'Peach bitten sweetly in the spring

ripens to full cut-sleeve perfection in the summer.'

P'ai had heard the sweet song of Wang-t'ao, the handsome stranger from Wuhan his father had met at the Yangtze ferry stand, many times before in the brief time Wang-t'ao had been in the village, but now it was bringing tears to his eyes. He could not be sure why, but he was trembling, knowing that something momentous was happening. Or perhaps it was the drink. He hadn't had so much wine in all of his years. The rice wine, the chiu, was bitter at first, the more he drank, the smoother it became - and the more it relieved him of his trembling. His overheated body. The meltingly attractive Wang-t'ao - many years older than he was and hardened from ferrying workers across the Yangtze from their cliffside cave dwellings in Zigui to the fertile, alluvial-soil fields on the other side of the river. But still handsome and strong-bodied - and urbane.

It was hot in the room cut out of the cave high above the trickle of the Yangtze, in drought these past four years. The air was not moving, and the chiu was heating P'ai's body. He loosened the sash of his cotton long coat, his ta ao, the most formal and dear clothing that his teary-eyed mu chin and fu chin had insisted he take away from his home with him on this momentous day, and pulled the edges of the crinkly material from his chest.

Wang-t'ao leaned into him and pulled the garment completely off his shoulders and it fell around his waist where he knelt before the low table just inside the shadows of the cave room entrance. Incense was burning on the table, sending wafts of smoke spiraling up the uneven rock ceiling, blackened by centuries of cooking fires.

P'ai began to shake and wrapped his arms around his chest, but Wang-t'ao smiled at him and, in a tender gesture, reached over and placed the palm of his hand on P'ai's sternum and ran it up between P'ai's trembling chest and his forearms. P'ai dropped his arms and Wang-t'ao gently ran long, strong, callused fingers across P'ai's chest, following the well-muscled folds and circling the nipples, which went erect as a chill ran down P'ai's spine. Wang-t'ao had told him he had a beautiful body. The girls of Zigui had always told him this as well. But this was the first time an important visitor from the sophisticated city had said this to him - almost as if he was worth more than a life in Zigui.

Almost as if conveying that everything was all right, Wang-t'ao smiled at P'ai again and pulled the sash on his own robe and shrugged it off his shoulders so that the folds descended on and mingled with the coarse cotton of P'ai's ta ao. Wang-t'ao's robe was of much finer material than P'ai's was, as was in keeping with Wang-t'ao's greater sophistication and position in the world. He was from Wuhan. A pleasure barge master of the Wuhan Floating World.

P'ai knew this. Wang-t'ao's seduction was one of several months, but P'ai had not been misled. P'ai's mu chin and fu chin had not been misled. Some things were inevitable. The pitiful trickle of water in the Yangtze determined many things that just were to be.

'Autumn's mellowing floating world

whispers in melancholy of what could have been'

Wang-t'ao's voice was rich and haunting. It served him well down in Wuhan, where he sang when poling his pleasure barge on the lakes in the Floating World district while his clients were being entertained on the silken pillows in the barge's belly.

P'ai was so warm that he moved to rise and stand for a few moments in the twilight at the entrance of the cave room to take in the evening breeze, but the chiu was making him clumsy, and he slipped and would have fallen back off the matting onto the rock floor if Wang-t'ao hadn't quickly leaned over and encircled the youth's shoulder in his strong arms.

He was looking down into P'ai's face with that handsome, searching, reassuring smile of his. He was humming the melody of his signature pleasure barge poleman song to the one he had chosen to return to Wuhan with him.

P'ai lay, shoulders arched back, in Wang-t'ao's arms. Knowing what came next, even though he had never done this before. Both welcoming and fearing it. He knew it led to Wuhan, away from this impoverished village, made too small for all of the generations here by the fickleness of the father of all Chinese rivers, the Yangtze. By the river's failure to support the necessary harvests. And the greatest fear - that to follow the drought would be a flood, scouring away the very life of the village, its soil.

The young man shivered as Wang-t'ao's fingers slowly glided down from his chest, across his belly, and unknotted his tuan ku. The ends of the loin cloth fell away, and P'ai gave a little lurch as Wang-t'ao's fingers encircled his virgin staff.

Wang-t'ao's lips came down on P'ai's, and the youth opened to him and sighed and moaned and moved from fear and trepidation to greater heat and exhilaration, as Wang-t'ao began to slowly pump his fist on P'ai's yang chu. P'ai initially was restless and instinctively struggled against his heavenly tormentor. But he had known this was coming; he had wanted this. Wang-t'ao was strong and handsome and urbane. And Wang-t'ao had told him of all of the glories of Wuhan - in terms that made very clear to P'ai where his opportunity lay in becoming a part of Wuhan. And P'ai desperately wanted to be in Wuhan - and to be away from the shriveling Zigui.

And, Aeiiii, P'ai had had no idea that it could be like this. He had, of course, pleasured himself in the darkness of his own family's cave room corners. But now he had no control. He could not rest. He could not pace himself; this was being done by another, entirely in the control of another. The rubbing and rhythmic pulling of his yang chu was relentless. P'ai groaned and tried to beg for mercy through the possessive kiss of Wang-t'ao, whose tongue had fully invaded P'ai's mouth and was swabbing his inner cheeks and reaching along the roof of his mouth to the back of his throat. Darting and rubbing. Pulling P'ai's own tongue into his mouth and sucking it.

And Wang-t'ao's big, strong, callused hand pulling on P'ai's yang chu. His thumb playing in the cum-slathered slit in the yang chu's bulging head.

P'ai began to move his hips, to the extent that Wang-t'ao' firm grip allowed. Rising and falling. Wang-t'ao loosening his grip on the yang chu, providing a sleeve for P'ai to move in, rhythmically, insistently.

Pumping, pumping, pumping. Skin sliding against skin.

Wang-t'ao released P'ai's mouth and moved his lips and teeth down to the erect nubs on P'ai's hard, shuddering chest, as the youth threw his head back and concentrated his gaze on the incense trails curling up to the blackened ceiling. Wang-t'ao was bringing his signature tune to a conclusion.

'whispers in melancholy of what could have been

on winter's bridge of sighs.'

With that, Wang-t'ao bit lightly down on P'ai's nipple, and the youth cried out to the streams of upward spiraling smoke. His hips lurched, and he sprayed his youthful seed up onto his tight, quivering belly.

* * * *

He had said it was called becoming a cut sleeve. Mu chin and fu chin had understood service in the Floating World well enough - they had sold P'ai's sisters into that world already. But, simple as they were, they had had no idea that a comely son would have value of this kind as well. They needed the money for the family to survive the Yangtze's drought, which was sure to be followed by a flood. That was for sure; it was the time-worn cycle of life along the Yangtze. But when they had parted with their daughters, they had done it more for their benefit, the selling of the daughters into the Floating World. Luckily P'ai's family members were blessed with beauty, perfectly formed bodies, straight backs and teeth, and melodious voices. So, they were their own resource and treasure. So many families in Zigui did not have even that, even though the village was legendary for its comely folk. Many of them would not survive to the killing flood.

The floating world was a world of comparatively unbelievable wealth. If the daughters had stayed here, they probably already would have starved. If P'ai did not somehow leave, he would surely drown in the inevitable flood that would follow the drought. The parents accepted the inevitability of their fate. They were village born and bound and would remain here, accepting whatever the Yangtze had to give them, no matter what.

Wang-t'ao, handsome and worldly, and relatively wealthy, was an answer to the family's dream. And mu chin and fu chin didn't even have to face the decision of sending their second son into the Floating World in whatever way they could. Wang-t'ao had found and cultivated P'ai - he had come to Zigui explicitly to find a new cut sleeve youth, having heard that this region up the Yangtze from Wuhan produced likely youths. And P'ai had been the most comely of those Wang-t'ao had considered for service on his Wuhan lakes pleasure barge.

For his part, P'ai had been smitten by Wang-t'ao and only briefly recoiled from what Wang-t'ao openly and honestly offered him. Smitten won out over the fears of the actual service and was only heightened by the description of Wuhan and the floating world life. P'ai had visions of his days in his rich, sophisticated, handsome lover's arms - visions of pleasure that completely obliterated his evenings in his thoughts.

Thus, when Wang-t'ao approached mu chin and fu chin, it was with a willing and beaming P'ai at his side.

P'ai would at least survive and might even flourish - and he might, like his sisters, occasionally send something home to help undergird the family and see it through the endless cycle of drought and flood before a decade or two of bare, but tolerable subsistence in the rich alluvial-soil fields across the Yangtze.

* * * *

'Aeiii,' P'ai moaned, as he tried to spread his legs even farther apart. Wang-t'ao had promised pleasure following pain. And they had yet to come to the promised paradise.

'Peach bitten sweetly in the spring

ripens to full cut-sleeve perfection in the summer.'

Wang-t'ao was crooning softly in his rich, baritone voice to P'ai, while the youth stared down over the lip of the rocky ledge beyond the cave room entrance, down into the Yangtze gorge at the bare trickle of water wending down toward the desired Wuhan. P'ai had asked if they could drag the bamboo chair over and do it at the mouth of the cave room, so that he could look down on what this meant he could leave behind. He had told his mu chin and fu chin that he was sure this was what he wanted - and he knew that Wang-t'ao was the one he wanted - but he found he needed this reassurance himself upon jumping that chasm. He needed to concentrate on the reality that Zigui was not a possibility while he was spanning that chasm.

P'ai thought the pain was about over, but it was just starting. Wang-t'ao's hand was slathered in the peach butter that he was working between P'ai's nether cheeks while the youth was bent over the bamboo chair and gripping its rungs on either side under the straw seat cushion. Wang-t'ao had two fingers working inside P'ai, but P'ai was already tensing up and groaning and starting to writhe under the onslaught, the aroma of peach butter forever now engrained on his soul as connected with the taking.


'Relax, my little one,' Wang-t'ao murmured from behind his bent-over protégé. 'It will be well if you let yourself loosen up. Look down there. Look down in the chasm. This is what you are leaving.'

'Autumn's mellowing floating world

whispers in melancholy of what could have been'

Once again Wang-t'ao was singing his signature boatman song, the song he sang as he poled his pleasure barge around the Wuhan lakes, the song by which his clients identified where he was headed and where in the floating world of Wuhan they could move to meet up with what he could provide them.

P'ai felt the firm grip on his hips. Holding him fast and pulling his plump cheeks apart.

'Aeiiii!' P'ai screamed. It was too large; it would split him asunder. P'ai tried to collapse; he tried to struggle away. But the older, stronger Wang-t'ao had him imprisoned with his big, callused fists and was poling ever more deeply inside him with his throbbing yang chu. The master poleman - of boat and of men.

P'ai writhed and whimpered and cried out under the grip of Wang-t'ao as the pleasure boatman initiated his protégé into the cut sleeve life.

'Shih. Shih. Yes, yes, just like that. Each and every one who rides you,' Wang-t'ao panted out and he relentlessly drove up into his tasty virgin morsel. 'Cry for each one as if he is the first lover, just like that. Shih. Shih. My fortune will be made.'

P'ai's eyes watered, and he focused hard on the trickle of water that was the mighty Yangtze, muttering to himself over and over of how the father of all rivers had failed his family and how he would not be defeated by it. Wang-t'ao had bottomed his pole inside him now and was withdrawing and advancing, withdrawing and advancing. P'ai's knees like rubber, the rungs of the bamboo chair snapping under his white knuckled grip. Wang-t'ao holding him in a strong, pinching grip by the hips.

Wang-t'ao panting and groaning. P'ai crying and moaning, but subsiding into whimpers from exhaustion and from new sensations. The pain indeed, as promised, translating itself into new sensations.

He was being taken by his lover. He was one now with his master. P'ai began to move with the rhythm of Wang-t'ao's pistoning pelvis. He turned his head, and Wang-t'ao found his lips and devoured him. Not just animals taking. Lovers giving and receiving.

The bamboo chair lost its purchase on the slippery rock floor as Wang-t'ao lowered the weight of his heaving chest on P'ai's back and reached his lips to P'ai's. The chair skittered out onto the ledge, and P'ai saw it careen over the edge and crack with a echo once, twice, thrice, as it bounced down the cliffside into the Yangtze gorge. P'ai's life in Zigui also crashing, echoing its demise.

Wang-t'ao caught P'ai under the armpits before the youth fell to the floor and kicked the mat by the table over underneath P'ai and slowly lowered him to the mat. All without loosing the saddle of his long, hard yang chu poling the virgin depths. Wang-t'ao pressed P'ai's chest down onto the matting with a big fist in the small of his back; pulled the youth up on his knees, his hips encased between the master's heavily muscled thighs; and continued fucking, fucking, fucking.

P'ai closed his eyes and moaned and sighed for his urbane Wuhan lover while Wang-t'ao went back to singing his song on the pleasure barge.

'whispers in melancholy of what could have been

on winter's bridge of sighs.'

The two cried out in unison in their finishing as Wang-t'ao released deep inside P'ai and P'ai gave up his youthful seed inside Wang-t'ao's fist.

'Shih. Shih,' Wang-t'ao whispered in P'ai's ear after kissing him on the cheek. 'Hen hao. Very good. Very, very good. Each time. Give that each time with the men on the lake, and I will be very pleased.'

P'ai exalted. He had pleased his lover. He could hardly hold back the tears. The pain was worth it. He would run and pack now, and . . .

'We rest for a few minutes,' Wang-t'ao said, standing up and giving P'ai a hardy slap on the rump. 'Then I will bed you and teach you the holing of the snake position.'

* * * *

The cock was short but thick, and the fat merchant was bellowing his well-invested lust as P'ai swallowed his yang chu whole, ingested his balls as well, and sucked them into his cheek cavities. He was humming, just as Wang-t'ao had taught him to do with the small-membered clients, and the merchant was beside himself in the sensation of the warm, moist sheath and the vibrations from the humming. The client was flopping like a landed fish underneath P'ai amid the pile of pillows in the center of the pleasure barge Wang-t'ao was poling across the Wuhan lake toward the Bridge of Sighs leading into yet another lake.

The merchant lost control, tearing at P'ai's hair with one claw and wrapping his beefy legs around the youth's head, pulling him as close into his groin as possible - loving the full engorgement of his privates into that warm, vibrating chamber. His other claw was ripping at P'ai's brocaded robe. Wang-t'ao broke off in his singing and poling ever so briefly as the ripping of the fabric harmonized with the merchant's exclamations of lust against the background of the tinkling instruments and voices gliding across the shimmering water from the other floating world pleasure barges.

Then, Wang-t'ao shrugged and dug his pole into the muck of the shallow lake's bed once more and propelled the barge toward the three arches of the gracefully upcurved Bridge of Sighs.

'Peach bitten sweetly in the spring

ripens to full cut-sleeve perfection in the summer.'

Overcome with desire for the impossibly winsome youth in the red brocade robe, the merchant reared up for the cushions and rolled over on top of P'ai.

'Ching . . . pu. Ching . . . pu! Please, no!' P'ai pled in his most virginal voice and struggled - ever so weakly and ineffectively - as the merchant rolled between his spread legs, held the youth's wrists in one beefy fist above his head, and plunged his other hand under P'ai's buttocks and dug his fingers into the youth's hole.

'Aeiii! No, please. Hen da, hen da. Too big,' P'ai moaned, further inflaming his client to prodigious power. Seemingly struggling against the merchant, P'ai actually dug his heels into the cushions and raised his pelvis to just the right angle for entry.

Feeling his power and skill and cleverness as a lover triangulate, the merchant took advantage of P'ai's 'mistake' at raising his hips to lodge his yang chu at P'ai's opening. P'ai writhed and groaned, pleading for mercy and yelping convincingly as the bulging head of the merchant's yang chu breached his anal ring. And it wasn't all for show. The merchant's yang chu made up in thickness now what it lacked in length.

P'ai cried and panted as the tool worked inside his hole, tightened to the extent he could do so through the 'presenting the virgin' channel muscle exercises Wang-t'ao had taught him in the spring.

By design and excellent training, the 'ravaged' youth slowly metamorphosed into the won-over lover, and P'ai laid back, arched his back, and raised his hips to the pounding of the transported merchant client's yang chu at his forbidden entrance, as he brought the merchant's lips and teeth to his quivering breast.

Wang-t'ao poled and sang his signature tune . . .

'Autumn's mellowing floating world

whispers in melancholy of what could have been'

. . . to the sounds of the muffled sucking at P'ai's breast and slapping of belly and thighs against belly and groin. P'ai hummed along with the Wang-t'ao's tune and raised his eyes to the underbelly of the Bridge of Sigh's middle arch, as the pleasure barge moved under the bridge from the larger to the smaller Wuhan lake and the view of mud bricks opened up into the vast array of stars in the clear South China summer night sky.

Surely this was the last client of the night. Surely he and Wang-t'ao could now retire to Wang-t'ao's small apartment on the lakeside shore, and it would be for Wang-t'ao that P'ai would be spreading his legs and raising his buttocks to receive the unrehearsed, unfeigned deep fucking from Wang-t'ao's, the master poleman's, amazing yang chu that P'ai lived for.

* * * *

The spring of P'ai's preparation by Wang-t'ao, during which the youth fell fully under the spell of the handsome pleasure barge poleman, had turned into a cut sleeve perfection of summer on the shimmering lakes of Wuhan.

No matter what P'ai had had to feign and endure with the evening clients on Wang-t'ao's Floating World pleasure barge, throughout the warm summer, Wang-t'ao took P'ai to his bed when they returned to the lakeside apartment and plowed him deep and long, and with the ardor that made P'ai understand that all that was transpiring in their life together was so that the two could be together as lovers - and that made P'ai never even think of leaving Want-t'ao.

But now the coolness of the autumn was upon the lakes. P'ai now shivered inside his torn red brocade robe when clients were fumbling within its folds and an unexpected breeze fluttered across the water. And coolness came upon Wang-t'ao too. They didn't make love every morning upon returning from the lake as they originally had, and the rhythm of their life they were setting into was not one of red-hot ardor, but more one of domestication, habit . . . and a bit of dullness.

P'ai's first thought that he was losing Wang-t'ao came the late autumn afternoon he had been sent out to do the marketing and had come right back because he had forgotten to take the money - the chi'en - that he needed.

When he drew close to the apartment, he saw Wang-t'ao out on the porch in front of the door. He was talking with a young man - certainly younger than P'ai was. They had their heads together, and the young man was holding a length of the most beautiful scarlet brocade P'ai had ever seen.

A chill raced down P'ai's spine, and he instantly remembered a conversation he had had with Wang-t'ao shortly after they had returned to Wuhan.

'You came back to Wuhan to your own pleasure barge and to acceptance in the Floating World, Master,' P'ai had murmured one morning as Wang-t'ao held him still from behind, all in stillness except for Wang-t'ao's masterful yang chu working in and out of P'ai's love hole.

'Shih. Shih. Yes, I did,' Wang-t'ao said through teeth working their way across P'ai's shoulder.

'It does not seem easy to gain position in the Floating World,' P'ai had whispered.

'Pu yao, No, it's not,' Wang-t'ao answered, as he moved his lips from P'ai's shoulder and nuzzled his face up into P'ai's arm pit, as the youth raised his arm and emitted a low moan to the effect of Wang-t'ao's tongue and teeth in his sensitive flesh there. 'I have been a pleasure boatman for many years.'

'And you must have had many youths such as me entertaining the men's yang chu's then,' P'ai had murmured.

'Shih, Many. But none as fine as you, of course.' Wang-t'ao had moved his mouth to the youth's nipple and was sucking it hard between his teeth.

'Aieee,' P'ai groaned. 'And the youth before me. How long was he with you.'

'Alas, only one full turning of the seasons,' Wang-t'ao had said with a low growl. 'But enough. I want you to practice coming together.' And with that, Wang-t'ao had fisted P'ai yang chu and started to pump it as hard as he could while diving deep inside the youth with his yang chu. And P'ai was forced to abandon his questioning at that point and concentrate on coming together as commanded.

And P'ai had forgotten what had been said . . . until now. It was already late autumn. Only the winter to go. He could not live without Wang-t'ao. There was nothing in life without Wang-t'ao. He certainly could not go back to Zigui after having lived Wuhan.

The next market day, he did not forget the chi'en, but he came right back to the lakeside apartment, already knowing the truth, but wanting to be proved wrong.

But he wasn't proved wrong. The other youth was there now, standing outside the apartment with a beaming Wang-t'ao. Wearing a newly tailored robe from the beautiful scarlet brocade P'ai had seen the previous market day. The handsome youth was turning this way and that way, and Wang-t'ao was looking at him with approval - and, yes, P'ai was convinced, with that look of speculation and desire that he had seen in Wang-t'ao's eyes when they had first met in Zigui in what seemed so long ago and so far away.

* * * *

P'ai stood at the highest point of the Bridge of Sighs on Wuhan's lakes on that first day of winter, still cool but with that touch of frost on the air promising the bleakness to come. He was staring down into the frigid lake water, holding his torn red brocade robe tightly around him, whispering not only of what had gloriously been but, in melancholy, also of what might have been - what he had dreamed would be.

He was not angry - just regretful. If he had stayed in Zigui, life certainly would not have been any better. He had had his peach spring, perfectly ripe summer, and mellow autumn. He would not stand in the way of Wang-t'ao. He had been a superb lover, and P'ai loved him still. Would love him forever.

P'ai looked down into the swirling water as it moved from the larger lake into the smaller one, the new water brushing the old water aside, pushing its way into the smaller lake. Life was ever thus. P'ai leaned out farther over the stone railing, bending down toward the swirling, welcoming waters.

* * * *

'P'ai, P'ai,' Wang-t'ao was crying out over the water in the advancing twilight as he poled the pleasure barge out onto the large Wuhan lake. 'Anyone seen my P'ai?' he cried out to the other pleasure barges casting off with their first cushioned nesting of treasured clients for the evening.

'Shih, Wang-t'ao hsien sheng,' another poleman called out to his friend. 'Just moments ago, over at the Bridge of Sighs.'

'Hsieh, hsieh - thanks,' Wang-t'ao called back. 'It's not like him not to be ready for the first castoff. And I wanted to show him what I had made for him.'

'Gifts for a lover?' the friend bantered back, needling him gently. 'I've heard you have an ever-stiff yang chu for that one. You know it isn't good business to fall for your cut sleeve.'

'Fuck you,' Wang-t'ao called back, but in a tone that obviously was given in good humor. 'This one is special. I am getting too old for this business. This one I take away with me. And look, see what I had made for him. His robe is old and torn; I've bought him this splendid new scarlet brocade robe. Cost me a month's taking. But he is worth that and more to me. He is worth everything to me.'

As they had bantered back and forth, they had been poling across the lake toward the Bridge of Sighs. And as Wang-t'ao had carefully, lovingly folded his love gift and set it down on the cushions at the center of the pleasure barge, he looked across to the entry of the greater Wuhan lake into the lesser . . .

. . . and saw the familiar torn red brocade robe floating on the surface of the frigid Wuhan lake just below the Bridge of Sighs.



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