I’ll kill them all, even in this weakened state.
Poor Fire Hand Zhang, thought Joanna, staring at the sentence of his death, the feral wolves descending into the pit, clearly not giving much weight to his boast, or caring much if it was flesh or fabric they were tearing off.
Did no one think for even half a second about saving the wretch?
Fire Hand was about him, not self-assigned
honour called for helping lesser enemies
beaten jokes, sudden weaklings
but no, the Red Flower Heroes, in a pit of wolves, just left him there.
The door opened and a Chinese couple wheeled their luggage in, clocking her under the duvet and saying hi, we’re new in Mandarin.
To head off further conversation, she vetoed I’m part of the furniture and gave a muted hi back instead, then lifted Gum Yong over her face
returned to Fire Hand Zhang
felt pity, shame
blamed the Red Flower Heroes, Gum Yong,
definitely not the wolves.
In her head, the streets always had a hazy glow round the fringes, the pastel tone of the buildings heavily saturated, the people lively in their limb movements, action mechanics
in this reality, on this side street
things were ten, twenty per cent diluted.
Drained by a city-sized ghoul.
Phased into a sexless monotone frame.
No Gum Yong. No Varo. No idioms. No Samaritan Girl. No Tat Ming Pair. No flag on the moon. No animal porn. No passing trams. No beggars. No baking soda dealers. No Krsnik. No possibility of Krsnik. No Krsnik prints.
No gutter Slovene.
Somehow, without consulting the map, she remembered the way through the half streets and back to the bookshop with the bicycle hanging from the ceiling and
the place looked pretty much the same as it had two years ago.
Plenty of customers.
A series of Mario Bava prints on the back wall.
Coffee in a small cup.
Pessoa dolls [voodoo?].
Upstairs, they even had the same archaic Walkman table, with audiobook CDs to insert in and listen to. Hand-made by one of the staff, if she remembered right.
She sat down in front of the device, pressed open the lid, and acted out the same gormless expression she’d done in front of Yute Long.
Or tried to.
But there was no way to gauge its similarity.
No one to capture it.
Laugh at it.
Stick it in amber.
Back at the hostel, she sat down in the main common area and managed around three minutes of the hostel owner and his girlfriend playing out a video game on the giant projection screen.
A Mario game, not Mario Kart.
Some precision jumps.
It was odd, or to a degree expected, but the hostel owner seemed on edge, as if she would say something about his pervert nature, the stuff he’d said a week before, two weeks before.
But she wouldn’t do that.
Cos he was a silhouette now, a swirl in a morgue-walled nebula, something there, physical, yet without
A fully excavated psychology?
it was pure nonsense, unsurprising for a newspaper serialisation, the Seven Freaks of Jiangnan slapping, kicking, headbutting a giant pot of rice wine around a teahouse that couldn’t possibly afford to pay for the damages
stopping it, drinking, devouring, boasting, using it as weapon to fling at their friends
and the one guy who may or may not have been an enemy
who wasn’t an enemy, as she remembered,
but was that right?
Didn’t they all get killed at some point anyway? Murdered by the snake man?
It had been so so so long since she’d read that one, and Yute Long knew the story much better than she did, had watched the recent mainland production, remembered the exact lines spoken when Guo Jing and Huang Rong turn up at Peach Blossom Island, remembered the theme tune, the way the villain died, dressed up as Mei Chaofeng for the convention in Wan Chai, dragged her to the exhibition in Tai Wai, the sketches pinned up on huge banners on the museum pillars as Yute Long pranced about in that ridiculous red bandana, the one he’d worn in Ljubljana, the thing that probably still existed somewhere while he lay in
Belem was still Belem, nothing much altered.
The coast-side tower they never entered.
That she wouldn’t enter now.
The tram lines.
Other, pastel-coloured things.
She wandered into the park, focusing on the wander aspect, directed by a dried-out Fulci, catatonic, chaotic, melancholic, re-reading e-mails on her phone.
Cancelled? Un-cancel. Haven’t seen you in ages. Dad might be gone soon. Mum’s depressed. Why are you like this?
Typing out different versions of a reply.
Sending none of them.
Sitting on a rogue bench, pulling out The Book And The Sword, reading the Fire Hand Zhang death scene yet again, adding a conscience to the wolves, saving him in his weakened state, in whatever state
noticing the wooden struts of the bench
remembering the Kim Ki Duk thing she’d forced Yute Long to watch, the mute gangster pushing himself on the good-grades model girl, dragging her into prostitution, loving her, beating her, carrying around a shabby mattress in a shabby van, tempting strange men to fuck her on it in a Korean seaside town
Yute Long’s reaction at the credits
‘Why did she allow that, from the start, from the brothel scene
why not just stab him?’
And her response, half honest, half barbed,
‘you’re only saying that cos I’m here.’
Every European city they ended up in would have a Museum of Modern Art and visiting them was vital for other creative aspects
according to Yute Long
to provoke something seemingly unrelated
an open void, a glowing wound
transcribable neon trauma
Looking at a tangled mess of red string glued to a wall with Sem Deus painted in shock yellow/black next to it, Joanna thought of Patrice.
Pictured him pummelling the leg of an easel into the Krsnik’s face.
Selling the head to Sila.
Singing Jin Se in French.
Flying home to his wife, kissing her.
Buying her a muffeeen.
Outside the museum was a small café with one silent couple, the sun already on the other side of the street.
Joanna sat at the same table as before, cradling a tiny eucalyptus latte, smoking.
Watched the scenery.
The nearby pond.
Waited for the duck to appear.
Gave it all the time in the world.
Replayed the panic on Yute Long’s face, his nervous leg spasms, the protests of let’s move tables, I hate fucking ducks as it waddled closer and closer and
then the scene shifted
to the bench in Copenhagen, Sila pointing at the water, shouting, ‘if you’re not gonna answer properly, I’ll just look at that duck.’
Probably kiss it too, she thought, blinking back the café, stirring the cold cup of coffee.
Ask it about cabinets.
Make it watch Star Trek.
Adopt a demon miracle daughter.
Stick by it when she didn’t even care if it
In the hostel dorm, after pulling Fire Hand Zhang out of the pit seventeen times, refashioning his next moves in life, gifting him a remote temple, burning it, forcing the reality of his death paragraph back on herself, calling him a coward, a wretch
Joanna switched to her phone, searching whatever popped into her head, and whatever had popped in earlier, at any point.
Krsnik in Lisboa led to a short story about Krsnik that were clearly avatars for Kümellian vamps.
Duck attack on human offered duck attacks on humans.
Almodóvar endless pit, nothing, just film crit.
Old special cabinets in Lisboa, way too broad, pictures of cabinets on white background, generic cabinets, cabinets used by Fernando Pessoa
and one interesting thing
a happening-right-now display of a genuine Sigmund Zois, the cabinet maker himself notorious for vanishing eight years straight, then coming back, out of the blue, claiming he had been off enjoying a quiet village life
with abstract qualities.
Where, she asked the screen, clicking on his name, follow-up articles, interviews
but there was no detail, no substance
just somewhere remote.
Off the map.
Without hesitation, nonchalant even, the monk set himself alight and passively burnt to death on the surrounding lake.
I’ll kill them all, even in this weakened state.
The computer screen, the book, active, passive, comfortable bed, cold car.
Chinese couple pretending not to fuck under the covers.
At half eight in the evening.
Her head telling her seven hundred different things.
The book holding nothing else, done, exhausted, full of words she already knew and didn’t want to go back to, Fire Hand Zhang a complete piece of shit anyway, die if you’re dying, go out like the good-smelling princess, unrealistic, written by a man, controlled by a man, abandoned by a man
abstract village life
came back after eight years, not a corpse, might be a bottom to it after all
the book, the screen, Monk and boat in ashes, pretty mountain backdrop, pastel buildings outside in, revitalising if hit with the right light, dark cloud killer
alone wasn’t really alone
just needed time to find new things, re-love pastel, eroticise her own skin, talk to someone in Portuguese who wasn’t the hostel owner, find oddball friends, cook Chinese dishes, teach Mandarin to people who already knew some words, make enough money to
stay afloat in Lisboa
fill out the streets, cracks, colourise
forget about cabinets, Krsnik
Sketch a new form.
Compared to the bed, the duvet, the in-dorm heating, the car was like Pluto
the moon around Neptune, the one Sila said was the coldest in the Solar System.
Wasn’t clear why, the temperature outside was moderate, maybe a little breezy, but it didn’t matter as she was in there now, engine off,
Gum Yong book on the passenger seat
phone on her lap
mouth muttering, ‘Porto, Porto, Porto, Porto.’
Putting the keys in the ignition, she looked out the windscreen and watched a homeless man dip a full arm into a nearby bin.
He struggled with something for a while,
a long while
before his arm re-emerged with a grey and black skipping rope.
Or a sex whip.
Possibly a sign, she thought, turning the keys, pulling out an inch into the side street. Possibly a skipping rope.
But not Hong Kong related.
Not pastel coloured either.
Porto. Porto. Porto. Porto. Porto…
She turned the corner at the top of the hill, saying farewell to the supermarket she’d watched for hours from the hostel window, her vigil over the last two weeks, then carried on to the end of the street.
Then onto the highway.
Passing a sign that said Faro – 280km.
‘Porto, you fucking nihilist,’ she yelled into the windscreen, at the phone, to the book, the universe, Sila, herself.
And kept driving.