V. Flesh

flesh.jpg

Q called me back. I heard the phone buzz from the bed, crumpled, and stumbled to it, against myself.

“Yeah, hey, we’re going out tonight.”

“Where?”

“Somewhere—meet near your apartment? We’re tired of Lan Kwai…”

“Sure.”

I pressed my hands to my forehead, dry and clammy, dirty feeling, wanting a shower. Cotton mouthed. I tossed the phone onto my mattress and went to freshen up.

I arrived at to the corner of Nathan Road and Argyle at about nine, where I waited for the Koreans to show by a row of ATMS, street glowing with white light, clogged with kids arguing in front of K-joints—a girl leaning, arms folded, against a sharp-angled concrete wall, scrum of make-up over bad skin. They appeared from across Nathan, three overdressed young men, hair barely pulled together and spiked. One white face trailed after. Unusual. Q asked where I wanted to go.

“There’s a bar I heard was good right around here.”

Q nodded, his glasses catching the ATM lights, and we bundled forward, the night sticking to us. We pushed across the intersection, crowds coursing in every direction. I felt like I was coming apart, cracking and reforming beneath blazes of light. Deeply and totally drugged up and out. I saw the bar sign, Mango, from the corner of Argyle and Yim Po Fang, and pointed.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, yeah, that’s what she said.”

Q started. The white boy sidled up besides me. My childishness had worn off. I was no longer scared. Full on in the neon, shirt pressed and solid, hair up, I was no longer scared. So what if we, all, were so damn unpredictable? The drink only made it worse, didn’t it? The street cracking beneath me, splashed with spills of water and restaurant muck, bamboo posts raised at odd angles, energy and light so harsh, eating into our skin. The white boy and I began talking, he’d grown up in South Carolina—the street quieted, a block south of the KCR Station—the Carolinian said something else, I forget what. A girl hunched into a grey hoodie outside the bar, almost a shadow, hands thrust deep into her pockets. When she stepped up, pushing at the metal door, the light from the overhead cascaded across her, metal studs flashing silver against her pink belt. Stared as the door shut heavy behind us. Another girl directed us to the bar. I began drinking faster than I’d expected.

Inside, I breathed smoke from Q’s cigarette, even held it for a moment. Flatted my palm on the smooth tabletop, dice rolling.

“This feels like home, you know?”

“Yeah? Can you understand what they’re saying?”

“Not really, soon, I will. My mom speaks it around the house sometimes.”

“So why are you here then, exchange, college, work? I’m gonna admit, I can’t tell how old you Asians are.”

“Yeah.” I lifted my glass again. The girl from the door slid back in, straight. She didn’t swing. Her eyes flashed over us—briefly—I register the scene furiously. She stepped behind the bar. My blood pounding at the edge of my temples.

“I feel like I’m in high school again.”

“Really?”

“It’s like a constant roil. To climax.”

I didn’t look back at him, his reaction had ceased to matter, he didn’t matter—I took another drink and glanced behind the bar, bored, hunching slightly, maybe leaning, light heat, she unzipped the hoodie, hard rock t-shirt stretched across, she shrugged off the gray one arm after the other, winching slightly. Padded, half turn, the fabric, onto a barstool. Drum fingers on table edge, she crossed again.

“Hey, siuje!”

Double take, sudden, a kind of hiccup in the eyelids before she turned fully. Frowning. She didn’t move, look, look, eye catch. I might have blinked.

Ngoh, yihga ngoh ji-dou yat-go…” My voice thick as lead.

“You can use English.” Her teeth flashed and were gone. She took a step closer, one hand poised on the lip of her belt, lips edged in pink. My body tensed like a piano string, my soul—whatever.

“Ok. Sorry, forgot, I—I think I might know someone who used to work here.”

She opened her mouth slightly, pushed one hand against her hair. The light caught her, tense, moving. The light breaks her down, like rain, stream of movements.

She takes a step closer.

In the morning, waiting for my dad to leave again. The stereo playing in the background, something American, maybe not. I’m reaching out for myself, but my mind is empty. Even Lin Na, the girl from yesterday is gone. And I’m afraid. The humidity clogs me, strains me, swimming unlevel and downwards. The nighttime streets are, themselves, the same cyclic, thrusting in and out in concentric rings, downwards. I get up from the bed and walk to the window, the air conditioning on high, I can feel like it—here—is anywhere, maybe, but then the window opens in front of me, towers stalking towards water, buses and taxis in dirty lines. Night falls and the neon smudge crawls up the glass and I know, for certain, that I have never been here before. I begin dreaming of here. My flesh clogged with sweat.

“Huh. Really?”

“A girl, keiuh haih Lin Na?”

She pulls her hand back down, so that it hangs, fingers cocked, over her torso—breathing quietly. She blinks.

“She’s a friend of mine. Neih Gwongdungwa gong ge taimhou. Meihgwok wahkiuh.”

“Yeah. I know what that means.”

I heard myself speaking. Liked it. Her hand drifts even further down, hovering at the edge of the table.

“So, what did you want to talk to me about?”

“Lin Na said I should look up somebody here, to show me around, maybe. But she didn’t give me a name.” I tried to remember.

“Really?”

“You have an American accent.”

Her lips curl up slightly. Twisting, raises that hand to her hair again, a drunk pushes by behind her. Turns. Stumbles. Fever-driven, my language slipping away

“I just arrived in Hong Kong.”

Blinks again. She leans towards me.

“How on earth did you meet people like that then?”

“People like Lin Na?”

Haih-a, haih-a.”

“I don’t know. Fate?”

“Really? Fate? Where are you from, ok?” But she smiles this time.

“Minnesota—do you know where that its?”

She nods, quick, sharp cuts of the head.

“You know, you should pull up a chair.”

“Ok, ok.”

Q tapped me on the shoulder, nodding, eyebrows up, neon flashing off his glasses.

“We’re going to Tsim Cha Tsui. He,” hand flipped over shoulder, towards the guy from Carolina, “wants to dance.”

“I like Mong Kok, it’s hotter here.”

“For you, maybe.”

He patted me hard on the shoulder. They cleared. The girl came sitting across from me. Repetitions. Her eyes wide open.

“So, if you just arrived in Hong Kong, how are you meeting bar girls? Who do you work for?”

“I don’t work. My dad lives here. I’m young.”

“So am I.” She scowled comically. Locally.

“Lin Na told me this person I was supposed to meet was friendly. Are you her?”

“I dunno, what did she say.”

“You sound like…wait, she said to ask for Hollywood.”

“And why didn’t you?”

“Seemed silly. And I’m a little nervous.”

“Maybe. She was talking about me.” She spoke quickly, suddenly, in Cantonese, I couldn’t follow. Pause, blink. “I’ll be off work in about two hours. Or maybe when I feel like it. Will you be around?”

“In two hours or when you feel like it?”

“In two hours.”

She flung herself upwards, darted away. I sat at the table for a minute longer. Finished my Blue Girl. Sat and thought. As best I could. After a few seconds I was back out on the street, a sign advertised an arcade upstairs, I walked up the concrete steps, pounding out Twins songs, staring at zitty men and their make-up eaten girlfriends—fluorescence and cigarette butts. The air close and noisy, a fight breaking out in front of a row of soccer consoles. I played a round against a guy in a Yankees cap, chose France. Lost. I didn’t feel the beer enough, the high wore off, the noise eating away at me—insulted. Insulted. Always this, strangely rough treatment, unexpected—maybe I deserve it. I walked back down, stumbling slightly. She was already back out on the sidewalk, in her hoodie, looking away towards Argyle Street and the long train station.

“Hey. It was when you felt like it.”

“Yeah, I guess.” She smiled briefly. “I work in a bar. I don’t always want to talk in a bar, so what’s your name?”

“Yan.”

“Like in Mou Gaan Dou.”

“I guess.”

She uncurled the hoodie from her arm, slowly, unlike in the bar, and held on to it. Beneath it all, I noticed, she carried a bookbag. She straightened slightly and played with hair, watching me, borderline lidless.

“So, what are you doing in Hong Kong?”

“I’m going to live with my dad for a little bit…he works here.”

“Is your mom Chinese? How come you can’t speak…”

“My parents divorced. A long time ago. She’s…”

“You know, you don’t need to tell me, ok? I called Lin Na and she said you were pretty cool. But she picks up tramps.”

I stuffed my hands hot into my pockets, breathing sweat.

“Let’s begin walking, ok? Do you want something to eat?” I fought against my voice, heavy, thick, too loud.

“Let’s.”

We crossed back into central Mong Kok, away from the train line, pushing past a row of moped shops, found a tea canteen, ordered some noodles. More noise, backless stools, harsh lighting. Her make-up just as heavy.

“You’re not really like them, are you?” I asked. Our bowls arrived.

“What do you mean?”

“You talk differently, somebody bothered to send you to America.” She pushed the noodles into her mouth, chopsticks whipping in tight circles.

“True, but it’s the group of us who are…us. I don’t really want to be like everyone else.” She raised her eyebrows. Thin. Laid her chopsticks across the lip of her bowl.

“Where did you stay?”

“San Francisco, mostly.”

“Oh, ok.” She leaned back, watching me, threw one thin arm up, body arching. “You’re the most bored looking bar girl I’ve seen in my life.”

She smiled again at that, suddenly slouched. Fear dissipates into the endless repeats.

I played with my cell phone throughout the meal, in my hand. Her leg rocked slightly against the table. In the light, the noise, the reek of the joint, I could see her. Something of the red tipped neon disappearing. She hunched low over her food. I like to think that I was keeping myself halfway awake, reacting and not reacting—unlike the night before. I was not drunk then. Nobody calls but tomorrow, I will wake up at 3 and have a message waiting from the Koreans, saying that they got into a fight, the three of them, got kicked out of a club. But I still don’t know this, haven’t been totally swept up in the lighting, will walk south. Her thin torso rises slightly, she swings back into her noodles, a flash of skin, knees bump against mine, shouts echo from the kitchen.

“You want to go clubbing?” I ask, grinning, badly.

“I don’t really like…eh, yeah.” She pauses, pushes her glass around in a quick circle, leaves traces of water across the grimy linoleum. Her pink-edged lips flash open, I think she’s about to speak, we tense toghether—but she doesn’t, raises the glass to her lips.

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I heard her voice anyway. Like a ghost hanging behind her, whispering to me while she drank. We cabbed, I paid. Lights racing across her face, my thoughts unclear.

“You don’t have to.”

“I have money.”

“Don’t try to impress me.”

But it was reflex, not something she actually gave a fuck about.

Daylight comes with its dirty heat, sunlight swims down to us through the smog, the sidewalk tenses before daybreak. We are standing against each other—her lips tasting of the smoke.

flesh.jpg

This entry was written by Matt Mucci , posted on Monday January 21 2008at 07:01 pm , filed under Uncategorized . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Comments are closed.