art by Shane M. Gavin
by Amanda Clark
Winter sand blew down across the city from the Gobi. It had been at the drapes, weighing them down like dreadlocks. Elise pushed the dusty fabric aside and watched the Beijing skyline through the slats of the walnut plantation shutters. A creamy haze shrouded the skyscrapers, and the stench of fresh asphalt seeped through the gap at the casing.
She rubbed the pulverized sand between her fingers, embracing her defeat at the hands of the maid, who had no concept of what he meant by "the apartment must be perfectly clean." She unwrapped the new ivory pashmina from around her shoulders and set it on the dresser.
Cheap, 30 Yuan, REAL silk--I give you friend price because you speak Chinese.
He would say, "It's not a good color for you and the prices were better in Cambodia."
Time to finish packing. Elise picked up a page of red stickers, to mark the items to be left behind, and turned back to her bedroom, decorated to his taste, in British Colonial.
The creak of the ceiling fan marked each turn of the wicker blades, driving dust and warm air down, toward the massive four-poster, encased in olive silk bedding, one side crisply tucked, the other rumpled from a week's careful sleeping.
Elise peeled a red sticker off the page as she surveyed the suitcases laid out on the floor. She crushed it into the pineapple skin pattern carved into the mahogany bedpost. The bed would take up too much of their shipping allotment. She regretted the loss of the footboard inlay, an ebony jaguar, with white ivory eyes.
Then it curved its spine into a very domestic looking cat stretch while she ran a knuckle over its back. When she took her hand away it let forth a whiplash cry. Elise waited for her mother-in-law to come running in and scold her for watching TV when there was so much to do. As if it was her duty, now that he had gone missing.
The woman had spent the morning putting red stickers on her things while Elise followed, removing them. Items his mother hated were certainly things the export agent would force her not to take, especially the small trinkets Elise had bought in Tibet. One already lay secreted between two modest dresses in the suitcase she packed at dawn, a painting of Green Mara done on lambskin. The Tibetan deity had been quite insistent about not being left behind.
God! When would the woman leave? Her antagonism grated like notes from a guitar tuned sharp.
"You're not looking hard enough. Why aren't you down at the embassy, harassing them into helping? They won't listen to me. I'm just the mother."
Elise had gone to the safe then, which he thought she didn't know the combination for. She had silently taken out the small book, the one she was never to touch because it was confidential, for work.
"Ask one of them how to reach him," Elise had said, handing it to his mother, just to get some peace. After calling the women, each of their names written in perfect block letters, his mother gave it back. She retreated to the living room, saying she would wait for the export officer.
Who would come soon and stick more red tags on items that couldn't leave China.
A splash and the laughter of women made Elise turn.
The rice pickers were at it again, on the black lacquered panels from Saigon. The four panels took up one whole wall of the bedroom. Bamboo thin, dressed in cotton wrap pants and frog collared shirts, one stood wrestling with a carp while her friend tried to catch it in her wide brimmed straw hat. Their voices reminded her of a belly dancer's bells.
He would never venture so far in-country.
Opposite them, over the headboard, hung the painting of Angkor Wat. It would be wise to take it down, box it up, deal with it later. She put one knee on the rumpled side of the bed.
Or, she could leave it. Without her, it would fall silent, in time.