Conception

It occurred to her some years later that at some point early on in the marriage the lovemaking had turned loveless, and that their only child had been conceived in such a perfunctory manner. It made sense then, did it not, that her relationship with their daughter was strained.

When their plans to have children began to form, she realized she was not the kind of woman who longed to have children. She could easily have lived the rest of her life with just her husband, singing to him alone, though lately she had seen so little of him she began to consider teaching choir at a nearby middle school.

But the woman was dutiful if nothing else. There were aging parents on both sides pestering them for children and at twenty-four her clock, though inaudible to her, was ticking. As husband and wife they knew the importance of working on a schedule and they approached it with the diligence they had both applied to their college entrance exams. The woman recalled this time with mixed feelings: she never felt closer to her husband, never saw more of him than at this moment in their lives. He came home, still exhausted from work, but rather than falling immediately asleep he came to her first.

He wanted a son; she could see it in his eyes. And because it was what he wanted, it became what she wanted. Each night and morning she bit her lip and willed herself and all her necessary organs to give the man a son, to give their parents a strong, healthy grandson, and to give herself – though she didn’t know it then – a companion. She imagined walking up and down the street with their toddler son while her husband worked and the neighbors nodding and smiling, “Now that is a handsome little boy,” they would say, “he will grow up to be tall and strong like his father, and shrewd too.” She would buy him little suits to wear at Chinese New Year and take him to lunch with his grandparents. He would enroll at the best schools, and perhaps take up choir too, but only if his father saw fit.

And slowly, this little boy yet unborn became as concrete as the man sleeping next to her. He was not an abstract thought – she could see his large bright eyes, the thick dark hair, and almost feel, when she clutched her husband’s back, the soft baby flesh that would come from the very same flesh. 

Instead, weeks, months and then a year went by. She gave him nothing.

Her mother intervened, taking her daughter to the best Chinese doctors, acupuncturists and herbalists. The fortuneteller told the woman not to worry, she could conceive. Her husband’s business would flourish. They would have many houses, all over the world. He would invest much into this child.

 The Fortune Teller, Charles Edward Halle, (1846-1919)

“The child, our son,” the woman said, looking at the fortuneteller with imploring eyes.

“I cannot say,” murmured the fortuneteller, “but you have so much to look forward to. It is a good life, by anyone’s measure.”

On her way out of the fortuneteller’s office the woman stopped before the altar where the Bodhisattva Guanyin stood, looking down upon all who needed her. The woman did not like the gaze of this particular sculpture, Guanyin had an air of smug arrogance. What did this porcelain statue know and what could she give? The woman was dissatisfied with the answers she’d received. She had prepared a red envelope of eight thousand to give as an offering but felt that the fortuneteller’s answers were not worth so much. Things were supposed to get better, but her womb was still empty and her husband had less and less to say to her.  She knew her husband’s business would do well – after all, he spent nearly all his breath there so that by the time he returned home he hardly had a word left for her. Whatever common ground they had shared was slowly disappearing so that the only thing they shared was a bed, if barely, considering the late hours he now kept entertaining his buyers. Furtively, the woman slid two fingers in and removed two crisp thousand dollar bills then placed the envelope in a the wooden bowl at Guanyin’s feet, next to waxed apples and fragrant oranges. Guanyin’s expression did not change but behind her the fortuneteller shook her head. Two thousand dollars. Was that the value the woman placed on truth?  

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