Ring Of Writers

by: Dil Khan
There wasn't much left unsaid between us.That we missed the important parts somehow is clear enough. She made my mouth ambitious, if she was cyanide; her kisses were appleseeds and almonds.  I like to blame her for bad times, but blame ain't what it used to be.  Maybe it's this ocean that's closed over my head, but she doesn't seem real now. She was an opium poppy, not a rose.  If you want to split hairs, it's likely I was quite insane long before I met her, and she becomes a symptom, good villains being hard to find. Framed in my delusion,she became a burning white light, going through me to make rainbows, taking frightful funhouse mirrors and making clear sweet prisms.  Now I'm just a chunk of glass in the dark, but I'm not a funhouse mirror. I would say to her "You draw everything together, when my vision falls and my will subsides, you bring the rains, shocking my heart into wakefulness.  You have become the lens through which I perceive the world and see through to the points of light held in darkness.Opposing poles weld together in the heat of your touch upon my face.  I am unsurprised by your accolades and slaves, it was never strange to see you shine.  I only wonder that the world hasn't fallen in love with you.  You are within and without, love and reason, child, religion.  I shout at angels to notice you." Who was I talking to?  I thought for a while, if I didn't keep my back turned I'd walk into hell again to hold her hand.  I thought her name would be on my lips forever.  But the horsemen so long at my back, are flown away now and proven ghosts.  Forever is just a story.  I am walking from the wilderness wherein I left her and all these memories.  Who was I talking to?  This map goes backwards.
* * *
I went to Tokyo to forget.
Money and alcohol every night, I always knew where to get lost in a sea of laughing faces.  You wouldn't recognize half of them in daylight.  In daylight there are jobs, faded clothes, bad skin and startled, haggard eyes.  At night it's just money and results.  Never a paragon of emotional stability or moderation, I decided to blunt the edge I was on with the happiest things I could find since I was a teenager.  Killing's the cure for feelings. You may have seen Tokyo on the corner of these dirty streets.  After dark has fallen and made everyone beautiful, the steel doors open to the stupid and the vicious; guarded not by Cerberus but Raj, a large dark man and bane of the rowdy drunk.  Raj was a big ugly bastard, but the ladies loved him because he was huge, violent and well spoken. Evolution.
"Mr. Douglas Canon.  Slumming again?"  He let me in with his customary smile and handshake.  I was a regular in Tokyo, so I didn't pay.
"As always, as ever, Mr. Raj Amitabh."  Slumming indeed.     
There's an oracular device known as the First Drink Ritual. If it tastes bitter the night will be boring.  If it goes down without kicking you in the gut, forget about freedom from earthly cares...hell just go home.  If it warms your blood like a kiss and everyone smiles; now that's what you came for. I'd just finished some contract work, ghostwriting for this stupid fuckwit with a big idea.  So I had just enough money once again, in spite of my incomplete education and only erratic stirrings of work ethic.  Maybe the money would keep the dreams down.
I'd been having dreams that persisted into daylight, they became superimposed my life and worried me like dogs.  It started out with Voodoo and Jesus, but I soon left such pedestrian fare behind, succumbing to a profound sense of disconnection, a sense of something just wrong. From my groin it swam upstream, catfish whippingup my spine and spinning like zero-G guppies against my retina, winding up my nerves and making me let go of everything I'd been taught to hold tight to.  When I was a kid I always did what was right.  By the time I was a teenager I still did, in that I'd learned to rationalize anything. Everything had gone irrevocably wrong and I wasn't even pushing thirty, yet.So I came to Tokyo to forget.  Alzheimer's is the reward of the old.  The young bristle with memory's fishhooks, and if I'm a shark like people say, that's still just a big fish.  I performed the ritual and scotch went flaming down my throat...nothing; I should have gone home. Then I saw Ilicia the Nun.  Short blonde hair,pretty green eyes and high cheekbones on a tall thin body with fake breasts.  Ilicia was filled with goodwill to man or woman, depending on her mood.  She responded like a purring cat every time I put my arms around her, but I'd known her for a year and she was a promise that never came through. "Doug!"  She shrieked, not so happy to see me,just happy to see someone she knew.  She came strutting up to me, divesting herself of people she was already bored with. I smiled like a whore and hoped she wouldn't notice the big cold rock in my chest.  As always,she kept me well outside her dress for two hours of innuendoes and dancing.I gave up after five gin and tonics, enough to make the room spin pleasantly.  I wondered if she knew I knew she was only playing.
The Nun's chastity was legend, and not even her much vaunted and flaunted bisexuality was enough to keep her frustrated fans seriously interested for long.  As one woman put it to me six months prior;  "Great, she won't fuck either of us!",nonetheless, everyone in Tokyo was secretly holding out for a blowjob.    The patronage of Tokyo is young, prone to bouts of poetry and occasional overdoses.  I let the room spin slowly by until I caught sight of a table to climb aboard.  At the helm was the entire Conscience Pilate. 
"Well if it isn't the Stormtroopers of Cool."  I was happy to see Brother Rock Star and his band of merry rockers. All of us were too old for nicknames and boys' club silliness, which was why we liked it so much.  Bars, shows, cafes, the inevitability of success and the ensuing boredom. Every in-joke and every day of fun vindicated the lifestyle, only lately I hadn't been laughing.  The group at the table consisted of Neyl, known to us as the Brother Rock Star, and his bandmates,Stray, Kevin and Pondie; guitar, drums and bass for Neyl's voice.  Also present were their many dear friends and dear hangers-on. Over the loud music we heard a commotion near the bar, a hurricane of sharkskin suit and patent leather shoes, the rolling thunder of a drunken British accent.  Neyl got up to make peace before Raj did.
"I'll be back friends, the New-Found-God-of-Mod must be appeased!"  He headed into the gathering crowd in a hurry. I cringed as the noise grew worse; someone must have asked Mark, the god in question, how he was and received an honest answer.  Mark firmly believed it was his duty to be the larger than life prick people only aspired to be.       After years of dives, line-up changes and lip service, the band had just signed a major record deal.  When we'd first met I had aspirations to journalism and high living; my pants were once as tight as theirs, before I sold out to piecework and quiet survival.                   
There was a round of handshakes to the carefully mussed hair and shiny jackets, nods and smiles for the flinty, brittle pop beauties on their arms.  A spirit of fun pervaded the air, owing to their weeklong and counting celebration.  Drinks were constantly ordered for everyone, we lost track of who had bought what and just reached for whatever glass was closest.  Credit cards were tortured and promised financial karma. I left Ilicia alone so she came flitting back to me, making bold advances of her own.  She was actually more impressed with the company I kept than with me.  With that in mind I disengaged myself from her and escaped to the dance floor. I smoked cigarettes, watching the same old crowd gyrate gracelessly to the same songs Tokyo had played for ten years. Or the same songs with different titles, right?  I could tell the younger, newer faces because they smiled more and tried harder.  My head bounced absently on my neck to a familiar song.  I watched Ilicia work our table for drinks and attention, and returned from force of habit.  I encircled her waist with my arms from behind, inhaling her scent for the hell of it, although once again I'd given up on the idea of her in my bed. 
"...just stick it under the bed so no one can see it."  The tail end of some benighted topic of discussion followed by general laughter.  I could feel groups of muscles moving beneath Ilicia's tight black dress and hot skin.  She reached over her shoulder and pulled my head close to hers.
  "So what's under your bed?"  Her voice was loud and unpleasant in my ear, shouting over the music.  Her breath was all sambouca, her hand on my neck cause for much indecent speculation.  I tightened my grip on her and brushed my lips across her ear...and dropped my arms from around her, backing up with ice in my stomach.
"Monsters."  I stared over her shoulder at a table on the other side of the dance floor.
"What?"  She turned around uncomprehending, with a stupid smile on her face.
I fled to the bathroom.  Behind the tiled walls covered in mirrors and chrome fixtures, the music was reduced to incoherent booming.  Smoke, urine and air fresheners mingled in my nose.  In the mirror I was well dressed, a line on the left side of my mouth from sneering.  Brown eyes under blonde hair looking older, wasted and fake.  I ran the tap and washed my face, combed water through my hair with my fingers. Neyl walked in looking tired, satisfied with life and drunk. He was as tall as a basketball player, with unkempt dark hair and a kind face that floated above a never-ending assortment of metallic shirts.   
"Hey, Brother Rock Star."  I dried my face on paper towels and reached for my cigarettes.
"Ilicia again, Poison Pen?  One more college try?"He drained the last of his beer and set the bottle down on the counter, leaning laconically against the wall beside the hand blow dryer. Laconically leaning!  <
"The First Drink Ritual told me to leave.  It told me the night would be boring."  I coughed when I lit up.
"Doesn't look boring to me."  He glanced over his shoulder as someone else entered the facilities. We raised eyebrows at the bright blue shirt the guy must have just bought, and wouldn't be wearing in a month's time.
"No, it's worse than that.  I saw Chandra."
"Get out while you can.  Just leave, don't even say hello; in fact, leave with Ilicia."
"Ilicia?  For what, a game of checkers?"  Ilicia was no closer to putting out.  Neyl's eyes went theatrically wide with urgency. He knew all about Chandra and had long ago concluded she was my Zelda and hell-bent on destroying me.
"Well, never mind Ilicia, just make good your escape."  He turned to peer at himself in the mirror.
"No."  I checked myself again, looking absurdly short next to him.
"She's gonna Zelda you."  He trusted my judgment in all matters but this; if he'd known how far away I was from the friend he once knew he would have wanted me committed.  I shook his hand.
"Once more into the breach."  I saluted him and pulled open the door, admitting a flood of noise and flashing lights. He looked resigned as the door shut behind me.  Chandra was sitting down with drinks, cigarettes and escort at a small table against a wall.
She was sitting beside a wolf.  He was younger than I was, dressed fashionably poorly, better looking than I with effeminate features on a powerful frame.  He was grinning and tracing the line of her jaw with a finger.  She was sipping red wine, probably her ninth glass, and sucking on a long white cigarette.  I felt the pulling of a fine steel catheter woven into my guts, while my mouth smarted from the old hook in my mouth, her tongue. Chandra had long curly red hair she constantly threatened with cutting, but never did.  Her body looked deceptively strong, hourglass shaped with straight shoulders.  Her eyes were a weird deep blue, big and swept up at the corners, over top of a slightly upturned nose.  Her cheekbones were like every other feature in that they evoked cats. The mouth was wide and expressive, smiling or pouting.  Her lips could be a pristine expanse of gloss or lipstick, or they could be chewed and windburned like some kid on the playground. Behind these lips were perfect teeth, but hidden in her mouth like a secret were her crooked bottom teeth. Deeper inside her mouth, past lips and teeth lay her tongue. Surprisingly wide and long, like an animal's tongue, it wasn't made for eating and talking; although it served these two purposes admirably.  Chandra's tongue was made for other things. Her freckles were dark, and gave her an otherworldly look. She was half Scottish and half Italian.  Her features were bizarre, but conspired to make her beautiful. Her voice was lilting, girlish and carefully modulated, but there were times she was alone with me that it had a more honest twang and screech;then it seemed more at home with beer and blue jeans rather than martinis and cocktail dresses. Year after year of alcohol and cigarettes softened her features, thickened her willowy frame, but she was never less beautiful, never knew a room where heads didn't turn.  Chandra had a dark star's gravity, drawing others into orbit around her.  She was a most suitable Persephone for my underworld.
I watched her smoking cigarettes and laughing,her hand on the wolf's thigh, her head at his shoulder.  She was sprung from delving into shadows, a love of perversity and black sentiments. Never one to utter a quiet prayer in times of crisis, she meant it when she said she didn't believe in god. She came from broken promises and didn't believe in knights or princes.  She resented talent in others as much as she admired it.  She lost her virginity when she was twelve, someone's Lolita, but that's not where the trouble began.  I speak of her now in the past tense; past tension. She smiled and threw an arm around the wolf's neck.  Maybe he was a photographer, another model, another friend or another artist, it didn't matter. 
I'd come to Tokyo to forget. 
I made good my escape.  Outside it was cold.
* * *
I could put Chandra's name on everything that's gone wrong, a scapegoat with mileage, although she is my fault.  This modern world spawns dragons to crush the life from those of free spirit and loving temperament.  That in itself wouldn't bother me so much; it's the everyday filth, lies and drudgery. Dragons can be dealt with but there's nothing to help the insect swarms of stupidity and monotony. The incessant piggish squeals of your fellow man ring in your ears, his spirit led and prodded to modernity's abattoir.  The polluted waters of the river Lethe have found their way to my heart, splintering it as they freeze like water in stone. I only forget common sense. Pull out your eyes and you will hear.  Destroy your ears and your mouth will spout generalities, lies and platitudes.  Bite through your tongue and still you've a mind to think with.  The world was hard to swallow before I met her, the clean hot river of quicksilver cutting through the slaughterhouse floor.  That's my excuse.  Friends don't offer reproach; friends don't do that to each other. Still I would ask "Where are you when I need you?"; her reply was a request, begging my pardon and my understanding.  We canceled each other out. Everything happened when she was gone because she was never here.  I wrote books to waste time, and they finally made me the kind of money I never admitted to wanting.  I've been called a romantic and a poet, while I've been a fornicator and a liar.  If you poet too much you'll go blind, and even I have to draw the line somewhere. I should have written this first. Out in the desert, prophets, madmen and ennui reign for lack of water.  The desert was to be a live metaphor, a dream turned loose from its cell.  The one I got was more akin to a strip mall; I couldn't afford the heart of the Sahara. The psychic desert of North America spreads like an ocean of obliterating sand, paradoxically creating hope in its wake.  Day-scorched, then frozen by night, inhospitable shattered fields of rock and gravel.  There is no life but the stubborn, scuttling and venomous, clinging to stone and praying for rain. With decisive turnings from such bleak vistas, I've loved the sun and the world, but the nights are still taxing, in spite of lessons learned.
Memories of desert winds and all that.
Out in the open and away from city glow, you know that you're adrift in space; the night sky retains its primordial aspect.  The barrel of God's gun, it is.  "Sky" is an airy name for an essentially airless region.
Sky's indifference is consistent like little else.  In the cities it's hidden away, but you can still feel it.  At least in the wink of a human life, sky can be counted on not to change. When I got to Vegas it was all flight without hope of surrender, bedeviled by arcane considerations and shadowy deliberations.  The simplest solution is usually the right one. Among other things, the spirit of guns followed me. The Jack and his Black Talons.  A Winchester Black Talon bullet doesn't mushroom on impact, but expands into a serrated, six-pointed star that won't penetrate far but tears tissues redundantly apart.  .44s speak an odd language, and if you understand it, you'll be up all night.  When I was sicker, I imagined saviours were meant to be beautifully tooled steel, just slightly marred with scratches and the last person they saved.  Maybe I wanted a nice, cleansing apocalypse like everyone else.  Even now that I'm underwater, there's a fire inside, and it's a fire I can give name to; let me borrow her name.  A borrowed name and a map for fields of shattered rock best forgotten.  A dotted line points the way one last time, an overland route to the sea.
* * *
A fine day in autumn of 2005, although all that I awaited in life was sadly late in coming.  I was holding out for beauty and endless dialogue with high spirits.  Standing around waiting for a new party and the sky to fall, certain that the time for something new was at hand, even as the everyday bug swarms and drudgery took their toll. The plot that never thickened carried me along with all the other refuse and I felt uninspired towards any sort of struggle.  The city air was like laughing mosquitoes in my ears. 
The end of the century had come and gone, millennialists and poets were given a good kicking around for the noise they'd made.  A mote in the midst of unimaginable clockwork, planet Earth kept careening around its flame, like a fat blue and white moth crawling with parasites.  Time was passed sighing and smoking cigarettes. The sky was clear and blue, the cars didn't stink so much and the pavement was good, solid ground. A brisk wind wandered over and through me like an irreverent lover.  Blue skies are a far better void to float in, especially buttressed with banks of white cloud, as they were that late September day. 
I was on a tree-lined street watching women take long strides in short skirts, from shop to cafe; sleek fashionable baubles framed in scents, style, glasses and jewelry.  God's own utterly gorgeous animals. I imagined her crazy eyes, remembered her in Tokyo, everyone she sat beside.  If her lips had been home I was long evicted.  Stopping my slow walk to look into a shop window, I was confronted by my reflection again.  A medium-sized blonde man with short hair and expensive clothes.  Maybe not entirely handsome, but there was something about the set of the jaw. In the store window I looked like a ghost; suddenly it felt like the world around me was incorporeal and dead. Turning and staring up at the sun helped, the fire in the sky like a slap in the face.  I shivered as if waking on a cold morning. The sidewalks still swarmed with women, dark eyewear hiding their eyes for the most part.  My favourites were the tanned rocker girls with long hair and short cut-offs, catching the last sunshine of the year before a night at the Boom or Motor.  Young enough to smoke. The patios overflowed with poets and I dreamed of what I could do with the bastards' welfare cheques.  2005 was the last year I could lay any claim to the old streets.  The twenty-first century was washing away the stains of a thousand parties and bleaching memories. The new Stormtroopers of Cool were young, spoke a new language and did new drugs.  The streets were already theirs.
I tried to summon Chandra by devoting my thoughts to her, hoping to conjure her up from glass, concrete and strange faces.  Maybe seeing her would be like staring at the sun, and she would keep the world from ghosting.  It was a perfect day, displaying an abundance of hardy urban squirrels.  We had once decreed that all cities required an abundance of squirrels. She smoked American cigarettes, and my old brands weren't the least of what I had forsaken in our time together, replacing pieces of my life to compliment hers.  Dancers, doctors and models smoke.  I was smoking like a chimney in 2005 because I thought that's what journalists did; only I was a hack freelance writer, journalism being too lofty a title for anything I'd done. With nothing to do that day, I kept walking until I found a streetcar stop.  I took one last haul off a smoke and flicked the butt into traffic; I don't remember it exactly that way but it sounds good.  The streetcar arrived and I paid in coins, staring over the heads of fellow travelers and out the windows.
Brick and concrete dotted with trees scrolled past, sun-dappled and windswept.  There were shoppers, strollers, couriers, teenagers on skateboards, and squirrels.  The changing scenery struck my eyes but didn't quite finish the trip to my brain because Chandra straddled my optic nerves.
With careless legs she haunted the space behind my eyes.  Those impossibly great long things would cut out on her sometimes as if merely walking were too mundane.  Every time she stumbled my heart stumbled to see her earthbound.  Fuck, I'm too much. One of the glowing streetcar ads was a gold-tinted photo selling expensive perfume.  The woman caressed a dark cut-glass bottle in one hand; her other arm crossed over her bare torso, not quite covering her breasts.  She had wild, curly hair, swept up from feline features. Evenings before Chandra and I went out, she would apply perfume to her throat or behind her knees. The way she wore perfume and lit cigarettes were quality seconds. Still more intimate details follow like dominoes; she knew the difference between pornography and erotica, she preferred porn.  The poster said "Delirium".  She stared out at me, conjured from plastic.  Even when she was right in front of me I was guilty of talking to myself.  I could talk to her picture the same way.Lying awake at night without her I could hear traffic flowing by, the whine of impossible machinery as jets flew low.  Cats would be fighting over turf while dogs barked and I recalled her every breath in sequence.  On such nights I also recalled an old girlfriend, one that prided herself on "self-sufficiency"; her nickname was 'Handy-Candy'.  She thought I lacked ambition as a solo-artist.  My teachers always said I fell short of my potential.
The streetcar approached an intersection of tracks.  By reflecting the sun they became interwoven strands of white light.  The image left spots in front of my eyes.  When it stopped to release passengers and take more on, a redhead paid her fare, shouldered her black leather bag and walked down the aisle towards me.
"Hi, Doug."  Chandra said. She asked me where I was going, I said nowhere and I meant it. 
* * *
She was on her way home from her agency.  We took another streetcar to Meow Rock, a flashy little bar at the edge of the city's main club crawl, which would probably shut down within a year.  The day's warm weather was proven an impostor as the sun slipped fast into late afternoon, and the breeze turned cold. Sitting in black and silver metal chairs, we smoked and waited each other out.  She cracked first.
"You've got that dreamy look in your eyes again. Speak."  She commanded. 
"I was thinking about staring at the sun.  When I was very young, there came the day I learned that our sun was just another star.  I used to hate stars when I was little, at first I didn't know what they were."  I sipped my Tom Collins, a bilious green colour, made with a lot of gin so it tasted like floor cleaner.
"Why did you hate stars?  You never mentioned that before."  She looked a bit indignant, as if she should have known about the stars long ago.
"They were icy needlepoints in the night, they always made me feel lonely.  Then I learned about astronomy from books and television, learned they were nuclear furnaces that hung in the sky, waiting to burn out or explode, taking planets with them.  The sun was just another star, and it taught me perspective."
"You've been thinking all day."  She frowned, already trying to reason out what chain of thought had brought me around to stars, sun and childhood.
"You wished upon stars when you were little.  For my part, I never trusted those nasty little points of light, perhaps because they were out of reach, or I understood their indifference early."  I lit another cigarette to replace the one I'd left to burn out in the ashtray.
"How do you know I wished on stars?"  She smiled so I knew I was right.
"It's the sort of thing a little Chandra would do.  You charmed adults, you made men nervous."  A gulp of Tom Collins and a drag off the smoke.
With her in front of me the world was fading to bearable background noise.
"Made men nervous?"  She arched an eyebrow and took my cigarette from me, puffing on it two, three times before returning it.  She didn't want a whole one.
"Preternatural...is the type of little girl you must have been.  You know I was a child for a very long time before I became Doug Canon.  Don't know when the change was made, as much a mystery as when the definite step was taken; preternatural little girl to Chandra."  She finished her drink with great relish, licking her lips.  Now she produced one of her own cigarettes, I held my lighter up, delighting in her hands cupping mine.
"Thank you."  She gave my hand a squeeze and took the lighter, playing with it absently.  "I don't quite follow you.  Tell me what a Chandra is, Doug."  She always wanted to hear about herself. "Chandra synonymous with charisma with sticky dark chocolate, with the moon sideways and all the battered souls no one takes the blame for."  I sat up straight in my chair. 
"And Amaretto Sours.  You forgot Amaretto Sours."  She smiled and signaled to our waiter for another round.
* * *
A white votive candle glowed dimly.  Our clothes were strewn about the floor like our promises.  I stared at her asleep and wondered if there was a division between soul and body.  Body had plenty to do with why I fell for her, but only at first. She slept with her lips parted. I was tangled in her arms and legs, quite uncomfortable but incapable of moving.  I looked forward to eating breakfast with her, if we ever made it out of bed in the morning.  I'd had too much to dRink and my eyelids fell closed like steel shutters.
Saturday noon.  Waking up alone and cursing alcohol, a letter on the bedside table.  I'd been dreaming of roads or streetcar tracks made of light.  The dream was out of reach, not like the other ones that were more vivid than life and persistent into day.  Just a psychic itch, sometimes an itch is worse than a punch.The sheets were stained; perfume and sweat were heavy in the air, mingling with stale cigarette smoke.  The scents beckoned me back to bed with languid fingers tickling my nostrils, only it was empty.  I crossed the bedroom and drew aside the curtains at the window.  The window faced a rooming house next door; a young man smoking out of an open window opposite mine smiled broadly and shouted across.
"Is that an invitation?"  Looking down in the direction of his smile I turned red.  Swearing extravagantly, I found a pair of boxer shorts on the floor, put them on and opened my window.
"Sorry, neighbour.  One of those nights, you know."  I called back.  The outside air was cold and clean. 
"I'll bet!"  His eyebrows shot up.  I made a helpless face and turned from the open window muttering.
"Fuckin' blaster."
I fled to the kitchen with her letter.  The afternoon seemed hopeless already, and I couldn't find any cigarettes.  I sat down on a hard wooden chair to read it.  Her penmanship was atrocious. I have to be honest with you Doug.  It's not like sex is some kind of promise.  You just do it, say wonderfully stupid things...I enjoy it well enough, I like your chest muscles, small and hard and good for biting.  Your womanish mouth and blonde hair that gets to be such a mess.  But I don't love it.  I love the languor and sleep afterwards;  and for that I may as well do it myself.
I feel homely this morning, Doug.  What is it about men that they can make a woman feel so ugly?  I wish I had a camera with me.  You and your room look beautiful right now. I'm smoking your last cigarette...and my breath makes a blue nebula in front of your window.  The curtains are parted slightly, and the shaft of light from them illuminates motes of dust within the cloud of smoke, like stars.  You're face down on the bed, with a sheet twisted around one of your legs.  You should see what you look like, asleep.  Just like a child. I wonder, are those great nebulas, or is it nebulae?  Are those great nebulae out in space with their newborn stars just cigarette smoke and dust from some laid and hungover god?  I don't feel very godlike.  I doubt any imagined divinity of mine would, either.  I'd just as soon have a nap as have sex, or just do it myself and then have a nap.  It's nothing personal.  I suppose I could stay with you if I tried, now tell me how that sounds?  You understand most of the time, even when you're just going through the motions of being understanding, it's the effort that counts. For what it's worth, we make the best of friends, but we know you can't count on me.  I wish I could put it into words why not.  I can't be depended upon, and I don't want to depend on you, I do too much already. This letter is for the sake of decency, for friendship.  You're smart enough to get your own answers, and anyway it doesn't matter what you tell a man, he'll make his own explanation independent of you.  I know you well enough to know you're made of sterner stuff than your puppy-dog eyes would have me believe. I want you to forgive me, and understand why I've left again.  But you knew I would.  The years don't change. 
Why I couldn't find any smokes.  Except for the part about my last cigarette, I ignored the letter.  She loved me, she loved me not, the same old story.  My friends and I with endless poetic eloquence from the gutter.  She was right; the years don't change.  But the timing was getting worse.  Lethe's waters were fracturing the lump of rock in my chest, friends became acquaintances, acquaintances became faces; it was the beginning of something bad.  As usual she was nowhere to be found, only a voice on her machine. Suddenly possessed of the work ethic, I killed the day meeting deadlines.  Resumes and articles for local papers and magazines appeared magically on my computer.  At night, I was typing out exaggerated accounts of experience and education when a slow cold dread crept into me. When I was twelve or maybe younger, I sometimes made the mistake of watching the news on television.  Border wars, comets, pieces of the world disappearing, hydrogen bombs and viruses. I've learned not to watch the news, but sometimes the spooky old ghost visits to remind me we stand upon a bull's-eye.  Safety and sanity composed the one white shirt I had, Chandler joined the other stains and spots of dirt.  I got the fear, wanted to rip the shirt off.  Here was another night for moon chasing.
* * *
My ego was doing somersaults to stay alive.  One look at the bills piling up told me my income wasn't going as far as I'd hoped.  I took a cab just because I knew I couldn't afford it.  I was seized by terror at the prospect of a regular job, but it looked like I needed one.  One never entered a job or a woman lightly. Contemplating this, I stared out the window as my cab driver took our lives in his hands, scorning red lights.
The impossible had taken hold of the downtown core, fanciful new structures growing up to touch the sky as the millennium got started.  The buildings were very bold, a strange blend of International, Neo-classical and just weird; promising immortality to their creators.  But except for the bookish few, who remembers architects? 
Night lights set the vertical labyrinths of glass and steel aglow; highlighting the old brick and gargoyles that still choked their bases like masses of ivy.  One such building was the Chi Ku Tower Hotel.  "Chi Ku" is a Chinese phrase, it means "eating bitterness" or enduring great hardship.  Or grin and bear it. The now legendary billionaire Wang Haoyu had come out of the Pacific Rim sometime in late '96 and was soon laying waste to the North American economy, setting himself up as an overlord of sorts. His detractors called him a financial cancer. The culmination of his rise to power, or metastasis, was the Tower.  Construction began in late 1999, good Christians everywhere stared in horror as one man with a fuck of a lot of money thumbed his nose at the coming horsemen, and built the second Tower of Babel. Wang Haoyu didn't understand the fuss, after all, his ancestors' calendar was a bit older than that and besides, he wasn't Christian.  The Tower would become a final monument. It was for the most part completed by early 2004 but he never saw it, killed as he was in an anti-Asian riot in 2001.  On television, a limousine containing Haoyu, his nineteen year old daughter and Premier Beauchamp was blown-up by "protesters" with hand grenades, later exposed as a proto-group preceding Harmony.  The Chinese were taking over and all that, or so they claimed.  The demi-god fell, rather was blown apart, leaving his ghost.Corporations and accounts, shadowy numbers in computers, posthumous orders; his presence grew more persistent, fully felt, not seen.  Full godhood.  Alas his dumpy, frumpy daughter, I'd seen her on television, hopelessly unglamourous and unkissable.  I wonder if she was a virgin when she died. The anti-Asian sentiment subsided very quickly after the summer of 2001, replaced by a collective chagrin.  A nation blushes and says "Oh, did we do that?".  I never took part in the collective guilt.  Willy Brandt was the West German chancellor who said, "No people can escape from their history.". How preposterous for me to feel guilt for the sins of others.  I wouldn't have even cared about Wang Haoyu's story, if he hadn't named the Tower Hotel what he did.  The Chi Ku Tower Hotel is a permanent affront to the resentment I know lies beneath the liberal guilt and sensibilities.  It's beautiful, as far as scars go, rising ninety stories.
The core is smoky glass and steel, rising around it sleeve-like or as a parasitic vine is the secondary structure.  A broken ring of strong, light substances I don't know the names for, forming a network of balconies, greenhouses and glassed-in outcrops.  It's dense yet clean, covered in broken pediments and sculpted surfaces that seem to shift with sun and shade; bathed in golden floodlights at night. 
It draws visitors from around the world, to stay in it, shop in it, eat in its restaurants, just to look at it.  They never remember the architects' names afterwards.  The building is Haoyu's; his architectural team mere tools to build a mountain rather than just climb one. Fathers try to leave something behind, and mothers leave their dreams in children.  Wang Haoyu has one surviving child, and it's as mad as the world it was born into.  I've never found out why he named it for bitterness. This was the building I stood across the street from, the cab speeding away to cause traffic mayhem elsewhere.  If I tilted my head straight back I still couldn't make out the top from where I was standing.  It had rained, leaving every urban surface slick and sharper in outline.  Neon signs were reflected in puddles like gateways to an underworld or a better world.  Only I didn't have the keys to any of the gates.Whenever Chandra and I fought, I would take late night walks in the quieter sidestreets, drawing the dark close like a coat.  People were too loud for those nights, only cats and raccoons were acceptable company.  The last millennium wasn't easily buried.  One thousand years walked with me those nights, and I knew we would let it all taint the next thousand. 
I stood on the shaky ground of the twenty-first century, questioning my sanity with the romantic equivalent of a crack habit.  Looking at the Tower, trying to grin and bear it,I could hear distant hoofbeats.  

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