Security
 
krystal song

               Jane waits for her husband to return home, watching from the window as night descends on the quiet suburbs of San Francisco. Her reflection sharpens against the darkening glass pane. She studies her face, then in her head, recites what she knows. She is thirty-one-years-old. She is from China, but she immigrated to the States five years ago. Her hair falls to the nape of her neck, and she wears it in an asymmetrical black bob, the color of newly ground ink. Jane likes to cook. She likes to clean. She likes to have sex. 

               At an investor relations meeting, Chad lectures on stage, pacing back and forth between the display monitor and picture window. His cloud security startup is about to go public and file for IPO, if only he can secure one more round of seed funding. 

               Your own devices can turn against you, he says. The tablet your kids play with. The desktop monitoring your bedroom. The cellphone in your pocket, recording your every conversation. 

               Your security is always at risk, even at home. 

               The sun is only a pale wisp in the sky by the time Chad gets out of his meeting. He checks his wrist only to remember he couldn’t find his Rolex this morning, and his backup Patek Philippe was missing too. With a sigh, he withdraws his phone. 7:47 pm. Three missed calls and one voicemail from his CFO, Kenny.

               Hey Chad, give me a call when you see this. I’m going through our financials right now and they don’t look so hot. Did you file an unauthorized transaction under Quarter Four–

               He switches off his phone. Kenny’s impending layoff is fast approaching, driven in part by the man’s paranoia and resistance to change. 

               The elevator dings and Chad steps through the glass doors. Just before they can close, his assistant Fernando jams a hand through the crack. 

               Sorry to bother you, Mr. Henderson, but your check was denied again. I called the bank and they said the account was frozen–

               Chad lifts a single hand. I told you not to disturb me after hours. I won’t ask again. 

               The doors slide shut. 

               He soon discovers, waiting by the curb, that his driver is late. It frustrates him endlessly to be burdened by the incompetence of those around him, but he reminds himself that things are changing soon. 

               An hour of traffic later, he finally reaches the sprawling neighborhood of Marin County, the boulevard carpeted in hyacinth and freshly mowed grass. Chad allows himself to relax, thinking of Jane and the anniversary gift he’s ordered for her. 

               He grabs his briefcase and bounds out of the car. Before he can even make it up the front lawn, the door swings open. Jane stands there, her slender frame silhouetted by the warm kitchen light. He runs up the final few steps and draws her into his arms. Hey, baby, he says into her neck. You always smell so good.

She laughs and tugs him inside, then takes his coat to hang in the closet. Chad follows her into the kitchen, where a spotless five-course meal sits steaming hot on the dining table, elegantly arrayed with Jane’s impeccable taste.

               She slides out his chair for him, then heaps food onto his plate. What a day, he begins, clearing his throat and preparing to get the load off his chest. The venture capital pitch went fantastic.

               He shovels a creamy spoonful of lobster bisque into his mouth. Dinner’s great, babe. Honestly, I don’t know what I’d do without you. I’m surrounded by idiots at work. It’s such a relief to come home and see everything done right.

               She smiles at him, gratitude evident on her face. Chad knows how thankful she is for all that he’s done for her. If not for him and the dating agency that connected them, she would be a poor farmer’s wife now, picking rice in the fields and pulling leeches off her ankles. Chad knows he saved her from a life of unjust misery.

               Dessert? Chad asks. Right on cue, Jane brings out a sunshine-yellow lemon meringue pie, the ratio of lemon to cream exactly how Chad likes it. After second helpings and a third glass of wine, he picks her up and carries her to their bedroom. She slides off of him with a practiced ease, then kneels at his feet, her eyes demurely lowered. He unbuckles his belt, then places a hand under her chin, forcing her to meet his gaze. Her slanted, dusky eyes are wide with adoration and childlike awe. She kneels before him and gives him what he wants. 

               The following day Chad hosts a party to celebrate his new business partnership. Jane spends the morning getting the house in order and preparing the hors d’oeuvres. She takes her time creating the welcome banner for the front door, which she inscribes in her consummate calligraphy. Chad is especially proud of her penmanship. He likes to brag that his wife could replicate anything in the world, that her calligrapher’s hand never stumbles. In flawless block lettering, she writes out, W-E-L-C-O-M-E. The characters are as straight and even as jail cells.

               Chad interrupts her work with a kiss on the neck. He carries a slender package under one arm, as excited as a boy on Christmas morning. Come upstairs, he says. I have your anniversary gift. You can wear it for the party tonight.

               Jane follows him from behind. In the bedroom, she unwraps the box to find a slippery red gown.  

               It’s a geisha dress, he explains. The silk is imported from Kyoto. C’mon, try it on. 

               She slides the sleek fabric over her skin. Chad ties the bow for her, then spins her around so he can get a good look. Stunning, he says. You look like something out of an art exhibit. 

               Jane gives him a small, shy smile, as innocent as a child. Chad begins to embrace her but then hears the doorbell ring from below. I’ll let you get ready, he says reluctantly. See you down there.

               The party is a wild success. Bottles of unpronounceable champagne are passed around like water, until everyone is the best of friends. Chad announces his new foray into file integrity monitoring to critical acclaim. He holds court in the living room, telling stories of how he achieved such explosive victory. The trick is, you have to go after what you want. You can’t hold back, he explains to his fawning crowd. You have to be on the offense. Stay aggressive, always. He sways, then catches sight of Jane in the hall. Even in bed. Right, Jane? 

               His co-workers hoot. Jane does not turn, but instead disappears around the corner, her black hair whipping behind her. Chad frowns, his vision blurring at the edges. Jane?

               Someone steadies his arm to keep him from tripping. He turns to see a familiar face helping him, supporting him. Hey, he says, bewildered. Jane, I thought you were over there.  

               You married one and you still think all Asian girls look the same, Kenny says into his champagne glass. Chad feels his neck heat but ignores the jealous comment. Jane, why aren’t you wearing the geisha dress? 

               She smooths down the folds of her black skirt in a nervous gesture. This too was also a gift from him, an engagement or honeymoon present of some sort. At least, he reasons, it’s still from him. 

               Anyway, he says, steering her towards the foyer. I want you to meet my new business partner, Paul. His wife is from China too.

               Paul is stocky and well-built with a midwestern accent that makes him less of a threat. His wife Michelle is on the chubbier side with a sloppy, wide-toothed grin that she does not try to cover. Hey there, she says. You can call me Mich. 

               Chad barely conceals his distaste at her firm handshake. He tries to discuss top tech unicorns going on IPO this year, but Michelle keeps interrupting with irrelevant comments. Chad’s irritation is peaking, his inebriation fading, when Jane reappears with fresh flutes of champagne. 

               Thank God, Chad mutters. What would I do without you? He gives her a small squeeze before she goes back to attending to the party. 

               Michelle leaves for the bathroom. Paul scans the territory like a sharpshooter, then leans in. Asian women, he says with a conspiratorial air. They really are the best. 

               They know how to take care of a man, Chad agrees. And you know how they are in bed… They dissolve into laughter. Chad slaps Paul on the back, warming up to their newfound camaraderie. 

               Around midnight the party starts to wind down. Jane takes a group photo for Chad and his co-workers, standing on a stool to get the perfect shot. Someone offers to take one of the beautiful couple, but Chad explains that Jane doesn’t like photos. It’s something about her culture, he explains with a chuckle. All the feng shui elements get thrown off or something. 

               As the guests start to leave, a waiter taps him on the shoulder. Excuse me, sir, but there’s an issue with the catering charge. 

               Chad excuses himself and heads to the back. Where is Jane? She should be taking care of a trivial issue like this, but she is nowhere to be found. He is forced to deal with the menials himself and hunt around for a different credit card. Tomorrow he’ll speak with his assistant about calling the bank. His pet peeve is incompetence, and he is surrounded by it.

               He finds Jane well after catering leaves. She wears a face mask and apron as she mops the floor, her hair tied at the nape of her neck. 

               You should have dealt with the credit card issue, he says lowly. You made me look like a fool at my own party.

               She hangs her head, ashamed. She starts to kneel and he sighs, dragging her back up. Whatever, he says, shaking his head. The alcohol is getting to him and he can feel a headache approaching. It’s not a big deal. Just don’t let it happen again. 

               He leaves Jane alone in the vestibule. Jane stands there, blinking. She is thirty-one years old. She came here from China five years ago. She is slender and small, with short, blunt-cut hair and almond-shaped eyes. Slowly, she pulls down the mask to reveal a small mole adorning her cheekbone, just beneath her eye like a black teardrop. Jane stares at her reflection in the glass window and then readjusts the mask. She likes to cook. She likes to clean. She likes to have sex.

               On Monday, Chad comes home early from work. He tried to check on one of his real estate investments but was denied access in a shockingly insolent manner. He is perturbed by this insubordination but tries to quell the feeling; Chad is not a man easily shaken by poor customer service. He is a man that rises above such circumstances. 

               Jane is not there to open the door for him, but he is three hours early and this is understandable. Chad types in the pin code himself. As the garage door rises, he spots Jane in the corner, bending over to reshelf some sort of domestic supply. She wears a baseball cap and simple blue jeans but they only serve to accent her beautiful figure. He stands in the driveway wondering how he got so lucky. Jane is thirty-one but she looks barely past twenty, with the hips and breasts of a little girl. 

               Hey, baby, he says. He starts coming over before he takes in the dust and coughs. Jane pats her hands quickly and leads him away from the mess, to the delicious smells emanating from the kitchen. She starts to prepare a snack for him.

               I’ll finish some work first, he says, loosening his tie. Paul and Michelle are coming over for dinner tonight, by the way. You’ll like that, won’t you?

               She nods, tying an apron over her blouse. He loves that she gets along with all his friends. His former wife couldn’t be bothered to socialize with anyone who had over a single-digit IQ.  

               He heads to his office, then changes his mind and decides to change first. In the bedroom, the furniture is dusted and the sheets immaculately made. He saunters over to the closet, then stops short as he comes face to face with Jane, who is reorganizing the shelves. 

               Jane? His jaw drops. I thought you were in the kitchen. Then he laughs at himself, knocking his head a few times for good measure. It’s been a crazy few days. I need to get more sleep, he explains, as Jane finishes stacking the linens and dusting the safe. She smooths the folds of her skirt then tilts her cheek up for a kiss. He chuckles and kisses her once on each cheek, then smack on the lips, forcing his tongue into her mouth. 

His phone starts ringing at the worst possible time. With a groan, he surfaces to check the screen. It’s his property manager, Easton. 

               I’m sorry, babe, I have to take this. 

               He splashes cold water on his face then heads down the stairs, dragging his fingers through his hair. Hello?

               Hey Chad. Easton’s voice sounds strained. Great to hear from you. Listen, I know the nature of the deal was classified, and you said you didn’t want me to make a big deal out of it, but you’re an old buddy of mine, and the parting’s tough, you know? It’s been a good time, man. Wishing you the best from here on out. Feel free to hit me up if you ever change your mind. 

               What are you talking about? 

               Easton struggles for words, then lapses into silence. He hears muffled voices in the background, as if Easton is taking orders from someone else. I’m sorry. Anyway, it’s been good man. Best of luck. 

               The line disconnects. Chad stares at his phone, then throws it on the sofa. He wonders if it has been bugged, if there is some malevolent force watching from above, aliens maybe, or just the Russian government. He wonders if somewhere, far away, someone is out to get him. 

               Jane emerges from the bedroom. She has changed for dinner and now wears a tight turtleneck dress that hugs her slender frame. She perches on the edge of the sofa beside him, before he pulls her onto his lap. Her skin is soft and smooth, white as porcelain. You’re like a doll, he murmurs into her neck. She starts to giggle before raising one hand to cover her laugh.

               He trails one finger down her ear. There are slight dents in her earlobes as if her ears were once pierced, though he knows this is untrue because he once tried to buy her earrings as an anniversary gift. He listens to the beating of her heart and exhales. It is like listening to the sound of his own heart. There is no one he knows better than Jane. 

               His phone buzzes with an online video meeting reminder. He sighs and untangles himself from Jane, then meanders over to the office to set up his monitor. As he closes the door behind him, Jane remains perched on the sofa, breathing in, then out, trying to control the pace of her heart. 

               She stares at herself in the reflection of the glass table. She is slim and delicate, with soft ebony hair that rests above her shoulders. Her eyes are coal-black and lidded, and she bears a small scar at the base of her chin, from when she fell as a child in a run-down Cleveland park. The makeup is smeared where Chad kissed her. She opens her compact powder and presses in more concealer to cover up the scar.  

               Michelle and Paul are punctual. At six o’clock sharp they trigger the home security camera and ring the doorbell. Jane is taking the bread out of the oven, so Chad goes to get the door. He accepts the bouquet of lilacs and welcomes them in heartily, ushering them toward the dining room and the fresh scent of focaccia. Michelle is noisily appreciating the tasteful décor when Jane emerges from the kitchen, wielding fresh loaves of bread on a ceramic platter.

               Jane, Paul exclaims. So nice to see you again. Dinner looks incredible.

               Jane smiles. Michelle smiles back before freezing mid-step. Slowly, her smile fades as she stares at Jane. Paul looks uncertainly from his wife to Jane. Chad clears his throat. 

               Where is Jane? Michelle demands.

               What? Chad asks. 

               What? Paul echoes. Honey, she’s right here.  

               Jane smiles uncertainly, looking to Chad for direction. Michelle raises an accusatory finger in her direction. Who are you? She takes a deep, steadying breath. The two women share a look, almost intimate, almost foreign. I don’t know what you’re trying to do here, but I won’t be a part of this! 

               Chad steps protectively in front of his wife, as if trying to shield her from this woman’s insanity. Paul takes Michelle by the arm and apologizes for his wife’s erratic behavior. Michelle ignores all of them and continues to glare at Jane before dragging Paul out the way they came, like a hasty gust of wind. I’ll ring you later, Paul calls out unceremoniously. The sound is cut off by the door slamming shut. Jane bows her head in acknowledgement, her eyes wide and compassionate. After all, Chad thinks, his wife is a gracious woman.  

               On Tuesday, Chad must stay late at the office to handle regulatory matters. Talk of IPO is going nowhere and the valuation results are disappointingly lackluster. For a little while, Chad was excited by acquisition rumors, but now investors look to be retracting their initial shiny offers. In a matter of hours, Chad’s net worth drops by a couple million.

               He cannot wait to return home to Jane. She usually makes lemon meringue pie on Tuesdays and he wants triple helpings tonight. He feels like he can do anything with Jane by his side, who believes and trusts in him with every fiber of her being. Without him, she is nothing. He is all that she has. The thought strengthens him; he must be there for her. 

               At eight in the evening, his driver fails to show up. Fernando meets him by the curb this time, his gaze skittering nervously across the sidewalk like a cockroach, looking anywhere but him. Mr. Henderson, I know you didn’t want me to bother you after hours–

               Then why do you continue to do so.

               –but the bank called again, and I’m out of options. Your credit cards are frozen. Your bank accounts are overdrawn. Your loans are nonperforming–

               Chad wants to scream at the man, but there are onlookers, watching. He can feel the eyes on the back on his head. Fernando scampers away. 

               He takes a step back, stunned, reeling. He feels like an extra in a bad sixties sci-fi, the world tilting around him in psychedelics. 

               He tries to call an Uber home but his credit card is denied. He ends up taking public transportation and getting spit on by a deranged homeless man. When he gets home, thoroughly irritated, the front door is unlocked. The lights are off. 

               Jane? In the stillness, his voice echoes. For the first time he recognizes how big his house is.

               There must be some sort of mistake, he thinks. Night falls and still he waits, sitting on the edge of the unmade bed, waiting for Jane to return from a late grocery run, an emergency manicure, an administrative errand. The hours pass as he paces back and forth, running his hands along the bannister, gleaming and fingerprint free, the desks, Jane’s ledger pristine and neat, the refrigerator, stocked with butter and eggs and every necessity known to mankind. 

               By midnight he is staggering with terror. He is sure Jane is kidnapped and crying out for his help. He can just picture some great big man spying on her from the window day by day, a small, defenseless housewife too innocent to even hurt a fly. He can imagine the man tying her up and throwing her in his trunk, and Jane being too terrified to even scream. He calls the police and drives out to search for her, seizing a butcher’s knife and a long cord of rope. It makes him angrier than anything else, to think of that faceless man taking her, having her. How dare he? When he returns home at five in the morning, empty-handed, all he can think of is that faceless man, who dared steal from him. 

               The police come over the next day. They turn on Chad and ignore his protests regarding the kidnapper. Instead they take his financial statements, his property investments, even his will. They ask if it is true his trust fund was redrafted six months ago. He sees his signature, unconnected to his own hand. He stares at his fingers as if they have betrayed him.

               Is that your signature? they ask.

               Yes, he says, because it is. 

               When they leave, he stares at his empty house, his empty safe, his empty bed. He touches his empty wrist, where even his Rolex is gone. 

               He gets an email from the venture capital firm. We loved your cloud security pitch, they write. We want software that can recognize the threat and forecast it. Let’s schedule a talk for Round Two.

               Chad locks the doors tonight.  

               Somewhere far away, Jane looks at Jane who looks at Jane. She looks at Jane, who looks back. They smile at each other, then begin to speak. 

Krystal Song (宋晶莹) is a first generation Chinese American immigrant with roots in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Her work touches on the diaspora experience, and the shifting nature of collective memory and history. She currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area where she works in product in the high-tech industry. To learn more, visit krystalsong.com.

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