Engines wail and he shakes from side to side like a baby in a pram. Brain bubbles then spits out commands and ideas, which are for the most part curiously unmatched. Most people don’t realize that you experience g-force all the time, even as a regular citizen, when you accelerate in any direction, even in a car or on a bicycle. Strictly speaking, the g-force he is feeling right now is negligible. Less than 0.4 vertical gs and less than 2 gs of acceleration. Still.
Leonard leans his head back to make it easier on his neck and clenches his thighs to minimize the urge to pee as it blinks like a critical system error from the center of his swollen bladder.
Brain: So. Your parents.
Side by side they waved goodbye. Hands enthusiastic, faces frozen. He looks out the small window to see the billions lights of Hong Kong fade below and behind him. One day they will not come to say goodbye.
A claw reaches up. He keeps watch from the corner of the eye closest to it.
Air suddenly sprays from the ceiling, drying his eyes and making him blink. The hiss is intoxicating, drowning out other sounds and cooling his face where the damp has settled. He rubs his face with the palms of his hand. He doesn’t have much stubble and really if he was truthful, he never does, but the straight little hairs that have poked out since his bender began feel nice back and forth a few times tickling the thin skin. One last slow swipe down then he rests his fingertips on his chin and turns to look at his seatmate.
She is maybe in her fifties with short black hair dyed matte black, shoulders covered with a pink cardigan like a blanket. She looks boring and needs glasses. She squints and squints. Maybe a few minutes later, maybe an hour, she turns to face him. They make them sit so closed that he can see she has wrinkles in the shape of brackets on either side of her forehead.
Brain: You are wrong.
Brain: She has spent a lifetime being surprised.
He goes to laugh, but he can’t move fast enough and can only start with a slow smile, which she takes for friendliness.
“I don’t like flying very much either.” She says in Cantonese and touches his forearm lightly with the claw. She is wearing lipstick that is very pink. Rather than make her look like a fool, it makes her look much younger than she probably is. He feels a sudden love for her that she got is so right. Most people do the wrong thing with perfection.
I am reasonably high.
He is not sure if he’s said that out loud, but his seatmate, the lovely angel of surprises closes her eyes to sleep or fake sleep, he can’t be sure.
When his dealer passed him the pills in a spiffy little green ziplock bag, he said they would make him reasonably high. He held the bag up, two staid white tablets sitting a polite distance apart.
“But why would anyone want to be reasonably high?”
“Dude, you won’t look stoned.” It was very popular when combined with long haul flights, apparently. Leonard thinks of the running of the bulls Torro! Torro!. The pills are a red cape to his sorrowful brain.
He only has one travel case, a small Hermes carry-on. He sits hugging it to his chest. Even considering the act of leaning down to stow it tires him enough to make him lean back and close his eyes again.
When the plane levels out, the seat belt signs turn off and he unlatches his, staring at the unlit icon, wanting to do it just like it’s shown. The stewardess, a pretty blonde, walks down the aisle towards him looking down at the passengers sometimes smiling as if we were having a party, sometimes looking grave as if she were dealing in some serious business. She glances down at his row and stops. He hears the common ding ding you hear on flights and for a second wonders if she’s emitted this sound. Something erroneous here.
She asks him if he wouldn’t mind putting his bag in the overhead compartment. He looks to his seatmate but she’s still awol. Her head has lolled towards the aisle seat so he can’t tell if she’s listening. He says nothing, hoping the stewardess with assume with confidence that he will follow her command, but instead she’s seems less than sure that he understands English, so sighs like he’s used up everything she’s got, but then gestures cheerfully how it might be done. Does he flirt with her and then they argue? But while he’s thinking, he lets go of his grip on the bag and she picks it up carefully and puts it away in the overhead compartment. She smiles down at him after she’s slammed the door shut with an efficient click and gives him a thumbs up.
Brain: Bathroom. Stat.
He pushes in the accordion door and edges inside. His armpits itch with sweat. Scared is good. It will keep him alert. He looks in the small unbreakable mirror, which shows him his murky face.
Brain: You handsome devil.
I just want to go back.
When they land in Vancouver, he is calm and sober while waiting in line to pass through customs. His carry-on is slung over his shoulder and he chews gum while he waits, hands visible, neutral expression. He’s used to Canadian agents. He’s tall so they don’t think of him as being an Asian immigrant, which buys him some patience. He is dressed well, no Levis or generic white runners. He doesn’t have the faintest idea where to buy those, really.
When asked if he has anything to declare, he says no and shrugs the shoulder with the bag.
“What were you doing in Hong Kong?”
“Visiting my parents.”
“What do they do there?”
“My father works for a bank.” The agent looks at him blankly. “My mother keeps him company.” The agent smiles, types something into his computer, hands him his passport and customs card and he’s out.
He takes a cab to their family home. Their house here is called a mansion, as are the houses that surround it. Most of them are brand new, built to look like they are a century old. Fake gables, dentals and wooden shutters. He studied architecture so he knows why the locals stare with scorn as they jog by. There’s a small turret on the west side, his mother insisted, which helps to make their house officially the tallest on the block. The roof is capped with buffed copper and the rest of the house black shingle so it looks a bit like Rapunzel meets the Industrial Revolution. There are two miniature cement lions fused onto the pillars on either side of the gate. They have no pupils and look bored.
He lets himself inside, disarms the alarm and walks around with his shoes on, making echoes as he turns the thermostats on one by one. In the front room he presses a button that opens the curtains and he rubs his arms as the system whirs and room fills with light. No cars drive by. The sky is fluorescent white and he studies it, wanting it to give him reason to be hopeful or disappointed. Nothing. Just day. His phone rings.
There’s the sound of people yelling, but it’s muffled like the sound of a neighbor’s television, making it less alarming to hear. It could be a tv show. It could be a mass attack. Then a whoosh like the person on the other line was holding the phone out of the window of a moving car.
“Meet us in 5 at the Golden Ocean on Kingsway.” The other end says.
Leonard wants to have a shower or at least change into new clothes.
“You there?” the other end asks.
“Yeah.” He replies.
The connection goes dead.
At the restaurant, they wait for the hostess. The two men stare at Leonard closely. One of them is built solid with thick black hair pulled back martial arts style in a ponytail. He’s wearing a black t-shirt, black jeans, black running shoes.
The other one is older, about 40. He is skinny and about a foot shorter than Leonard, maybe 5’1. Leonard can see the waitress smiling at him, coming their way. He turns back to the short one, “I fucking hate tall people.” he says calmly to Leonard, briefly leaning up on his toes to get up close to his face.
The restaurant is large with dozens of family-sized circular tables covered with cream cloths with massive teardrop shaped chandeliers glowing in between them. There are heavy curtains covering the windows so it feels like evening. Vegas dim sum.
They grab a table at the back near the kitchen door, which keeps ejecting attractive women wearing matching female versions of tuxedos bottomed in short skirts. The kitchen staff yell at them as they come out pushing metal carts stacked with baskets and food on thick white plates.
“We’re not going to stay long.” The shorter man predicts.
“Probably not.” Leonard agrees, and then leans over to place his bag on the empty chair beside him. The stretch seems to have awoken his stomach. He hasn’t eaten in many hours and it growls loud enough to be heard over the chaos. He wants to be casual, reply “Of course” or something like that, but his mouth is busy shooting jets of salvia around.
“In a minute, the waiter will be here to take our order. We’ll order and you give the money to him.”
“To the waiter?” Leonard asks, drooling a bit. The two men look at each other like they aren’t sure he won’t mess this up. They open their menus and Leonard feels dismissed. The shorter one points at something in his and the tall one nods his head like they’ve done this sort of thing many times before.
The waiter appears at their table dressed in a traditional tuxedo and the two men make to order food. Leonard hasn’t even unzipped his bag, let alone opened his menu. The waiter moves to next to Leonard’s chair and looks down at him with a pleasant, unhurried expression. He makes like a mime and mouths “Oh!” then takes a pad of paper and pen out of his blazer pocket. “Soup?” he says as he writes on the pad. “It’s lovely today. Cauliflower. Caramelized onions. Tastes like autumn.” He tears off the sheet and hands it to Leonard. On it is written, “Hurry the fuck up”.
Leonard puts the note facedown on his plate and leans over and unzips his bag, He reaches in pulling out a child’s toy, a small stuffed mouse, grey with oversized ears, all no bigger than his fist. It’s worn, but not untended. In the toy world, this state could be interpreted as “loved”.
“Yes. I’ll have the soup. Thank you.” He says as he lays the mouse face down on his knife and spoon. His head begins pulsating. Every last drop of his blood must’ve made a break for the top of his head only to whoosh back down when it realized there was nowhere to go. His ears and heart thump in protest, somehow instinctively knowing that something just went awfully wrong.
The waiter cringes, looks at the mouse as if it is real. He points his pen at it and takes a step back. The short man leans on his forearms to get a better look and says, “What the fuck?” as Leonard gets up from the table.
“You can keep the bag.” He tells them. “It’s by Hermès.” The short man sits back down and glares at Leonard. “Seriously. You can sell it. Get a new suit.” Leonard is sweating, but his breathing is steady. He hasn’t felt this happy in years.
“You’re a dead man, fuck face.”
“Who isn’t?” and he gets up to leave when the guns start to fire.
He glances down at the tables as he passes. Every face he sees is mouth-opened screaming. He isn’t worried he’ll get shot, though it’s possible for a bullet to ricochet off a hot pot or the metal from a Dolce and Gabbana handbag. He goes past as if nothing is amiss. The air is exploding and he isn’t surprised.
The hostess is crying out loud like a tired kid, crouched under the front desk with only her ass exposed to the danger. “Have a wonderful day!” he sings to her and gives her a thumbs up before turning his back to the door to push it open.