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Vol. 3, No. 4

Hiropon My Heroine
by Roland Kelts

~

In the cab I open Veronica's note: "Dear Doo-dee. Bangkok bound. Leave key under doormat. Remove bags and go wherever. No more postcards, O.K.?"
    They know who I am now. They know what I've seen. I want to be the kind of person who could take them down and turn them in, who'd tear Veronica's lines to bits and toss them out the window. Instead I am on my way to the airport, and I fold the note, carefully, and slide it into my breast pocket.
    Eve is asleep. Right after she gave the driver a terse set of directions she collapsed against the seat.
    In cloud-dimmed daylight Tokyo looks gray, even weighty. The taxi rises on an elevated ramp, the tableau seeps away. The skyscrapers seem sodden in the distance. I can see smokestacks now, dense pollutants in black and beige wisps. The giant screens play but their images are indistinct, pulses of color against a featureless sky.
    The place has a morning-after look, all its artifice exhausted.
    I pull out my notebook, uncap my pen. I try to think of something to add in the margins but I can't formulate sentences. My mind is clogged, unyielding. I try to sketch the cartoon girl from Kazu's book, the mix of mother, schoolgirl, and action hero, but I can't.
    The driver waves, his glove birdlike in the air.
    "Eve, we're here," I say, shaking her.
    I shoulder my duffel bags as she pays, then I take her hand and lead her through the sliding glass doors. There is no line at the check-in counter. The woman behind the computer wears a starched blue suit and a goofy cap with a ribbon on it. She looks as Japanese as the rest, but her English is crisp, even eloquent.
    "Would you like to request a particular seating section?"
    Eve looks up at me and nods. When I realize she doesn't have a ticket I grab her arm and almost twist it.
    "Hey!"
    The physical pain leaves her face as I let go. In its place is a pain that is layered, dense with thought and consideration, afterthoughts being born.
    I force calmness into my voice. "What're we doing?" I ask.
    "You're leaving," she says. She blinks. "What we're doing is putting you on a plane. The next one. To New York."
    "No way, darling."
    "Darling."
    "Darling, I said. No."
    Someone honks a horn through the open doors. I lower my head as if they might shoot at me through the windows.
    "Eve, listen. I'm not going back to New York unless you're coming with me. And if you're not, I have to stay here. With you."
    "You can't."
    "I have to."
    I reach out to touch Eve's cheek but she catches my hand and holds it in midair.
    "Why?" she says.
    "Because this is real," I blurt out. "I mean, the danger is real. I also mean, us."
    I notice the woman's eyes at the counter. That she understands what I'm saying suddenly unnerves me.
    "I don't--" Eve says, shaking her head slowly. "I don't know if we are, Rudy."
    She lets go of me and steps back.
    "What do you mean?" I say.
    "You have to leave." Her face looks numb, then softer, then imploring. Several Eves pass. I watch until I recognize her.
    "You're the one in danger, Rudy. I'm sorry."
    I reach out and clutch her arm. I pull. She resists, but my strength and body weight prevail.
    People have stopped to watch. We are nearing the X-ray machines. Adrenal heat spreads through my chest and arms. A security officer in a light blue suit nears me, says something into his walkie-talkie, steps back when he sees my face.
    "I can't leave here without you, Eve," I say, and the words feel script-fed and entirely true.
    "You are," she says. "You have to."
    I let go of her and she falls to the floor. Or she lets herself fall. In the brief sight of her down, legs bending inward, shoulders hunched, I get a flash of the old Eve in her apartment before the television screen. Then she sits up, exhales.
    The security guard rushes over. Eve speaks to him in Japanese, waves her hand, and he nods.
    "Rudy," she says, voice a whip. "Listen to me--really listen. Go."

 

~

Beneath the whistling air vents I eye the porthole window. "There are limits," Max says.
    I stand up. I look for her dyed hair over chair backs and seat cushions. Maybe she sees what I see. Maybe she changed her mind.
    The flight is hardly full. People board this enclosed canal, a nowhere zone, and tuck packaged lives into overhead compartments. I keep standing, looking for her hair.
    A flight attendant chastises me in broken English. "Sit down, please," she says. "Please to put your safety belt."
    I don't fasten my belt. I don't sit down.
    The cabin begins to rumble and vibrate, then it rolls, backing away.
    They lower the screens that say WELCOME ABOARD. There is a lurch. I am seated.
    I don't see her, but I imagine I do, and I know what I'd do if I did, a bloom of blonde amid the black strands parted and puffed and matted along distant rows. Eve in row three or four, seat F or E. I'd press the attendant's button, the lighted one with the universal human figure, limbs straitjacketed, face blank. The "people" button. I'd hear the electronic tone and see lotioned, foundationed skin with plastic lashes hovering at my shoulder. I'd have them summon Eve to the empty seat beside me.
    When we crossed the date line, I'd take Eve's hand and I'd nod at that melting sky. Look, I'd say. Time is a bomb out there. Everything's always exploding, always now. And I know it looks like nothing real, but it is, Eve. It is.

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