Long nights spit out like toothpaste into an unfamiliar sink. She looks up, enamel, black tile, an older building. Wooden floors. Tall doorways. Stained glass. A dragon in the next room, sitting on the couch, warming his hands on a sweetened cup of bitter tea. White walls. Cold windows.
Her hands float up to her hair, straighten some curls, frame her eye in the mirror. She peers through her hands, brought together in a symbol she found in a photograph on the internet – fingers curled, first knuckles together in a twin arc, thumbs stretched, touching underneath – the childish shape of a heart. Her certainty shakes. She lets it.
He’s wrought of mixed signals, sliding shades of affection and neglect which don’t add up. The smell of his soap. Her heartbeat. An iron-work of conflicting opinions, kissing like he carries a new bastard disease of self-reference, wit, and deflection. Short brown hair. No eye contact. A thousand words in a picture that breaks her framed ideals. Attraction built instead of found. Panic filled breath, though her panties are balled up in her purse already. Feet cold on the tiles. (Uncomfortable echoes of explosive scenarios from younger relationships, feeling exploited). The scalpel of self-examination. Her motivations are an underground factory of facts conveyor-belt punching out hurt confusion. Very little he says matches up with what he does. She doesn’t know why these steps are being taken, but what she lacks in reason, she makes up in loyalty. There is very little new under this son.
They stood at the bus stop, both consciously skipping their friend’s gathering for opposite reasons. One feeling too welcome, another feeling not welcome at all. “I would have thought you were imagining it, but I noticed it too.” “I cornered him at the party, asked him what was wrong. He said there was nothing. In eight years, I think it’s the first time he’s ever lied to me.” Her thoughts embraced her absent friend, (his fingers so deeply entwined in her ribcage she would love him forever), even as she felt like her words were a disappointed betrayal.
As they stood close, defensively, against the suffering neighbourhood, she kept up a monologue, quiet like a gentle run of dirty water. Memories, sad and unpleasant in retrospect. “How did you grow up?” A hungry childhood, social friction, hotel rooms. He nodded, implacable, in a way she found welcome. “I read the bible fourteen times, no one ever steals the things. They just sit there in the otherwise empty drawers, collecting dust and lonely people.” Anecdotes, wry short stories, a battered flow of narrative ornamented with sober, dry laughter, breakdown asides, and serious expressions. Later, sitting, her legs swung unselfconsciously under the seat.
I cycled past my father’s apartment last week. He has a giant poster in the window, an image he’s sent to me. I almost went and knocked on the door. I stopped, looked, put one foot on the ground. I don’t know why I stopped the same way I don’t know why I kept going. Instinct, impulse. Either or. He lives much closer to me than I thought. Near enough that no matter what, we’re on the same bus-routes, we share the same corner store.
“There was a woman named Ha there who showed me Samurai movies and fed me Korean fried chicken as I sat on a stool in the hotel kitchen. I ate all they had, the hotel had to buy more the next day, and I ate all of that too. I was a starving little thing, so bright and blonde and tiny you’d barely think I could walk, but I was always hungry. I remember my parents would go without sometimes so that I could have food. I lay in bed next to my mother and heard her belly grumble, five years old, listening and knowing that I had a sandwich and she had not. It’s made me a little neurotic about food. (Hell, I’m an adult now and I’m still so poor I’m starving to death.) I don’t like eating alone or cooking only for myself. And I can’t eat in front of someone without offering them any. In fact, I’ll put it off, go hungry for hours, rather than eat in front of someone who won’t have anything themselves, because it was greedy to eat alone, it meant you were depriving someone else.”