Fall 2022, Volume 33

Fiction by Cora Tate

Wen Ling

People often ask how Wen Ling came to be with Randolph Jenkins, so an explanation seems appropriate.  The question, or at least “a question”, then becomes how far back to go—youth, childhood, birth, previous generations?  Even before her teens, Wen Ling heard stories about the wealth of people in North America.  Not called the Great Satan then, the United States enjoyed a reputation as a land of opportunity and a welcoming one.

Wen Ling’s parents, although they loved her, saw her, like other girls, as a financial burden on the family.  When an opportunity arose for them to send her to relatives in California, they borrowed the fare and put her on a ship.  The passage was not wonderful, but at least Wen Ling didn’t suffer from seasickness as so many of the other passengers did.  She felt fortunate also to make several friends, two of whom spoke English and shared their knowledge and skills with her in the course of the voyage.

Although missing her family, Wen Ling felt quite excited to stand on deck and watch as the ship sailed through the Golden Gate and into the magnificent San Francisco Bay.  Her excitement faded under the drudgery of disembarking and going through the formalities of immigration, but eventually she stepped out of the government building and into a rare warm, sunny San Francisco afternoon.  The official immigration formalities took so long, that the usual morning fog had burned away before Wen Ling found herself a new immigrant on a San Francisco street.

  Utilizing every bit of her limited new skills in English and some friendly help, Wen Ling made her way to her relatives’ apartment, only to find they had moved.  Fortunately, she met a neighbor who knew Wen Ling’s aunt’s new address.  Repeating her previous exercise brought the new immigrant to the right apartment, where she received a gracious if not enthusiastic welcome.  Her aunt—actually, her mother’s cousin—told the new arrival they had no extra room but she could sleep on a mat on the floor for a few days, while she found work and lodging.

Wen Ling’s mother’s cousin and that woman’s daughters introduced their relative to a dozen other Chinese immigrants over the course of the next week.  One of those immigrants offered the new arrival a job at a laundry the woman’s husband owned, and Wen Ling began working there the next day.  The hours were long, the pay was short.  The new immigrant never had to go hungry, but neither could she afford decent housing nor rely on amassing any savings in that job.

A woman Wen Ling met in the course of her work at the laundry told the new immigrant that someone with good sewing skills could earn more than the laundry paid.  After working at the laundry for three months and sleeping with seven other Chinese immigrant women on the floor of one room in a tenement, Wen Ling secured a job as a seamstress.  After four months in her new job, she could afford to, and did, move into a one-bedroom apartment with only three other women.

Wen Ling worked two years at her job as a seamstress and managed to save a few dollars.  In that two years, she heard stories about the goldfields and the Comstock lode.  She learned that a seamstress in Virginia City earned more than three times what Wen Ling made in San Francisco.  That, not surprisingly, piqued her interest.  Six months later, she quit her San Francisco job, rode a ferry across the bay, and made the arduous overland coach journey to Virginia City.

The immigrant seamstress had hoped to use her savings to open her own business altering, mending, and making garments of all sorts for men and women but found the inflated rents and other costs in Virginia City made that impossible.  She found a job using her skills as a seamstress in someone else’s employ and did, in fact, earn very nearly three times her San Francisco wage.  That increased the rate at which she accumulated savings despite the much higher rents and her decision to share an apartment with only two other women.

Friends from work and in the small community of female Chinese immigrants told Wen Ling the really big money was made by the women who frequented the bars and provided comfort to the miners.  Although Wen Ling had reached an age at which she felt a strong desire for sex, she found the idea of prostitution repugnant and very rarely entered any of Virginia City’s hundred bars.  She did attend occasional dances in more respectable venues and enjoyed the attentions of a few of the less dissolute and degenerate miners.

A very few of those relationships involved sexual intercourse, and one included a proposal of marriage.  Unlike most of her compatriots, Wen Ling felt neither aversion to involvement with a da bee (big nose) nor compulsion to link her life to a Chinese husband, so she took the proposal seriously.  On the other hand, neither did she find any of the miners she met attractive enough or of a high enough standard of behavior and intelligence to excite any long-term interest, so she declined as kindly, gently, and tactfully as she could.  Wen Ling continued her work as a seamstress, with a pay raise that enabled her to live in a small apartment of her own.  She also sought out a teacher and learned to read in English—somewhat ironic, since she could read very little in her native Mandarin.

An exceptionally pretty woman with large and expressive brown eyes and a thick mane of black hair, Wen Ling attracted the attention of most males in attendance at any function she visited, despite being considered “skinny” by the majority of them.  Her beauty conferred both benefits and drawbacks.  Her attendance at a variety of events, mostly dances and concerts, over a period of eighteen months brought her to the attention of the local sheriff, an uncouth and unscrupulous man—who, it must be recorded in the interest of accuracy, was also widely recognized as an insensitive clod, a drunken lout, and a bully.

The six story International Hotel, reconstructed after the devastating 1875 fire, boasted the first elevator in Nevada.  The establishment regularly hosted dances for the wealthier residents of Virginia City, and Wen Ling often joined the more refined citizens attending those civilized dances.  One evening, detained by three miners competing for her attention, Wen Ling, atypically and unintentionally, remained at the hotel several minutes after the conclusion of the evening’s dance.

Accustomed to using his position to obtain the favors of whatever woman caught his eye, the sheriff ordered Wen Ling to accompany him.  When she demurred, he picked her up—literally, he slung the petite woman over his shoulder—and headed toward his office to have his way with her.  None of her miner admirers dared oppose the sheriff, so they simply watched, as he carried her out the door and down the street.

Coincidence has a way of appearing at the oddest and most unexpected times.  On this early autumn night in the heart of Nevada’s Comstock country, coincidence contrived a conjunction of three individuals who influenced the course of Wen Ling’s life.  At the same moment the sheriff emerged from a narrow laneway near the hotel with the struggling young woman over his shoulder, an elderly—and unusual—female cowhand, who had just ridden into town, approached from the opposite direction.  This non-boy cowboy, her grizzled hair cut short and her skin brown from long days in the sun, and tough as old boot leather, had encountered the sheriff before and had little time and no respect for the man.

Seeing the sheriff with a struggling young woman over his shoulder, the older woman called out to him, “What do you think you’re doing?”

The sheriff, under the influence of several drinks consumed earlier at the hotel, mumbled something like, “I got me a sweetheart, an’ I’m takin’ her home.”

The cowgirl, if that term can be used in this context, drew her Colt revolver but did not point it at the sheriff and instead held it resting on her thigh.  She called out, “Put that girl down and stop acting like a dumb ass.”

The sheriff immediately dropped Wen Ling, whose agility allowed her to land unharmed on all fours, and replied, “Who the hell do you think you are?” as he drew his revolver and lifted it toward the older woman.  Leaning slightly to the right, allowing his drunken shot to pass without contact, the sheriff’s interlocutor lifted her pistol from her thigh and fired one shot through the man’s chest which managed to destroy both his right ventricle and his right atrium as well as his ability to breathe, stand, or cause further trouble.

The sheriff, or what had been the sheriff moments before, hit the ground about the same moment Wen Ling stood up.  The older woman said, “You’d better get out of here, sweetie,” rolled her spurs along her horse’s belly, and vanished up the laneway.

At that moment, Randolph Jenkins, who had been in the area only four days but had already learned about the evil sheriff from his new acquaintance Sam Clemens, a local reporter, appeared in the spot the elderly cowhand vacated but a moment earlier.  Wen Ling watched the man, and the look in his eyes, taking in her, the west end of the eastbound horse, and the body on the ground, seemed to say, “Uh oh!  This is not a good place to be right now.”

When the man finally spoke, he said “You’d better come with me.  You won’t be safe here.”

The rescued seamstress wondered, But will I be safe with him?  She thought the man looked kind, and he seemed genuinely concerned, but that did not guarantee safety.  No alternative offered any better prospect of safety, however, so she followed him when he turned on his heel and hurried back up the street from which he had come.  Wen Ling had two thoughts: one, that this stranger was probably correct about her not being safe there, and, two, that he couldn’t be any worse than the sheriff.

The man, tall and slim, introduced himself, once she got near enough for conversation, and suggested they hasten to leave Virginia City.  Wen Ling thanked her benefactor and began to explain the circumstances, but he said, “Wait.  We’ll have lots of time for you to tell me on the way.  There aren’t any trains or coaches running this late, so we’ll have to ride.”

At a livery stable, where it turned out he was known because of previous dealings over the past few days, Mr. Jenkins roused the ostler and hired two horses.  Because Carson City lay only fifteen miles distant vice Reno’s twenty-three, the riders headed south.  Wen Ling, who had never before ridden a horse, felt little short of terrified but said nothing.  Her unexpected companion seemed to sense she felt uncomfortable and said, “Don’t worry.  I hired his most placid mare.  You’ll be alright.”  And, to her surprise, she was.

In the course of their ride, Wen Ling explained the circumstances surrounding the sheriff’s demise and her presence at the scene.  With plenty of time available, she went on to tell her companion about her time in San Francisco and then in Virginia City.  Mr. Jenkins reciprocated, relating how he had resigned his post as a teacher of the sciences to travel North America as a writer, although he earned more of his income as a musical performer, an entertainer.  He concluded that short history with, “I like playing music, but I still hope one day my writing will bring in enough that I no longer have to travel and work as an entertainer.”

Although the two riders shared stretches of silence, they maintained a friendly and pleasant conversation throughout most of the journey.  Mr. Jenkins revealed that he had observed his countrymen’s bigotry on many occasions and explained that was why he felt disinclined to abandon Wen Ling to the tender mercies of whatever mob arrived in response to the sound of the two gunshots.  The Asian seamstress thanked the gentleman and asked if he would be performing in Virginia City.

“Yes, this coming Friday,” he replied.  “You could attend as my guest, if you would like to.”

Wen Ling thanked her companion and asked, “Do you think it will be safe for me to return to Virginia City?”

“I think so,” Randolph said, “but I can ride up and find out the situation first, if you want.”

“Would you do that?  For me?  You hardly know me.”

“I know you better than I did a couple of hours ago, and you seem like a nice person.”

They agreed to discuss the matter in the morning and went on to a surprising variety of other topics.  After not-quite-but-almost three hours in the saddle and a good deal more conversation, they woke another ostler and boarded the horses in Carson City near the fine hotel where Mr. Jenkins roused the night clerk and obtained adjacent rooms for the visitors.  Once the two had walked upstairs to their rooms, Randolph Jenkins said, “Get a good night’s sleep, and we’ll figure out in the morning what we need to do.”  He then wished her a good night and let himself into his room.  Exhausted though she was, Wen Ling lay awake for several minutes marveling at the strange turn of events in her life.

Over a sumptuous breakfast in the hotel’s dining room the next morning, Randolph Jenkins mused, “What am I going to do with you?”  Before Wen Ling could respond, he continued “I guess we need to find out if it’s safe for you to go back to Virginia City?”

“It should be,” the young seamstress replied.  “I was not the person who shot him.”

“Yes, I could see that,” her benefactor responded, “but sometimes people are strange.”

Wen Ling agreed and thought this nice man probably referred to anti-Chinese bigotry—with which she had acquired familiarity both through her own experiences and even more so through careful observation—but avoided saying so in order to spare her feelings.  She said nothing about that but mentioned her concerns about being absent from her job, and her protector said he would catch a train to Virginia City and talk to her boss.  Discussion of the pros and cons, and logistics, of that occupied most of an hour, after which Randolph Jenkins asked, “Do you have family in this area?  Or anyone else besides your boss you want me to contact?”

“No and no, and thank you again for going to all this trouble.”

Mr. Jenkins then excused himself, asked his companion to “please be careful,” and headed for the railroad depot.  Wen Ling bought the morning newspaper, went up to her room, and spent the rest of the morning reading the entire contents of the paper.

A knock on the door accompanied by Mr. Jenkins’s voice saying, “Hi, Wen Ling.  It’s me, Randolph,” ended the immigrant’s second reading of one of the articles.  When she opened the door, that same Randolph said, “You must be starving.  Come on, let me get you some lunch—or dinner, really, it’s so late.”

The hour had just passed four, and Wen Ling felt hungry, so she accompanied Mr. Jenkins—Randolph, I suppose, she thought—to the hotel’s dining room and enjoyed a delicious dinner and Randolph’s company and conversation.  Over their leisurely dinner and an hour with coffee and dessert later, her companion told her what he had learned.

Some suspicion fell on the miners who had vied for Wen Ling’s attention before her abduction by the sheriff.  Fortunately, they all had iron-clad alibis, mostly from each other.  A light veil of suspicion hung over Wen Ling at first, but two of the miners testified to the effect that she never carried a gun and didn’t own one.  Since the sheriff died from a gunshot wound and both of the testifying miners were considered reliable, their testimony dispelled any hint of suspicion regarding the Chinese seamstress.

Randolph explained that he had told Wen Ling’s boss the man’s employee had endured a traumatic experience and might need to be away from work for a few days.  Wen Ling listened to her benefactor and thought about what a thoroughly charming man he was.  She decided he had probably charmed her boss to smooth over any upset about her absence.  Randolph told the seamstress he had said she might need to be away for some days, he further reported that his companion’s boss had said Wen Ling would be welcome whenever she was able to return.

The one little piece of bad news had nothing to do with the sheriff’s death or the immigrant’s job and no immediate impact on any individual mentioned so far.  Randolph told his companion the big mining companies were saying, quietly, their total production of precious metals would probably be less than the previous year for the second year in a row.  “To me,” he said to the woman sharing his table, “that suggests that Virginia City is not a place one would want to remain.  Businesses will fail, the city will shrink, and money and customers will become scarce.”

The two erstwhile fugitives discussed that topic and economic matters, in a broader sense, for most of an hour, before Randolph asked, “Do you like to walk?”

“Yes, I do,” Wen Ling replied.  Sometimes, I have walked out in the desert just to enjoy the smell of the sage and to exercise my legs.”

“Since you don’t have to be back at work tomorrow, may I share a walk with you?”

Enjoying Mr. Jenkins’s—Randolph’s, she reminded herself—company more than that of anyone else—big nose or Chinese—she could remember, Wen Ling quickly agreed to share a walk with him before they returned to Virginia City.  They then retired to their rooms and slept, although Wen Ling again lay awake for awhile first, thinking about her situation and about Randolph Jenkins.

After an earlier breakfast than the two previous days, the visitors walked out King Street and not much more than an hour later reached the modest but very pretty King’s Canyon Falls.  On the walk, almost all uphill, they had talked about more personal topics than in previous conversations, although neither had introduced the topic of their own relationship.  They stood and enjoyed the view of the falls, and Wen Ling leaned her head on Randolph’s shoulder and said, “Thank you very much for bringing me here—for everything, really.  I owe you so much for all you have done for me, and this is so beautiful.”

“No, Wen Ling, you do not owe me anything.  What I have done any decent person would have done.  Besides, I have been enjoying sharing with you.”

The seamstress again thanked her companion, and the two headed back toward the town.  Most of the way back down, the two held hands, but whether that was to ensure the lady didn’t take a tumble or for other reasons was not discussed.  On the way, they decided to ride back to Virginia City—the train would have been more comfortable, but they needed to return the horses—as soon as they finished their mid-day meal, which in reality meant an early afternoon meal.

Both riders braved exposure of more of their personal feelings—although still not about each other—on the trip north.  Each talked about what he or she wanted in and from their lives, about what they especially liked and disliked, about what meant the most to them, and similar daring revelations.  At Randolph’s insistence, they rode straight to Wen Ling’s residence— “I hope it’s alright,” he said, “that I know where you live.”—and he then trailed her mount back to the livery stable, after arranging to take her to dinner after her work the next day.

Once again, the immigrant seamstress failed to fall asleep right away, although she slept soon enough and long enough to feel refreshed and ready for work the next morning.  Atypically, while Wen Ling worked, she thought often about the dinner awaiting her and about the man whose company she would get to enjoy.

That evening as the two sat waiting for their dinner to be served, Wen Ling began, “Is it—” she stopped, annoyed with herself and frustrated.  “Oh, what is that word.”  Looking into Randolph’s face, she continued, “When something is the way it’s supposed to be.”


“Mmmmmm . . .  It’s a different word, a longer word.”

She watched as Randolph considered the question.  He made a few tentative suggestions that did not include the word Wen Ling sought and then said, “Appropriate?”

“Yes, exactly!”  Before her companion could speak, Wen Ling explained, “What I started to ask earlier was: is it appropriate for me to refer to you as my friend?”

The Chinese seamstress worried as Randolph seemed to hesitate.  She watched his lips as he said, “Of course!  I would feel honored, privileged, and delighted to be your friend and to have you as my friend.”

“I am glad.  I am very happy.”

“Good, you deserve to be happy.”

Noone had ever said that to Wen Ling before, and she felt shocked.  Turning the sentence over in her mind and contemplating it from every possible angle, she felt even happier and thought, Yes, why should I not deserve to be happy?

The two discussed, in a broad and general way, the concepts involved, while Wen Ling thought, Being with Randolph makes me happy, although she did not give voice to that thought.  The conversation continued, as Randolph walked his friend to her residence.  Before parting, they arranged another dinner for the following evening.  That latter dinner established or continued a pattern that delayed Randolph Jenkins’s departure for San Francisco several weeks, as the new friends shared dinners and long conversations almost every evening for two months.

The Friday following their first shared dinners, Randolph Jenkins performed to a capacity crowd at Virginia City’s opera house.  Wen Ling enjoyed a front-row seat as her friend’s guest and enjoyed even more hearing him sing and play.  Having heard wàiguó yīnyuè, non-Chinese music, for almost five years, she enjoyed it at least as much as the music she remembered from her childhood.  She thought her friend Randolph sounded better than any of the other singers and musicians she had heard in concert in Virginia City and felt proud to be his friend.

In the weeks following Randolph’s concert, many of his dinner conversations with Wen Ling included discussions of the decline of the local mines’ productivity and likely and looming economic decline of the area.  Wen Ling agreed with her friend that leaving Virginia City sooner rather than later seemed the prudent course.  “But where could I go?” she asked.

“Where would you like to go?” her companion responded.  “Would you like to go back to China?  Would you like to go back to San Francisco?  What would you like?”

Wen Ling pondered those questions, then and over many days and nights thereafter.  She eliminated returning to Zhōngguó, to China, where life was much harder and she would suffer for being female.  She thought her savings might enable her to open her own business as a seamstress in San Francisco and mentioned that option to her friend.

“That would be nice,” he said, “because then I would get to see you.  I had intended to go to San Francisco a few weeks ago and probably need to go before another month or so.”

“Why did you not go, when you intended?”

“Don’t you know?  Because I have been enjoying your company so much.”

Wen Ling wondered if Randolph could see her glowing in response to his answer.  She knew not what to say, and sat silent, trying to think of something appropriate.  Worrying that Randolph might think her vain or silly, Wen Ling thought she had to say something.  With little thought, she said, “Well, then, I’d best move to San Francisco, so we can keep seeing each other.”

Randolph smiled his warm and kindly smile and said, “That would be splendid.”  He paused a moment, then added, “If it’s what you want to do.”

His friend explained her decision not to return to her native land, finishing with, “Life is much harder there, especially for a woman.”

“I think life is harder for women here, too, unfortunately,” Randall said, “but maybe not as bad as there.”

“No, not nearly as bad.  I’ve never heard of parents killing girl babies here.”

“Oh, goodness no!” Randolph said, looking genuinely shocked and distressed at the thought of female infanticide.

Randolph’s sadness and horror left Wen Ling wanting to change the subject to something that would cheer him.  “Would you be performing your beautiful music in San Francisco, or writing or both?”

Visibly pulling himself back from the thoughts that afflicted him, he said, “Both, I think.  I’ll have a market for articles about the San Francisco area, and I’ve already arranged two performances.”    

“Oh, good.  Then I will get to hear you sing again.”

“Wen Ling, dear, I will sing for you anytime you want.”

“Then you will not have time to write.”

Randolph chuckled and said, “That might be unfortunate, but would probably be worth it.”

Wen Ling beamed at her friend and said, “I guess I will have to be in San Francisco to enjoy that.”

“For the next few months, yes.  The thing is, I don’t think I’ll stay in San Francisco.”

The thought of her friend not being nearby sent a ripple of panic through Wen Ling.  “Where will you go then?” she asked.

“I don’t know.  I don’t know San Francisco, of course—I’ve never been there—but I’ve discovered I just don’t like cities.  Maybe San Francisco is so nice it will change my mind, but I would be surprised.  I would really prefer to live in a rural area.”

“What is ‘rural’?”

“Not in a city.  Not near a city.”

“That would be nice.  It would be quieter.  But then you would become a farmer?”

“No, not a real farmer.  I would like to have a garden and a nice orchard—”

“What is ‘orchard’?”

“Oops!  Excuse me.  Fruit trees.”

“Yes, a garden and a orchard—”

“‘an’ orchard.”

“Oh, yes.  Thank you,” Wen Ling replied, then continued, “A garden and an orchard—that sounds good—but would you not need more than that, for a living, I mean.”

“Yes, but I hope by then my writing will bring in enough income.  If not, I can always travel to the cities and perform.”

The two discussed the logistics and attractions of a non-farming rural life at some length, then and in subsequent evening conversations, which left Wen Ling thinking Randolph Jenkins had a very pleasant life awaiting him.  And he deserves a nice life, she thought.  He is a very nice man, and just like he said I deserve to be happy, he deserves to be happy, too.  Not for the first time, but more acutely, less abstractly, Wen Ling wondered whether Mr. Jenkins had a sweetheart waiting for him somewhere, a sweetheart who would join him when he found the spot where he wanted to settle.

The thought of moving back to San Francisco on a more secure financial footing and getting to continue conversations and walks with Randolph appealed to the seamstress.  The juxtaposition of the possibility of his having a sweetheart somewhere disturbed that same seamstress.  Considering the move, though, she recognized she would need to move sooner or later with or without Randolph Jenkins.  In another dinner and postprandial peripatetic conversation a few days later, Wen Ling asked, “How soon do you need to go to San Francisco?”

“My first concert is scheduled in the city in seven weeks.  I’ll need to be there a few days ahead of time to get acclimated.”

“Then I had better tender my notice at work and get ready to go.”

“Is that really alright?  Do you really want to go that soon?”

“No reason not to.  And besides, if we’re going to keep sharing the conversations we enjoy—at least I do—so much, I’d better go when you do.”

“That would be great.  Then we could travel together.  You’d be safer, and the trip would be more pleasant for me.”

And for me, too, Wen Ling thought but didn’t say.  She did say, “Shall we set a date, then, for our departure?”

“Let’s wait a day or two.  I’ve made inquiries about doing a concert in Sacramento on the way.  I expect to know something about that in the next couple of days.”

Two evenings later, Randolph Jenkins met Wen Ling as she left work, and they went straight to a hotel they both liked and ate dinner.  He told his friend, “The Sacramento concert is on; it’s a week before the one in the city, so we have five weeks and four days.”

His seamstress friend told him she had already given notice at work and would be free to leave in four weeks.  Her friend expressed delight and said, “Great!  That will give us time to stop for a couple of days at Lake Tahoe.”  Wen Ling had seen the pretty lake on her way to Virginia City, but only from the coach.  She liked the idea of spending time there but worried about the expense.  Not wanting to spoil her friend’s plans, she said nothing.

The intervening month flew past.  The two disparate friends shared dinner and conversation every evening but one, or at least that was the plan.  Wen Ling went out for dinner one evening with all her female friends, all Chinese and most seamstresses, but she invited Randolph to join the company.  When he accepted, she worried that he might not enjoy the evening.  He surprised her by knowing more Zhōngwén, Chinese, words than she had expected.  He didn’t carry on extended conversations with her other friends, but he managed greetings and pleasantries with all of them.  She even found herself worrying a little about that, fearing that one of them might run off with him.

That did not occur, but several of Wen Ling’s female friends congratulated her on “catching” the handsome da bee“Catching” him?, she thought afterward.  Have I caught him?  She thought the answer to that was “No” but then wondered if she wanted to “catch” Randolph Jenkins.  Her brain, her heart, and other parts of her anatomy supplied an immediate response in the affirmative.  That led the thoughtful seamstress to wonder how she could “catch” this attractive man, but she thought, No, I don’t want to catch him like a rat in a trap.  I just want to go on sharing with him forever.  What can I do to make him want that, too?

Not wanting to hide anything from the very special man in her life but also not wanting to frighten him by declaring her desires, Wen Ling felt enormous conflict, a war between two possible courses of action that disturbed her sleep and her waking thoughts.  She resolved the disturbance by thinking, We are together much of the time now.  Let me just enjoy that and look for an opportunity to express my feeling without frightening him into running away.

The appointed day arrived, and the two ethnically dissimilar friends boarded the coach that bore them to Lake Tahoe, where they did a great deal of walking, a great deal of conversing, and a tiny amount of beginning to share some thoughts about their feelings and their relationship.  Three days later, they boarded another coach, which delivered them to Sacramento.  There, the two shared walks throughout the downtown area and other parts of California’s capital city and more discussions of myriad topics, including a few tentative thoughts about their own relationship.

Randolph’s widely acclaimed concert, in which he dedicated several songs to his Chinese friend, left Wen Ling feeling more intense sexual desire than she had ever before experienced.  She mustered all her emotional and intellectual strength to keep herself from seducing him, from throwing herself at him, afterward.  They shared one of their typical delightful and wide-ranging conversations after the show, while Wen Ling felt extreme frustration.

Two days later, a steam packet carried the two friends to San Francisco, where Wen Ling discovered Randolph had rented a spacious two-bedroom apartment.  “That way, you have a room of your own,” he said, “and you don’t have to spend your money.  That money is for you to start your new business.”

Wen Ling thanked her friend and companion but also thought she didn’t feel at all sure she wanted her own bedroom.  His concert three days later provided a resolution of that question by leaving her even more frustrated than the Sacramento concert.  In the course of their post-concert conversation, Wen Ling asked her friend and companion, “Do you ever feel physically frustrated?”

“Most of the time,” Randolph said, “especially when I’m around you.”

Wen Ling giggled and said, “No, I mean really.  Be serious.”

“Wen Ling dear, I am being totally serious.  I have never wanted anyone as much as I want you.”

“Then why have we not been lovers, these past two or three months?”

“Because I didn’t want to offend you, didn’t want you to think I just wanted your body and wasn’t really your friend.”

“But you are really my friend, aren’t you?”

“Oh, goodness yes!  You are my very dearest friend in all the world.”

“Do you not have a sweetheart somewhere waiting for you?”  There!  She had said it.

“No, I do not, and the only sweetheart I want is sitting right here beside me.”

They turned as one and embraced and kissed, which raised Wen Ling’s level of frustration but made her feel better than she had ever felt before in her entire life.  Hoping she wasn’t being greedy by wanting everything, she asked, “Can we be lovers and remain dearest friends, too?”

“Why could we not?  Wen Ling, I love you.  I want you as a beautiful woman and I love you as the most wonderful friend any man could ever have.”

Another kiss interrupted the pair’s conversation, and they soon reached an unspoken agreement that they did not need to use two bedrooms that night.  Indeed, they found they did not need separate bedrooms from that day forward.  Their compatibility in their shared bedroom matched their exceptional compatibility in other, non-sexual, aspects of their relationship.  The combination led to a wedding the following month and the almost four decades of joy the couple have shared since.

Wen Ling held off on investing her money in opening a seamstress business in San Francisco, which proved a serendipitous decision.  After Randolph’s concerts in the East Bay and the South Bay, the two spent several weeks exploring the country north and south of the city—or, as many people had begun calling it, The City.  Both liked a valley they saw west and southwest of the hopefully-named King City but thought the region might be subject to frequent drought.  On a trip north, they visited Ukiah for a hastily-arranged concert by Mr. Jenkins and explored the surrounding area.  They particularly liked a valley north and slightly east of the town, and Randolph spent the proceeds of his concert on three hundred acres of land near the head of the valley.

The active—one might almost say “frantic”—logging of the nearby redwood forest kept Ukiah prosperous.  Wen Ling therefore thought, while a seamstress business in the town might not yield as much as one in San Francisco or Virginia City, such a business could prosper.  She mentioned that idea to Randolph, who informed her that a sheet music publishing company in the East had published two of his compositions, “So you can do that if you want to, but I don’t think we will need the income.”

The realization that they had conceived a child led Wen Ling to keep her money in the local Commercial Bank of Ukiah and to focus on being a full-time mother.  The commercial success of Randolph’s prose and musical compositions never made the couple fabulously wealthy, but it did provide them with a comfortable income.  He occasionally supplemented that income with lucrative performances in the San Francisco Bay Area, as that region came to be known, and less frequent engagements in other West Coast cities.




BIO: Graduated as a mathematician, but a full-time professional entertainer most of her life, Cora repeatedly attempted to escape the entertainment industry through work as a librarian, physics teacher, syndicated newspaper columnist, and city planner.  Cora lives and writes in Bhutan.  Her short fiction has appeared in sixty-one literary journals and one major anthology and won the Fair Australia Prize.