The Chinatown Speakeasy

Somewhere in Neo Tokyo, there is a Chinatown speakeasy with orange lampshades and pink curtains, bartenders dressed in cheongsams and bobbed hairstyles, in an alternate history where Trans-Pacific travel is done by airship and Polynesia is a world superpower.

Behind the bar of the speakeasy, a girl in a turquoise cheongsam mixes Vilnius gin into a coconut.  The Del-O-Vision above the bar announces that the rain will continue tomorrow in Neo Tokyo, and then plays some Hawaiian steel guitar, the blurry images of distant palm trees and an island sunset like a distant memory in the mist-filled concrete night.

She serves the coconut cocktail to a woman at the end of the bar, a rather disheveled woman wearing a tuxedo.  Her elbows are on the bar, a messy head of flame red hair hanging over her hair.  The door opens, admitting throbbing light from the neon dragon sign across the street.  A woman walks in, a thin face and a tall, thin body wearing a brown leather bomber jacket.  Korean, Taiwanese, and Australian service patches cover the shoulders and back of the jacket.  Her green eyes roam to and fro over the speakeasy.  She strides through the bar in a confident click of flight boots.  She sits next to the redhead in the tuxedo, looking over at her with a half-smile, looking down at the gin tiki cocktail in the coconut sitting untouched on the lacquered bar.

I miss you, the redhead says, stirring her coconut cocktail.

The tall, thin woman in the bomber jacket puts a hand on her shoulder, her half-smile replaced with an expression of chagrin.  The Hawaiian steel guitar music stops, the fighting betta in the aquarium set into the side wall turns in a slow flourish of indigo fins.

The redhead though about the last time they had been together, in the hospital in Manila fifteen months ago.  Her heart had been aching ever since in her absence, and no visit to the pagoda, no meditation before a jade statue could calm the anguish.  She would leave the Del-O-Vision on all night in her small apartment, hoping to hear some news about the battles in Tonga and Kamchatka, the news chatter and music mixing in with the sound of the monsoon rain on the roof.

The feelings of longing hung like an airship over her, distracting her fingers as she picked through rambutan and loquat at the corner market, making her forget her steps as she walked from her skinny tenement building to the Emerald Club every night to work the early shift.

She missed her yesterday.  She would miss her tomorrow.  And she missed her right now, even as she was sitting next to her.


City of Incense

i saw you.  i saw your two eyes, peeking over the bamboo slats as the sakura sun melted into the greasy water of the mekong, the two-stroke motorbikes whining and pouring smoke into the late afternoon, their flimsy wheels casting long shadows over the hot-cool pavement.  sampans and ferries cut lascivious wakes through the deep brown delta, leading in and out of the harbor, dodging among the immobile container ships and rusty tankers.

i saw you in the rich jasmine flowers hanging over the veranda, whispers floating above the staccato of kwangtung and javanese that permeate the humid air, brushstrokes of aural color that weave their way through the choking waves of heat.  your eyes, dark with shadows of languid seduction, daring me to bring our spirits together until all is lost in the oblivion of night.  the clatter of the joss sticks, the crushed bean sprouts and fish scales that line the gutters and cling to the satin shoes of the ladies in scintillating red dresses that hurry past the apothecary, the bonegrinder’s shop, the rice porridge stand.  tangles of overripe fruit perversely bob and sway from a creaking fruit cart being pushed down the street, its proprietor shading his wrinkled face under an ashen straw hat. the whirring forklifts, the swaying shop signs slashed with bright kanji, the soggy cardboard piled into a corner growing stiff and cold as the sun finally dims and bids farewell.

i still see your two eyes, and now in the jade-green moonlight I can see the crystal outline of your lips and your ivory cheek.  gamblers in a narrow alley rattle their mah-jong tiles and grumble through a thin haze of rough tobacco smoke, their red eyes and stubbly chins jerking up and down in the rhythm of the conversation.   steam pours from slate cookery, blank chopsticks hover over thin porcelain bowls, the shiny-gold stamens of the artificial flowers reflect blinking neon.  in the narrow aisles of a grocery store, an old woman takes a can of straw mushrooms off the shelf and frowns at the dusty label.  leather jackets scrape against the steel window grate, hushed footsteps up the stairs, flimsy stereos punch out tinny synthesized melodies, the entire sky hidden underneath the tangled cobble of high-rises and fetid electrical wires (or is it we that are hidden from the heavens’ silent gaze?). the touch of your fingers is cooling upon my burning skin, yet it releases an enormous heat that sinks through my chest and brings color to my ears.  the streetlights cast your features in an amber glow, the municipal bus fully of weary salarymen thunders past the window, and we take each other and banish all notions of space and time.