Year of the Dragon

An excerpt:

“It has to be done, Mr. See.”

Harry See stopped writing and threw his pen down, irritated. So much to do and here was this man, feeding him fantastic tales and imaginary nonsense.

Ah Lee didn’t look like a con man. At least he didn’t walk around wearing a tacky Chinese costume and gigantic Buddha beads around his neck. He was subtle for a man of his profession, dressed in a blue checkered polo shirt and khakis. He was thin and short, though with a slight paunch. Harry envied his full head of hair.

“Your mall is doomed. That property has gone through so many competent hands and yet not one of them managed to make anything of it. It’s bad luck, Mr. See.”

Mr. See made no response.

“It’s the dragons, sir,” Ah Lee persisted. “They’re trouble.”

Harry took a deep breath and let the word roll as sarcastically as he could off his tongue: “dragons.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Dragons. In the river.”

Ah Lee nodded. “I’ve made the necessary calculations, Mr. See, and my investigation tells me there are three dragons in the Pasig River, which runs right behind your mall.”

“And they’re not fond of malls, I suppose? Or progress?”

“It’s not that, sir,” Ah Lee answered, allowing Harry’s sarcasm to roll off his back. Like a professional. “See, there are three dragons in the river. Two are male, and they’re constantly fighting over the female. This conflict has made the area highly unlucky, and anyone who attempts to develop it has to work against the negative chi.”

Harry See was a businessman. It was no mean feat, going from a tiny shoe store in Quiapo to a chain of malls throughout the metro. Someday, he thought, he might even build the biggest mall in Asia. But now here he was, seated in his office, greeted with the news that his latest venture might not (would not, Ah Lee had insisted) succeed. Because dragons.

He did not hire Ah Lee; he never did believe in that feng shui mumbo jumbo. He thought himself a pragmatic man; he gave to church every Sunday because in this country, connections in church meant connections in government, and every businessman needed those connections badly.

No. Ah Lee showed up uninvited.

“I’m the only one who can help you, Mr. See.”

Harry See responded the best way he knew: he picked up the phone and said, “Mellie? Call security.”

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(It’s eleven pages, so obviously posting everything can get a little difficult. PDF it is.)

Stories: The Undoing of Things

I don’t remember when or how or why I noticed it, but when I did I wondered why I didn’t notice it earlier. It might have been a sunny day then, or maybe a terrible one.  I stopped noticing when he said the monotony of things made the days impossible to distinguish from one another.

It was tied so deftly to my left ankle that I half-suspected gnomes. The idea gave me visions of an army of gnomes, tying my limbs with strands of thread, trying desperately to drag my Gulliver ass into their kingdom. “She would’ve made a fine meal,” one of the gnomes would’ve said after the threads snapped, leaving all but one of my limbs free, and then I would’ve been torn between wanting to escape and wanting to live up to expectations.

Except then they would be stupid gnomes, because everyone knows thread isn’t exactly the best material for long and heavy hauls. A forklift would’ve been the intelligent choice. Now I’m thinking of gnomes driving a forklift. It’s neither funny nor endearing.

I’m neither funny nor endearing. He never did say it in so many words, except as the years passed he laughed less at my jokes, where the “hahahahaha” (innumerable “ha’s” the week after we first met) slowly wound down to “haha”, then – soon enough — just “ha”. It was barely a laugh, or maybe just the shadow of one, maybe. Maybe.

I was bored, I suppose, or curious. I’m not sure which one it is, though I suppose it may be a bit of both. I’m rarely sure of anything these days. But there it was, a thin strand of red thread, tied to my ankle and extending forth towards the unknown. If my left ankle is the beginning then where is the end? I think I needed to know something definite, for once. An infinity of answers, when all I want is one.

So I began, slowly at first, moving in a half-crouch and a half-crawl, until my forehead found the front door. And then I was seized by a fervent desire to reach the end and find my answer. I wound the thread around my finger, the way I’d learned to back when I still flew kites and believed that what you love will always find its way home.

Soon I had an inch thick of thread cocooning the entire length of my index finger, and yet the trail showed no signs of ending. It stretched on, down the length of the street where we’d walked hand-in-hand, arm-in-arm, linked in a chain we forged together but ended up weighing us down. On both sides stood rows and rows of homes that may have resembled one another at some point, but most have been beaten and weathered so badly that their true forms are rendered unrecognizable.

The thread had completely engulfed my middle finger when I realized I’d already walked past Acacia, just a few steps away from that streetlamp where he once told me he loved me. The rule of diminishing returns — the more you say it the more it loses its meaning; the more I find myself needing to hear it, as if one day he would say it enough times and in his voice I would find that he means it still.

I found the thread, wound three times round the base of the rusty streetlamp, the red barely visible against the combination of green paint and iron oxide. I circled the lamp, too, three times, the thread now beginning to hide the slim gold band on my ring finger. “Wear this ring,” he’d said then, and I’d said the same thing. If I’d known then what I know now, would I have said the words? Would he?

I followed the thread, half-hoping yet half-dreading that I would reach the end soon. I stopped to catch my breath at the street corner where he first kissed me, leaning against a wall of graffiti as I did when his lips leaned into mine. I ignored the chipped paint, remnants of campaign posters, the mark of a million drops of rain carving their brief existence into the wall that is my world at this moment.

I wonder if there’s something (someone) waiting for me on the other side. What if my left ankle isn’t the beginning, but the end? I imagine someone, working his way towards me as I make my way towards him, in what might be the worst reenactment of that scene from “The Lady and the Tramp” in the history of ever.

And then I wonder if it’s too telling that I think that Someone is a Him.

On and on and on and on and on and on and on. I walked past busy streets and garish shops; sometimes the thread wound around people and I took pains to circle them as subtly as I could, though I did get more than a few stares. “There goes that crazy woman,” they might say. “Let her circle you and she’ll go away eventually.”

I wonder if they notice it, the thread circling their bodies, binding them, somehow, to me. Not that clinging does anyone any good. I should know. Near the end I tried to bind him with my tears and our memories, not realizing that I was driving him away and binding no one but myself.

I sat in the booth we’d secretly called ours, in that old Chinese restaurant in Ongpin; I found the thread entwined in the sauce bottles, parts of it stained with crusted soy sauce. He’d marked the table on our fifteenth time here, notches of our initials on the part of the table nearest the wall, hidden underneath the hot sauce and the toothpicks. On our twenty-fifth time he ordered radish cake.

“We never order radish cake,” I said.

“We never try anything new,” he said.

On our forty-third he said he was too full. I had the usual.

“The usual?”

“Not today, Jenny, thanks.”

She smiled and turned to go but I stopped her, made her lift her foot.

“Thread,” I said, raising my now completely thread-encrusted left hand.

“Okay.”

I lifted the hot sauce to take a peek; notches and scratches but no initials. Fitting, I suppose. Sometimes you lose sight of what was there. I gave the thread a quick tug and resumed my search. The sun was setting but I was far from done.

Red thread wove in and out of our favorite bench, the one on the fringes of the football field in the university where we first met. I was a freshman then; he was in his senior year. We shared the bench, unmindful of the risk flying balls posed. It took a week of “hi’s” and “hello’s” and “hahahahahaha’s” (innumerable) before he asked me out.

It took me more than a few minutes to free the bench of the thread (or is it the thread of the bench?), as I had to pull my left hand out of its red cocoon first. I ended with a wadded up ball of thread bursting out of my hand. Still the thread did not end. It shone in the moonlight, taunting, inviting.

I had no choice, see? I couldn’t just drop everything, let go of the thread, and forget any of this ever happened. Unthinkable. Besides, how much farther could it be?

As the night wore on, I found myself retracing my steps. Through the bench and back to the restaurant; past the busy streets and the garish shops. I brushed my hand against graffiti, tracing the words the cracks the crevices. I walked under the streetlamp, the red of the thread almost golden under it’s yellowing light.

I found myself in front of our gate (my gate). Thread was dangling from every spoke that protected us from those coming in but did jackshit in keeping us (him) from getting out. Slowly I lifted the thread, the ball growing far too big for my hand. In I went, wondering how I could have let myself get caught up in this tangle in the first place.

It took a few tries before I could get the door open. He stood here, just a step outside our home (my house), bags in hand and keys on the table. I wanted so much to be calm, so much to be composed. I knew what it was, what he was saying, what he didn’t say.

And yet I couldn’t see him, couldn’t see what we had become.

I could only see what we no longer were.

I tugged the thread once more, wondering if there was something (someone) at the end waiting for me. I stepped into our home (my house), leaving the memory of him leaving me.

I stepped in and found a tangled web of red in front of me, traversing every inch every nook every memory every cranny. Binding his couch, winding through the staircase and up into our (my) bedroom, over his pillows (still his) and under the blankets. Over and under and inside and out.

I raised my hand to touch this tangle I’d found myself in. I know where it starts, but where does it end? Does it even?

In the mirror I found my face, criss-crossed and shattered.