Henry Dore ate lunch at the Hong Kong Clay Pot Restaurant in Chinatown everyday just to be near her. He didn’t know her name, and in fact, she was a complete stranger to him, but she was captivating in a way he couldn’t articulate, even to himself.
He had first seen her when he was having lunch with a visiting museum curator from Finland. As the Marketing Manager for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, one of his duties was to entertain VIPs, and he wanted to impress Inari Rinnetmäki, thinking that no Chinese restaurant in Helsinki could match up to the Clay Pot.
Now he couldn’t even remember Rinnetmäki’s response, and he couldn’t care less if she loved the cuisine here or hated it. Just as he and Inari had finished their meal, she walked in and was seated alone at a small table near theirs, which he had since learned was reserved for her every day at one. So today, he was passively sipping spoonfuls of Hot and Sour Soup, not noticing the flavor as he stole clandestine glances in her direction.
“Sir, how is your soup?”
He hadn’t heard the waiter approach. “It’s fine. Thank you.”
“We are happy that you are enjoying your meal. Please let me know if there is anything I else I can get for you.”
“Yes, thank you. I’m fine.” The intrusion annoyed Henry since it took his attention away from her.
He was grateful when his unwelcome server finally turned his back and walked to another table.
He spun his head in time to see her, yes her, pull out the chair opposite his and sit down. He opened his mouth to say something, but words failed to populate his lips, so he sat gaping at her.
She looked up and gave a short wave. The waiter returned. “How may I assist you?”
“Please bring my order to this table.”
“Of course. It will be ready momentarily.” He turned and left again; a study in courtesy.
“I couldn’t help but notice you come her often. Everyday for the past two months. You must really enjoy the food.”
Henry’s mouth stubbornly refused to obey his mental commands and remained open, even when the waiter returned with her meal. She said something to the waiter, probably in Mandarin, he responded in kind, and again departed.
“How’s the soup?” She picked up her chopsticks and daintily took her first bite of her lunch.
“Oh, it’s fine. Thank you.” Thousands of questions swarmed in his mind, like bees suddenly bereft of a nest, the first one being, “Why did you come over here?” None, however, were expressed.
“I’ve been meaning to try…what are you eating?”
She placed another small morsel in her mouth and nibbled, like a cat or a fox. Then swallowing, “Beef Chow Fun. You can try some if you’d like.”
“Maybe some other time. By the way, my name’s Henry, Henry Dore. I work at the Museum of Modern Art.” He awkwardly extended his right hand.
Putting down her chopsticks, she wrapped soft, delicate fingers around his. “Húxiān Niángniáng. Pleased to meet you.”
She released his hand, and he lamented at the far too brief contact. Her hand was smooth, warm, and somehow inviting.
“I notice you eat her everyday as well.”
“I’m a creature of habit, Henry. May I call you Henry? I know we’ve just met.”
“Yes, of course. And you are Húxiān?” He knew he was butchering the pronunciation.
“It’s Húxiān, a very old name and don’t worry, the pronunciation is difficult for most westerners.”
Only then did he notice the slight accent concealed behind her English.
“Have you been here long?”
“San Francisco or America?”
“No. Just the past few months. I come from Dongbei, what you would call the northeastern region of China.”
“What brings you here.”
“Boredom, mainly. I’ve lived in the same place all of my life, and decided to expand my horizons. By the way, how is my English. I’m afraid I haven’t had much practice.”
“Your English is flawless. I only speak German and French, and I’m not very good at either.”
“Comment allez-vous?” The sudden switch in languages surprised him, but her French was as good as her English, at least as far as he could tell.
“Bien, merci. Really, we should stick with English. Like I said, my French isn’t very good.”
Henry took another spoonful of his soup only to realize it had gone cold. Looking down, he was surprised to see she had almost finished her meal and that the waiter had brought a fresh pot of tea. He glanced at the wall clock. It was past two.
“I have to get back to work, but I’d like to continue our conversation, will you be here tomorrow?”
“Yes, but do you really have to go?” She put her hand on his and he froze, not knowing how to interpret the gesture. He knew women often touched casually during conversation, and it didn’t mean anything beyond an extension of communication. Certainly it couldn’t mean what he wanted it to mean.
“Well, I do have some appointments…”
“Cancel them. We can have dessert. I love ice cream.”
“But…we’ve just met and…”
“Isn’t this what you wanted?” Her eyelashes fluttered and her full, pink lips curved into a slight smile. “You have been coming here every day because of me.” It wasn’t a question. She knew.
“I guess I have.”
“I’ve been watching you too, Henry.”
They made love in her apartment for the rest of the afternoon. Fortunately, he was able to cancel his appointments and make some excuse about food poisoning to his personal assistant, but he would have quit his job on the spot if he had to. Anything to be with Húxiān.
He woke up as sunlight was streaming in through the blinds of the west-facing window. She lived on the third floor of a building just a few blocks from the Clay Pot. Henry stretched in a leisurely fashion and reached over to the other side of the bed to find it vacant. Then he smelled cigarette smoke and sat up.
Opposite of him, she was seated in the nude, smoking, but his distaste for tobacco was completely forgotten when he saw her. It was her body, every line, every curve, he felt as if he’d memorized it during lovemaking, like a topographical map. But her face. The fox’s head was in shadow, but her eyes were glowing.
“Finally awake, Henry. I hope you enjoyed your nap.” It was her voice, but how?
He gripped the blanket with both hands, balling his fists tight. His eyes went wide with horror. He felt cold and wet.
“You remember I told you my name is very old. In your language the closest translation is ‘Fox Immortal Lady’. I have been worshiped for time beyond imagination, at least from a western point of view, by families in Henan, Shandong and every city, town, and village northward.”
“It is true that I am an immortal, considered a god. I took a pleasing shape to entice you, or anyone really. You were just the one who took the bait. The legends tell that we fox sprites are masters of the arts of metamorphosis, and can manifest in human form to seduce the opposite sex. I hope you enjoyed your meal, but remember, I promised you dessert.”
Nine tails previously hidden behind her flawlessly female body swished back and forth as she snapped her jaws, briefly revealing rows of razor-sharp teeth. Then she rose and said, “I’ll fetch the ice cream from the freezer.”
I wrote this for Photo Challenge #228 hosted at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie. Every Wednesday, Nekneeraj posts a rather surrealistic image to be used as the prompt for crafting a poem, short story, or some other creative work.
When I saw the photo, the first thing I thought of was the ancient Egyptian goddess Bastet, but the picture looked more like a fox’s head, so I searched elsewhere. Then I found Huxian. Legends don’t say the fox sprites are dangerous, but I wanted to add some punch to my story. They are, however supposed to transform shape and seduce the opposite sex (the sprites can be male as well as female.
I named her victim after Henry Doré who documented the worship of the Fox God in the northern parts of Jiangsu and Anhui.
Google told me what I needed to know about the Hong Kong Clay Pot Restaurant and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
EDIT: I added a line to the end of the story. Monster’s seducing men just to eat them is such a bore.