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Wednesday Writing Prompt
Dance Floor in Outer Space

by

Paul G Duke
Wake up you idiot!
My eyes flutter open, sticky with the rust of a deep sleep. I have no idea how long I've been out, but my toes are frozen numb and
pressing out against the hard leather of my workboots.
You're lucky that Mrs.Greenhat was harmless.
The old lady in the green hat, who had been sitting next to me in the window seat since we left Thunder Bay, is gone. In her place now is
a Chinese woman.
You weren't supposed to fall asleep. Now there's a Chinese beside you.
Sweat forms in my ears and above my lip. I squeeze my hands into bricks and my head freezes, aimed straight ahead, like the marble
statue of some wartime general.    

Change seats before it's too late!

It was all over the TV that week. News reports of the murder of a young man named Tim McLean, killed while on a bus crossing the
Prairies through the heart of the country. Murdered by the passenger sitting next to him, the mentally disturbed Vincent Weiguang Li. At
some point, Li had snapped turned a concealed 'Rambo' knife on TimMcLean, decapitating him. He even displayed the kid's head to the
other passengers.
That same week, I had dropped out of school. My school was a total dump. Mind you, working at the Thunder Bay Steelworks wouldn't
be much better, but getting a job there was my only real option, and I figured that at least, I'd be able to afford to buy as much music as I
wanted. I planned to get my own place, a nice stereo system, and play whatever music I liked as loud as I wanted, and to hell with the
kids from school. Those losers only ever listened to rock music, and they teased me for digging Jazz. Fuck 'em.
"It's all part of God's master plan for you son," said my father, not the least unpleased at the news of my dropping out. In fact, he was so
eager to get me hired on at the Steelworks, where he himself had been working for thirty years, that he put the word in for me with his
boss the next day. But the Steelworks weren't hiring. They were about to lay off three hundred workers, my father being one of them.  
So we called up my Uncle Rollie, who lives out west in Vancouver. He said sure, send the boy out and he'd get me hired on at the pulp
mill where he was a foreman. God's master plan may have turned to shit in Thunder Bay, but out west were beaches, surfing and
hippies and nobody there knew me. In a place like that, I could be who I wanted to be.
The night before I was to leave Thunder Bay though, the news of the Prairie Murder hit the media, and my parents freaked out.
"This Li is Chinese," said my mother, horrified. "Maybe they just don't take to our land. Maybe the open space does something to them?"
"How in God's name does a monster like that get into our country?" said my father. "He should have been locked up in a cage. "
My mother suggested I should stay; try to get back into school.
"It's not as if the kid's especially bright, and he doesn't seem to have any special talents for much," said my father. He was probably
right. "The kid needs to find a job before the Chinas take 'em all away. You turn your back on the godless bastards for a second, they go
and take the bloody factories to bloody China. God-damned shame it is."
"Godless bastards," my mother concurred.
"Don't worry son," my father said. "We'll get you to Vancouver."        
Later that night, my father handed me something wrapped in a green cloth bundle. "God makes the evil ones, but he also makes the
good ones too," he said. "It's time to be your own man son."
Between the folds of soft cloth was his favorite hunting knife, a six-inch military-issue Bowie, snug in its brown leather scabbard. I slid
the blade out.
"Your uncle says he'll meet you at the A&W inside the Vancouver bus terminal. If you get there early, just sit tight and wait for him. Got
it?"
I nodded, staring at the gleaming steel in my hand, hypnotized by the power suggested by the gentle curve of its razor-edge.
"Listen to me son," his eyes found mine. "You keep your eyes open out there. The world is full of perverts and murderers. Watch for
strangers. Foreigners, you know what I mean? Anybody makes a move on you, don't hesitate. Strike first."
I nodded.
No evil Chinese madman is going to mess with you now. Strike first.

The next morning, I boarded the bus, and found at the very back the only vacant seat left. In the window-seat next to me was this old
lady with a huge green hat, one of those crazy Queen of England numbers. At first, she tried with the hello-son-where-are- you-heading
stuff, but when I stuck the earphones of my iPod in and cranked some John Coltrane, she left me alone.

I'm seventeen, and it's the first time I've traveled anywhere on my own.

The only Chinese women I've ever seen are in Kung-Fu movies, where they hide swords in their hair, and slice men in half while they
drink at roadside teahouses. But this one doesn't look much like a Kung-fu killer. She's sound asleep, with her head resting against the
window. She has on an expensive-looking dark overcoat, and her lower legs are sealed in glossy black boots. She makes no sound, and
is so completely still she could be an ice sculpture. For the moment, she looks harmless enough, but like my father always says, that's the
thing about the Chinese; they're sneaky and deceitful.
Your father is right. Don't trust her appearance.
Grabbing my backpack, I stagger to the front of the bus. The bus driver is a huge round man. Long white hairs curl out of his ears like
whiskers on a big drunken cat, and he reeks of coffee. The steering wheel looks ready to collapse in the vice-grip of the Driver's thick
powerful fingers. I ask him how long until we reach the next stop, and he tells me maybe four hours 'til Winnipeg.
"Better get comfortable kid," he says.
"But there's a-"
The driver flashes a red eye toward me, then sets it back to the road ahead. "There's a what?"        
I feel suddenly childish. Like I'm running for help. No wonder my parents think I'm useless. "Never mind," I say.
The prospect of sitting beside the Chinese woman for the whole trip, four days from Thunder Bay to Vancouver, fills me with an icy
dread. As I pass the other passengers, I notice that most of them are old folks, some asleep, some chatting quietly amongst themselves.
They don't seem the least concerned that there's a Chinese woman on the bus. I'm clearly the youngest one on the bus; so it's up to me.
I'll have to keep my eyes on her the whole time, maintain an unwavering vigil. I'm the sentry.
While I'm still up, I stretch my arms and roll shoulders. My movements have no effect on the Chinese woman. She remains still as steel
against the window.
It's part of God's master plan for you son. You've been granted a sacred duty.
Remember, the Chinese can't be trusted for a second. She makes one move toward you, you stab her eyes out!
I take my seat and adjust my posture until I'm reasonably comfortable. I set my backpack on the floor in front of me. On my birthday, my
mother gave me a pair of new Kodiak work-boots. They're not worked-in yet, and have begun to really sting my feet. I want to stretch
them out to rest on the backpack, but that would jeopardize my chances of reacting quickly to any attack, so I plant them on the floor
below me instead. I cushion my head to one side, so the Chinese woman is clear in my sight. In the window beyond her, the rusting
factories and brick smokestacks I've lived among my whole life blur past, reduced now to formless streaks of orange and brown.

By nightfall, we're into the Prairies. Everyone on the bus is asleep, hidden from me by the shadows and seats. From behind, even the
Driver looks asleep-his hands are welded to the steering wheel at perfect "10's and 2's." I seem to be the only one awake. I think about
Vancouver. How different life will be. No more school, no more parents nagging me. I'll get my own apartment, date the girls I want to,
surf, snowboard, climb mountains. Maybe I can find a night job in a jazz bar, something cool like that.

The front of the bus strikes it first. Then the back lurches up and I bounce out of my seat. My iPod slams to the floor. We've hit
something. Everyone's awake now; the whole bus is buzzing with confusion. The bus squeals to a stop and the Driver steps off.
A few moments pass silently before the Driver returns, swinging the door shut behind him with a metallic creek. "Sorry folks," he
announces with a deep loud voice. "Mafia dumps a lot of bodies out here. Nothing to worry about."
The bus goes even more silent, if that's possible. In the rear-view mirror, I see the Driver, who winks at me and grins. "Just kidding. Dead
Coyote."
I laugh for a moment, but then I notice that, incredibly, aside form a few strands of hair that have strayed across her face, neither the
bouncing bus nor the noise of the passengers have any effect on the Chinese woman. If anything, she somehow looks even more asleep.
Don't be fooled. It's some ancient Kung-Fu meditation thing. She knows you're watching her.        
For the first time, the thought strikes me; maybe the Chinese woman's not asleep at all. Maybe she's dead. My hand reaches into my
jacket and my fingers wrap around the handle of my knife. I'm terrified, but ready. Careful not to disturb the air molecules between us, I
lean over and turn an ear to the lapel of her overcoat.
An amazing scent greets my nose as I enter the range of her perfume, and the tension washes out of me. I ease my ear closer still. Her
chest heaves with the slightest whispers. She's breathing, but is this normal breathing? How would I know? Maybe Chinese breathe
differently.
Are you crazy? Pull your head away from her!
Maybe she's drugged, spaced-out on pills or something. Images from Kung-Fu movies form in my mind: old Chinatowns, where sad
fallen concubines smoke away their shame in gloomy dank opium dens. With my head at her chest, she could easily grab me in a choke-
hold if she woke. This thought focuses in me, even as I notice the soft pale skin showing above the V-line of the white blouse she's
wearing under the coat. I pull my eyes downward, across the slender darkness of her coat, and see that she's also wearing around her
thin wrist an expensive-looking watch. A Gucci. Hardly a sign of someone 'fallen'. All said and done, she doesn't really look dangerous,
and she sure doesn't smell it. She looks more like a collection agent from the bank, or the owner of a fancy shop. Maybe she's crossing
the country, buying homes. My mother says pretty soon regular Canadians won't be able to afford a home, because all the rich Chinese
are buying them and raising the prices.        
I pull my head away from her chest.
So she's got fancy clothes. She might be a secret agent. A spy. An assassin. Look at the way she wears her coat, buttoned all the way to
the top. She's concealing a weapon for sure.
Across the aisle from me, a middle-aged businessman in a suit and tie, who's been snoring for the past few hours, wakes up. He smiles
and squeezes past me on his way to the washroom at the rear of the bus.
Questions simmer up to the forefront of my mind. When had this woman boarded the bus? How had she managed to take the seat
beside me, the window seat that, without my being aware of it? Had she climbed over top of me? How could I not have noticed that?
They're sneaky. I told you, they have ways.
She's like one of those giant crane towers on construction sites, the ones that run up through the centre of a building while it's being
built. You never see them arrive. Never see them erected or assembled or even being lowered into place by a helicopter. One day,
they're simply there, and you are forced to live with the mystery.
No mystery about it. She took Mrs. Greenhat's seat right from under her. She took what didn't belong to her.
The businessman returns to his seat. He smiles again and turns his gaze to the Chinese woman. His eyes trace a line from the woman's
boots all the way up to her hair. "Where you heading son?"
For a moment, I pretend I can't hear him over the music, but he holds his gaze on me. I pop one of the earpieces out. "Vancouver."
"Long trip," he gestures to the Chinese woman with a nod. "Wanna switch seats?"
There's something lewd and ugly about the way he looks at her; he reminds me of a hunter, starving from weeks in the wilderness,
coming across an extra-large pizza. He smells of stale tobacco and booze. He's creepy.
"No thanks," I say.

A few hours later, my eyes burning and dry, we arrive at Winnipeg Station.  Smothering everything is a thick blanket of snow. The
passengers leave the bus and head into the small grey terminal building, where a Tim Horton's donut shop and public washrooms wait
for them. The Chinese woman still doesn't awaken.
I wait for the stinky businessman to leave, then I too step off the bus and into the bracing chill outside. I buy myself a large coffee at the
Horton's.
After a half hour, the bus engine rumbles back to life. I take my seat beside the Chinese woman. The hot aroma of my coffee kills off the
floral breeze of the woman. The businessman takes his seat too.
That's Winnipeg, I think. Not much to it. As the bus twists out of the station, I watch through the window as fresh snow blows up in soft
gusts, and swirling against the glass they form the pale faces of prairie history's ghosts, each of them staring back at me.

God is putting me to the test.

That's right. You've got to protect the others. God's given you this duty. Time to be your own man.

I don't know how many hours later, the prairie morning appears outside. It's an endless white horizon scrolling by. Mile after mile of
nothingness.
We stop briefly in Saskatoon, and everybody gets out to stretch and breathe the fresh air. The tiny bus terminal is virtually empty. I
notice only a single person working there, a lone ticket agent, an old man who sips coffee and stares into a TV. What a dump, I think,
how does anybody live there, and I'm relieved when we pull out and move on toward Calgary.

The day dissolves into night before my eyes, now burning and dry with fatigue. When they start to drop, I try propping them open with
my fingers, and inhale long, deep breaths until I feel energized once again. This works for a while, but gradually this technique fails me.
Sleep seems to reach out and claw at me, determined to drag me into its dark world. But I can't let that happen. The Chinese woman
might wake up, and slaughter me in my sleep or take my job.
Outside the bus, even though the sun glows strong and bright- it's morning already?- the endless white nothingness of the prairie day
threatens to lull me into the same dark world that the Chinese woman seems unable to leave. I fight its hypnotic force with every atom
of will I have.
No matter what, you must stay awake. Your life and the lives of the others depend on it. If you can't take it anymore, you'll have to
eliminate the threat before you sleep.
Repeatedly, I stretch open my fingers and quickly squeeze them shut, and gradually breathe some life back into my frozen limbs.        
The Chinese woman's pale skin is still pressed against the cold glass when night comes again. A thick darkness envelops everything
outside the bus like some super-massive Black Hole swallowing the sun. The cast from the interior lights of the bus turn the window
pressed against the woman's face into a cold dark mirror, and in it I see my own wasting face inches from hers, our noses almost
touching. The "I" that I am in the reflection doesn't look afraid. In reverse, my face looks...pleased.
I can't tell her age, maybe thirty. Girls that I know show their age in the thickness of the potato chip-and-pizza fat at their necks, but this
woman wears a timeless slender. She could be as young as twenty, or much older than that. The girls back home were flasks of cheap
vodka at the football game, but this woman is clearly an evening of theatre followed by champagne cocktails at jazzy piano lounges. She
looks the way Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, pre-heroin Chet Baker, and Miles Davis sound. Elegant. Cool.
Stop that! It's one of her tricks, so don't fall for it. Keep your mind right.
Feeling myself lulled into ease by her handsome appearance, I snap myself out of it with a stretch of my jaw muscles, and a few deep
breaths. The snow streaks past the window in horizontal fingers that snatch time itself into its grasp, only to be smashed and melted
against the heated metal hull of the speeding bus. All that remains in its absence is a deep cold that at least has the effect of sharpening
my focus on the Chinese woman even more.
My feet are killing me. They're swollen and trying to burst. I untie my boots, slip my aching feet out, and with a deep sigh of relief, set
them to rest upon the backpack. I wiggle my toes, hoping to move some blood out of my feet and back into my mind. A fatigue has taken
residence inside me, dense and alive as if another person, a demon of some kind, has burrowed under my skin and displaced me
altogether.

Somewhere in the middle of the prairies, she moves.

Her hips turn away from the window, he arms fold across her chest, one hand clutching a blue leather handbag. Her head shifts until it's
pointed in my direction. Her eyes are still closed, but she seems to be staring at me through her eyelids. The far quarter of her face
remains veiled by a few strands of black hair, but her new angle permits the clearest view of her yet, and though she's as asleep as ever,
something about her takes on new life.
I think of my hometown, so far away now and struggling to survive its loss of industry. And my parents. If I had stayed, the burden on
them would have been too much. They're now free of me, but somehow, even a thousand miles from them, I don't really feel free of
them. From their absurd faith in God, Industry, and this place called Canada, which from where I am sitting, is nothing more than a vast
sheet of plain white paper. The Prairies are a real dump. And somewhere out here on this same highway, amidst the same expanse of
lifeless cold, another young guy riding a bus had crossed paths with a monster. How could any God create such a violent evil and just
stick it out there on the prairies like that, waiting to trap innocent lives?        

It's like some sick cosmic joke.

Calgary comes and goes. I don't even get off the bus. My legs wouldn't hold me up anyway-they've gone completely numb. Now I too,
feel frozen in my seat.
Vancouver is only ten hours away now...gotta stay awake.
That's right, no matter what, stay awake.
Stay awake.

The bus makes it out of the Prairies and we head upward into the Rocky Mountains. The air flowing into my lungs thins and my breath
grows shallow. The hunger that had until now merely annoyed me is now burning a hole in my belly. While wondering how the Chinese
woman can sleep so lung without eating, the thought occurs to me that maybe she has some food in her handbag.
No longer able to control myself, I reach over to her handbag and gently pry open its tiny metal clasp. Inside is a cell phone, a make-up
kit, and a small plastic package of Cherry Nibs. It's my hunger that does it, moves into the purse and lifts the Nibs out.
She doesn't notice. I hold the Nibs in my hand, they look fresh and delicious; certain to ease the pain in my gut. But what if she wakes
and finds her snack removed from her purse? She'll tell the driver who will beat them out of me. I'll be arrested for my hunger and
desperation.
So what if you take her Nibs? What's she gonna do about it? Remember, you're the one with a knife.
But I can't bring myself to eat them. I just sit there holding the plastic package in my lap. Tired of supporting the growing weight of the
knife in my chest pocket, I pull it out and stuff it into my backpack. I can still reach it if I need to, I figure. This way, I can curl my hand
into the warmth of my jacket without touching the thing.

We're surrounded by tall green trees. Maybe, I can't tell; it's all just a haze that swirls into my mind until eventually the last of my focus
drifts. My eyelids, heavier than I can hold up any longer, finally close, as sleep overtakes me and I'm swallowed up by a darkness that's
as thick as prehistoric tar. I'm tumbling through outer space. Silent. Cold. But this outer space has no stars and no planets. No moons or
meteors. There's no sound and no texture, nothing I can touch or feel, just a deep, black, nothingness.
But being weightless feels great. I try to relax, and whistle a half-decent rendition of Gerry Mulligan's "Body and Soul," into the darkness
around me, where the notes shatter into the vacuum. Then, something tugs on my legs, a force of some kind, pulling me in some
direction, maybe down? I'm moving faster and faster toward something. My face ripples; my skin stretches like a rubber balloon. I see in
the distance a tiny speck of light. I'm falling towards it, accelerating with impossible speed, until I'm close enough to see clearly what it
really is. It's a wide, flat surface, lit with a thousand coloured lights. And riding it, as though it's an enormous circular surfboard, is the
sleeping Chinese woman. Only she's awake, and she's not surfing. She's dancing. On a gigantic disco dancefloor.
What the hell?
I brace myself for the coming impact. The woman is still dancing, and doesn't see me coming. I'm heading right for her. With incredible
force, I slam into the dancefloor, right at her feet.
She jumps back.
"Hey, you're awake," is all I can come up with. She pulls away without saying a word. Maybe she can't speak English. Or maybe she
doesn't recognize me. I glance down and check myself for any anthropological irregularities, but I look the same as always: jacket, jeans,
white Nike sneakers. "It's only me. I sat beside you on the bus?"
"I can't talk to you," she says, and walks away from me, heading off across the lighted floor.
I try a compliment. I'm not sure why, but I feel the need to speak with her. "You speak pretty good English for a Chinese girl."
She stops. "I'm not Chinese, idiot. I'm Canadian."
"Oh," I mumble, feeling stupid. "It's just that, I've been wanting to talk to you."
The woman takes several steps back. "I can't do that."
"Because I'm…not Chinese?"
She shakes her head. "You're a stranger in here. A foreigner. So I have to be careful."
"I'm not the least bit harmless. I just wanted to meet you."
"Why?" She bites her lower lip, puzzling something over. She brushes her black hair away from her eyes. "I don't know what it is, but
there's something about you that's just, wrong."
"Wrong?"
She nods her head. "Wait. What sort of music do you listen to?"
"Well, I like Jazz."
"Jazz?" her eyes widen, and a hesitant smile breaks at the corner of her lips. "I like jazz too. That can't be it then."
I smile. She likes Jazz.
She doesn't look like a jazz fan. She-
"Who said that?" she stiffens.
"Hey, I've been wanting to ask you. Why do you sleep so much on the bus?"
"Maybe I'm afraid of you."
Why the hell should she be afraid of you? She's Chinese, she's the foreigner.
Her head spins. "There it is again." Before I realize what is happening, the woman has reached into my jacket, and pulls out the knife.
"How dare you bring that thing in here?"
I struggle to find an answer.
She throws the knife to the floor as if it were white-hot. Her eyes widen with terror.
Quick, stab her eyes out! Assault the ambush. Pre-emptive strike.
The knife begins to shake, vibrating as though it's about to explode. Then - and I can't believe what I'm seeing - a thin line splits the knife
down its length, and it hatches.
"Look what you've done," She runs at me and with her fist and pounds at my chest, but gives up and I put an arm around her and she
accepts the gesture, burying her face in the curve of my inner shoulder. I can smell her magic perfume again, a scent like nothing that's
ever passed through me before.
What comes oozing out of the knife is formless at first. A slimy blob. With amazing speed, it seems to catch its breath and grow, taking
the shape first of a featureless infant, a small boy, then finally, it raises an adult head and looks directly at us. It is not quite a complete
human, just a smooth form, and I recognize it from TV. It's Vincent Weiguang Li. Or rather, his form. A Li-form. It stoops down and picks
up the two pieces of the knife, and squeezes them back into its original deadly shape.
The woman grabs my hand and pulls me to the centre of the dancefloor.
"How'd he get in here?" I say, sweat pooling at my back.
She turns and glares. "You brought him in."
"I did?"
A giant iPod appears, and immediately starts playing Baden Powell's "Blues A Volente." The Li-form advances toward us, brandishing
the knife above its shoulder.
She swings me around. "Dance!"
As we dance, the entire dancefloor begins to rotate around us. I feel dizzy. The Li-form is only a few steps from us now. Her feet slide
gracefully over the coloured lights. I follow, doing my best not to trip on my Nikes. The Li-form stabs at the woman, but misses as she
turns a pirouette. We're spinning faster now, and the centrifugal force pushes against him. He stumbles and falls to his feet, but again
slides further away, struggling to hold onto the floor. I get a clear look at the creature. His face is void of any human features, his skin
looks made of translucent grey Jello, and his eyes are solid black holes. But looking into his expressionless face, my perception shifts,
and I see my own face.
'I' come into focus: my wavy brown hair, my green eyes and big ears. The Li-form, or Me-form, whatever it is, is even wearing my Nikes.
"Faster," cries the woman. "Don't stop yet."
I don't know what I'm doing, but I let the music, and the beautiful woman, take me into their flow. I dance faster, wilder, swinging my
limbs with more…grooviness?
"Gosh," she says, a gleam of surprise in her eyes. "You're a good dancer."
"I've never danced before," I confess. "The whole endeavour is absurd to me."
"I'll show you absurd," she says, and with a swing of her long black hair, she spins me into a pirouette.
The dancefloor lurches and accelerates into another gear. The Li-Me-Whatever-form makes a final, desperate slash of the knife across
empty space, and then careens off the dancefloor, and is sucked out into space. In seconds, he's a tiny speck vanishing into the dark void.
We're alone again, safe. We stop dancing and catch our breaths. I bite for air. She seems fine, her breathing calm. She's clearly in far
better condition than I am.
She touches a hand to my shoulder. "I'm hungry," she says. A low dining table appears, covered with dishes of food. She takes my hand
and pulls me down to the table. "Do you like sushi?"
"I've never had sushi before, but I'll try it." I feel the urge to tell her how I stole the Cherry Nibs from her purse, but I'm afraid of losing
her so, I hesitate. "If you're Chinese, how come you eat Japanese food?"
"How do you know I'm Chinese?" she smiles. "Maybe I am Japanese."
"Are you?"
"You really are an idiot."
"Yup."
She folds her legs under the table and sits. I follow suit; my legs ache with stiffness from the long travel. She slides a plate in front of me.
A pulpy orange blob sits on top of an open shell with three-inch black spikes sticking out all around it. I stuff the thing whole it into my
mouth. The woman bursts into a laugh. "You're not supposed to eat the shell, silly."        
But it tastes wonderful, like the ocean, and makes my body feel warm and pleasant. The spikes poke out through my neck.
"It's sea urchin. Uni."
"Uni?" I say, the movement in my neck causing the spikes to wiggle. "Tasty."
After dinner, we're at the edge of the dancefloor peering out through the curtain of space. For some reason, I feel a deep, heavy sense
of loss. Loss of what I can't tell, it's just a feeling that sits like a limestone rock in the pit of my stomach. What have I lost? I'm just
beginning my life. "You said I'm a stranger, a foreigner, in here. But where is here?"
"The farthest edge of the universe," she explains. "Yet, also it's very centre. The place where everything converges. The great Nothing."
"Kinda like a black hole?"
She nods. "The Nothing side."
"The Nothing side of what?"
"Everything."
I let this swim around in my head for a moment, until the sloshing makes me seasick. "I think now I really have absolutely no idea what
you mean."
"Energy, life even, can only contract so much. Once things get sucked in, they squeeze through a sort of tunnel, and, reaching their
maximum contraction state, burst through this wormhole deal and out the other side in a huge expansion of energy."
I never did well in Physics class, but it sort of seems familiar to me. The woman is smart. I want to ask her what she knows about
construction cranes.
"It's not physics, but yet it is." She continues. "Time, space, up, down, light and dark, Yin, Yang, in, out; Eros and Thanatos, if you prefer
Freudian terms. Sex, Violence; Love, hate; creation, destruction. Each one its own complement, expanding and contracting. Alternating
contradictions. Paradoxes folding into themselves.
"How about good and evil? How do they work in here?"
"Everything is in here, in ever-flowing oscillation."
"What about when people die, do they come out here? I mean, in here?" I don't know what I mean. But I want to know.
"They return to Nothing," she lowers her eyes and gently nods. And for the first time, I notice her, really notice her. It's as if I'm seeing
her for the first time. She's about twenty-six. Her black hair falls to the shoulders of her black overcoat and spreads across them like the
leaves of a weeping willow in the moonlight. The soft, grey fur of her overcoat's hood frame her alabaster face like a fox curled around
a stolen pearl. A gold necklace, thin as a leaf held sideways, hang over the pale skin visible at her neckline. Her narrow eyes are open
just so, a thin veil of blue shadow above them. Her delicate black eyelashes stroke the air in front of her. Her eyes are so thin I can’t help
wondering if she can see as much of the world as I can. The gentle pout of her lips are a soft, remote red. The tips of her ears piercing
the veil of black hair are two pale flowers in the early moments of their spring blossom. Her nose rises from her face so subtly, is such a
gentle hill of snow that it's impossible to say where the snow begins or ends.
A guilty hand slaps me out of the lyrical mood. "I better go now."
"Why do you go?" She takes my hand in hers and looks into my eyes. I was right. She's beautiful when she's awake, too.
"I have to get to Vancouver. Someone's waiting for me."
"Stay," she says, smiling at me.
But I slide my hand from hers, turn, and leap off the dancefloor.

I wake to a sharp pain in my foot. When I look down at it, I see that my foot is impaled on the knife. Somehow the knife has escaped the
scabbard and while my foot lay on the backpack, the blade sunk into my sole, stabbing a small gash under my big toe. A bloody smear
has soaked into my sock. A pain of a different sort stabs me too.
She's gone. The seat beside me is empty for the first time on my trip. It looks like a massive crater, or an ocean drained of its waves.
Emptiness. I still have her Cherry Nibs too and won't be able to give them back to her. When she left, she must have noticed me holding
them. She must have seen them. And yet she didn't take them from me.
They're probably laced with poison, arsenic or something, that's why.
Whatever you do, don't eat them.

I lift the knife and wipe it off on my sock, already bloodied. As I jam the knife back into its scabbard, the squeeze of the fit tells me there's
no way it could have simply slid out.
She did it. She pulled me out of your pocket and turned me against you. She made me, the Chinese woman.
How do I even know she's Chinese? And if she had reached into my backpack, I would have noticed.
You were tired, you stayed awake too long. You were dead tired. Knocked out. She moved like a cat, and you didn't notice. She did it. You
missed her attack.

Shut up.

I shoulder my backpack and leave the bus. Outside, I meet the Driver. He's alone, kneeling under the back of the bus, attending to some
small repair.
"Did you happen to see which way that Asian woman went?" I ask.
"Asian woman?" he pulls himself up from the pavement. "What'd she look like?"
"I don't know, she was sorta pretty," I say. "For a Chinese girl, I mean."
"Don't recall kid."
"She was asleep the whole time." My Nikes squeak on the wet concrete. "Did you see which way she went after she got off the bus?"
The Driver shrugs and shakes his head. "I wouldn't sweat it kid. This town is full of Asian girls. Dime a dozen. Chinese, Korean, Japanese.
All the major brands available here," he laughs at this.
"But I need to return these to her," I hold out the Cherry Nibs.
The driver chuckles and shakes his head and I realize how much he resembles a grotesque alien beetle.

Inside the station are hundreds of people, greetings and goodbyes everywhere. Scanning the crowd, I search for her black hair and
those thin gentle eyes that I've never seen open. But the driver is right. At least half of the people are Asians, and I can't find her
anywhere among them. Seeing so many Asian people amassed in one place like that is overwhelming, and I realize that they could be
Chinese, Korean, Japanese or Vietnamese, and I wouldn't even know the difference. In that place, smiling and hugging each other, they
all seem like one family. Two of their number hurry by me, holding hands and smiling briefly in my direction, despite the fact that here I
am the foreigner.
I locate the A&W, but Uncle Rollie is nowhere to be seen. I buy some lunch and find a seat among the crowd. The two Teen Burgers and
chocolate shake I buy do nothing to ease the bottomless hunger that has opened inside me.
Consider yourself lucky she didn't murder you when you fell asleep. Now that you're in Vancouver, you mustn't let your guard down ever
again.
You're lying. Why are you lying? Why have you lied to me? She's harmless. She did nothing to me. She's...
Yes, what?
She's harmless and...         
Don't let your father and mother down. Don't disgrace them. The Chinese stole your father's job, and they'll steal yours too. You can't trust
them. They're taking all the factories to China, they're cheating at the Olympics, they kill whales and make coca cola out of girl's hair. They eat
their babies, they tie women's feet up, export heroin all over the world, finance communist guerilla armies. Half the guns in the world are
built in China. Stay with your own kind! This town is full of them, you gotta protect yourself. Your father wanted me to protect you from
them.
...she's beautiful.

I toss the burger wrappers in the garbage and leave the A&W. The Guard on duty at the Security desk is a large man with short hair and
a professional scowl, which he turns on me. "May I help you sir?"
I slide the green cloth bundle across his desk, anxious to be free of its weight.
"What this?" he asks, taking the knife in his hand.
"Somebody left it on the bus."

Outside the station, it's pouring rain. Downtown Vancouver waits for me a few blocks away, a dense forest of apartment towers and
office buildings, gleaming with the wet winter day. Poking the sky among these trees of glass and steel are dozens of towering
construction cranes.
I close my eyes, and search deep inside myself for that place where some things end and others begin. And, gazing into the darkness, try
to find her there.



© Paul G Duke


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