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.

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Shapeshifter

Susan was a hippie, just on her way to Haight Ashbury in the last twilight moments in the early 80s when free love and peace were finally subsumed by the New America devoid of hope or revolution.  At a truck stop somewhere in Nevada, she met the father of her first daughter, a shapeshifter.

They shared chili and crackers, then they shared a bed with squeaky springs in a roadside motel, in room 24.

After making love over and over again, he got up and stood by the window, staring at the highway and smoking Marlboros, his thumb stuck in the waistband of his Levi’s.

“I can be anyone you want,” he had whispered to her, the features of his face melting and reconfiguring into a dozen different desirable men.

When a grizzled biker gang kicked in the door the next day looking for him, he had already changed into a dove and floated out the bathroom window.

She never saw him again, but she didn’t stop when reaching San Francisco.  Instead, Susan cut her long blond hair, got rid of her moccasins, and continued on across the Pacific Ocean.  9 months later in Japan she gave birth to a girl, and named her Amelia, after the waitress at the truck stop in Nevada.

Susan ended up marrying a tall, awkward expatriate professor, who added another girl to the family, but she never forgot the image of her one-night truck stop lover flying out the window as an ivory-colored dove.

On Saturday afternoons, in the tranquil parks of Tokyo, she would watch Amelia play and wonder if she would inherit the same abilities as her anonymous father.  She didn’t realize that however precocious her daughter was, it would be many years before she discovered her shapeshifting potential.

Amelia grew up, she traveled the world, became an aid worker.  She screamed, laughed, cried, blew snot out of her nose on several continents.  She could fall in love 7 times in one week, drink a bottle of cheap whiskey in one night, and write a long, rambling letter to her mother in one hour.

Finally, one night, in a dark house somewhere on the outskirts of Bangui, she was wrestling off the clothes of a young man with dove-like eyes, her lover for the evening and possibly the next.  She whispered in his ear: “I can be anyone you want,” as she unbuckled his belt and thrust her hands into his Levi’s.

That was the only thing she could recall from that night.  When she awoke, she was laying in the wreckage of the house, the young man nowhere to be seen.  Amelia blinked her eyes against the harsh tropical sunlight, and looked around her.

A crowd of people stood at a distance from the ruins of the house and stared at her, curious or perhaps frightened at what they saw in the remains of the house they heard being decimated in the night.  Amelia lifted what she thought was her arm, opening her mouth to beseech them for help extricating herself from the wreckage, but what came out was not a voice she was familiar with.

The eyes of people watching her widened even further, and they shrank back with looks of terror, whispering one word over again.

“Kajavumbi,” they murmured.

Amelia looked down at her hand and realized it wasn’t a human hand anymore.  There it was, something that resembled a cat’s paw, just much, much larger, with claws like scythes.  Then she noticed the carcass next to her, the blood she could feel bubbling down her chin.