She said she wanted to walk through a pink city in the middle of a summer night. He painted the whole town pink: the hottest, sharpest kind of pink.
She never came. She couldn't find it. She was colorblind.
(Los Angeles, 2016)
Fight. He joked. Or maybe he said “flight”. Then it wouldn’t be a joke.
Recognizing the smell of the sunset, he knew he was finally home, and he was already depressed. His home had seven legs and it was constantly on the move. The only way to find it was to follow the smell - the smell of the sunset, or the smell of the first day of fall. He never meant to find it though. He just kept running into it.
Each time he came back he had to numb parts of his senses. To stay safe. Just like in his recent recurring nightmares. He made it a ritual to take a long shower each time he arrived. Long showers are quite similar be it at home, in a motel, or in an apartment 313 feet above some foreign soil. It offers a warm delusion of omnipotent. It offers a safe space for the million pores all over the skin to yield to the fundamental difference in the air particles.
This time he was more exhausted than usual (from the journey, or from the return?). It took him awhile to find his bed - it turned out that not only his home had legs, each room also had its own set of limbs disguised as stairwells, chimneys and corridors, so the rooms were constantly rearranging. He found an old photograph by the bedside. Who are these people? He wondered. This is not the right bedroom, buddy, he told the photo. Or may be it was?
He could hear the crickets outside. And the occasional laughters of his neighbors - who he had yet to meet for the first time. “There will be a different group of neighbors by tomorrow morning anyway,” he reassured himself. The crickets would stay though. At least their sound would. At least he wished that their sound would.
“Stop this mumbling already!” Cheered his neighbor. In distance. It was a female voice. And it was the first day of winter.
He recalled a smile. He didn’t know the face. But he recognized the smile. It was a smile of kindness, fulfillment, but from a lifelong prisoner. So it was either a disguise or a surrender. “What the hell y’all doin’!”, his neighbor yelled again. This time was a male voice. And the image of the smile emerged again.
That night, he woke up, in cold sweats, from a dream that wasn’t his. He was in a rundown factory he had never been to, working on a mundane task he had never done before, surrounded by some robot coworkers he had never met. He wanted to make sure he was dreaming someone else’s dream, so he ran around the factory looking for a mirror. When he finally found one while stumbling down the staircase, the stair collapsed and he woke up before seeing the face in the reflection. He sat up straight, in bed, in a small puddle of sweat, in darkness.
And he knew. He knew that photograph was still by the bedside, and that everyone in the photo was still staring at him.
(Hong Kong, 2018)
Through the Flickering Candles
She dresses all in black, from head all the way down to her ankles. Her hat is astonishing. It is tall and huge: two feet tall and one-and-half feet wide, estimatedly. It is made of the feather of 23 crows from the south. She has nothing on below her ankles though. No stalkings, no shoes. She dances into the bar barefoot. Her skin is remarkably pale from a rare health condition. There is a bewildering, almost cunning smile on her blood-red lips. She doesn't look sober. Her unlikely happiness hints insanity. She calls it love.
The bartender is a working student majors in English Literature. He finishes one book everyday since he was 13. Or so he claims. He never buys any books though. He borrows them from the library downtown. And in the bar, he only plays the music of the late Leonard Cohen. His favorite is not The Letters, and he never plays You Want It Darker.
"A Glass of Montoya, please", she requests in British accent.
"For sure", he acknowledges, without even looking at his customer.
"I lost my shadow this morning," she declares, intoxicated, "and without a shadow, one's existence is a physical impossibility."
"Have you reported that to the police?" He asks, still not looking up.
He only reads novels.
What Does Your Memory Say
So that’s how it feels? To feel nothing? Is that how you feel?
You don’t feel anything?
I’m afraid I don’t. My memories say I do, but my presence disagrees.
What does your memory say?
It says I should be deeply sorry. I’m responsible for the tears. I should feel as hurtful sitting beside you. But I don’t. I honestly don’t.
What color do you see now.
It was green. A very bizarre kind of sharp green. It was glowing. Though I think it’s turning yellow now.
You are hallucinating.
I don’t hallucinate. That’s my problem.
Joyful. Feel good. Positive. Do you? Ever?
I don’t feel anything.
Is that happiness?
I don’t feel anything. But it’s smooth.
Describe what you see.
I see you.
You are agonizing. Like everyone else. It gives you colors. Vibrant colors. But they are turning grey right now. Right when I’m describing it. Like the cat... You are turning into a cat, aren’t you?
I’m not turning into an animal any time soon.
You are. You just don’t know it yet.
Describe what you see. Not what you hallucinate.
I don’t hallucinate. That’s my problem.
So you like cat?
Which cat? The black cat? Yes she is loyal. Or maybe it is a he. I can’t remember. Ask Poe.
Poe? Poe is dead, buddy. Poe is dead.
You can never be sure.
I’m pretty sure...
What about the cat? Is she dead too? Or he?
The cat was a hallucination.
I like how you use past tense here. And no. It’s not. You hallucinate. ‘Cause you need to. We don’t.
We? Who are “we”?
Me. And the cat you are turning into.
(New York, 2018)
Have you ever met another person as skinny as I am? I have. Every morning I get up and I look into the mirror and I see another person. He's as skinny as I am.
(New York, 2018)
Next Stop Is Dumbo
He always arrived at the pier sharp at 0839. Today he got here 11 minutes early. He sat on a bench, sipping on an espresso, watching other passengers from and to the earlier ferries. At 0837, he saw, not without surprise, another self rushing down the aisle with an espresso. Should I board, or should I watch him board? He puzzeled. The other him looked focused, highly irritated, almost hostile.
At 0841, he left the pier for the subway
(New York, 2018)
He sailed to an outlying island. Alone. And for nine months the rain did not stop. At night, countless puddles all over the walkways threatened him with the hysterically garish reflections of street lamps. Life never retrieved its purpose. Islanders started falling asleep abruptly: in street corners, on benches, and on the oversaturated lawns. Like stray dogs. Stray cats.
At the end of September, he decided to imprison himself at the attic. The rain must have given him amnesia. For he could not recall where he abandoned his boat.
She doesn’t talk much. She responds in brief, compressed whispers. The answers are leads with no ends. Meant to confuse, not to direct. She mentions her ancestors (they were from Austria), but never her parents. And, even though she questions, she never asks questions.
The conversation has paused for a bit too long this time. The restaurant is empty now. The sound of the ventilator is getting louder. And louder. Her face turns pale, then faintly grey, firm and completely motionless. Like a marble statue, but quieter. A statue would reflect sound. She absorbs it. Very soon we can’t even hear the ventilator. Not even our own breathes. The air is becoming too thick for consumption. The light is dimming. The colors, fading, merging, desaturating into mere silhouettes and shadows. Existence has reached its permanent stalemate: a thick, solid, suffocating blankness.
In her eyes, though, there’s a universe. Withholding all the violence, all the traumas, all the griefs, all the answers
Uber Pool. Hit and run. Radio was playing some old-school jazz music... The two at the back were too high to care and the one in the front seat was too drunk to notice.
The driver was sober though. He dreamed of his late mother that night.
Small talks cease, along with all the giggles and noises. Music starts. Rhythm, drinks, and the suggestive dance moves. Candles flickering, loosely following the beats of the drummer. Skins and tattoos are colored, filtered and saturated by a layer of the indigo smog. Shallow lyrics hitting on the pale white walls, yet the walls stay still.
The walls stay still.
(Los Angeles, 2016)
There’s a dragon on the counter top. It is staring at a girl. She doesn’t notice. She looks fixedly at the phone of her male companion. Their cheeks are close. Too close. They look happy. Everybody looks joyful. Life is good. Bright and full of purpose. The only skepticism comes from this dragon, the sculpture. It is about a foot tall and it looks ready for battles.
And this young man. Now that she has moved to another coast, he has no idea who to share the night with, who to share the conversation with, who to share this filthy smell of optimism with. So he shares it with his second glass of whiskey.
Oh and there’s also a cat. Two cats, actually. About 5 inches tall. Two ceramic sculptures. From Japan, perhaps? Most likely Kyoto.
The bar tender just dropped his cocktail shaker. He was trying to show off his skills and at the same time commit to a conversation with this gentleman he just met about a trip to Mexico. Two tasks, he could only manage one. He embarrassed himself. And announced it with an “opps”. That “opps”, instead of the smack from the dropping shaker, killed the conversation.