You could believe in the ocean
You could believe in the ocean but they didn’t make it easy for you to believe in the
Could put it down to the cold in the air that
Fooled you into thinking it was stolen from the caps of old waves; you could
Think the salt was the salt of smoke, and sweat, and the sticks of meat and skin they
barbequed in the shop fronts.
They wanted you to see the canal. It was beautiful and black and reflected
The lanterns, the iron heads bowed in worship
Of order and the black lines of water that lead the roads through the town. The black
lines of water and the black lines of roads, with the lights of iron eyes, and iron heads,
bowed and dipped.
The warehouses bore witness to the straight lines, and stood, straight-backed in brick.
They weren’t filled with anything anymore but
They might be, again, when something needed a somewhere. They were soldiers,
shoulder to shoulder.
You could stop at the warehouses, and put your back to the brick, and watch the water behaving like anything but water. You could bow your iron head.
Take the Cake
I didn’t want the pie. I’ve eaten enough pie, in fact
I’ve made myself sick on pie. I could throw up all the pie, I could
Fill a sink with pie.
I could fill a world with pie, I could:
I could never eat pie again. There, I said it.
I was pretty sure, that I was done with pie. I had a round hard ball of
Pie, inside me. A pie in the oven,
No pie in the hand and I wasn’t going into the bush, not ever, not ever again.
There are different kinds of pie. I ate all kinds of pie.
There might be a waitress who would recommend, who would say, try another pie. There are all different kinds of pie, she might say. She might say,
Try another pie. Try another pie. Try another kind of pie you’ll
Never know until you try it.
But I did know. I do know. I have a little round ball of pie, I could
Fill a sky with pie.
I didn’t want the pie. Or:
I didn’t want to eat the pie. But I could look at the pie.
I could – I did, I will – smell the pie. There are all different kinds of pie, you
Might say, and you might say, the proof is in the pudding,
But the truth is not in the pie.
I didn’t want the pie. I’ve eaten enough pie, and enough is enough until:
You’ve sunk your teeth into the pie. The pie is a little round ball inside you and
(there are all different kinds of pie)
you took my pie and ate it, too.
She was standing in the corner
She was standing in the corner and she was wearing a cheerleading costume. He was willing to be that she was thirty – they all were – thirty, or more, because although something about the Japanese genetic code meant that everybody looked eighteen until they were forty, the ones who hung out in bars like these were always thirty. You could see it in their faces if you looked, if you knew what to look for. There was a particular grit to their mouths, as though the thin edges at the tops of their front teeth were being ground down against each other, as if every now and then they gulped down powdery mouthfuls of their own bone.
And the eyes, of course, but the eyes were distracting.
He didn’t understand, would never understand, the fake eyelash thing. He hated it. It annoyed him. They had such beautiful eyes, the Japanese women, he thought, to the one. They were round and dark and they weren’t like foreign eyes. They didn’t give away anything, didn’t give you anything over and above what they were saying. Looking into them was like upending a shot glass of malt liquor. It was warm. But they draped them about with synthetic black curtains, and you couldn’t see into them, goddamnit. He wanted to see. He wanted to upend them.
His collar itched.
She was standing in the corner and she was wearing a cheerleading costume. It was tight and pink, with the flirty skirt, and she clutched two little pompoms in one fist, because her other hand held one of those plastic cups of beer.
She was talking to him, and not to him, and that was why his collar itched. It was hot, so fucking hot. Winter was coming. It crept in through the edges of the buildings, pressing up against the windows palpably, seeped, and filled all the spaces between the people. Japanese people hated the cold, so they made sure all the spaces were already filled with something thicker, and heavier, that cottony air that he was inhaling right now, that was soaking up the liquor in his mouth and throat and resting in his stomach like a living sponge.
What was she even doing right now? Not the cheerleader, because she was hunting, like they all were, but was she hunting? Not the cheerleader, the other one.
She didn’t look the same as the rest of the women he was resting his eyes on. She had this face, this odd face, perfectly round and almost flat, and so pale. She was a moon really, wasn’t she, or a cracker, but probably a moon, because she was so pale she glowed. And she had those eyes, those same eyes, and she liked to wear the synthetic curtains too, but she let him look through them. She’d let him do more than that, if he was honest. She’d let him put his fingers in that hair, and it had felt just as black as it had looked. And he’d put his hands on her, hadn’t he, he’d been careful to make sure at each stage that it was okay, but she’d moved into his movements, like it was something they’d already practiced, pressing back against his fingers wherever he put them. She’d let him in alright. He’d never been one to watch a girl sleep, after, Usually he rolled over, if he was honest. Most girls were tiring, made you work harder than you really wanted to, as if their orgasm was a prize that you should desperately want to win, but she’d been so soft against his fingers, and she’d pressed into him, and he could feel the tight press of her muscles and then it was done, and then she fell asleep, and he hadn’t even finished, but it felt like he had.
Where she lay, the moonlight sought her out, lighting that perfectly round face. He’d pushed down the blanket just a little, not so she’d be cold, but so he could watched her breathe. Other guys did it, he knew, watched their faces, it wasn’t weird, but he’d always rolled over. But her face was so round, and there had been so much perfect light.
She was married, but he hadn’t thought that that really mattered. She had two children, as well, and she talked about them a lot, and that didn’t seem to matter much either. He never met them, but he could picture them well from her fractured English descriptions. The girl was three years old, liked pink, cried a lot, which sounded like any other three year old girl he’d ever met. Apparently she liked to count every grain of rice she ate, a fact which made him suspicious, because how high could three year olds actually count, and how many grains of rice did it take to fill up a three year old? But he let it slide, the rice comment, because engaging with those kinds of conversations made them longer, and that meant less moonlight, less breathing. She talked about her son too, but she talked about him in the same voice that she talked about her husband, and that was harder to ignore. He was eight, and difficult. He hit children at school, and refused to wash his face, and all of these things made her love him more.
She loved her husband. But he didn’t even know the guys name – she never said it – so she couldn’t love him that much. When you love something you give it back to itself as often, and as deliberately, as you can. A name is something real, something you pass backwards and forwards, not like a football, exactly, but that was the idea. You gift, and re-gift, pressing the presence back into the world, back into the mold. Don’t you?
His pants were too tight. The band at the waist was cutting into him, and he was very aware of the soft fold of gut that was gently lipping at his belt buckle. Everyone put on weight when they moved to Japan, it was just a fact. And besides, Japanese women didn’t care about a little extra weight on their foreign men, it just made them bigger, warmer, more foreign. That’s why they dated them, that’s why they chose them over the tall thin men they were genetically matched with.
He sat up a little straighter. She had chosen him. The fact that she was gone now… well, if he was honest, it was a relief. That son of his, he was no good. He was dangerous. He wasn’t sure that he wanted to be in the same house as him anymore, at nights especially.
The girl – woman, but she looked like a girl – was talking to the tall foreigner now, talking to him with her whole body. It wasn’t obvious to most, he thought, but he could see it in the way she was standing, with her pelvis tilted forward and up, and her chin back and down, so all he saw was her downy demure parting and the gentle slope of her belly down to the pleated skirt.
It was sour, the taste in his mouth, the old beer, the wasted moonlight. Where was she now? In bed with her husband, probably, flopping like a fish between his thin little legs, those bony knees that her son wore, so proudly smeared with mud.
There was another beer in his hand. Someone must have given it to him, he supposed, or maybe he had stood and got it himself, or maybe he’d never finished the one he’d been drinking. What’s your costume someone had asked, and he’d said Groom and they’d laughed, goddamnit. To be honest, they probably hadn’t understood him, because they all pretended that their English was better than it was, all that nodding they did. It had fooled him at first, but not anymore. Now, he made them repeat what he’d said back to him. He wanted communication, that was all he wanted, and you had to fight for it in this country.
The plastic of the cup cracked between his fingers gave a little, with a warning crack, and he sat it down next to him and regarded the room. The dance floor was full now, packed with little writhing bodies with black hair, and the occasional ginger head sticking up, bobbing with the music. He looked at them, he watched the heads bob and tilt, he watched the eyelashes fanning at the air, propelling the heads that held them higher, he watched them levitate, he watched them fly away.
First thing published since living in London, which makes me lazy, but it’s about Atomic Kitten, which is somewhat redeeming.