At lunch, Zichen told her two co workers that she was considering going to a new place for her vacation. Feeling more adventurous this year? Ted said. Since Zichen had begun to work with Henry and Ted, thirteen years earlier, she had taken two weeks off every November to visit China. England, she said now when he asked, and she wondered which would be more adventurous in her colleagues' opinion, England or China.
Henry had been sent to Vietnam at eighteen, and had returned to Iowa six months later with ruptured intestines; at nineteen, he had married his high-school sweetheart. Every summer he and Caroline spent three weeks in a lakeside cabin in Wisconsin with their children and grandchildren.
The farthest place Ted had travelled to was Chicago. A few years earlier, he had accompanied his daughter there for a high-school volleyball tournament; her team had lost in the final match, and with his daughter now a senior at the state university Ted still held Chicago responsible for the disappointment.
What's there to see in England in November? Ted asked. Zichen did not answer, because anything she said would fall short of his expectations. In previous years, he had wondered belligerently what there was to see in China, and Henry had been the one to shush Ted.
Like Zichen's other acquaintances in America, they had been led to believe that in China she had a pair of parents, and that, like many, she had wedged some distance between herself and her parents, reducing her filial duty to an annual visit.
What about China? Henry asked, laying out his lunch - a sandwich, a thermos of soup, and a Banana - on a paper napkin. Henry was a neat man, his lab coat clean, what remained of his hair combed and parted precisely; he was quiet, but said enough not to seem sullen.
Her parents were taking a tour to Thailand with a group of retired people, Zichen said.
Why couldn't she meet them in Thailand? Ted demanded, and predicted that she would see nothing in England but rain and coldness and people who were too polite to ask her to repeat her name.
There was a reason to visit a place where one's name was unpronounceable, Zichen thought, just as there was a reason that her parents continued to share a life in their daughter's mind.
A month from now, rather than telling Henry and Ted about England, Zichen knew she would be relating tales of her parents' trip to Thailand: the marketplace after nightfall, the cabaret show that they disliked but felt obliged to enjoy because it was said to be the highlight of their tour, the hotel bed that was too hard, or perhaps too soft for him.