First Published on Chaleuria
At seven minutes past ten in the night, Fang Chi dialed the number he found in the clinic’s records while lying in bed.
“Hello?” It was Zuo Linlin who answered the call. He sighed. “Is Gao Zhun there? He hasn’t been answering his phone.”
“What happened between the two of you?” she asked, a note of complaint in her voice.
“There were some issues that cropped up…” Fang Chi replied, extremely agitated. “It’s been two weeks since his last treatment. Pass the phone to him, will you?”
She left to look for Gao Zhun. Silence dragged out on the other end of the line until it went dead several minutes later. Fang Chi felt as if his head was about to explode from pent-up frustration. Forcibly suppressing his emotions, he called again. “Linlin? Tell him that I need to have a word with him. I will be brief; it won’t take long.”
“What is wrong with the both of you!” she exclaimed in an accusatory tone before going off to look for Gao Zhun again.
Fang Chi stared intently at the clock on the wall and watched the seconds tick by – thirty seconds, a minute, two minutes… As the third minute struck, he thought he heard someone pick up the phone on the other end. “Mr. Gao?” he asked immediately.
There was no reply, but Fang Chi recognized the fragile, wispy breath on the other end of the line. He was listening, Fang Chi knew. “Mr. Gao.”
At the sound of his name, his breath began trembling almost uncontrollably. “I was wrong…” Fang Chi began. “Perhaps you will never want my help again, but I… I just want to let you know that ever since our first meeting, I have been emotionally invested in every word I said, every feeling we experienced together. Please never doubt the sincerity of my feelings.”
Gao Zhun did not hang up. It had been more than two weeks since they last met, and Fang Chi knew that Gao Zhun must have missed the sound of his voice. He decided to push his luck further with the emotive approach. “How have you been… all this while?”
The line died instantly. The dial-tone rang with an empty urgency in Fang Chi’s ears. After thinking for a brief moment, he called again for the third time. The phone rang for a long time before Zuo Linlin finally answered the call. “Charles, stop calling. He… I think he is crying.”
He knew it. “How has he been for the past two weeks?”
“Terrible. He hasn’t been sleeping – he would stay awake night after night – and he hasn’t really been going to work either… We stay in separate rooms. I have no idea what he does at night… besides drinking, yes, he’s been drinking way too much.”
Fang Chi’s hands clenched tightly into fists. It was all his fault; he was solely responsible. He almost regretted accepting Zuo Linlin’s request for help in the first place. “Try to convince him to see me, okay?”
She hung up in a hurry. Fang Chi held on to the receiver for a very long time before putting it down again distractedly, as if he had completely lost his wits. Over the years, he had treated many patients – some recovered quickly, some struggled with their illnesses for prolonged periods, and some were even subjected to dangerous crises as a result of unsuitable treatments – but none had ever made him feel so ill at ease. He did not understand himself, did not know why he felt or acted this way. Was this because of the sense of mystery surrounding Gao Zhun? Was his interest piqued by Gao Zhun’s unwillingness to confide in him? Did he perceive Gao Zhun’s stubbornness as a challenge to be overcome? Or was he simply fascinated because Gao Zhun was the man whom Zuo Linlin had chosen?
He recalled the sound of Gao Zhun’s breathing on the phone – so frail and helpless – and the smiling nod in the elevator. He thought of those luxurious suits, expensive shoes and bags, and that tiny waist… He slapped himself, feeling as if the entire world ought to rush at him this very minute and drown him in admonishment for what he had done. When he lifted his head, however, he was greeted by nothing but the profound silence of his empty apartment.
“C’est la vie…” he sighed, rubbing his brow as he slid down his bed.
He slept poorly that night. In his dreams, he was hounded by countless indistinct voices that called out to him. Some pleaded for help, some railed at him abusively, and some simply cried. Wafting through the cacophony was his ringtone: “Almost Lover”1 by A Fine Frenzy.
Well, I never want to see you unhappy,
I thought you’d want the same for me,
Goodbye my almost lover,
Goodbye my hopeless dream…
Suddenly, his eyes snapped open. His phone was ringing. He switched on his bedside lamp and glanced at the display on his alarm clock. He cursed when he saw the time – 3:20 a.m. Lately, a patient suffering from a personality disorder had taken to calling him at unearthly hours in the night. Yet, when he squinted at the caller ID on his phone, the display showed an unknown number that did not belong in his contact list.
“Hello?” he answered lazily.
There was no reply. Even after repeating himself, he was met with the same silence on the other end of the line.
“Gao Zhun?” he blurted out.
He regretted his rashness immediately. If he was wrong in his guess, there was little doubt that he would be considered to be unprofessional and negligent for misidentifying a patient. Even if he was right, he ought to have addressed him as ‘Mr. Gao’ instead… As he continued berating himself, a deep voice began to speak up on the other end of the line, “Doctor…”
It was indeed Gao Zhun. Hoarsely, timidly, he said in a lowered voice, “Am I… disturbing you? You… you said that I could call you. I didn’t drink tonight. Because you called. I wanted to do better…”
“Hold on, slow down.” Fang Chi was wide awake now. He got out of bed and found his writing materials. “What happened?”
“I can’t sleep… I get nightmares whenever I close my eyes.”
Fang Chi had a hunch that these nightmares were more than simple dreams; it was more likely for them to be flashbacks to the scene of his trauma. “What were they like?”
A whimpering sob came from the other end of the line. Gao Zhun sounded like he was crying. “It’s always the same dream, but now… you’re in the dream too. You…”
Fang Chi carefully noted every detail down. “What did I do?”
“You pointed at me and said that you despised me,” Gao Zhun replied with difficulty. “I’m scared. Being despised by you… really really terrifies me!”
“Why would I look down on you? Or despise you?” Fang Chi was very calm, and even a little excited. Gao Zhun’s call showed that his move had worked. At the very least, his call had reawakened Gao Zhun’s dependency on him. “I know that these two weeks have been hard on you. You’ve been wanting to see me, haven’t you? You wanted to talk to me and call me, am I right? You can tell me everything now. Tell me everything that’s been weighing on your mind – I’m here to listen.”
He had expected Gao Zhun to break down in tears and readily admit how much he missed him, how he longed to call him every minute of the day, but he was mistaken. Gao Zhun’s voice was calm and steady as he quietly continued, “If I am despised even by you… what else do I have to live for? I might as well be dead.”
Suicidal thoughts! Fang Chi’s heart began pounding in a frenzy against his chest, but he did not let any of his feelings show. “Where are you now?”
The question took Gao Zhun by surprise. “In… in the bathroom. I didn’t want to wake her up.”
“Can you make your way downstairs?” Fang Chi asked as he started digging for his clothes. “You’re afraid of the dark, aren’t you?”
“I… I can’t. I don’t dare to. Why do you ask?”
“I can be there in half an hour, but I might not be able to enter the estate. Give me your apartment number and I’ll think of something.”
On the other end of the line, Gao Zhun fell silent. Fang Chi took it as a sign of rejection – it was common for depressive patients to withdraw from social contact – and was about persuade Gao Zhun further when Gao Zhun spoke up again in disbelief, “You’re coming to see me? You’ll do that… for me?”
“Now?” he asked again.
“Yes. Tell me your apartment number.”
“Security is very tight — you won’t be able to come in.” Then, mustering all of his courage, Gao Zhun added, “I will meet you downstairs.”
Fang Chi was extremely surprised by Gao Zhun’s response. The tone of his voice wavered as he asked, “Can you do it?”
Gao Zhun took a deep breath, “Yes I can.”
- “Almost Lover” by A Fine Frenzy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsWsasqIoyk