Four Chinatown Figures

In a back alley, on the cracked pavement slick with the strewn waste of cooking oil and rotting cabbages, two lovers stroll arm in arm, the woman in furs and a white lamé dress with matching pumps, her escort in a tux casually worn—the black tie undone, the double-breasted, brushed-velvet coat unbuttoned.

They're a Wilshire lawyer and city planner out on the town.

When they pass the familiar curio of the wishing well with its Eight Immortals spouting aqueous wisdoms through their copper mouths and baggy sleeves, they spend a minute considering the impotent, green nozzle of its fountain.

The reflecting pool, speckled blue willow or streaked turquoise as a robin's egg from the small litter of coins wintering on its bottom, catches starlight and red neon in a tarn of winged ephemera streaking across the black glaze of homely water. The lawyer kisses his date and tosses some bus change, balls up the foil wrapper from an after-dinner mint and throws that, while she laughs, shaking her head back so the small, mousse-stingered whips on the ringlets of her hair shudder and dress sequins flash under the sore, yellow light of streetlamps.

Two dishwashers step from the back door of the Golden Eagle arguing about pay, about hours, about trading green cards with cousins for sex, setups with white women, for cigarettes or a heated hotel room to sleep in on a dry, newspaper bed.

Bok-guai, they curse with their eyes, Lo-fahn, as the four nearly collide, separate galaxies equal in surprise as they wheel to face each other.

The lawyer thinks little of these punks in T-shirts and Hong Kong jeans, but the woman rhapsodizes, for no reason, in suspense/thriller prose—

slender and boy like, the bull's ring curl to their flimsy moustaches;

they must be cold in this dry, winter chill of late December in LA.—

the sky a high velvet, indigo-to-black as it vaults, lazily, from the city's fluorescent glow to the far azimuth where the bear and huntsman drift casually into nothing.

Without jackets, the Chinese have bundled themselves in castoff, cotton aprons stained with intricate patterns of lard and duck's blood and wrapped like double-slings around their shoulders and folded arms.

Something grins on the face of the taller, fairer-complected one, glints from his foxteeth, smolders in breathfog, camphor about to flare.

She tells herself, Forget it, c'mon, and, with a hooked finger, snaps at the man's satin cummerbund. They turn away.

Without a gesture, in the greasy dark, the two Chonks turn away too, back towards each other, and hear, quickening away behind them, steps receding into the light din of street noise and sidewalk chatter.

The fair one says, audibly and in English, Kiss me, white ghost, and, briefly staggered in the amniotic burst of light from a passing tourist's flash, shrugs off his gruesome apron, pulling out a pack of Gauloises, blue-wrappered, especial, and strikes a match, holding it in the orange well of his hands as, dragonlike, they both light up and puff, posed on a street vent, hunching their thin shoulders and turning uptown against the wind.

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