Uncle Duh started whining again, after half a bottle of cheap vodka, cursing the rich and powerful, singing praises for the good old days when Chairman Mao was alive, wiping his snots off on his sleeves. We were sitting by a fishing hole in the frozen Yalu River. There was nothing in the water. The North Koreans ate them all. But when the sun went down, the Korean curfew went up. The nighttime Chinese monopoly felt good.
“You like the Mao lifestyle so much. Why don’t you go over to North Korea.” I teased him.
He answered with a loud spit: “North Korea my ass. I like the cradle to grave State welfare, but I don’t enjoy starvation.”
Suddenly, across the 400-yard wide river, blinding flood light started training a tiny black figure running fast to the Chinese side. We heard sporadic gunshots. The black figure kept running. The gunshots stopped.
“Holy shit!” I cried out. The black figure was only 30 yards or so from the mutually honored middle divide of the river.
Then an extremely loud gunshot and the figure fell. Its head bounced on the ice with a huge thump. Its body landed backward and kept sliding feet-first into China, stopping about 50 yards from us. But the sliding noise did not stop: a ceramic jar kept going and hit the rock under Duh’s ass. Against the light from our kerosene lamps, we saw antique Korean coins scatter in the air. Their rattling sound on the ice was music to our ears.
Duh snapped out of his alcoholic stupor and started collecting the coins. “We hit the damn jackpot!” He said, stealing a glance backward and was surprised that I was not moving: “You don’t want any? Shit is worth a lot.”
“Nah, you need them more than I do.” I said, magnanimously. “Here, use this” I emptied the snacks and threw over the bag.
“OK, suit yourself. Don’t blame it on me if you regret later.”
I stood up, and stared into the fishing hole, angry when I saw my pathetic reflection. What had I been doing all these years hanging out with a low-life like Duh? In a mere 30 years, I would become him, dousing my burning jealousy for the rich and powerful with cheap booze, too poor and old to even marry a North Korean refugee broad.
Out of my peripheral vision, I saw Duh walking toward me, with the bag of coin in his hand and a rare grin on his face, puffing white steam of quick breath. I turned to face him, putting a congratulatory smile on my face.
“Look at that!” I cried, “Let me feel the weight.”
I took over the bag and, in a lightning fast move, pushed him into the hole. I bet he still had that stupid grin on his face when he hit the water. Unperturbed by the commotion in the hole, I calmly placed the coin bag on the ice, picked up the rock that still bore some of his body warmth and smashed it onto his bobbing head. I heard a muffled thump and saw the ink-like dark trail chasing the rock when it sank slowly with his body.
It felt weird walking back to the construction workers’ dorm room I shared with Duh, without the usual company of him, and with what appeared to be splashed fish guts all over my pants.
* * * *
I ordered the drunken shrimps. After the waitress sprinkled some chopped garlic into the bowl of live shrimps struggling in liquor, I slowly shook some salt and chili powder to aggravate their suffering. Then I lit them on fire and covered the bowl with the glass lid. I watched them perform their spasmodic death dance and found it pretty lackluster. Frankly, executions were letdowns. There was no more surprise in an execution. By the time you squeezed the trigger, the thrill was almost over.
With a few highballs of snake blood Bloody Mary’s, I washed the dead shrimps down my throat. The Korean coins had given me enough money to buy a ticket on the midnight Manchurian Express to Russia, and a couple thousand yuan to squander before I boarded the train.
I told the maître d’ I wanted meat. He came back with a classified paper menu redolent of cockroaches. Local whores cost 500 yuan a pop. Southern Chinese whores were at 800. Imported Russians 1,200 yuan. And North Korean virgins were way more than I could afford. I prepaid for a Russian and was led into a windowless basement room. After bribing the maître d’ with all the money I had left, I got transferred to a room upstairs with a window to the street.
The Russian whore showed up in the dim light. Once she slithered out of her fake fur, I could tell she was good-looking but definitely over used and past her prime. I cut her short when she started showing off her repertoire of Chinese pleasantries and asked her for a cigarette. She lit it for me and started stroking my crotch, as if she was kneading some bread dough. I had the urge to kiss her face but her hair had a miserable smell, a mixture of counterfeit Western perfume, pickled herrings and Chinese sauerkrauts. Finding the smell and the “let’s get it over with” impatience on her face insufferable, I punched her hard in the face. She passed out without a peep and fell down on the bed like a sack of flour.
I got a kick out of undressing her and mentally checking off the essentials on the female anatomy list. But I could not get my male anatomical counterparts excited. The more I tried, the more humiliated I got and defeated I felt. I was just about to open the window and flee when an idea hit me.
I went back to the sleeping beauty, took the cigarette out of my mouth and stabbed it into her left breast, rotating it to drill deep. There was a quick sizzle and a wisp of bacon smell before the ember got smothered by her fat quickly. “There,” I whispered to her, pretending we were having an intimate conversation: “Something to remember me by. And I am sure your countrymen will soon return the favor.”
Then I climbed out of the window and disappeared down the street. I clutched the train ticket in my hand and ran many blocks to get to the train station, realizing that I had left my coat in the whorehouse. Despite sweating, I was shivering from cold. Maybe I was shivering from fear: the ultra-modernist train station designed by Paul Andreu, which symbolized the death sentence to Mao-style Communism, stood in the dark night, like a well-lit tropical aquarium in a vast abandoned warehouse. Through the giant glass panes, I saw my fellow humans, like some highly evolved, two-legged piranhas, swimming in thick, suffocating greed, ready to kill to get on the Manchurian Express.
© Henry Lu
Henry Lu is a computer programmer by day, a painter and writer by night. Some of his paintings are installed in certain Federal Government buildings in DC. His fictions have appeared, or are forthcoming, on Eunoia Review, Smashed Cat, Linguistic Erosion, Postcard Shorts, Nanoism and Absinthe Revival Press’ Summertime Anthology.
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