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Vol. 13, No. 2

Monsters
by Pasha Malla

Before the end we find a mole on your shoulder that might be a monster.

Things are so close to over that we're no longer going through the rigmarole of one another's friends so I head without you to the Chinese restaurant to meet mine. It's raining. I arrive before everyone else and sit alone at a circular table in the window and, first shaking the water from then folding up my umbrella, watch the rain. One by one my friends arrive and take their places at the table. Hi, they say. Hi, hi, and they hug me, wetly. A waiter brings tea. We pour it out for one another and do a big gay cheers with our cups, and sipping tea I listen to them take turns talking about themselves. When the waiter returns we have accomplished nothing in the way of menu selections so one of my friends decides to order for everyone. I am tired; she can order what she pleases, even fried rice, which I hate. Outside a woman runs by wearing a newspaper for a hat, with the rain streaming off either side. Hers like yours is a wide-legged run as though she is wading through a lake. She hails a taxi and it takes her to wherever she is going, to whom, alone. The waiter leaves with our order of whatever. I go to the bathroom to wash my hands. On the way to the bathroom, at the back of the restaurant, are tanks full of sea creatures. There is one of fish and another of lobsters. But also in the fish tank there is a monster. I stop and look. The monster is a parsnip with a mutilated scrotum for a face and ragged teeth that appear when it opens its mouth. It lies at the bottom of the tank with the fish swimming above. All it moves is its mouth: what, what, what. I don't press my hands to the glass. Our waiter walks by. I grab his arm. What is this thing, I say. He says something in either English or Chinese that I don't understand. Is it a monster, I say. He says it is delicious.
     In the fourth grade I went with my friend Alex and his mom and dad and his mom and dad's friends and their daughter Laura to the beach. Laura was our age but no one we knew. The moms spread out towels and lay on them in the sun. The dads rented Jet Skis but said we were too little. Go play in the dunes, said Alex's dad or Laura's dad as they waded out into the water with their Jet Skis. They pointed at the dunes behind the beach. OK, we said, and went. The dunes were sandy hills. There were some sprouts of grass but mostly just sand. The three of us climbed a dune and then slid down the other side in a tumble of sand. We sat for a moment in the valley between two dunes while a cloud passed over the sun and made everything shadows. I scooped up handfuls of sand and let them trickle through my fingers. I dug my feet down to where the earth was cool. We didn't try to say anything. It was good to be quiet and here again was the sun. Laura was pretty, I was thinking, and then the sun disappeared again and I looked up. There was someone at the top of the dune, a black shape like a person but not. The clouds shifted and out came the light and we could see what it was: a monster with a paper bag for a head. The monster had the body of a man and was naked. The monster had an erect penis, which he was stroking with one hand while watching us from the top of the dune. We didn't move. No one made a sound. The monster took a step toward us and the sand crumbled down from the top of the dune in a little avalanche. And then we ran. We scrambled up the next dune and down the dune after that and between two more dunes toward the beach, where we arrived breathless. We looked back. The monster was gone. That guy was weird, said Laura. Yeah, super weird, Alex said, and I wanted to say something too but didn't know what. We stood there looking at one another and looking away and looking back, and a seagull sailed screeching by overhead. Alex said, Let's go swimming. So we went swimming close to the shore and close to one another while the moms roasted in the sun and the dads zipped around trailing surf from their Jet Skis.

Laura was killed twenty years later by a monster born into her skin. I didn't know her when this happened. Other than that time at the beach we spoke only once. In the ninth grade we sat on opposite sides of the room in science class and one day we were partnered for an experiment. Laura came and sat beside me. She asked, Remember when we were kids and we saw that guy at the beach? I said, Yes. We should have told someone, she said. Yeah, I said. We should have, I said. We did our experiment then. She lit the Bunsen burner and I poured stuff from vials into beakers and back and I wondered if Laura thought about that day at the beach and the monster often. But I didn't ask. And then the experiment was over and Laura went back to her seat across the room and then the class was over and then high school was over and then university was over and I got a job and Laura got cancer. She got melanoma from the sun. But before she died she and her boyfriend were married even though they knew she was going to die. It was to make one another happy. My friend Alex went with his parents to the wedding. It was a beautiful wedding, Alex told me. I bet it was, I said. Laura was dying in her wedding dress up there at the altar when her husband said, I do. And then she said, I do. They were happy. A monster was killing Laura but that day she was happy. Six months later, she died.

With clean hands I come back to the table and tell my friends we can eat a monster. How much, says one of my friends. I don't know, I say. I ask the waiter when he brings us more tea. I point to the tank at the back of the restaurant and ask. Lobster, he says. No, I say. Monster, I say. He says the name of the monster again, which I don't understand in English or Chinese. Yes, I say. That one, I say. How much, I say. One hundred dollars, he says. One hundred dollars, I say. One hundred dollars, he says. Very delicious, he says. He waits. I look around at my friends. There is nothing on their faces. Very delicious, I say. My friends hide behind their tea. The waiter leaves. There are six of us. Less than twenty dollars each, I say. To eat a monster, I say. No, say my friends. They think it will be gross and a waste of money. They don't even want to go look at the monster in the tank. A monster, I scream at them. But apparently I keep the sort of friends who think fried rice is enough. The fried rice comes then and everything else and it all is so much bullshit. My friends serve themselves and serve one another and spin the lazy Susan around so everyone can try everything but I keep looking at the tank in the back of the restaurant and the monster lying there at the bottom of the tank and I am so, so tired. Nobody says anything. Outside the rain has stopped. The skies are clearing. The fried rice comes spinning around and pauses in front of me like a terrifically boring prize. I sit there looking at it half destroyed by my friends. And with the sun slanting now through the window what else can I do but eat.

At home we take off our shirts and lie together on the bed. We kiss. We stop. We look at each other, past each other, and beyond. There is the mole on your shoulder. It is a raggedy thing. It is a monster. It could be anything. But when I close my eyes and touch it, I can't feel anything at all.

To read other stories from the Summer 2009 issue, please purchase a copy from our online store.

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