“They are planning something,” said Mr Lee as he stood with his sister at the patio, watching the couple pull away to yet another concert. This was the first time the siblings had spoken since their quarrel. That Brother spoke first indicated his apology.
“Marriage, brother,” sighed Mrs Tan. “Brother, they are in love,” she said to him gently as though speaking to an aged invalid in the Home. Brother, she thought, like any other parent, cannot bear to see his fledglings leave the family nest.
“In love, my foot! Are you blind? They don’t chat on the telephone, they don’t call each other ‘You,’ ‘He,’ or ‘She,’ but by their proper names; they don’t pick up each other’s mannerism; they don’t even snatch time to be alone. They don’t meet after work and spend all weekends in front of the family, holding hands, mooning into each others’ eyes like one of those Taiwanese dramas. They look like they are acting. Something is up. You just wait and watch what happens next!”
Mrs Tan’s sweetness turned rancid. “Only your passion is real! We are all acting!”
Her brother’s face stiffened as though in pain. He turned, leaving her to fume alone in the darkened driveway. She had vowed never to mention his affair and he provoked her into breaking her promise. “He thinks only he is right. Everyone else is ruining his son!”
Yet, closely observing the couple, Mrs Tan reluctantly concluded her brother might be right. It worried her, but the couple did not let down their benefactor. At Joanne’s birthday dinner, in front of both families, they announced their intention to wed. Because it was only a month after their holiday together, the announcement caused a furor. Only after a doctor ascertained both were in good heath and Joanne was not pregnant did their families accept the couple’s explanation that they wanted to concentrate on their careers and that it was a good time to buy a house during this recession-struck property-market. Their birthdates were exchanged and a professional matchmaker proclaimed them an excellent match. An auspicious date was selected and wedding preparations went underway.
William limited his participation in the wedding preparations. “Just like his father, escape when he can!” laughed Mrs Lee. Fortunately, the families could count on Mei’s help.
“What do you think, Aunty?” said Joanne twirling in her white gown, in the bridal shop in front of Mrs Tan and Mrs Lee.
“Beautiful!” said Mrs Lee.
“William chose this,” said Joanne.
“My son has good taste,” said Mrs Lee, beaming, referring to his choice of bride. These days, she wept less often.
“Ma!” William groaned. Joanne, as though on cue, obediently laughed.
Mrs Tan frowned. “Joanne, did you have lunch before this?”
This provoked William’s laughter. His bride and her friend tinkled merrily along.
“Aunty, you are hungry again? Mom, I think you better buy some food for Aunty. She’s thinking about our lunch!”
“Eat anymore,” Mrs Lee chided gently, “you won’t fit into your cheongsam!”
William led his mother to the door. “Across the road there’s a pastry shop that’s very good. Why don’t you get a box for us – as an early snack?” Mei led away a shop girl, distracting her with a list of new requests. A theatre production could not have hoped for smooth scene changes like this!
“William had a meeting and Mei and I met our school friends,” said Joanne.
“Liars!” hissed Mrs Tan. “I saw you kissing Mei in William’s car! You filthy lesbian! Don’t try to tell me it’s the modern thing: I know a lover’s kiss when I see one! And you, William, you knew! What were you thinking!”
“What if,” William said, with great care, “I say that your little project to get me married was really to make me a guinea pig for Cousin Roger?” said William. “What if,” said William again, “Joanne complained that you tried to foist Roger on her. What if Mom heard us? What would she say? Let me tell you: she said we are to stay away from you.”
“It will come out they are lesbians!” She spat the last word with a shudder, jabbing William’s bride with a gem-laden index finger.
“See, Jo, how awful jealousy can be! Aunty cannot have you for Roger and she doesn’t want any one else to have her.”
“Your father will believe me!”
“You think so?” said William with casualness more suited for a discussion about the weather. “Why would Dad or Mom still believe you after all you have done for the family? Dad thinks you are becoming more and more like Grandma. You helped Grandma trick him into marrying, saying the bride under the veil was Aunty Ai-Lian, knowing he will not take a second wife. You set up Mom to see life as a series of failures, first failing to be a woman Dad loves, now failing her duty as a mother because she cannot get her son a wife without your help.”
“You are ruining your happiness!” Mrs Tan shouted but it came in a hoarse whisper.
“You already did it. I want to live quietly without disturbing anyone, or have anyone disturb me. You barge in with your campaign. Joanne and Mei saved me from you.” Suddenly, William pushed Mrs Tan on the couch. Surprised, she fell over lying there. William was strong. Pinned under his weight, his fingers pressed into the side of her neck, she wriggled in vain. Gradually, the room spun and William and Joanne began to float. She heard William giving instructions to Joanne in a low voice. “Undo her first two buttons. Flap your hankie in front of her face. Make sure you cover her face.” Then William looked up, addressing another. “Why didn’t you bring your mobile phone, Mom? Aunty almost fainted.”
“I forgot my bag. Goodness! Are you all right?” Mrs Tan heard Sister-in-law say. Mrs Tan squawked, trying to reply.
The fingers pressed harder and moving red dots spotted the room. “No, Aunty,” said William firmly. “Don’t. Joanne, can you send Aunty back home?”
“Let Mei,” said Sister-in-law hurriedly, and explained, “Joanne still has to try some more gowns.” There was fear and hurt. So, Mrs Tan thought bitterly, she believed those lies.
William instructed Mei to hold her neck. Mrs Tan was yanked up and shoved out to the door.
“Lesbians!” Mrs Tan managed to shout.
As the shop door closed, Mrs Tan heard Sister-in-law ask, “What did she say?”
“Bastian. Famous photographer,” was the reply.
That the ending could not be right gave Mrs Tan sleepless nights yet she knew she could not have hoped for a greater success. Certainly many lives were changed by her deed. William and Joanne lived happily ever after in their West Coast apartment with Mei. (The couple claimed she was their butler and made jokes about supporting local artists.) In the small household, not a crossed word was exchanged. When William left his job to write, Joanne supported him. It was a marriage of almost perfect harmony. Only once did the couple quarrel. It was serious yet none knew its cause. However William tried to apologize, for months Joanne wept and did not forgive him. Mei the butler, uncomfortable with domestic scenes, left and could not be persuaded to return. But this was all nothing. A greater happiness swelled in Joanne’s stomach: she was with child.
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QLRS Vol. 1 No. 4 Jul 2002