When China met Sam, her shell cracked and crumbled. She forgot why she had taken a vow of celibacy, forgot how much she would have to give up in order to love a man. She jumped off her familiar cliff into his arms, and followed him into the unknown. She had also forgotten that jumping off cliffs could cause serious injuries. Perhaps she thought that Sam with his warm, joyful heart and body, would heal past injuries. She remembered one injury that had healed another.
China was twelve and skipping rope during recess when her foot slipped off the sidewalk and she fell into the street right in front of a motorcycle policeman. Her schoolmates gasped, certain that China would be crushed. The motorcycle braked just in time and the policeman picked her up and carried her into the schoolroom. A princess for a few moments. She still remembered his hard body, his handsome face and the terrible pain in her ankle. The shock of the body gone wrong. The shock of a man’s arms around her. The first stirring of lust.
China wondered why love was often accompanied by pain. She wanted to believe that love was perfect but in her experience, only pain was perfect. Love just felt better.
The sprain caused China trouble all year long. Her dancing was compromised. The following spring she fell off a bicycle, landed on her weak ankle, and fractured it. Her father, hearing her cries, ran outside, cursed at her (his way of showing fear and concern), carried her inside and yelled for his wife to come and fix their daughter’s carelessness.
When the cast was removed, her ankle had finally mended. It hadn’t bothered her since. It had weathered point shoes, tap shoes, can-cans in high heels, city pavements, miles of jogging, childbirth and several men. A good injury. She hadn’t broken anything since. China knocked on bone. She had learned how to bend.
China met Sam at the opening of an exhibition of Grimshaw Totems at the Toronto Art Gallery, where she worked part-time. She was standing next to Sarah, her best friend and a painter, when she saw Sam stride into the room and cross over to Bear, one of the aboriginal artists whose carving was part of the exhibition. China casually undulated in Bear’s direction ostensibly to see if he needed a drink, or some food, or a million dollars, but mostly to meet the handsome hunk next to him. China looked at up at Sam’s fierce black eyes, measured the width of his huge shoulders, and promptly fell in love, or in lust. It was a bit of a shock. She hadn’t been lost in love/lust, in a very long time. Sam’s black eyes traveled over China’s auburn hair, creamy skin and luscious curves, coming back to her face to find cool, green eyes, sparkling at him.
“Beer,” China asked Bear while casually devouring Sam with her eyes. “Do you need a bear or anything?”
Bear held up the full glass of beer in his hand and said, “No thanks, I got one.”
“I don’t,” said Sam grinning.
Sarah interrupted Sam’s discovery of China and quickly steered her away.
“Excuse me, but you’re wanted on the phone,” said Sarah pulling China across the room.
“Who is it?” asked China.
“Nobody you idiot,” whispered Sarah. “I’m just trying to stop you from making a fool of yourself.”
Sarah pulled China around the exhibition and stopped every now and then to greet an acquaintance. China kept glancing around the room to find Sam. Every time she found him, he was staring back at her. Finally Sarah gave up the thankless task of averting impending disaster and growled at China.
“China,” said Sarah. “I give up. Why don’t you just go over there and fuck him?”
“What? You know that’s what you want to do.”
China’s knees went weak when she saw Sam walking towards her.
“Oh my God. He’s coming over here.”
“I guess he wants to fuck you too. How serendipitous!” said Sarah gleefully.
“Shut up,” hissed China. “If you embarrass me I swear I’ll never speak to you again.”
“Hi there,” said Sam smoothly. “I’m Sam Eagle. Bear is my cousin, and we were wondering if you ladies would like to join us for a drink.”
“How thoughtful,” said Sarah sweetly. “I’m afraid I’m just too tired to go anywhere but straight to bed. You go ahead, China. So nice to meet you Mr. Eagle.”
China silently cursed Sarah’s tall, elegant, body as she disappeared into the crowd and vowed she was not only going to never speak to Sarah again, she was going to kill her first.
The next morning, China’s phone rang with unprecedented shrilling, dragging China out of a deep sleep.
“Hello,” moaned China.
“Did you fuck him?” asked Sarah rudely.
“None of your business!” answered China with equal rudeness. She hung up the phone and sank back into the pillow, wishing with all her heart that she had done what Sarah so rudely suggested. Would have done, if Bear hadn’t gotten very drunk and needed the support of Sam to find his way back to the hotel.
The phone rang again.
“Good morning, darling,” said Sarah cheerfully.
“I’m glad you called to apologize for your outrageous behaviour,” replied China primly.
“I thought our friendship went beyond the boundaries of polite how-are-you boring chitchat.”
“It does, but you went too far beyond the boundary. You should have said ‘good morning, did you fuck him?’ ”
“OK, OK! Good morning. Did you fuck him?”
“My next question is why not?”
“Mainly because my very dear friend deserted me with about four hundred and fifty pounds of aboriginal male. Bear misbehaved mightily and it took our combined strength to get him into a taxi before the bartender called the police. Bear may be a great carver, but his great drinking could ruin his career.”
“Nonsense darling. Just think of the marvelous publicity if he had landed in jail.”
“Yes, well, it was rather an awkward end to a promising evening.”
“So, when do you see him again?”
“I don’t know,” said China with irritation. “Do you have to be so nosy this early in the morning? Obviously you’ve forgotten I’m going to Newfoundland today.”
“What dreadful timing. Did you give him the phone number there?”
“Yes mother. Boy have you changed your tune. I thought you were dead against my falling in love.”
“I am against your falling in love. It’s not good for you. However a little lust won’t hurt. I decided to be generous and allow you to have a little lust in your life, especially since there’s very little in mine. You’ve been acting like a nun for far too long and it’s not very becoming.”
“So sorry I haven’t been able to provide you with a vicarious love life, but a quiet, peaceful life does have its advantages.”
“God! You’ve become such a grandmother since Tina was born.”
“We all have to grow up sometime. I’m sure your children will appreciate it when you do.”
“It ain’t happening in my lifetime. Anyway, I’d love to continue trading insults with you but one of us has to get to work.”
“Are you finished the flower series yet?”
“I thought I had but for some bizarre reason I’m considering inserting erect penises, or is it peni, in the bushes. Carefully concealed of course, just to see if the critics are paying attention.”
China burst out laughing. Sarah was a wonderful painter but her outrageous sense of humour usually turned her colourful canvases into erotic puzzles. One Rosedale matron had demanded her money back when she discovered, in Sarah’s painting of a wonderful old oak tree, the image of a dog humping the tree. In vain did Sarah try to convince her that it was just the bark of the tree that suggested a humping dog and the animalistic erotica was all in the mind of the beholder.
“I think,” said China. “That you’re the one who needs an affair.”
“Can’t,” replied Sarah. “I’m a faithful woman, more’s the pity, and it behooves you, as my dearest friend in the world, to supply me with erotic tales and exciting adventures to fuel my starving imagination.”
“Sarah, shut up and go slap a lurking penis in a bush. I have to pack.”
“Have a lovely, boring visit darling. Give Ma and Pa a hug for me.”