By: Kendal Miller
Perhaps he didn’t hear Lily or didn’t understand her broken Chinese, but again he reached his hand across the width of the taxi to feel her exposed lower thigh. Against his thick skin, beneath the flashing streetlamp shadows, her skin luminesced.
Your skin so white, so beautiful
“What a creep,” said Camille. “What an effing creep,” she said. She paused to adjust her shorts and trotted to catch up.
“I don’t know,” Lily said, fingering a loose hairpin.
“He wasn’t going to try anything,” said Jim, straightening his gangly body, “He just doesn’t see that many foreigners around.”
Jim stopped and reassumed a slouched position over the glow of his phone. He pinched the screen with his thumb and index finger.
“We’re on the wrong side of the street,” he said, “but we’re really close.”
They approached their black reflections on the mirrored siding of the club. Camille and Lily slowed behind the clusters of people that clogged the entrance. Neon colored light ropes glowed spotted red and green across the faces, all earnest and twisted, all strained in an effort to speak louder and more enthusiastically than one’s neighbors.
“Jim?” Lily said.
Jim spun around and walked backward for a few steps. He grinned. “We don’t have to wait in line,” he said.
“Why?” asked Camille, following.
Jim raised his eyebrows and grinned.
Without exchanging pleasantries, a narrow man in a crisp tuxedo waved them past young elite Beijingers and wealthy mainland tourists that teemed before the security checkpoint. Underdressed, Lily had not considered packing nightwear when she consolidated her belongings into a single suitcase several months prior. She did not feel sexy; she wore muted business attire intended for brightly lit rooms full of gray hair and complimentary coffee. She dropped her borrowed clutch onto the rumbling security belt. A stumpy guard patted her back and her ass and the space between her thighs before she was granted clearance.
The floor buzzed and the heavy sweaty music droned from within the dark belly of the cavernous hall. A hefty associate emerged from its billows and whisked them like cream down the corridor and into the light, where waves of electricity and shiny bits of silver paper hovered in the air.
Dark and black and enthusiastically bright and light again, this refuge from governmental censorship scooped up all the misfits; the loud Westerners, the politically adventurous, the drugged moon faces who disappeared so frequently into the black marble bathrooms, the nymphomaniacs, the Russian-Ukrainians squinting in the corner, the queers in all their stunning attire and ethnic combinations, all stuffed in booths elevated several feet off the ground or cramped within the boundaries of the elevated rectangle community dance floor.
Jim supported Lily’s weight and hoisted her up to the platform, hands firm against the small of her back. The booth glistened with complimentary bottles of fine imported whiskey, vodka, and champagne. A Nigerian man, also evidently a guest of Flackerty, scooped a fresh glass into a bucket of ice and offered it to Lily. He gestured to each of the three bottles with shoulders raised and a beaming childish smile. Lily pointed to the amber whiskey, the bottle already half empty. He sloppily drowned her ice cubes. She laughed aloud silently beneath the deafening swells of music.
Wedged between Jim, menthol drooping from his mouth, and Camille, still wearing her sunglasses, Lily’s knees pressed against the sharp metal edges of the low table. Lily felt warm and flushed but made no effort to dissect her shoulder and knee from Jim’s. She took small sips of her drink and watched everyone move.
The marble floor fizzed like rhythmic soda and thumped between Lily’s legs—embarrassed, she remembered an afternoon in the nail salon when she pressed the “automatic” button on the brand new squeaky massage chair. The pounding and kneading and pressing and buzzing moved from her shoulders to her lower back to an alarming thumping beneath her ‘little sister’ as they call it on the streets of Beijing. The spike of pleasure alarmed Lily, but she was relieved to observe her mother’s vacant and vegetative frame undisturbed in the chair beside her. Across the room, no shocked pink plastic hair curler casualties or smudged color-coats. Lily hesitated for several moments before adjusting her selection—
Peter punched Lily’s shoulder. He gestured toward a man shoving his way off the dance floor.
“There—he—is,” Peter said, smiling and narrowing his eyes.
Flackerty joined their booth, emerging from the soybean packed candy land dance floor with a beautiful Japanese woman who wore a sparkling baseball cap and clung to his elbow.
Flackerty’s flapping white button down was unbuttoned to his breastbone. His narrow teeth were crowded together and his thinning hair was glazed into a wave that would never be permitted to break against the shore. He ascended the landing and turned to lift the woman around her waist. Her black t-shirt dress caught and peeped a flash of color-blocked mesh lingerie. She smiled up at him.
“No peeking, baby,” she said in a neutral accent. “That’s for later.”
Flackerty’s thin lips spread across his narrow teeth into a graying smile. “You’re a feline.”
Flackerty carried with him an affect of menace and a magic that sparkled in his plastic facial expressions. Unable to find a space to sit, he danced against their knees all cramped together and spotted with silver dancing sawdust, perpetually pursing his lips and teeth on the nape of the woman’s neck. Over her shoulder, he finally noticed the wide-eyed, bleary newcomers. His face grimaced with an ecstasy of contrived recognition and jolts from the uppers presumably rattling around in his cagey body. He arched over Camille and Lily to embrace Peter sensuously around his fresh 23-year-old neck.
“This here is my new flatmate,” he shouted, beaming. “This here is my bloody new flatmate!”
Lily laughed loosely, shrinking her body from his, which hovered menacingly above her own, sipping constantly from her glass which never seemed to empty.
But she felt suddenly sober as she watched Jim reach across her to brush his fingers across Camille’s shoulder. They, scrawny and young and heavy lidded silently together crossed the gap between the booth and the dance floor. As they danced and melted into each other, first cautious and quiet, the music grew loud and loud and loud and—
Jim, intently talking to Lily on the subway earlier that evening, pressed against the pole that she held with a lone supportive hand, talking about finding a home in the still-fresh burden of heavy, unfamiliar sounds in their mouths, his nose crooked, his Hawaiian shirt garish against the sterility of the near empty last train to leave the station that night, Lily’s silent hoping, hoping, hoping that he would kiss her that summer, kiss her in the afternoon when it was still light, only their lips touching, grey smog line visible even on the clearest of days, winding through hutongs with their hands tightly bound together, the harsh bustle of the city pressing in, massive and heavy with secrets and still heavy at dusk with full breasted women who carried their bare-bottomed grandchildren and stopped to let the babies pee on the asphalt in a warm, yellow stream that wove between rogue pebbles like the Yangtze river. This Jim was gone, the Jim who gazed unflinchingly at Lily over the white noise of the subway and lingered his gaze before looking away and mumbling “mmhmm, yes” to whatever she said about wanting to never stop moving for fear of waking up to the same day over and over again. This Jim, whose shoulder and knee pressed against Lily’s shoulder and knee in the booth was gone and never existed, because he reached over Lily to brush his fingertips against Camille’s shoulder. They melted together on the dance floor until their mouths were slack and open and they were breathing together.
Lily quietly elbowed her way towards the restroom. Trying to pee in a ground-level Chinese toilet after drinking four or five or seven glasses of whiskey was like a bad game of shoot the barrel that resulted in a fine urine garnish sprinkled about her blessed ankles.
Bladder relieved, Lily rested her face against the marble stall door and kept her hand protectively over the lock, crying with her whole chest open and tears seeping from her eye sockets and mouth and stomach and the wind knocked out of her with the force of the bullet train that runs continuously between Beijing and Shandong province. Her sobs welled up from her toes. She was so free and such openness felt like the flying she sometimes dreamed about.
Maybe she was prettier than me, she thought, maybe she had better taste in music, maybe her Chinese rolled effortlessly about her mouth and the shape of her body was all he could think about while he listened to me talk on the subway. Maybe when he was looking at me and not looking away he was lost in thought, wondering if she would want to kiss him, wondering if he could muster the courage to bring her onto the dance floor.
Lily sobbed again and again until she felt the comfort well up. Her grip on the lock slackened. She wiped her tears and beamed with painful, beautiful, satisfying heartbreak.
She sunk back into her booth corner, now wedged again between Jim and Camille, who had by now returned to the booth and maybe because they felt guilty had reopened a space for Lily between them. As the alcohol glow began to melt off of Lily’s sweaty Beijing nightclub body, she smiled up at the black vast ceiling, mouthing to no one, “I need to do this more often.”
Lily swayed her hips because she didn’t want to sit down anymore and she didn’t want to stand doing nothing and accidentally making eye contact with the handsome Chinese man whose skin looked freshly peeled and buffed and beautiful, bearing think lips that pulled into a shy smile when their eyes met.
The Nigerian man, now alone, waved for her attention and patted the seat beside him. His long legs were lodged like pillars between the booth and the table.
Lily smiled and stepped over Jim, who now stared emptily up at the ceiling with his slightly gaping mouth, vacant and nauseous, reclining his head against the smooth curve of the seat and resting his hand upon the crest of the cushion, where his fingers were snaked limply through Camille’s.
“Are you alright?” Lily asked, tapping his arm.
“I’ll be good,” he said, eyes still closed.
The man leaned over to grab her hand.
“I am Ekundayo—“ he said.
“What!” Lily shouted.
“Ekundayo—“ he shouted back.
His accent rolled like honey thunder, thick and resonant in the palm of her hand. His mouth brushed against Lily’s ear.
“Lily!” she said. “I’m Lily!”
“Hi Lily!” he smiled.
“How do you know Flackerty?”
“Oh,” he said, head rolling back and laughing from his belly.
He sucked some vodka from his glass and shook his head, lips tight together.
“I don’t muck around with that motherfucker,” he said. “I’m just here for the booze.”
Lily paused to locate Flackerty, now wedged on the edge of the dance floor between the Japanese woman, who held her drink in the air while winding about his hips with the other, and one of the Russian dancers from the break room, who grasped him around the neck with both hands. When the lights briefly flickered on, her black nails cast sharp bullet hole shadows along his thick, protruding neck vein.
Ekundayo raised his glass. His hand seemed it could burst, so tight and smooth and meaty.
“Don’t leave me hanging, doll,” he said. “Get on over here.”
Lily felt disarmed by his warmth, his smile. She clinked her glass against his. His packed, firm shoulder briefly pushed against her own. Lily felt the kind of abundance and contentment in her breast that she felt laying on the ground in her parent’s house, her thick Labrador, Oliver, wrapped tightly in her arms. She wondered if Ekundayo felt any strength sap out of him.
“I want to go dance,” he said. “Why don’t you come, ah?” he said.
“Sure,” she said, and allowed him to lift her off the platform.
In her scuffed walking sandals, flat on the dance floor, her chin barely reached Ekundayo’s elbow.
A few yards away through the masses, she could see Flackerty’s pointed profile, which ducked in and out of view. Slinky jersey fabric draped over his left hand, the dark shadow between the woman’s thighs enveloped his right. Her color-blocked mesh underwear hung limp around her ankles. His mouth was twisted and his shoulder pumped in violent circles.
Ekundayo drew Lily to his chest. Against the linen periwinkle barrier that shrouded his mountain breast, she sighed deep and low. She wrapped her arms tight around his waist. There they lulled back and forth like they were slow dancing at the senior prom, totally out of sync with the manic halting sex daze that thumped uniformly through the fray. He bent his mouth down to her ear.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to fuck you, little sister,” he said.
Lily opened her mouth to reply, but she heard a scream, loud enough to startle her even through the insulation of music, and a sickening thump. The crowd turned inward to fight for a glance of what happened. Only a few feet away, Flackerty’s cheek pressed against the black marble floor, blood only visible in the darkness where it was sprinkled against the white of his shirt. Security guards closed in and dancers scattered. Lily stumbled into the lobby, pressed between confused patrons who were now jogging to the exit. She turned to see Camille and Jim, now awake and ashen, following briskly behind. Camille grabbed her elbow.
“We need to go,” said Jim.
Jim grabbed her other elbow and together they jostled to the exit, out into the early morning cold of the summer darkness.