Lost in Translation
  Nine Stories by Laura Ruth Loomis
  1  The Sign
2  A Bird and a Picture Window
3  Trying Again
4  Tested
5  The Mermaid
6  Practicing
7  China
8  The Hostage
9  Like Riding a Bike
  About the Author  |  echapbook.com  |  November 2016 Fiction Issue
 
 

China

Roy

I look like something out of a Hitchcock movie, a forty-year-old man bent over my kitchen counter with tears rolling down my face and a knife in my hand. That’s when Gabe walks in.

“Roy?” He scans my gray sweats as if he expects to find blood on them.

If this was Hitchcock, I could turn around fast enough to accidentally stab him. Too bad no jury would believe that I mistook my boyfriend’s best friend for a burglar. Not even when it’s too early in the morning for him to be showing up without even ringing the doorbell.

No one but Gabe inspires thoughts like that in me.

I reach for a towel and wipe my face. “How’d you get in?”

Gabe sees the chopped onions on the counter and figures out the reason for the tears. “You should get some ventilation in here,” he says, opening a window, never mind that it’s freezing outside. “Jesse gave me a key, remember? Why, is there some other guy here while he’s away?”

Jesse’s somewhere over the Pacific right now, serving coffee to grouchy passengers. We had a stupid fight before he left. I can’t decide if I should call and try to talk it out when he keeps complaining that I never leave him alone. “And you’re here while he’s gone, because...?”

“He asked me to pick up a couple things for him. We’re going to hit the clubs when he gets back, and he’s staying at our place that night.”

“Your place,” I correct him. “Jesse lives here now.” Though it’s hard to tell sometimes. They’re out so often, you’d think Gabe was the boyfriend and I was the straight friend, instead of the other way around. I went with them to a gay club once, and it was strange. Guys kept hitting on Gabe. He seemed to get off on rejecting them, then dancing seductively, daring them to try again.

I would hate Gabe less if he actually wanted to have sex with Jesse. That’s the kind of competition I could handle. Instead they have this years-long, one-sided love affair without the affair. I don’t get what’s in it for Jesse, stroking Gabe’s vanity like this.

“So if you don’t mind, I’ll just run upstairs,” Gabe says. “I know where everything is.”

I do mind. I don’t like Gabe wandering around in my house. “I’ll go with you,” I tell him, stopping to shut the window.

In the living room, we pass the china cabinet that I use for a bookcase, containing a few of this summer’s popular novels for Jesse, and a lot of foreign-language texts for me: Portuguese, Mandarin, Tagalog. Gabe stops and studies the cabinet. “No china? You seem like a guy who’d have china. Like, about ten thousand pieces, all matching.” He pulls down The Joys of Yiddish and starts flipping through it.

The china is in a box in my ex-wife’s garage, along with other remnants of a time when I was trying to live someone else’s life. “Can we make this quick? I need to finish my breakfast. I have appointments all day.”

Gabe races up the stairs. In the bedroom he jerks open the closet door and starts rummaging. “Where are those tight black jeans that he likes to wear out dancing? He’ll want them for Saturday.”

“Thought you knew where everything was?” I’m the one who knows where everything is, another fact that Jesse hates. Jesse’s coming back Friday, not Saturday, but maybe he didn’t tell Gabe that. Maybe Gabe doesn’t know as much as he thinks.

Gabe finds the jeans he wants, tosses them on the bed, and starts going through dresser drawers. He says, “I’ve known Jesse since we were in preschool. He’s different when you’re around.”

“I wouldn’t know. I’ve never seen him when I’m not around,” I say. Now Gabe’s back at the closet, but he’s looking at the wrong end. “Those are my clothes,” I tell him, even though it’s obvious from the sizes. Jesse barely comes up to my nose.

“This just begs for a closet joke, doesn’t it?” Gabe says. “What’s with all the flannel? And the baseball shirts. Now I know why you were in such a hurry to move Jesse in and start nesting. You’re not a fag, you’re a goddam dyke.”

I hate words like fag and dyke. I don’t even like them from Jesse, and Gabe doesn’t have the excuse of being one. Gabe knows that, of course. I keep my face neutral. “You should have told me sooner. I could have skipped an expensive divorce.”

“You can always come to the club with us, you know. While you still have the chance.”

“While I still have the chance?” I should have just shut up and let it pass.

 “How long do you think Jesse’s going to keep saying no to all the hot guys he meets? Especially the ones who aren’t ten years older than him and don’t try to schedule his life and alphabetize his underwear.”

“I don’t alphabetize them,” I answer, deadpan. “I put them in a chronological rotation based on date of purchase.”

Gabe smirks. “I know, you’re the perfect daddy and all, you take care of him, and your family is actually crazier than his. And you can say fuck me in every language.”

I’ve never heard my assets explained quite so succinctly. “I can say fuck you in several as well.”

Gabe is unruffled. “Jesse thinks great sex means you’re in love. Especially when it’s all sweet and romantic and eating strawberries and whipped cream off each other in front of the fireplace.”

I cannot believe Jesse told him about that. Gabe’s back at the closet again. I try to keep my voice dull. “What are you looking for?”

“His travel bag.”

“It’s traveling with him.”

“Oh, right.” Gabe sits on my bed, and I have to grind my teeth to keep from telling him to get the hell up. “He must be halfway to China by now.”

“Maui.” I can’t help correcting him. “He’s going to Maui.”

“The airline switched him to a Hong Kong flight. He didn’t tell you?”

“I haven’t checked my messages,” I lie.

“I’m sure he must have called,” Gabe says with a smile. “If he didn’t, you might as well just let me pack his things now.”

“Which of us was supposed to be the control freak? Me or you?” I grab one of my bags and thrust it at him. “Goodbye, Gabe.”

Gabe takes his time packing Jesse’s change of clothes, then saunters down the stairs and finally out the door. I go back to the kitchen and start cooking my omelet. The onion fumes are stinging at the corners of my eyes. Across the room, the answering machine’s red light stares unblinking at me.

I turn the burner off and double-check my cell phone, then my office number. Nothing from Jesse. Then I do something I’ve never done before: make up an illness, cancel my appointments, and stay home in my sweats. Two hours later, the phone rings. I let the machine pick it up. You’ve reached Roy and Jesse at....

I watch the red light on the machine as Jesse’s bubbly voice fills the room. “Hi, it’s me. You’re not gonna believe this, they stuck me on a connector to Hong Kong. I’m on layover, back Saturday instead of Friday.” He’s called our home, not my cell phone, at a time when I’m not supposed to be here. Should I pick up or just let him talk? “Love you. Bye.”

He’s thousands of miles away, and I don’t know how to bring him home, don’t know how to make this our home. I feel like a stalker as I play back the message, hearing him say “Love you” over and over again, cutting it off before “Bye.”

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  © Laura Loomis, 2016

   

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