? There’s nothing funny about it. It’s completely disrespectful and insulting towards woman. His wife had kids for him, and now he’s laughing at her body.”
“It’s just a joke.”
“Do you think it would be a joke if I got stretchmarks and messed-up breasts and had my dreams trampled all over by our future children? Would you laugh at me?”
“Of course not.”
“What about the stuff he said about kids, not listening to what kids say just because they are five? What if the child was hurt or molested? If we have a kid, will you not listen to her either? Because you thought that joke was funny, too,” Lena said. “And do you also think that little girls are evil and conniving?”
“No,” Jon said, stiffening. “That’s not fair.”
“Because if you are even a little bit like that comedian, then I don’t want to have a child with you,” Lena said, pulling her bathrobe tighter around her waist beneath the covers.
“Don’t you think that you’re overreacting?” Jon made a dismissive little laugh. “Are you seriously saying that you don’t want to have kids with me just because I laughed at a stupid joke? Doesn’t that seem excessive?”
“It depends on the joke. Something small like that can be an indication of who you are and what kind of parent and husband you will be, and how you will treat your child and your wife in the future. As a woman I already have enough trouble worrying that if we one day have kids, when they are teenagers and I am middle-aged you might run away with a 22-year-old, younger woman. Now I have to worry about you laughing at my body, and how you might treat our daughter if we have one?”
Lena’s tears spilled down her cheeks. A spark of lightening lit up the skies outside, visible through the glass doors separating the hot tub and their room.
“I already said that I would never laugh at your body,” Jon muttered, also annoyed now.
Lena continued to sob, clawing blindly through her tears at a Kleenex box on the nightstand.
“In fact, if anything, I feel offended that you think I would be like that. You should have more faith and trust in me. I am your husband and you should know me better than that.”
Lena crumpled a wet Kleenex and tossed it in the direction of a wicker wastebasket, where it joined a small mound of Kleenex snowballs that had missed their mark.
“Regardless,” she sniffed, “Of all the shows in the world, you happen to watch this stupid misogynistic stand-up comedy, right before we were planning to have unprotected sex for the first time? What are the odds of that? We watch TV together all the time, and nothing like this ever happened before. I think this means something.”
“Well, if it’s not this, it’s some other thing. I don’t think you really want to have kids. You are looking for an excuse,” Jon said, getting out of bed.
“I totally was willing to try to get pregnant, you know that,” Lena protested. “I’m not on birth control anymore, and I brought lingerie—”
“Willing to? I want you to want a child, not just say you are willing to, like I’m forcing you. Do you want a child or do you not? If you never want a child, then I think we should go our separate ways and not waste any more of each other’s time.”
“Are you threatening to divorce me if I don’t have a kid with you?” Lena’s voice was inflected and incredulous. “Are you living in biblical times, classical China or something? Get rid of your wife because she doesn’t give you kids? I thought we loved each other. You can’t really love me that much if you want a divorce just because I’m not giving you a kid after ONE year of marriage! Do you realize how horrible and crazy you sound?”
“You’re the one who suddenly doesn’t want a kid because of a stand up comic’s joke on television.”
“We’ve only been married for one year! If anybody else was married for one year and her husband was pressuring her to have kids, I would tell her that’s really fast, probably too soon. I’m trying my best to be a good sport with you and I came here with the full intention of trying to have a baby because you were so eager. But now, maybe not. Especially if you’re threatening divorce. Why would I commit to you or to having a child with you if you so easily demand a breakup?” Lena, hysterical with tears, practically huffed the moist balls of Kleenex she held up to her face.
“I thought we were in love,” she continued. “I have never thought about divorce, ever, and I can’t believe you are saying things like this.”
Jon shook his head as if he thought his wife was insane and sat back down on the bed. Lena threw back the covers and moved towards the glass doors.
“You’re overreacting,” Jon said. “Come back to bed. Look, the resort provides free condoms. We can use a condom if you want.”
Lena ignored him and opened the glass door to the patio. She walked into the rain, which landed like frozen pebbles on her bare hands and face. She put one foot into the hot tub, then another, and slowly removed her bathrobe, letting it fall into the water. She stood naked in the rain, in the steam rising from the water’s surface. She breathed in the mineral scent of sulphur, which brought to her mind the image of golden mountains and cliffs. Something clicked inside her, and she let go. She did not need Jon anymore, nor did she want him.
Jon watched her through the glass door. Lena looked away from him and sat down, submerging her body in the water. The heat soothed her legs, back, and shoulders. All her worries—Jon’s desire for a baby, the prospect of her juggling her 1.5 jobs and a pregnancy and baby—dissolved.
She had thought that a child was her next step in life. Now she saw what the real step had to be: leaving. The house and mortgage were under his name so she would not be burdened. She had her job, she had a decent body not yet “ruined” by childbirth, nipples perfectly tiny and pink, and she intended to keep them that way until she found a man who was worthy.
Editor’s Note on Rainy Night Stand Up:
Rainy Night Stand Up is not the first piece of work by Yu-Han Chou to appear in Eastlit.The following has also appeared in Eastlit:
- Mine featured in Eastlit January 2015.