An original short story by Shannon Adams.
Posted March 29, 2016
“Two-hundred-thirty dollars a month!”
Not kuai – US dollars. He could get a new electric bike with that money, or go to Hong Kong for a few days. He could go to the Happy Valley horse races. Last time he had stayed at the youth hostel and eaten ramen noodles. With 230 US dollars, he could bet on a horse and have a good meal and stay at a hotel on the harbor. Josalyn could come along, but she’d have to pay for her own flight.
“The cheapest option is $120 a month.”
“Lack of health insurance is the number one cause of bankruptcy. A-hundred-twenty a month is really not that much. Just stop ordering so much food delivery.”
He was 30. Not that much older than 28 or 27. He was healthy. He could get by another year without health insurance.
But Josalyn pressed on. “Beijing’s dangerous. I’ve been hit by a car three times while biking. You don’t even have a helmet. That’s just a ticking time bomb.”
“Well maybe I could get a job that provides health insurance,” he said.
“You could, if that’s what you wanted.”
“I mean, depends on the job,” he said.
She was starting to emanate that distant cool. He drummed his fingers along her waist, needing to draw her back in, heat her back up.
He pressed the small of her back so their bodies sandwiched together. He kissed his own smirk into suppression. He traced her hem until there was no turning back.
The air purifier exhaled. The neighbor’s door creaked open and clanked shut. Someone’s phone buzzed and buzzed again.
Afterwards, her distant cool froze over so fast he didn’t even have time to cover himself. She said, “You should go home. She’ll be wondering.”
“Yep.” He sucked in air through his teeth and jumped out of bed. He grabbed for his pieces of clothing. He picked hers off the floor and placed them on the bed, considerately.
“Turn off the light on your way out.”
“Don’t you want to brush your teeth? ” And wash up, he thought.
“You’ll be more comfortable going to sleep if you do.”
He sat down on the bed. “OK, well, see you.” He kissed her forehead.
She brushed her teeth and washed up. She put her pieces of clothing back on, turned off the light, and got under the sheet. She pulled out her computer and checked her email, her Facebook, her blog. No new messages, no comments. She put her computer away and pulled out her Kindle. She read the same paragraph three times, then put the Kindle away. She lay in the dark and told herself not to think of him.
She woke up some time later. He sat on the edge of her bed, his jacket still on.
“I didn’t leave. I sat on my bike thinking.”
“I should get health insurance.”
“What makes you say that?”
“It’s a good idea.” He said.
“Can I say a prayer for you?” Josalyn said.
“Aren’t you afraid it’ll be wasted?”
“No. It doesn’t work like that.”
He took off his jacket and slid in to bed next to her. He stayed with her. For the next several hours, he warmed and salved her heart against its icing. He never left her bed, not once in the days and weeks that followed, even when she daily resigned herself to the office, leaving him hibernating under her Grandmother’s hand-knit ottoman. Faithful through the months, he decayed beside her, the flesh around his mouth peeling back into a crooked smile, as if sneering as she continued to whisper into her pillow, night after night, “God, please light his way.”