This selection, chosen by guest curator Heather Leigh, is from Beauty by Christina Chiu, released by SFWP in 2020. Content note: Beauty contains graphic depictions of consensual sexual encounters.
I’m about to knock on the neighbor’s door when Jeff finally appears. He gets in, starts the car, and we drive in silence all the way to Hyannis. When we get to the bus depot, he asks me to wait, he needs to talk, but I shove the door open and get out. I tug my suitcase from the back seat. “Amy,” he calls, rushing around to my side of the car. “Please. I’m sorry, okay?”
“Yeah, whatever,” I say, marching toward the station, dragging the suitcase behind me.
“I love you.”
Three small words. Is he kidding me? In a movie, this would be the part when two quarreling lovers run into each other’s arms. I turn to face Jeff straight on.
“I do,” he says, crossing his arms over his chest. “I don’t want to. I don’t want to be that guy who needs the girl who doesn’t need him.”
Heat rushes to my face. I feel sunburnt, even on the inside. “You know me, remember?” he says.
“Well, you don’t know me.”
“I do,” he insists. “I do.”
“Really? Well, then go back and get my fucking ring back.” I tug the suitcase into the bus depot where I buy my ticket. He waits as I board, trying to hug me, but I push past him. He waits to wave me off, but I shut my eyes until we’re moving at a steady, even clip. I spend both legs of the trip home—bus and train—replaying everything in my mind. It’s pure, unadulterated torture. I don’t want to ever see him again, and yet, maybe I’m going to die if I don’t. My eyes are swollen practically shut from crying. I don’t arrive at Georgie’s until 10 PM. Ma’s back from her cruise, so I put on my sunglasses and hope she’s already asleep. All I want is a shower, a shot of NyQuil, and a bed.
As soon as I walk into Georgie’s apartment, I know something’s wrong. Ma and Georgie are sitting together at the kitchen table, each with a mug of Chinese tea. Ma’s wearing a silk nighty with butterflies that someone younger might pass off as an evening dress. She’s got a dour look on her face like maybe her boyfriend broke up with her. Or maybe something’s up with Dad?
“What’s going on?” I ask.
Ma and Georgie exchange glances.
“What?” I insist.
Ma holds out a ring box, hand delivered from Tiffany’s, with a small card attached.
“Maybe you should tell us,” Georgie says.
I open the card. It says: I can do better than that—J.
Damn right, you will, I think. No one’s ever going to treat me like that again.
“You look terrible,” Georgie says, a line usually reserved for Ma.
“Ni ku shen me?” Ma asks. What’s the crying about?
“It’s just an apology of sorts,” I say, taking the box. “Just a guy I’m dating, that’s all.”
“The boy just now at this Cape Cod?” Ma asks.
“Friend,” I correct, worried that if Ma ever meets Jeff, she’ll automatically judge him for being so much older than me.
“He wasn’t nice?” Ma asks.
“A total jerk,” I say, unwrapping the baby blue paper, removing it from the box, and prying the lid open. The cushion is white silk.
Set inside it, a diamond ring. Rectangular-shaped. Framed by small diamond chips.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but that looks like an engagement ring,” Georgie states.
Ma stares at it, then back at me. “What have you done?” she accuses.
“Are you asking if I prostituted myself for a diamond ring so that I can scare off nice Chinese boys?” I ask, angrily, snapping the box shut. “Because that could be true.”
Ma strikes me across the face, catching me totally off guard. The last time she slapped me was in high school. I press my stinging cheek. “I know it’s hard to believe that someone might actually want to marry me,” I say, grabbing the phone from the stand and locking myself in the bathroom.
Jeff picks up on the first ring.
“This is not funny,” I say, sitting on the toilet.
“I didn’t intend it to be,” he replies.
“You made me feel like shit. Like trash.”
“I screwed up, okay? You’re dealing with a hopelessly screwed up person. You have me in knots, I’m scared.”
I sigh. “I miss you. Why do I miss you?”
He chuckles. “Have you tried it on?”
I remove it from the box and slip it onto my finger. “It’s beautiful.”
“Then marry me,” he says.
“I never imagined I’d be proposed to over the phone while I’m sitting on the john.”
“Well, you are. If it’s not romantic enough for you, we can see what we get out of the bubble gum machine.”
“Do I have to come up for another week if I say yes?”
“Absolutely. In fact, the dues have gone up to three weeks.”
“Then, yes,” I sigh. “Yes.”