He holds a creased, red backed book in front of me. The gold, embossed letters in the imitation leather cover are those of a large letter in the Chinese alphabet. Someone told me once what it is and what it means, but I promptly forgot.
I am to quickly recite, in chant-form, unfamiliar characters that I will first learn phonetically. And, if so inclined, perhaps I’ll learn a passable amount of Chinese, too.
She encouraged me to attend, herself no stranger to pain and feelings of desperation. In her own way, I suppose, she meant well.
In her own way. In her own way. In her own way.
That is my own chant. It is the method by which I excuse her curtness, tolerate her self-absorption, and remind myself again why we are together.
I hold onto her body, rubbing her back and shoulders, hoping that through force of will alone I might end a ceaseless litany of vocalized grievances decrying the world’s imperfections. Sometimes I just focus my whole attention on the mole over her left eyebrow until the ranting subsides.
Stop talking, stop talking, stop talking.
The sound of a resonate, large cast-iron bell being struck signals the end of one particular series of chants. He flips over four pages, a thick index finger keeping place, quickly traveling the width of the little book. The super-quick pace reminds me of some kind of race. Those with enough practice and vocal dexterity finish on time with no mispronunciations. This is nothing more than an empty exercise to me, not anything remotely religious or comforting. I came expecting something else altogether. Lacking the context, it all seems incomprehensible and mysterious. Some mysteries beg to be solved and some are so remote that they do not invite further contemplation or energy.
Unemployed, lacking money, lonely, depressed, I scrub her floor with a large sponge. She complains again about the Latina maid who always leaves the linoleum sticky to the touch. Afterward, she shifts to her second favorite topic for discussion, wherein she is obsessed about the look, layout, and effectiveness of her business ad in the Yellow Pages. Never the sort of person to entertain advice from any source beyond that of her own judgment, she refused my suggestions to try the Internet.
Another incoherent chant finished, she quickly waves to me across the room. We never as much as sit together. I am not to specify how we know each other. I am not to say what she does for a living. I am not allowed to reveal our relationship beyond the most innocently platonic. As far as she’s concerned, she has a reputation to maintain, and men to charm. Over time, I figured out that her business connections are always male, but her lovers are always female. This does a little to assuage my jealousy, but not enough.
I don’t want to know. Don’t tell me anything.
Out of cite, out of mind, I suppose. That’s the only way it works for me. Sometimes, though, I see the first few steps and I have to turn my head.
The third topic upon which she is hopelessly fixated is that of noting her numerous scars and injuries. With this also includes mention of an endless number of moves and relocations from one big city to another.
Philly, she says, pointing to a scar that runs down one white, unshaven shinbone. New York, she observes, as she lifts her shirt up to to reveal a neat, horizontal line slightly above the navel. This is where the knifepoint dug into the skin.
The session done, I feign interest in dull small talk. My eyes seek her out again. She is otherwise occupied. The conversation looks transactional in nature. She has presented him with her business card and he has tucked it into a fold in his wallet. I know what this means. Next she’ll offer him a ride back home. This means I must solicit the fleshy-fingered man for a return trip in his huge black SUV. He never minds, but it also means that I’ll have thirty minutes of unsatisfying conversation in front of me.