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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Yena Magana

Maybe someday we will be shipwrecked on a Pacific Island and need rescue. There are worse things I can think of than being marooned with you, our clothing in shreds, surrounded by coconut palms and teal tidal pools filled with fluorescent yellow fish. I’d grow lean and tan in the sun, make you lots of coral jewelry. We’d sip on coconuts in the sunshine, huddle together during typhoons, and work on getting rescued, as well as making our island more livable in the meantime. There will be lots of flowers, colorful birds chirping from sunup until sunset, and cool breezes along the beach. After a long day of foraging, we could light a fire and make love a thousand times on the beach. We can build a raft out of bamboo and jetsam, sail out to other islands on the atoll, look at crabs skittering in the shallow waters. Eventually, a ship would heed our signal fires and whisk us off the island. Fortunately, it is a passenger boat from the year 1932 that has stumbled through a space/time continuum into the present day. Once aboard, the ladies (colonels’ wives from Hong Kong, a women’s choir from Finland, Filipina courtesans and Japanese geishas, several writers and artists from Manhattan, merchant women from Zanzibar) spirit you away to their quarters and dress you up in scarlet and sea-foam finery. An Albanian princess gives you a large ruby necklace, and regales us with a tale of escape from an arranged marriage with a cruel count who lives in a castle stained with blood. The ship’s captain consults with a German physicist on board, a philandering gentleman with wild hair and a thick mustache, trying to find a way back to 1932. There is a rumor that the violin-playing physicist is the reason why the ship jumped into the future, that he triggered some kind of event through his dark alchemy.

Life on the ship is good; I can finally shave, and dance with you in the ship’s cavernous ballroom, to the rhythms of Raul Reynaldo (born Hyman Blumenstein) and His Royal Orchestra. Raul and his boys play jazz, they play slow, heartbreaking ballads. Miss Maria Rincón, the Nicaraguan Nightingale, in a glittering dress, sings her heart out along with Raul and the boys, songs about bullfighters and revolutions, hacienda girls and sailors, scarlet ribbons and divas. Miss Gigette Deslauriers, in golden braids, plays the accordion and sings songs that we all sing along with, bringing back memories of Paris and Vienna, London and Prague. By the time Gigette sings “As Time Goes By”, there isn’t a dry eye in the ballroom, but as the applause thunders and the musicians bow, I take your white gloved hand and lead you out of the double doors with the circular windows, up the stairs and out on the promenade. Our shoes make clicking hollow sounds on the deck, underscored by the roar of the sea below. I hold you close and tell you that I will love you forever, stare into your eyes that flash brighter than the gigantic ruby around your neck. I hold your waist, and we sway to the faint echoes of the orchestra that seep their way up to the deck. I kiss your ears, the sea rolls on into infinity.

The next day, there is a horrid storm, and everyone is ordered to their cabin. We sit in the sweltering cabin, barely clothed, drinking real French champagne given to us by the ship’s steward who fancies himself as a doting uncle to us. The ship rolls this way and that, lightning and thunder crackling. We laugh, you teach me some Ecuadorean folk song with bawdy lyrics, we tell stories to each other, we cuddle and eventually I kiss my way past your stomach, the ship’s rolling motions accentuating your pleasure as we find the darkness within. At the moment of your climax, the boat does a somersault and we are tossed about the cabin. The porthole breaks, water rushes in, you grab my hand and pull me out of the porthole with you. We float to the surface, and we see the ship pass back into 1932. We, however, are in water that is barely chest-deep, in a sandy cove on the coast of British Columbia.